16 February 2012

Dennis Price

British actor Dennis Price (1915 – 1973) played in nearly 130 films and television plays. He started as a suave leading man, and later became a character star of great versatility.

Dennis Price
British postcard in the "The People" series by Show Parade Picture Service, London, no. P. 1001. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation Ltd.

Dennis Price
Dutch postcard. Photo: Eagle Lion.

The Army or the Church
Dennis Price was born Dennistoun Franklyn John Rose-Price in 1915, into an upper-class family in Twyford (according to some sources: Ruscomb), England. His father T. Rose-Price was a brigadier-general, and Dennis was expected to make a career for himself in the army or the church. He was educated at Radley, and at Worcester College, Oxford, where he became a member of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. He did not abide by his family's wishes and decided to become an actor. He made his first appearance on the London stage in 1937 in Richard II with John Gielgud in the title role. A year later, he made his film debut as an extra in the comedy No Parking (1938, Jack Raymond) and also appeared in early BBC television plays. In 1939, he met and married the actress Joan Schofield. War put a temporary halt to his acting career. In 1940, he joined the Royal Artillery, where he served until he was wounded in 1942. His brother Arthur Thomas Rose-Price, who had joined the RAF as Flying Officer RAF, was shot down and killed in the Battle of Britain.

Dennis Price
British postcard.

Cold, Refined, Urbane and Elegant
Dennis Price was cast by Michael Powell for one of the leading parts in his war drama A Canterbury Tale (1944, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger). The film was not a box office hit but is now regarded as one in a number of Powell & Pressburger classics. Price went on to star in such Gainsborough melodramas as A Place of One's Own (1945, Bernard Knowles), which also starred Margaret Lockwood. They had an affair which carried on during the subsequent films they made together: Hungry Hill (1946, Brian Desmond Hurst), The White Unicorn (1947, Bernard Knowles), and Jassy (1947, Bernard Knowles). Then he played a fatally charming serial killer in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949, Robert Hamer), who kills nearly all of Alec Guinness' eight characters. According to Scott Palmer at IMDb: "This was considered Ealing's masterpiece, and, although Alec Guinness is remembered for his eight different characters, it's really Price who dominates the film with his cold, refined, urbane and elegant performance and narration." Kind Hearts and Coronets was a triumph, but the showcase role in The Bad Lord Byron (1949, David MacDonald) that could have led him to Hollywood, flopped. He fell into a severe depression. His marriage to actress Joan Schofield of eleven years ended in 1950, and four years later he attempted suicide in his Kensington flat in a gas oven. Fortunately a servant found him in time.

Dennis Price, Patricia Dainton
With Patricia Dainton. British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, no. W. 847, London. Photo: Associated British. Publicity still for The Dancing Years (1950, Harold French), based on a play by Ivor Novello.

Dennis Price
British postcard by Real Photograph, no. F.S. 29. Photo: Gainsborough Pictures. Publicity still for The Bad Lord Byron (1949, David MacDonald).

Controversial Drama
Dennis Price's heavy drinking and homosexuality seem to have been the cause of most of his personal problems. Bravely he played in the controversial drama Victim (1961, Basil Dearden) starring Dirk Bogarde, which portrayed gay men being blackmailed for their ‘crime’. He became a character actor in such delightful comedies as Private's Progress (1956, John Boulting), I'm All Right Jack (1959, John Boulting) with Peter Sellers, and School for Scoundrels (1960, Robert Hamer) starring Ian Carmichael. On television he became popular as butler Jeeves in the hit series The World of Wooster (1965-1967) with Ian Carmichael as Bertie Wooster. In 1966, Price was declared bankrupt and moved to the tax haven island of Sark. He paid his debts back, partly by appearing in campy B-films as Vampiros lesbos/Lesbian Vampires (1971) for Spanish cult director Jesus Franco. Price also played Dr. Frankenstein in Franco's Drácula contra Frankenstein/Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1972, Jesus Franco) with and La maldición de Frankenstein/The Curse of Frankenstein (1972, Jesus Franco) with Howard Vernon. In October 1973, in his home in the Channel Islands, Price fell and broke his hip. He was taken to hospital in Guernsey where he died, from heart failure as a direct result of the hip fracture. Some sources say that he died of cirrhosis of the liver, but according to Scott Palmer at IMDb his death certificate states that is not the case, as no autopsy was performed. He was survived by two daughters from his marriage to Joan Schofield, Susan Mapp (1940) and Tessa Burnett (1944). His last film, Son of Dracula (1974, Freddie Francis) with Ringo Starr, was released the following year. In his nearly forty years spanning career he never seemed to be out of work. he described himself in 1969 in the TV Times as “very nearly Britain’s biggest film star”. Glyn Jones adds at her beautifuul blog Fantastic Voyages: "By the late 1960′s, after experiencing 30 years of ups and downs in British films, Price had seen all too clearly how haphazard the life of a 'movie star' could be. For my money, Dennis Price is up there with Olivier, Richardson and Guinness as the consummate British actor, but he is now almost a forgotten name, certainly a neglected one, even among film buffs."

Trailer Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). Source: Film365 (YouTube).

Trailer Twins of evil (1971). Source: freyacatoct (YouTube).

Sources: Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Scott Palmer (IMDb), David Absalom (British Pictures), Glyn Jones (Fantastic Voyages), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

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