Edmund Gwenn

Edmund Gwenn (born Edmund John Kellaway, 26 September 1877 – 6 September 1959) was an English actor. On film, he is perhaps best remembered for his role as Kris Kringle in the Christmas film Miracle on 34th Street (1947), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the corresponding Golden Globe Award. He received a second Golden Globe and another Academy Award nomination for the comedy film Mister 880 (1950). He is also remembered for being in four films directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

As a stage actor in the West End and on Broadway, he was associated with a wide range of works by modern playwrights, including Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy and J. B. Priestley. After the Second World War, he lived in the United States where he had a successful career in Hollywood and on Broadway.

Edmund Gwenn
Edmund Gwenn 1953
Edmund Gwenn, 1953
Edmund John Kellaway[1]

26 September 1877[1]
Died6 September 1959 (aged 81)[1]
Resting placeChapel of the Pines Crematory
EducationSt. Olave's School
Alma materKing's College London
Years active1895-1959
Height5'5 ft.
FamilyCecil Kellaway (cousin),
Arthur Chesney (brother)
AwardsAcademy Award, 2 Golden Globes

Life and career

Early years

Gwenn was born in Wandsworth, London to John and Catherine (Oliver) Kellaway. His brother was the actor Arthur Chesney and his cousin, Cecil Kellaway. Gwenn was educated at St. Olave's School and later at King's College London.[1] He began his acting career in the theatre in 1895, and learnt his craft as a member of Willie Edouin's company, playing brash comic roles.[1] In 1901 he married Minnie Terry, niece of the famous actress Ellen Terry. In the same year he went to Australia and acted there for three years with the J. C. Williamson company.[1] His wife accompanied him and when Gwenn was in a production of Ben Hur that was a disastrous failure, she restored the couple's fortunes by accepting an engagement from Williamson.[2] Later, the couple appeared on stage together in London in a farce called What the Butler Saw in 1905[3] and, in 1911, when Irene Vanbrugh made her debut in variety, she chose Terry and Gwenn to join her in a short play specially written by J. M. Barrie.[4]

When he returned to London Gwenn appeared not in low comedy, but in what The Times called "a notably intellectual and even sophisticated setting" at the Court Theatre under the management of J. E. Vedrenne and Harley Granville-Barker.[1] There, in 1905 to 1907, in the words of The Times, "he was invaluable in smaller parts [giving] every part he played its full worth", including Straker, the proletarian chauffeur to John Tanner in Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman, and Drinkwater, the cockney gangster in Captain Brassbound's Conversion.[1] He also appeared in plays by Granville-Barker and John Galsworthy, in Elizabeth Robins’s suffragette drama Votes for Women [5] and in works by other contemporaries. In Barrie's What Every Woman Knows (1908) in the role of the over-enthusiastic James Wylie he impressed the producer Charles Frohman, who engaged him for his repertory company at the Duke of York's Theatre.[1] In 1912 Gwenn went into management in partnership with Hilda Trevelyan.[1] His career was interrupted by his military service during the First World War, serving as an officer in the British Army.[1] During the war Gwenn's marriage broke up and was dissolved. His ex-wife remarried but remained on affectionate terms with him.[6]

Leading roles on stage and screen

After peace returned, Gwenn's leading roles in the West End during the 1920s included Old Bill in Bruce Bairnsfather's Old Bill, M.P. (1922); Christian Veit in Lilac Time (1922–23); the title role in A. A. Milne's The Great Broxoff (1923); Leo Swinburne in Good Luck by Seymour Hicks and Ian Hay (1923); and Hippolyte Gallipot in Lehár's Frasquita (1925).[7] Looking back at Gwenn's career, The Times considered, "Out of scores of other parts which he played in England and in America, the best remembered are probably Hornblower in Galsworthy's The Skin Game, the Viennese paterfamilias in Lilac Time and Samuel Pepys in Fagan's And So to Bed in 1926."[1]

Gwenn began his film career in 1916. A notable early role was a recreation of his stage character Hornblower in the 1921 Anglo-Dutch silent-film of The Skin Game, which he reprised ten years later in Alfred Hitchcock's early sound version of The Skin Game. His debut in a talking picture was in an adaptation of Shaw's How He Lied to Her Husband, made at Elstree in 1931.[1] Of Gwenn's many British film roles, The Times considered his best known to be Jess Oakroyd in The Good Companions with John Gielgud and Jessie Matthews (1933) and Radfern in Carol Reed's Laburnum Grove with Cedric Hardwicke (1936).[1] His final British film role, as a capitalist trying to take over a family brewery in Cheer Boys Cheer (1939) is credited with being the first authentic Ealing comedy.[8]

Gwenn appeared in more than eighty films, including Pride and Prejudice (1940), Cheers for Miss Bishop, Of Human Bondage and The Keys of the Kingdom. George Cukor's Sylvia Scarlett (1935) was his first appearance in a Hollywood film, as Katharine Hepburn's father. He settled in Hollywood in 1940 and became part of its British colony. He had a small role as a Cockney assassin in a Hitchcock film, Foreign Correspondent in 1940.[1] For his Father Christmas role in Miracle on 34th Street he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He received a second Oscar nomination for his role in Mister 880 (1950). Near the end of his career he played one of the main roles in Them! (1954) and in Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry (1955).[1]

On Broadway Gwenn starred in a 1942 production of Chekhov's Three Sisters, with Judith Anderson and Ruth Gordon; it was produced by and co-starred Katharine Cornell. Time proclaimed it "a dream production by anybody's reckoning – the most glittering cast the theatre has seen, commercially, in this generation."[9]

Later years

Gwenn remained a British subject all his life. When he first moved to Hollywood, he lived at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. His home in London had been reduced to rubble during the bombings by the German Luftwaffe in the Second World War. Only the fireplace survived. What Gwenn regretted most was the loss of the memorabilia he had collected of the actor Henry Irving. Eventually Gwenn bought a house at 617 North Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills, which he later shared with the former Olympic athlete Rodney Soher.[10] At the age of 78 he travelled from his home in California for a reunion with his ex-wife in London.[6] He told a reporter, "I never married again because I was very happy with my wife. I simply stayed faithful to the memory of that happiness."[6]

Gwenn died from pneumonia after suffering a stroke, in Woodland Hills, California, twenty days before his 82nd birthday. He was cremated and his ashes stored in the vault at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles. Gwenn has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street for his contribution to motion pictures.


Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1940 Forecast* The Lodger[11]
1943 Suspense The Fountain Plays
1944 Creeps By Night The Strange Burial of Alexander Jordan
1949 Suspense Murder in Black and White
1951 Stars Of Hollywood A Christmas Carol
1953 Stars over Hollywood A Christmas Carol[12]
  • Audition program for the Suspense radio program.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Mr Edmund Gwenn – Versatile Character Actor", The Times, 8 September 1959, p. 13
  2. ^ "Miss Minnie Terry", Table Talk, 9 October 1902, p. 10
  3. ^ "Wyndham's Theatre", The Times, 3 August 1905, p. 8
  4. ^ "The Theatres", The Times, 30 October 1911, p. 11
  5. ^ Hayman, Carole (1985). How the vote was won, and other suffragette plays. London New York: Methuen. p. 38. ISBN 0413583805.
  6. ^ a b c "Veteran Edmund Gwenn Keeps a Tryst", The Daily Mail, 12 July 1956, p. 3
  7. ^ Parker, pp. xxxvi–cxxii
  8. ^ "Screen Legends", The Observer Review, 20 December 2009
  9. ^ Review, Time, details of issue and page number needed.
  10. ^ "Rodney Soher" Archived 3 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Sports Reference, retrieved 28 May 2014
  11. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 38 (3): 32–39. Summer 2012.
  12. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 41 (4): 38. Autumn 2016.


  • Parker, John (1925). Who's Who in the Theatre (fifth ed.). London: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons. OCLC 10013159.

External links

All American Chump

All American Chump is a 1936 American comedy film produced by MGM, directed by Edwin L. Marin and written by Lawrence Kimble. The film stars Stuart Erwin, Robert Armstrong, Betty Furness, Edmund Gwenn and Harvey Stephens.

Cheer Boys Cheer

Cheer Boys Cheer is a 1939 British comedy film directed by Walter Forde and starring Nova Pilbeam, Edmund Gwenn, Jimmy O'Dea, Graham Moffatt, Moore Marriott and Peter Coke.

Father and Son (1934 film)

Father and Son is a 1934 British crime film directed by Monty Banks and starring Edmund Gwenn, Esmond Knight and James Finlayson. It was made at Teddington Studios as a quota quickie.

Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture

The Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture was first awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in 1944 for a performance in a motion picture released in the previous year.

The formal title has varied since its inception; since 2005, the award has officially been called "Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture".

Five actors have won the award twice: Richard Attenborough, Edmund Gwenn, Martin Landau, Edmond O'Brien, and Christoph Waltz.

Hills of Home (film)

Hills of Home (also known as Danger in the Hills and Master of Lassie ) is a 1948 Technicolor drama film, the fourth in a series of seven MGM Lassie films. It starred Edmund Gwenn, Donald Crisp, and Tom Drake.

I Was a Spy

I Was a Spy is a 1933 British thriller film directed by Victor Saville and starring Madeleine Carroll, Herbert Marshall, and Conrad Veidt. Based on the 1932 memoir I Was a Spy by Marthe Cnockaert, the film is about a Belgian woman who nurses injured German soldiers during World War I while passing intelligence to the British.I Was a Spy was also the first film dubbed in Poland (while there were earlier examples of films dubbed in Polish, they were recorded in Paramount studio in Joinville, France), released in 1935 as Siostra Marta jest szpiegiem, starring Lidia Wysocka as Martha Cnockhaert's voice. The screenplay was written by Edmund Gwenn.

Laburnum Grove

Laburnum Grove is a 1936 British comedy film directed by Carol Reed and starring Edmund Gwenn, Cedric Hardwicke and Victoria Hopper. It was based on the 1933 play of the same name written by J. B. Priestley.

Louisa (film)

Louisa is a 1950 American comedy film directed by Alexander Hall starring Ronald Reagan, Charles Coburn, Ruth Hussey, Edmund Gwenn and Spring Byington. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound (Leslie I. Carey).

Mad Holiday

Mad Holiday is a 1936 American comedy film directed by George B. Seitz and written by Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf. The film stars Edmund Lowe, Elissa Landi, ZaSu Pitts, Ted Healy, Edmund Gwenn and Edgar Kennedy. The film was released on November 13, 1936, by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Marooned (1933 film)

Marooned is a 1933 British drama film directed by Leslie S. Hiscott and starring Edmund Gwenn and Viola Lyel. It was made at Beaconsfield Studios as a quota quickie.

Mister 880

Mister 880 is a 1950 American comedy film about an amateurish counterfeiter who counterfeits only one dollar bills, and manages to elude the Secret Service for 10 years. It was directed by Edmund Goulding, and stars Burt Lancaster, Dorothy McGuire, Edmund Gwenn, and Millard Mitchell, The film is based on the true story of Emerich Juettner, known under the alias Edward Mueller, an elderly man who counterfeited just enough money to survive, and was careful in where and when he spent his fake dollar bills, and was therefore able to elude authorities for ten years, despite the poor quality of his fakes, and despite growing interest in his case.The film was based on an article by St. Clair McKelway that was first published in The New Yorker and later collected in McKelway's book True Tales from the Annals of Crime & Rascality.

Edmund Gwenn, who played "Skipper" Miller (only a supporting role in the film), won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.

In real life, Juettner was caught and arrested in 1948, and served four months in prison. Juettner made more money from the release of Mister 880 than he had made in his entire counterfeiting career.

Money for Nothing (1932 film)

Money for Nothing is a 1932 British comedy film directed by Monty Banks and starring Seymour Hicks, Betty Stockfeld and Edmund Gwenn. The screenplay concerns a peniless gambler who is mistaken for a very wealthy man in Monte Carlo.

Passing Shadows

Passing Shadows is a 1934 British mystery film directed by Leslie S. Hiscott and starring Edmund Gwenn, Barry MacKay and Aileen Marson.

It was made as Beaconsfield Studios as a quota quickie. The film's sets were designed by Norman G. Arnold.

Penny Paradise

Penny Paradise is a 1938 British comedy film directed by Carol Reed and starring Edmund Gwenn, Betty Driver and Jimmy O'Dea. It was an early directorial assignment for Reed, and along with many other British productions of the era such as the same year's better-known Reed-directed Bank Holiday, is described as: "...belonging to a wider studio tradition of modest representation of ordinary British life."

Sally and Saint Anne

Sally and Saint Anne is a 1952 American comedy film directed by Rudolph Maté and starring Ann Blyth, Edmund Gwenn and John McIntire.

Smithy (1933 film)

Smithy is a 1933 British comedy drama film directed by George King and starring Edmund Gwenn, Peggy Novak and D.A. Clarke-Smith. It was made as a quota quickie by the British subsidiary of Warner Brothers at their Teddington Studios.

The Earl of Chicago

The Earl of Chicago is a 1940 American drama film directed by Richard Thorpe and starring Robert Montgomery, Edward Arnold, Reginald Owen and Edmund Gwenn. It is the first MGM film in the 1940s'.

The Walking Dead (1936 film)

The Walking Dead is a 1936 American horror film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Boris Karloff, who plays a wrongly executed man who is restored to life by a scientist (Edmund Gwenn). The supporting cast features Ricardo Cortez, Marguerite Churchill and Barton MacLane. The film was distributed by Warner Bros.

Thunder in the Valley (film)

Thunder in the Valley, sometimes known as Bob, Son of Battle, is a 1947 American drama film directed by Louis King and starring Lon McCallister, Peggy Ann Garner and Edmund Gwenn. It is based on the novel Owd Bob by Alfred Ollivant.

It cost $1.9 million.

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