Walter Hampden

Active - 1939 - 1956  |   Born - Jun 30, 1879   |   Died - Jun 11, 1955   |   Genres - Drama, Epic, Action, Historical Film, Western

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Brooklyn-born actor Walter Hampden launched his acting career in England, starting with the Frank Benson Stock Company. In 1907, Hampden returned to the US, where his classical training and orotund voice enabled him to tour with the famed Russian actress Nazimova. Hampden's greatest American triumph was as Cyrano de Bergerac in the Edmond Rostand play of the same name; the actor first interpreted Cyrano in 1923, reviving the play periodically throughout his career. In 1925, Hampden established his own acting company at New York City's Colonial Theatre, where he acted and directed until 1930. Later on, Hampden was on hand for the opening of the American Repertory Theatre, playing Cardinal Wolsey in Shakespeare's Henry VIII. Hollywood, in its typical pigeonholing fashion, regarded Hampden as a caricature of the string-tied declamatory "grrreat ac-tor" usually treated contemptuously by more "realistic" performers. Such was not truly the case, but Hampden found himself often as not cast in films as distinguished old blowhards, notably in the opening scenes of All About Eve (1950), wherein Hampden's on-screen pomposity is the target of George Sanders' first insulting remark. The actor was better treated in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) as the kindly archbishop who offers Maureen O'Hara sanctuary, and in Five Fingers (1952) as the unwitting British ambassador whose valet (James Mason) is a spy for the Nazis. For reasons that defy comprehension, Cecil B. DeMille cast both Hampden and Boris Karloff as American Indians in Unconquered (1947)! While his movie roles weren't terribly compelling, Walter Hampden rounded out his stage career with distinction in Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

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