John Halliday

Active - 1920 - 1941  |   Born - Sep 4, 1880   |   Died - Oct 17, 1947   |   Genres - Drama, Romance, Crime

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American actor John Halliday went the usual route of Brooklyn-born performers by hiding behind a stage British accent in his theatrical and film performances. Except for a few awkward early-talkie appearances where he's laying it on too thick (Perfect Understanding [1933]), Halliday pulled off his artifice so well that at least one knowledgable historian has pigeonholed the actor as Scottish! In films since 1920 and on stage for at least a decade prior to that, Halliday was one of the best of the gentleman villains of the screen: He'd never get the girl, but he could ruin her boyfriend in business, destroy the lives of her family, or kill her off altogether. In the little-seen horror gem Terror Aboard (1933), it's fairly obvious throughout that Halliday is the hidden killer, but he performs his perfidy with such grisly aplomb that the audience is half hoping he'll get away with it. As a subtler conniver in the 1936 Gary Cooper-Marlene Dietrich vehicle Desire, he is able to shift from suavity to menace so abruptly that it throws Dietrich's character momentarily off balance. Even when he was cast in the lead, as in Hollywood Boulevard (1936), his behavior as a Barrymore-like faded actor is caddish enough to get him murdered a reel before the fadeout. John Halliday was permitted a modicum of audience empathy in one of his last films: as Katharine Hepburn's gently philandering father in The Philadelphia Story (1940), he manages to invest humanity and a touch of wistfulness into a basically unsympathetic idle-rich stock character.

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