Active - 1936 - 1980  |   Born - Jul 14, 1911   |   Died - Jan 8, 1990   |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

For the first three decades of his life, gap-toothed comic actor Terry-Thomas was far from a household name. The London-born performer worked as a clerk, meat salesman, pianist, bandleader, music hall comedian and movie extra before signing with the Royal Signal Corps upon the outbreak of World War II. His film career took off in earnest in 1949, and by 1955 Terry-Thomas was enjoying star billing in a series of officious, twittish roles. Occasionally a sympathetic leading man in such films as Man in the Cocked Hat (1959), the actor was far more effective in roles calling for easily punctured pomposity. Extremely popular in England, Terry-Thomas was comparatively little known in the U.S. outside of the art-house circuit until he starred in the Frank Tashlin-directed farce Bachelor Flat (1961). Though he'd been afforded opportunities to exhibit his versatility in British films, Terry-Thomas was typecast by Hollywood in such broad, unpleasant roles as the jingoistic J. Algernon Hawthorne in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) and the caddish Percival War-Armitage in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965). On a Tonight Show appearance in the late 1960s, the actor ruefully commented that, while he liked the money he was getting in Hollywood, he wished that his children could see him play a good guy for a change. After 1970, Terry-Thomas accepted whatever parts came his way, with the mediocre outweighing the worthwhile; he was last seen as Dr. Mortimer in a messy parody version of Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles (1978). Retiring to the Caribbean, he was forced to move back to London when his savings were depleted by his ever-encroaching Parkinson's Disease. The world at large was apprised of the actor's illness and reduced financial circumstance when he was featured on a network-TV documentary about degenerative illnesses. He spent his last painful years living off the charitable contributions of his friends and admirers. Terry-Thomas was the author of two autobiographical books: 1959's Closing the Gap and the posthumously published Terry-Thomas Tells Tales; his mid-1960s comedy record album Terry-Thomas Discovers America is today a much-sought-after collector's item.

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