William Hartnell

Active - 1932 - 1963  |   Born - Jan 8, 1908   |   Died - Apr 24, 1975   |   Genres - Science Fiction

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Biography by Hal Erickson

British actor William Hartnell once billed himself as "Billy," befitting his previous life as an apprentice jockey and flyweight boxer. Yearning to be a comedian like his idol Charlie Chaplin, Hartnell went on the stage at age 16 with Sir Frank Benson's Shakespeare company. In films from 1933, he spent several frustrating years playing minor villains and nondescript walk-ons. Hartnell rose to prominence in British films of the 1940s; ironically, he played an Army sergeant in his starmaking film, 1944's The Way Ahead. His film assignments diminished in importance in the 1950s, though he gained a new following in the supporting role of Sergeant Major Bullimore on the BBC TV series The Army Game. On the strength of his performance as a crusty sports agent in the 1963 film This Sporting Life, Hartnell was cast as the first of eight actors to portray TV's Doctor Who. This internationally popular sci-fi series made Hartnell a star all over again; alas, multiple sclerosis forced him to relinquish the role to Patrick Troughton in 1966. William Hartnell was long married to actress/playwright Heather McIntyre.

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