Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fredric March (1897-1975)

The American born actor actually started out his career as a banker but after an emergency appendectomy he switched his career path to acting and relocated from Wisconsin to New York City where he got parts as an extra in movies being filmed there.  His first non credited role was in "The Great Adventure" 1921 starring acting great Lionel Barrymore.  His first screen credit came in 1929 with the comedy "The Dummy" co-starring Ruth Chatterton.  After his first on screen credit he starred in six more films in 1929 with such leading ladies as Ann, Harding, Colleen Moore, Jean Arthur, Mary Brian, Clara Bow and Mary Astor.  Seeing his box office draw Paramount Studios signed him to a contract by the beginning of 1930.  He had married Ellis Baker in 1924 but their marriage ended in 1927.  He married for a second time the very same year to Florence Eldridge.  They adopted two children together and remained married until Fredric's death in 1975.  (Thats a long time for a Hollywood marriage)

with the "IT" girl Clara Bow in "The Wild Party" 1929

Now under contract and considered a huge box office draw Fredric was doing movies back to back and starred in seven movies in 1930 alone.  He co-starred with Clara Bow again in "True To The Navy" that year as the sailor who's being chased by the girl who can't make up her mind between several sailors and does a lot of bed hopping.  (Obviously a precode film)  If anyone could play the seductress it was Clara Bow with her flaming red hair and her appetite for liaisons with stars of the day off of the set.  Her affairs were legendary.  She drove around Beverly Hills in her red convertible with her dyed red poodle without a care as to what the tabloids of the day had to say about her).  Of course none of this takes away from her talent on screen or her undeniable presence and sex appeal.  

with Clara in "True To The Navy" 1930

Fredric received his first Academy Award nomination soon after for his role in "The Royal Family of Broadway" 1930 co-starring Ina Claire and Mary Brian and directed by George Cukor.  He lost that year to Lionel Barrymore but he would get more opportunities at the golden statue.  He followed it up with the critically acclaimed "Honor Among Lovers" co-starring Claudette Colbert then he went on to film "My Sin" with the tenacious Tallulah Bankhead in 1931.  This became a very good year for Fredric as he landed the coveted role of  Dr Jekyll in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde".  He won the Oscar for Best Actor and the film also won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Writing Adaptation.  I saw the film years ago and Fredric in his duel role drew me in to his world and left me feeling pity while trying to check my fear.  

playing the part of Dr. Jekyll

and playing the role of  Mr. Hyde with co-star Miriam Hopkins

Fredric continued to get leading roles throughout the 1930's with his comedic and dramatic range and after his contract was up at Paramount he went against the grain and remained a free agent, accepting parts to his liking from different studios.  He starred opposite Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins in "Design for Living" 1933 about two American playboys living in Paris while chasing the same girl.  Then he landed the role of Count Vronsky in "Anna Karenina" 1935 starring Greta Garbo which was one of Garbo's most acclaimed roles.  

with Greta Garbo in "Anna Karenina" 1935

with Merle Oberon and Herbert Marshall in "The Dark Angel" 1935

With Norma Shearer in "The Barretts of Wimpole Street"

Fredric fell into the role of  the anguished but endearing Norman Maine in the "Star Is Born" 1937 with Janet Gaynor playing the lovable Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester. Fredric was nominated for his third Oscar for his role but lost out that year to Spencer Tracy in "Captains Courageous".  I spoke on this series during my Janet Gaynor post back in October but I love this movie and all three of the remakes are just as enjoyable as the first.  Of course Judy Garland and James Mason's depiction is stellar even though parts of the film have been damaged and voiced over. (It really is a shame to see great films suffer damage, deterioration to being lost all together).

with Janet Gaynor in "A Star Is Born" 1937

Fredric paired with the talented comedic actress Carole Lombard in "Nothing Sacred" 1937 which brought in huge profits for the studio.  Then came the successful "Trade Winds" with Joan Bennett the following year.  Still at the top of his game and getting leading man parts Fredric starred opposite Loretta Young in "Bedtime Story" 1941.  Fredric played the role of Mark Twain in "The Adventures of Mark Twain" in 1944 with Alexis  Smith playing Olivia Langdon.

with Kathryn Hepburn in "Mary of Scotland" 1936

click on Fredric March's autograph and images for a close up view

with Olivia de Havilland in "Anthony Adverse" 1936

With all of Fredric's success 1946 was the high point of his career with an Oscar win for his role in "The Best Years of Our Lives" co-starring Myrna Loy.  The plot is about three WWII Veterans who return home to their small town to find everything has been irreversibly changed.  A plot that has been redone many times since.  It was directed by William Wyler and it also garnered Oscars for Best Picture, Director and Best Supporting Actor. with 7 Oscars total and 10 nominations.  Fredric returned to Broadway for a short period during this time but returned to Hollywood to play Willy Loman in the film adaptation of  "Death of a Salesman" in 1951.  The stage play was adapted by Arthur Miller.  Fredric was nominated for his fourth Oscar for his role but lost out to Humphrey Bogart for "The African Queen".

with Charles Laughton and Claudette Colbert in "The Sign of the Cross" 1932

with Evelyn Venable in "Death Takes a Holiday" 1934

Fredric appeared in a few more films in character roles into the mid 1950's appearing with Richard Burton in "Alexander The Great" 1956 then his last film was " Man In a Gray Flannel Suit" starring Gregory Peck before trying his hand at television for a few years during the 1950's.  He would return to films with bit parts in later years.  He appeared with Spencer Tracy in "Inherit The Wind" 1960 once again receiving great reviews. In 1970 he underwent major surgery for prostrate cancer and upon recovering he returned to Hollywood for one more film, "The Iceman Cometh" 1973 playing the complicated Irish bartender.

with Veronica Lake in "I Married a Witch" 1942

Fredric passed away from cancer at the age of 77.  He was buried at his estate in Milford Connecticut where he had resided with his family since 1930.  During his career he appeared in over 95 films spanning close to six decades.  He certainly left us with some great moments on film and he was a true class act and a gentleman.

 Fredric March Facts:

He was born Frederick McIntyre Bickel.  His stage name was the shortened version of his mothers maiden name Marcher.

His wife actress Florence Eldridge appeared in six films with him.  Their adopted children were Penelope (Penny) adopted in 1932 and Anthony who they adopted in 1934.

He won a Tony award in 1947 for his role in "Years Ago" then a second one in 1957 for his role in "Long Days Journey Into Night".  He was the recipient of the first Tony award in 1947 along with Helen Hayes and Ingrid Bergman.

Upon his death his home in Milford Connecticut was leased to playwright Lillian Hellman as well as to Henry Kissinger.

Marlon Brando praised Fredric March as his favorite actor in his youth.

He and his second wife were both active members of the Democratic Party.

He is the first actor to win the Academy Award for a horror film (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Anthony Hopkins was the second for his role in "Silence of the Lambs" 1991.  Sixty years later.

He was proposed for possible blacklisting in 1949 by the Californian branch of HUAC

Fredric's beautiful wife, actress Florence Eldridge

Fredric March Personal Quotes:

Co-starring with Greta Garbo hardly required an introduction

On Garbo- Actually I was not overwhelmed with Greta Garbo's beauty.  I think at the time women were more attracted to her than men.  (I'm sure Greta would have been flattered by that comment since she preferred affairs with women over men).

On Joan Crawford- She was a nice person but a real movie star.  She even brought her own music to the set of  "Susan and God".  A whole entourage, a violinist, and a pianist to play her favorite songs to get her into the proper mood for her scenes.  (I'm going to be nice to Joanie today and I've been pretty hard on her in past posts but she really was a star and an icon who was nothing but dedicated to her craft).

I hope you let me know which Fredric March film is your favorite and please enjoy the clip from "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde below to see Fredric's transformation.  Well deserved Oscar indeed!


  1. Fascinating profile as always. I think March was at his best in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but I also thought he had great comic timing in Nothing Sacred.

  2. Interesting as always. I love Fredric :) A few days ago I finally saw Dr Jekyll... and Fredric scared me to death. He totally deserved that Oscar. Thanks Page!

    1. Hi, Ciara!
      I'm so glad that the talented, Fredric is getting so much love here.

      And please come back often!

  3. Thank you so much for your post -- picking a favorite film of the greatest United States-born actor of all time, is difficult if not impossible -- so I will simply close with a comment about his acting ability -- which I already did....

    bob@bobrodriguez.com (pls see my recent blog on Fredric March)

    Thank you so much again, for this post.

    1. Hi Bob!
      Thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know about your blog. I can't wait to check it out.
      Fredric was a great actor, gave us so many great on screen performances.

      Happy Holidays and please stop by often.

  4. I've recently started reading your blog, and I had to comment as Fredric March is my favourite actor from Hollywood's Golden Age. A terrific actor, and a great person judging from his appearance on 'What's My Line?' I couldn't pick a favourite film as I fall in love with each of his performances every time I re-watch his films. I'm enjoying your blog - informative, funny and passionate. Keep it up!

    1. Louise!
      So glad to have you here and thanks so much for the very kind comments. There is a lot in the archives that I think you'll enjoy and do stay tuned for my Hollywood at Home series that will return this summer as well as other fun stuff and an occasional snarky photo film review.

      Please join in on our conversations. We're always glad to have classic film fans on board.
      Honored to meet you!

  5. Very nice piece-- just one correction: His house was in New Milford, Connecticut. A short walk from Diane von Furstenburg's property. New Milford is in Litchfield County, way inland and up in the hills from Milford which is on Long Island Sound.