Today is the birthday of the wonderful character actor Clifton Webb (November 19, 1889 – October 13, 1966). Born Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck (what a great name!) in Indianapolis, Indiana, he moved to New York City with his mother Maybelle when his parents divorced. By age 19 he was a professional ballroom dancer using the stage name Clifton Webb.
Between 1913 and 1947, Webb appeared in 23 Broadway shows, starting with major supporting roles and quickly progressing to leads. He introduced Irving Berlin’s “Easter Parade” and the Gershwin’s “I’ve Got a Crush on You” in Treasure Girl (1928). Most of Webb’s Broadway shows were musicals, but he also starred in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and in his longtime friend Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit and Present Laughter.
Movies followed and he made some great ones: Laura (1944), of course,
and The Razor’s Edge (1946)–he received a supporting actor Oscar nomination for both. But remember him in Sitting Pretty (1948) where he played Mr. Belvedere for the first time? This movie is hysterical.
And he received a leading actor Oscar nomination for it. (Laurence Olivier won that year for Hamlet–go figure.) He made three Mr. Belvedere movies and also Cheaper By the Dozen (1950)–another classic Webb role.
I also really like him as Barbara Stanwyck’s husband in the under-appreciated Titanic (1953)
and in the English war movie The Man Who Never Was (1956).
He was equally adept at comedy and drama–never over-doing either. You could probably argue that Clifton Webb always played Clifton Webb, but he was always wonderful, so who cares?
He lived with his mother until her death at age 91 in 1960, leading Noel Coward to remark, apropos Webb’s grieving, “It must be terrible to be orphaned at 71.”
A toast to Clifton Webb and, if you can find one of his movies, watch it!
*Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) in Laura (1944)