Thursday, February 4, 2016

Born Today February 4: Nigel Bruce


Well known British character actor famous for his Dr. Watson to Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes, Nigel Bruce was actually born William Nigel Ernie Bruce in Ensenada, in Baja California on the Mexican side of the border, while his parents, Sir William Waller Bruce and his wife Angelica, Lady Bruce, were on holiday there.  His father was 10th Baronet, and after his death, Nigel's older brother, famed author and adventurer, Michael, became Sir Michael Bruce, 11th Baronet.  Throughout his childhood, Nigel was simply known as "Willie," and this was the name that those who knew him personally called him throughout his life. In 1914, he served in World War I; he was deployed in France with the Somerset Light Infantry and the Honourable Artillery Company.  In 1915, he was severely wounded, taking 11 bullets to his left leg (!), in Cambrai.  He spent the rest of the war in a wheelchair.  Sometime around this, he developed an interest in performance.  By 1920, May 12 to be exact, he made his first public performance at the Comedy Theater (now the Harold Pinter Theater), in the West End, as the footman in Why Marry?  In October, he moved to Canada to become a theater manager, and took up the role of "Montague Jordan" in Eliza Comes To Stay; within a year or two, he was back in the UK, touring as the same character in the same play.  He is also said to have taken several roles in the UK silent film industry; but as of now, only one role has him credited.   In 1922, he an early partial color film (2 color process by Prizma Color), as an uncredited extra, the film was Flames of Passion--a pot boiler melodrama.  He is currently not credited with another film appearance, until 1930 in the UK produced crime/mystery The Squeaker.  He moved to Hollywood in 1934.  He would go on to make several milestones in film from there.  For example, in 1935 he was in Becky Sharp, the first full length technicolor film; in 1939, the same year he made his debut as Dr. Watson, he played a rare heavy in The Rains Came, with Tyrone Power and Myrna Loy--this would go on to be the first film to win an Oscar for special effects.  Later on in 1952, a year before his death, he was in Bwana Devil, with Robert Stack and Barbara Britton--this was the first 3-D feature.  He was also in two Alfred Hitchcock films:  Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941).  Bruce died of a heart attack on 8 October 1953; he was cremated and his ashes were stored in Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles.  He was 75 years old.

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