Clifton Webb [Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck] (1889-1966)
One of the most accomplished of musical theatre performers, Clifton Webb began his performing career at age nine playing a dude in an amateur staging of "The Brownies." Throughout the remaining sixty years of acting, he would frequently present sharp-dressing, witty, and well mannered gentlemen--often found in decidedly less than stylish settings. The success of his first performance launched a career as a child actor in the Carnegie Lyceum's Children Theatre, playing "Oliver Twist," "Rags and Royalty," and "Little Lord Fauntleroy." During these years he also considered becoming a fine artist, taking lessons in painting from Robert Henri and William Merritt Chase. His teen years found him working in an opera company with Mario Sammarco. At age seventeen he diversified, becoming a dancer during the ballroom craze stimulated by Vernon and Irene Castle. His early partners included Mae Murray and Bonnie Glass. He toured vaudeville as a dancer until Broadway producers contracted his services. He was a hoofer/partner dancer in "Dancing Around," "Nobody Home," "Love O'Mike," and "Very Good Eddie"--all before America's entry into World War I. He became a first rank Broadway talent in 1918's "Listen Lester." From 1920 until his entry into movies in the 1940s he adorned stylish revues or malicious comedies playing a series of acid-tongued dandies with upper class manners and world-weary sentiments. The greatest of the musicals were "The Little Show" (1929), "Three's a Crowd" (1930) and "As Thousands Cheer" (1933). The greatest of the plays were "Meet the Wife" (1923) and Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit" (1941) and "Present Laughter" (1946). Webb's tour-de-force rendering of neurotic English gentlemen convinced Hollywood that he could translate to the screen. Otto Preminger cast him as Waldo Lydecker, a malicious radio columnist in classic "Laura" (1944). He signed a talent contract with Fox, and enjoyed a decade of distinguished work including "The Razor's Edge," the amusing Mr. Belvedere trilogy of comedies, "Titanic" and "Three Coins in the Fountain."