Thursday, December 10, 2015

Born Today December 10: Victor McLaglen


Born Victor Andrew de Bier Everleigh McLaglen; the place of his birth is bit of a mix-up.  On the one hand, he claimed to have been born in Tunbridge Wells, in County Kent; on the other, his birth certificate states that he was actually born in the East End of London.  On thing is for sure, he was born somewhere in England in the United Kingdom.  People popular believe that he was completely of Irish ancestry; when in fact, he was Scottish by ethnicity.  His father, who would become a Bishop in the Free Protestant Episcopal Church, moved the family to South Africa when Victor was a child.   He actually joined the British Army when he was 14, lying about his age, but soon after was forced to leave when his true age was discovered.  Four years after this, he moved to Canada and became a successful boxer and wrestler.  He was also famous for being a westerner that practiced and mastered the martial art of Jujutsu and even wrote a book on the subject. When World War I broke out and rejoined the army, serving as acting Captain for the 10th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment.  He also did some service in Baghdad later in war.  While in the army he was Heavyweight Champion in 1918.

After the war, he began taking roles in British silent films.  From the start, they were not small roles--no uncredited roles in his filmography.  The first film he appeared in was The Call Of The Road in 1920, the plot of which revolved around boxing.  At some point he moved to Hollywood and quickly became a character actor in silents.  He often played Irishmen, which lead movie goers to assume that he was actually from Ireland, rather than from England.  One aspect of his "character" was that he was particularly good at playing drunks.  One of my personal favorite silent films that he had a role in was The Unholy Three (1925), which was remade as a talkie in 1930.  He starred alongside "The Man Of A Thousand Faces" himself, Lon Chaney, Sr. It is crime caper that just captivates; and, of course, he plays the strongman figure in the film. Rounding out the "three" is Harry Earles, who stood only 3'3" as Tweedledee. This is why I got the joke in Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects (2005), about the "The Unholy Two" featuring one of my favorite Native American actors:  Danny Trejo.  To my mind, the 1925 silent is better than the talking remake, which also featured Chaney, Sr.  

The Unholy Three

For a man that went into acting with no formal training, and went directly into leading roles in silent film, McLaglen made the transition to sound film with a great of ease.  The first full sound film that he was in is The Black Watch (1929), which starred Myrna Loy and was directed by John Ford.  Sometime toward the end of his life and during his third and final marriage, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.  He died of a heart attack on 7 November 1959 in Newport Beach, CA.  He is interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.

Below is the clip from The Devil's Rejects that includes the "the unholy two."

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