John Breckinridge

Active - 1959 - 1959  |   Born - Jan 1, 1902   |   Died - Nov 5, 1996   |   Genres - Horror, Science Fiction

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Biography by AllMovie

John Breckinridge, often referred to by his friends as "Bunny" Breckinridge, only ever appeared in a single film. But that movie, Edward D. Wood Jr.'s Plan 9 From Outer Space, has become one of the most heavily analyzed and discussed films this side of Citizen Kane, if only for its spellbinding ineptitude, and Breckinridge's particular role, as the ruler of the alien invaders, was an especially visible one. That portrayal, coupled with Breckinridge's status as part of the coterie of Hollywood and societal fringe figures assembled around director/producer/writer Wood during the early '50s, was sufficient to earn him an unexpected degree of screen immortality in Tim Burton's feature film Ed Wood (1994); in that movie, Breckinridge was portrayed by Bill Murray. John Breckinridge came from a family of American blue-bloods. One of his great-grandfathers was John Cabell Breckinridge (1821-1875), the Vice President of the United States (1857-1861) under James Buchanan, and later a senator from Kentucky, a Confederate general, and the Confederate Secretary of War; another great-grandfather was Lloyd Tevis (1824-1899), the lawyer and financial speculator who founded the Wells Fargo Bank. Born in Paris in 1902, Breckinridge grew up surrounded by luxury and moved freely in circles with the leading lights of theater, music, and art -- he later cited soprano and silent screen actress Mary Garden as one of the frequent guests at his family's home during his childhood. He was educated in England, at Eton College and at Oxford University, and in his twenties did some stage acting in England, specializing in Shakespearean roles. A marriage to the daughter of a French noblewoman lasted only two years, during the late '20s. Apart from his brief acting stint in the 1920s, Breckinridge never aspired to be a "public" figure, and he lived most of his life during the 1940s and 1950s in private; or, rather, with as much privacy as an almost openly gay, sometime millionaire could enjoy during this era. He was known in the underground gay community of the period for his outrageous statements, flamboyant dress (including lots of costume jewelry and perfume), and extravagant lifestyle. He crossed paths with Edward D. Wood Jr. prior to the time that Wood made Glen or Glenda (1953), a film whose production was inspired by the real-life story of the sex-change surgery of Christine Jorgensen (although the movie itself was actually about transvestism). In 1954, Breckinridge himself announced plans (never actually carried out) to go to Denmark for a sex-change operation. Breckinridge made his only screen appearance, portraying an alien ruler in Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space, in 1956. His scene, which lasts barely five minutes, is one of the strangest in an already bizarre movie, the one-time stage actor giving a serious, sincere, polished, and dramatic portrayal, as though he were playing Hamlet, in what is otherwise a largely unpolished film in almost every other aspect of its production. His scene stands out from everything else in the picture, not that it's necessarily better -- he is too fey in his manner, reminiscent of Ernest Thesiger's Dr. Praetorius in The Bride of Frankenstein, and the effect is bizarre, in an already bizarre film. Although he often lived well and entertained lavishly, Breckinridge's life was marred by inconsistencies and troubles, even on this level. In 1954, he was ordered by a court to pay 8,500 dollars annually toward the support of his mother in England. And during the later 1950s, Breckinridge was arrested on several occasions, on charges ranging from vagrancy to sex perversion, and he spent a year in Atascadero, a California hospital for the criminally insane, from 1959 to 1960. He was confined to a nursing home in the closing years of his life. There is no known published account of his reaction to Bill Murray's portrayal of him in Ed Wood, which gave Breckinridge the highest public profile of his entire life.