While studying art in his native London, John Abbott relaxed between classes by watching rehearsals of a student play. When one of the actors fell ill, Abbott was invited to replace him, and at that point he switched majors. He became a professional actor in 1934, joined the Old Vic in 1936, and made his first film, Mademoiselle Docteur, in 1937; later that same year he made his first BBC television appearance. Turned down for military service during World War II, Abbott joined the Foreign Office, working as a decoder in the British Embassy in Stockholm and working in similar capacities in Russia and Canada. In 1941, he took a vacation in New York, leaving his resumé and photo with various producers, just in case something turned up. On the very last day of his vacation, he was hired for a small role in Josef von Sternberg's The Shanghai Gesture (1941), thus launching the Hollywood phase of his career. Generally cast as a fussy eccentric, Abbott was seen at his very best as whining hypochondriac Frederick Fairlie in Warner Bros.' The Woman in White (1948). He also received at least one bona fide starring role in the 1943 quickie London Blackout Murders. In the late '40s, Abbott began amassing some impressive Broadway credits in such productions as He Who Gets Slapped, Monserrat, and Waltz of the Toreadors. He also appeared in 1950's Auto da Fe, which was specifically written for him by Tennessee Williams. Though still active in films and TV into the 1980s (he played Dr. Frankenstein in the ill-fated 1984 cinemadaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Slapstick), John Abbott spent most of his twilight years as an acting teacher. Abbott died in a Los Angeles hospital on May 24, 1996, after a prolonged illness.