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Ronald Colman
Born Ronald Charles Colman
(1891-02-09)9 February 1891
Richmond, Surrey, England, UK
Died 19 May 1958(1958-05-19) (aged 67)
Santa Barbara, California, U.S.
Cause of death Emphysema
Occupation Actor
Years active 1914–57
Spouse(s) Thelma Raye (1920–1934)
Benita Hume (1938–1958; his death)
Children 1 daughter

Ronald Charles Colman (9 February 1891 – 19 May 1958) was an English actor, popular during the 1930s and 1940s.[1] He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for A Double Life (1947), and received further nominations for Random Harvest (1942) and Bulldog Drummond/Condemned (1929, nominated for his work in both). Colman starred in the classic films A Tale of Two Cities (1935), Lost Horizon (1937), A Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and The Talk of the Town (1942).

Early years

He was born in Richmond, Surrey, England, as Ronald Charles Colman, the second son and fourth child[2] of Charles Colman and his wife Marjory Read Fraser. His siblings included Eric, Edith, and Marjorie. He was educated at boarding school in Littlehampton, where he discovered he enjoyed acting,despite being shy.[3] He intended to study engineering at Cambridge University, but his father's sudden death from pneumonia in 1907 made this financially impossible.[3]

He became a well-known amateur actor and was a member of the West Middlesex Dramatic Society in 1908–09. He made his first appearance on the professional stage in 1914.

World War I

While working as a clerk at the British Steamship Company in the City of London,[2] he joined the London Scottish Regiment[4] in 1909 as a Territorial Army soldier, and on being mobilised on the outbreak of World War I, crossed the English Channel in September 1914 to France to take part in the fighting on the Western Front. On 31 October 1914, at the Battle of Messines,[4] Colman was seriously wounded by shrapnel in his ankle, which gave him a limp that he would attempt to hide throughout the rest of his acting career. He was invalided out of the British Army in 1915 in consequence. (His fellow Hollywood actors Claude Rains, Herbert Marshall, Cedric Hardwicke and Basil Rathbone all saw service with the London Scottish in the war).



He had sufficiently recovered from wartime injuries to appear at the London Coliseum on 19 June 1916, as Rahmat Sheikh in The Maharani of Arakan, with Lena Ashwell; at the Playhouse in December that year as Stephen Weatherbee in Charles Goddard & Paul Dickey's play The Misleading Lady; at the Court Theatre in March 1917 he played Webber in Partnership and at that theatre the following year appeared in Eugène Brieux's play, adapted from the French, Damaged Goods; at the Ambassadors Theatre in February 1918 he played George Lubin in The Little Brother, and during 1918 toured as David Goldsmith in The Bubble.

In 1920, Colman went to America and toured with Robert Warwick in The Dauntless Three, and subsequently toured with Fay Bainter in East is West; at the Booth Theatre, New York, in January 1921 he played the Temple Priest in William Archer's play The Green Goddess, with George Arliss; at the 39th Street Theatre in August 1921 he appeared as Charles in The Nightcap; and in September 1922 he made a great success as Alain Sergyll at the Empire Theatre (New York City) in the hit play La Tendressse.


with Jean Arthur in Talk of the Town (1942)

Ronald Colman had first appeared in films in England in 1917 and 1919 for Cecil Hepworth, and subsequently with the old Broadwest Film Company in The Snow of the Desert. While appearing on stage in New York in La Tendress, Director Henry King saw him, and engaged him as the leading man in the 1923 film, The White Sister, opposite Lillian Gish, and was an immediate success. Thereafter Colman virtually abandoned the stage for film. He became a very popular silent film star in both romantic and adventure films, among them The Dark Angel (1925), Stella Dallas (1926), Beau Geste (1927), and The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926). His dark hair and eyes and his athletic and riding ability (he did most of his own stunts until late in his career) led reviewers to describe him as a "Valentino type". He was often cast in similar, exotic roles.[5] Towards the end of the silents era, Colman was teamed with Hungarian actress Vilma Bánky under Samuel Goldwyn and the two were a popular movie team rivalling Greta Garbo and John Gilbert.

Although he was a huge success in silent films, he was unable to capitalize on one of his chief assets until the advent of the talking picture, "his beautifully modulated and cultured voice",[6] also described as "a bewitching, finely-modulated, resonant voice". Colman was often viewed as a suave English Gentleman, whose voice embodied chivalry and mirrored the image of a "Stereotypical English gentleman." [7][8] His first major talkie success was in 1930, when he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for two roles – Condemned and Bulldog Drummond. He thereafter appeared in a number of notable films, including Raffles, The Masquerader, Clive of India, A Tale of Two Cities in 1935, Under Two Flags, The Prisoner of Zenda and Lost Horizon in 1937, If I Were King in 1938, and The Talk of the Town in 1942. He won the Best Actor Oscar in 1948 for A Double Life. At the time of his death, Colman was contracted by MGM for the lead role in Village of the Damned. However, Colman died and the film became a British production starring George Sanders, who had married Colman's widow, Benita Hume.


Ronald Colman has been mentioned in many novels, but he is specifically mentioned in The Invisible Man because of his charming, well-known voice. The main character of this novel says that he wishes he could have a voice like Ronald Colman’s because it is charming and he relates the voice to a voice of a “gentleman” or a man from Esquire magazine.[9] Ronald Colman was indeed very well known for his voice. Encyclopædia Britannica says that Colman had a “resonant, mellifluous speaking voice with a unique, pleasing timbre”.[10] Along with his charming voice, Colman had a very confident performing manner that helped make him a major star of sound films.[11]

Radio and television

Beginning in 1945, Colman made many guest appearances on The Jack Benny Program on radio, alongside his second wife, stage and screen actress Benita Hume. Their comedy work as Benny's perpetually exasperated next-door neighbours led to their own radio comedy The Halls of Ivy from 1950 to 1952, created by Fibber McGee & Molly mastermind Don Quinn, on which the Colmans played the literate, charming president of a middle American college and his former-actress wife. Listeners were surprised to discover that the episode of 24 January 1951, "The Goya Bequest"—a story examining the bequest of a Goya painting that was suspected of being a fraud hyped by its late owner to avoid paying customs duties when bringing it to the United States—was written by Colman himself, who poked fun at his accomplishment while taking a rare turn giving the evening's credits at the show's conclusion.

The Halls of Ivy ran on NBC radio from 1950 to 1952, then moved to CBS television for the 1954/55 season.

Colman was also the host and occasional star of Favorite Story, which ran on NBC from 13 September 1947 to 1949.


Ronald Colman died on 19 May 1958, aged 67, from acute emphysema in Santa Barbara, California, and was interred in the Santa Barbara Cemetery. He had a daughter, Juliet Benita Colman (born 1944), by his second wife Benita Hume.

Awards and honours

He was nominated for four Academy awards: Bulldog Drummond (1929), Condemned (1930), Random Harvest (1942), and A Double Life (1947), for which he won the Academy Award for his role of "Anthony John," an actor playing "Othello" who comes to identify with the character. He also won the Golden Globe award for Best Actor in 1947 for his role in A Double Life. In 2002, Colman's Oscar statuette was sold at auction by Christie's for US$174,500.[12]

Colman is a recipient of the George Eastman Award, given by George Eastman House for distinguished contribution to the art of film.

Colman has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, one for motion pictures at 6801 Hollywood Blvd. and one for television at 1623 Vine Street.

He is the subject of a biography written by his daughter Juliet Benita Colman in the 1980s.


  1. Obituary Variety, 21 May 1958.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". 
  3. 3.0 3.1 “Shelley Winters.” Britannica Book of the Year, 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2013.Web.16 September 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Famous London Scottish". 
  5. Quirk, Lawrence J., The Films of Ronald Colman, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1977.
  6. Franklin, Joe, Classics of the Silent Screen, p. 148, 1959 The Citadel Press
  7. Franklin, Joe. Classics of the Silent Screen: A Pictorial Treasury. New York: Bramhall House, 1959. Print
  8. Zito, Stephen F., American Film Institute and the Library of Congress, Cinema Club 9 Program Notes, April, 1973 Post Newsweek Stations, Washington D.C.
  9. Ralph Ellison (1952). The Invisible Man. Random House. 
  10. "Encyclopedia Britannica". 
  11. William K. Everson (1978). American Silent Film. Oxford University Press. 
  12. Dave Kehr, "Objection Quashes Sale of Welles's 'Kane' Oscar", New York Times (22 July 2003)
  • Parker, John, editor, Who's Who in the Theatre, 10th edition revised, London, 1947, p. 437.

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