Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stewart Granger

Stewart Granger, born James Lablache Stewart, was an English film actor, mainly associated with heroic and romantic leading roles. He was a popular leading man from the 1940s to the 1960s.

He was born in Old Brompton Road, West London and educated at Epsom College and the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. He was the great-great-grandson of the opera singer Luigi Lablache. When he became an actor, he was obliged to change his name in order to avoid being confused with the American actor James Stewart. (Granger was his Scottish grandmother's maiden name.) Off-screen friends and colleagues would continue to call him Jimmy for the rest of his life, but to the general public he became Stewart Granger.

In 1933, he made his film debut as an extra. It was at this time he met Michael Wilding - they remained friends until Wilding's death in 1979. Years of theatre work followed, initially at Hull Repertory Theatre and then, after a pay dispute, at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Here he met Elspeth March, a leading actress with the company, who became his first wife. At the outbreak of war, Granger enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders, then transferred to the Black Watch with the rank of second lieutenant. But Granger suffered from stomach ulcers - he was invalided out of the army at the war's start.

His first starring film role was in the Gainsborough Pictures period melodrama The Man in Grey (1943), a film that helped to make him a huge star in Britain. A string of popular but critically dismissed films followed, including The Magic Bow in which Granger played Niccolo Paganini and Madonna of the Seven Moons which the critic Leslie Halliwell called 'novelettish balderdash killed stone dead by stilted production.' An exception was Saraband for Dead Lovers an Ealing Studios Production. The screenplay was by John Dighton and Alexander Mackendrick, who would go on to direct The Ladykillers and Sweet Smell of Success. Granger is cast as the outsider, the handsome gambler who is perceived as 'not quite the ticket' by the established order, the Hanovarian court where the action is mostly set. Granger stated that this was one of few films he made of which he was proud.

In 1949 he made Adam and Evelyne in which he starred with Jean Simmons. The story, about a much older man and a teenager whom he gradually realises is no longer a child but a mature young woman with emotions and sexuality had obvious parallels to Granger and Simmons' own lives. Granger had first met the very young Jean Simmons when they both worked on Gabriel Pascal's Caesar and Cleopatra. Three years on, Simmons had transformed from a promising newcomer into a star - and a very attractive young woman. They married the following year in a bizarre wedding ceremony organised by Howard Hughes - one of his private planes flew the couple to Tucson, Arizona, where they were married, mainly among strangers, with Michael Wilding as Granger's best man.

In 1949 he made the move to Hollywood - MGM was looking for someone to play Rider Haggard's hero Allan Quatermain in the film version of Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1950). On the basis of the huge success of this film he was offered a seven-year contract by MGM. Following two less successful assignments, Soldiers Three and The Light Touch, in 1952 he starred in Scaramouche in the role of Andre Moreau, the bastard son of a French noble, a part Ramon Novarro had played in the 1923 version of Rafael Sabatini's novel. Soon after this came the 1952 remake of The Prisoner of Zenda, for which his theatrical voice, stature (6'3" 191 cm) and dignified profile made him a natural. In 1955's Moonfleet, Granger was cast as an adventurer, Jeremy Fox, (in 1757 Dorset), a man who rules a gang of cut-throat smugglers with an iron fist until he is softened by contact with a 10-year-old boy who hero-worships him and who believes only the best of him. The film was directed by Fritz Lang and produced by John Houseman, a former associate of Orson Welles, so Granger was in the hands of accomplished film makers. Footsteps in the Fog was the third and final film Granger and Jean Simmons made together - Simmons played a Cockney housemaid who finds that her adventurer employer (Granger) has poisoned his rich wife in order to inherit her wealth. Bhowani Junction (1956), was adapted from a John Masters novel about colonial India on the verge of obtaining independence. Ava Gardner played an Anglo-Indian caught between the two worlds of the British colonials and the Indians. It was a routine thriller in which the Communists were very much the villains of the piece. This was a film made as the Cold War intensified and Hollywood was subject to McCarthyism. His films The Little Hut (1957), a coy sex comedy, and Gun Glory (1957), a Western story of redemption, both bombed.

North To Alaska with John Wayne, ' a brawling comedy western', was the last Hollywood movie Granger made.

In Germany, Granger acted in the role of Old Surehand in three Western movies adapted from novels by German author Karl May, with French actor Pierre Brice (playing the fictional Indian chief Winnetou), in Unter Geiern (Frontier Hellcat) (1964), Der Ölprinz (Rampage at Apache Wells) (1965) and Old Surehand (Flaming Frontier) (1965).

He was united with Pierre Brice and Lex Barker, also a hero of Karl May movies, in Gern hab' ich die Frauen gekillt (Killer's Carnival) (1966). In the German Edgar Wallace movie series of the 1960s, he was seen in The Trygon Factor (1966). Towards the end of his career, Granger even starred in a German soap-opera called Das Erbe der Guldenburgs (The Guldenburg Heritage) (1987).

In 1956, Granger became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

He died in Santa Monica, California from prostate cancer at the age of 80.