Nationality: American. Born: Frederick Ernest McIntyre Bickel in Racine, Wisconsin, 31 August 1897. Education: Racine High School, University of Wisconsin, Madison, B.A. in economics. Military Service: Served as artillery lieutenant during World War I. Family: Married the actress Florence Eldridge, 1927, two adopted children. Career: 1920—apprentice at National City Bank, New York, but decided to become an actor: bit part in stage play Deburau in Philadelphia; film debut as extra in Paying the Piper; 1926—lead in Broadway play The Devil in the Cheese; later toured with Theatre Guild Repertory Company; 1928—contract with Paramount to make talking films; 1933—Paramount contract ended, and most later work done on short 2-film contracts or as freelance; 1943—on Broadway stage in The Skin of Our Teeth; 1956—on stage in world premiere of O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night, New York and Paris. Awards: Best Actor Academy Award for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1931–32; Best Actor Academy Award for The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946; Best Actor, Venice Festival, for Death of a Salesman, 1952; Best Actor, Berlin Festival, for Inherit the Wind, 1960. Died: 14 April 1975.
Films as Actor:
The Dummy (Milton) (as Trumbull Meredith); The Studio Murder Mystery (Tuttle) (as Richard Hardell)
Paris Bound (Griffith) (as Jim Hutton); Jealousy (De Limur) (as Pierre); Footlights and Fools (Seiter) (as Gregory Pyne);The Marriage Playground (Mendes) (as Martin Boyne); Sarah and Son (Arzner) (as Howard Vanning); The Wild Party (Arzner)
Ladies Love Brutes (Lee) (as Dwight Howell); Paramount on Parade (as doughboy); Manslaughter (Abbott) (as Dan O'Bannon); Laughter (D'Arrast) (as Paul Lockridge); The Royal Family of Broadway (Cukor) (as Tony Cavendish); True to the Navy (Tuttle); Honor among Lovers (Arzner) (as Jerry Stafford); The Night Angel (Goulding) (as Rudek Berkem); My Sin (Abbott) (as Dick Grady)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Mamoulian) (title role); Strangers in Love (Mendes) (as Buddy Drake/Arthur Drake); Merrily We Go to Hell (Arzner) (as Jerry Corbett); Make Me a Star (as himself); Smilin' Through (Franklin) (as Jeremy Wayne/Kenneth Wayne); The Sign of the Cross (DeMille) (as Marcus Superbus)
Tonight Is Ours (Walker) (as Sabien Pastal); The Eagle and the Hawk (Walker) (as Jerry Young); Design for Living (Lubitsch) (as Tom Chambers)
All of Me (Flood) (as Don Ellis); The Affairs of Cellini (La Cava) (as Benvenuto Cellini); The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Franklin) (as Robert Browning); Death Takes a Holiday (Leisen); Good Dame (Gering); We Live Again (Mamoulian)
Anna Karenina (Brown) (as Vronsky); The Dark Angel (Franklin) (as Alan Trent); Les Misérables (Boleslawski)
Mary of Scotland (Ford) (as Earl of Bothwell); Anthony Adverse (LeRoy) (title role); The Road to Glory (Hawks)
A Star Is Born (Wellman) (as Norman Maine); Nothing Sacred (Wellman) (as Wally Cook)
The Buccaneer (DeMille) (as Jean Lafitte); There Goes My Heart (McLeod) (as Bill Spencer); Trade Winds (Garnett) (as Sam Wye)
China's 400,000,000 (doc); Lights Out in Europe (doc)
So Ends Our Night (Cromwell) (as Josef Steiner); Susan and God (Cukor)
One Foot in Heaven (Rapper) (as William Spence); Bedtime Story (Hall) (as Lucius Drake); Victory (Cromwell)
I Married a Witch (Lubitsch) (as Wallace Wooley); Black Sea Fighters (doc)
The Adventures of Mark Twain (Rapper) (title role); Tomorrow the World (Fenton) (as Mike Frame)
The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler) (as Dr. Stephenson)
Another Part of the Forest (Gordon) (as Marcus Hubbard); Live Today for Tomorrow (Gordon) (as Judge Calvin Cooke); An Act of Murder (Gordon)
Christopher Columbus (McDonald) (title role); The Titan-Michaelangelo (doc)
Death of a Salesman (Benedek) (as Willy Loman)
It's a Big Country (Wellman and others) (as Papa Esposito)
Man on a Tightrope (Kazan) (as Karel Cernik)
Executive Suite (Wise) (as Lorne Phineas Snow); The Bridges at Toko-Ri (Robson) (as Adm. George Tarrant)
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (Johnson) (as Hopkins)
Middle of the Night (Delbert Mann) (as Jerry Kingsley)
Inherit the Wind (Kramer) (as Matthew Harrison Brady)
The Young Doctors (Karlson) (as Dr. Joseph Pearson)
The Condemned of Altona (De Sica) (as Gerlach); Seven Days in May (Frankenheimer) (as President Jordan Lyman)
Hombre (Ritt) (as Alexander Favor)
. . . Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick . . . (Nelson) (as Mayor Parks)
On MARCH: books—
Blum, Daniel, Great Stars of the American Stage: A Pictorial Record, New York, 1952.
Quirk, Lawrence J., The Films of Fredric March, New York, 1971.
Quintero, Jose, If You Don't Dance They Beat You, New York, 1988.
Blinka, Deborah C., Fredric March: Craftsman First, Star Second, Westport, 1996.
On MARCH: articles—
Lee, Sonia, "Fredric March Gambled with Death—and Won," in Motion Picture Magazine (New York), December 1933.
Manners, Dorothy, "Fredric March Defends Hollywood's Morals," in Motion Picture Magazine (New York), November 1934.
Vandour, Cyril, "Freddie Marches On," in Motion Picture Magazine (New York), December 1937.
Paxton, John, "This Militant March," in Stage, 15 May 1939.
Isaacs, Hermine Rich, "Two Girls and Fredric March," in Theatre Arts (New York), April 1944.
Tozzi, Romano, "Fredric March," in Films in Review (New York), December 1958.
Moret, H., "Fredric March," in Ecran (Paris), June-July 1975.
Braun, Eric, "The Seven Ages of March," in Films and Filming (London), November and December 1975.
Film Dope (Nottingham), January 1989.
Edwards, Anne, "Fredric March: Normandy Style for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde's Best Actor," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1990.
Gerber, D.A., "Heroes and Misfits: the Troubled Social Reintegration of Disabled Veterans in The Best Years of Our Lives," in American Quarterly, no. 4, 1994.
Atkinson, M., "Fredric March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," in Movieline (Escondido), October 1994.
Turner, G., "Fredric March: Craftsman First, Star Second, By Deborah C. Peterson," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), August 1996.
* * *
Fredric March was one of the most durable Hollywood performers, playing, as a young man, a wide variety of leading roles in different genres, and creating, in middle age, a number of notable characterizations. The longevity of his career and range of his successes are somewhat surprising since he disdained an internal Method approach to acting as well as the building of a distinctive screen persona. Instead March preferred, in Richard Gehman's interesting formulation, to put on a role "much as a man fits himself into a Grafton street suit." For both stage and screen performances March would study the role intensely, memorizing the dialogue early, and let the character take shape as a comfortable mask. Thus his screen performances are remarkable for their subtlety, and so are all the more cinematic, while being dependent for their effectiveness on directorial support. In the wrong part March would tend to become stolid and weak; this is especially true of his 1930s work as a romantic lead, where he was often outplayed by the actresses with whom he appeared.
Unlike that of most screen actors, March's career in films developed simultaneously with his stage career. In the early 1920s he worked as an extra in several films shot in New York and appeared in a number of minor theatrical roles, finally landing a leading part in a light comedy, The Devil in the Cheese. His subsequent impersonation of John Barrymore in The Royal Family brought him to the notice of Hollywood. He was signed to a five-year contract by Paramount, a studio whose glossy and sophisticated romantic comedies suited March's good looks and slightly cynical demeanor. Most notably, he repeated the role of John Barrymore in The Royal Family of Broadway, where he strikes just the right note of humorous dissolute talent. Even in his light comedy roles, however, March always suggests a repressed anger or dissatisfaction, a quality exploited especially in the Barrymore part. This may explain his somewhat surprising choice for the title role in Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Unlike Spencer Tracy's later version, March's performance is a tour de force of impersonation (aided by makeup and directorial touches) rather than characterization. March was awarded the Oscar for his performance.
In the years immediately following, however, he was not afforded another opportunity to play such a complex character. Instead he became involved, now as a freelancer, in a number of costume epics and historical films, casting decisions influenced by the fact that he looked good in period clothes and had a resonant delivery. He was competent, if not convincing, as Browning in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, rather dashing as the picaresque hero of Anthony Adverse, and a powerful Bothwell in Mary of Scotland. He did impressive work, always in an essentially supporting capacity, in a number of films with contemporary settings, most notably Howard Hawks's The Road to Glory and William Wellman's A Star Is Born, where once again, he strikes just the right note of dissolute talent.
In these two roles suggestions of a darker, repressed, and perhaps self-destructive energy emerges, a side of March's persona only previously exploited in his double role as Jekyll and Hyde. He returned to Broadway during the later stages of World War II to appear in an acclaimed production of A Bell for Adano, in which he was a very optimistic (and perhaps one-dimensional) Major Joppolo. In The Best Years of Our Lives, however, William Wyler was able to make better use of March's persona. The original treatments of the script had made Al Stephenson a returning veteran who cannot fit back into a comfortable civilian niche, and rejects his job at the bank. In the final version, however, Stephenson is a more complex character—a man whose dissatisfactions are revealed in occasional tippling but who represses his anger for the sake of social appearances and convention. March's embodiment of the role is near perfect, a triumph of casting and effective direction (particularly Wyler's feel for slowly developed drama). March received the Oscar for his role, which is in a sense a study for his James Tyrone in the stage version of Long Day's Journey into Night.
In the 1950s March's career deteriorated, in spite of competent performances as Willy Loman in Benedek's Death of a Salesman and as a besieged homeowner in Wyler's The Desperate Hours. Even late in his career, however, March was able to turn in a finely conceived characterization as a villainous Indian agent in Hombre.
—R. Barton Palmer