Donald Crisp


Actor, Director
Donald Crisp

About

Also Known As
George Crisp, James Needham
Birth Place
London, England, GB
Born
July 27, 1882
Died
May 25, 1974

Biography

British born Donald Crisp became one of cinema's most reliable and beloved character actors, but few moviegoers who enjoyed his work were likely aware of just how far reaching and involved his career really was. Crisp really hit his stride in the 1930s when he became one of Warner Brothers' most prized contract players, but he had actually already been in the entertainment business for 3...

Photos & Videos

The Long Gray Line - Lobby Card Set
The Long Gray Line - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Lassie Come Home - Movie Posters

Family & Companions

Marie Crisp
Wife
Divorced.
Jane Murfin
Wife
Screenwriter. Married in 1932; divorced in 1944; died in 1957; known for stories about a dog named Strongheart.

Notes

For most of his career, Crisp was perceived as Scottish. When the town of Aberfeldy in Scotland dedicated a plaque to him in 1996, a local librarian named Lorna Mitchell did some research and discovered that Crisp had been born not in Aberfeldy but in Bow, a Cockney section of London's East End.

Biography

British born Donald Crisp became one of cinema's most reliable and beloved character actors, but few moviegoers who enjoyed his work were likely aware of just how far reaching and involved his career really was. Crisp really hit his stride in the 1930s when he became one of Warner Brothers' most prized contract players, but he had actually already been in the entertainment business for 30 years by that point. After starting off as an opera singer on the East Coast, Crisp journeyed to California and in association with D.W. Griffith, became a seasoned actor and director in the early days of silent features. He also went on to be a key figure in the world of motion picture financing, but continued to accept movie assignments out of his love for performing. The enthusiasm and considerable skill with which he conveyed both dramatic nuance and broad farce kept him of interest to the studios and Crisp enlivened such classics as "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935) and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936). In the 1940s, he was an Oscar winner for "How Green Was My Valley" (1942) and provided fine support in such MGM classics as "Lassie Come Home" (1943) and "National Velvet" (1944). Over a career that spanned more than 50 years, Crisp proved to be a venerable performer and, with his wide-ranging background in front of the camera and behind the scenes, was one of the true renaissance men of Golden Age Hollywood.

George William Crisp was born on July 27, 1882 in Bow, London, England. One of eight children, he studied at the University of Oxford and was dispatched to South Africa, where he served with the British military during the Boer War from 1899 to 1902. Crisp traveled to the United States in 1906, where he was involved in the New York opera scene as both a performer and a stage director. He appeared in a pair of Broadway productions in 1908 and 1911 and, during that time, adopted his familiar professional name of Donald Crisp. Within a year of his last Broadway production, Crisp travelled to Hollywood and was in the employ of motion picture impresario D.W. Griffith. He made his film debut in "The French Maid" (1908) and went on to appear in roles of varying size in dozens of silent features, most notably Griffith's epics "The Birth of a Nation" (1915), where he played General Ulysses S. Grant, and "Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl" (1919), as the abusive father of heroine Lillian Gish. He also worked as an executive for Famous Players (later known as Paramount Pictures) and became involved in the financial world when Bank of Italy chairman Amadeo Giannini courted him to help the institution finance motion pictures. Crisp went from the advisory board to a director of that institution (which later changed its name to Bank of America) and further cemented the considerable financial security he enjoyed for the majority of his life.

If that were not enough, Crisp was also simultaneously directing movies, save for a break during World War I in which he returned to England for duties with the country's intelligence service. Crisp's two most notable projects as a director came in the mid-1920s. He served as co-director with Buster Keaton on one of the comedian's finest films, "The Navigator" (1924), and oversaw the Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler "Don Q Son of Zorro" (1925), in which he also co-starred as antagonist Don Sebastian. At the dawn of the 1930s, he directed his first and only sound film, "The Runaway Bride" (1930), which also turned out to be his last effort behind the camera. Many silent movie performers were unable to make the transition to talkies, but the balding, white-haired Crisp - who sometimes passed himself off as Scottish in interviews - not only succeeded in that regard, his career in the new medium actually turned out to be much more successful. A member of the Warner Brothers stable for much of the decade, he lent support to such notable productions as "Red Dust" (1932), "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935), "Mary of Scotland" (1936), "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936), and "The Life of Emile Zola" (1937). He also married prolific screenwriter Jane Murfin, whose career also began in the silent era and included such notable credits as "Alice Adams" (1935) and "The Women" (1939).

When his contract with Warner neared its completion in the late-1930s, Crisp announced to the press his intention of retiring to spend time on his yacht. By then, he had amassed substantial real estate holdings, in addition to the $2,500 he received weekly from Warner Brothers and his high-paying Bank of America position (which left Crisp in the unique position of approving financing on movies that he might then appear in). However, in the end, he kept right on plugging away. If Crisp had indeed exited movies at that point in his career, he would have missed out on one of his finest professional triumphs just a few years later. The actor had what turned out to be one of his signature roles as the steadfast patriarch of a Welsh family of coal miners in John Ford's acclaimed drama "How Green Was My Valley" (1942). Intractable in his ways and in staunch opposition to his sons' plans to organize a miners' union, Crisp displayed great dignity in the role and the performance earned him that year's Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Surprisingly, it was Crisp's first Academy Award nomination and in spite of many fine performances still to come from the actor, he never received another.

In what proved to be the first of a successful series of films for MGM, "Lassie Come Home" (1943) featured Crisp in a touching performance as a destitute Yorkshire coal miner unable to provide food for the titular collie his young son (Roddy McDowall) loved so deeply. Following his turn in "The Adventures of Mark Twain" (1944), Crisp again announced his departure from the entertainment world following news that he had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. Fortunately, his absence proved short-lived and he was back before the cameras in MGM's family classic "National Velvet" (1944) as the father of spirited heroine Elizabeth Taylor, and also returned for three of the Lassie sequels: "Son of Lassie" (1945), "Hills of Home" (1948), and "Challenge to Lassie" (1949). In the early 1950s, Crisp once again stepped away from the industry, but after three years of leisure, declared that he was bored and resumed acting in the 20th Century Fox CinemaScope epic "Prince Valiant" (1954). As a tyrannical rancher, Crisp proved to be a memorable opponent for James Stewart in "The Man from Laramie" (1955) and similarly made life difficult for mayoral candidate Spencer Tracy in John Ford's political drama "The Last Hurrah" (1958). At age 78, Crisp fearlessly guest starred in an episode of the live drama series "Playhouse 90" (CBS, 1956-1961). After he appeared in the Walt Disney films "Pollyanna" (1960) and "Greyfriars Bobby" (1961), and as an aged patriarch in "Spencer's Mountain" (1963), Crisp announced his retirement yet again, but finally made good on the promise. He spent much of the final decade of his life at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital, a facility he had co-founded. Following a series of strokes, Crisp died on May 25, 1974, two months short of his 92nd birthday.

By John Charles

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

The Runaway Bride (1930)
Director
Stand and Deliver (1928)
Director
The Cop (1928)
Director
Nobody's Widow (1927)
Director
Dress Parade (1927)
Director
The Fighting Eagle (1927)
Director
Vanity (1927)
Director
Sunny Side Up (1926)
Director
Man Bait (1926)
Director
Young April (1926)
Director
Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925)
Director
The Navigator (1924)
Director
Ponjola (1923)
Director
Tell Your Children (1922)
Director
The Bonnie Brier Bush (1921)
Director
Appearances (1921)
Director
The Princess of New York (1921)
Director
The Six Best Cellars (1920)
Director
Too Much Johnson (1920)
Director
The Barbarian (1920)
Director
Held by the Enemy (1920)
Director
Miss Hobbs (1920)
Director
It Pays to Advertise (1919)
Director
Johnny Get Your Gun (1919)
Director
Love Insurance (1919)
Director
Why Smith Left Home (1919)
Director
Venus in the East (1919)
Director
A Very Good Young Man (1919)
Director
Something to Do (1919)
Director
Under the Top (1919)
Director
The Poor Boob (1919)
Director
Putting It over (1919)
Director
Believe Me Xantippe (1918)
Director
The Firefly of France (1918)
Director
Rimrock Jones (1918)
Director
Less Than Kin (1918)
Director
The Way of a Man with a Maid (1918)
Director
The House of Silence (1918)
Director
The Goat (1918)
Director
Jules of the Strong Heart (1918)
Director
The Cook of Canyon Camp (1917)
Director
The Marcellini Millions (1917)
Director
The Clever Mrs. Carfax (1917)
Director
The Eyes of the World (1917)
Director
Lost in Transit (1917)
Director
A Roadside Impresario (1917)
Director
The Bond Between (1917)
Director
The Countess Charming (1917)
Director
His Sweetheart (1917)
Director
All He Knew About Women (1917)
Director
Ramona (1916)
Director
An Old-Fashioned Girl (1915)
Director
Her Mother's Necklace (1914)
Director
Down the Hill to Creditville (1914)
Director
Their First Acquaintance (1914)
Director
Her Father's Silent Partner (1914)
Director
The Mysterious Shot (1914)
Director
The Availing Prayer (1914)
Director
The Newer Woman (1914)
Director
The Tavern of Tragedy (1914)
Director
Sands of Fate (1914)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Spencer's Mountain (1963)
Grandpa Spencer
Greyfriars Bobby (1961)
James [John?] Brown
A Dog of Flanders (1960)
Jehan Daas
Pollyanna (1960)
Mayor Karl Warren
The Last Hurrah (1958)
Cardinal Martin Burke
Saddle the Wind (1958)
Dennis Deneen
Drango (1957)
Judge Allen
The Long Gray Line (1955)
Martin Maher, Sr.
The Man from Laramie (1955)
Alec Waggoman
Prince Valiant (1954)
King Aguar
Home Town Story (1951)
John MacFarland
Bright Leaf (1950)
James Singleton
Challenge to Lassie (1949)
"Jock" Gray
Whispering Smith (1949)
Barney Rebstock
Hills of Home (1948)
Drumsheugh
Ramrod (1947)
Jim Crew
National Velvet (1945)
Mr. [Herbert] Brown
Son of Lassie (1945)
Sam Carraclough
The Valley of Decision (1945)
William Scott
The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944)
J. B. Pond
The Uninvited (1944)
Commander Beech
Lassie Come Home (1943)
Sam Carraclough
Forever and a Day (1943)
Captain Martin
The Gay Sisters (1942)
Ralph Pedloch
Shining Victory (1941)
Dr. Drewett
How Green Was My Valley (1941)
Mr. [Gwilym] Morgan
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
Sir Charles Emery
City for Conquest (1940)
Scotty MacPherson
Knute Rockne--All American (1940)
Father John Callahan
Brother Orchid (1940)
Brother Superior
Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940)
Minister Althoff
The Sea Hawk (1940)
Sir John Burleson
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Dr. Kenneth
The Old Maid (1939)
Dr. Lanskell
Juarez (1939)
Marechal Bazaine
Daughters Courageous (1939)
Sam Sloane
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
Francis Bacon
The Oklahoma Kid (1939)
Judge Hardwick
The Amazing Doctor Clitterhouse (1938)
Inspector Lane
Valley of the Giants (1938)
Andy Stone
The Sisters (1938)
Tim Hazelton
Jezebel (1938)
Dr. Livingstone
The Beloved Brat (1938)
Mr. Morgan
The Dawn Patrol (1938)
Phipps
Sergeant Murphy (1938)
Col. Carruthers
Comet over Broadway (1938)
[Joe] Grant
The Great O'Malley (1937)
Captain Cromwell
Parnell (1937)
Davitt
That Certain Woman (1937)
Merrick, Sr.
Confession (1937)
Presiding judge
The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
Maitre Labori
Beloved Enemy (1936)
[Liam] Burke
The White Angel (1936)
Dr. Hunt
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
Colonel Campbell
A Woman Rebels (1936)
Judge Aaron Thistlewaite
Mary of Scotland (1936)
Huntly
Vanessa: Her Love Story (1935)
George
Oil for the Lamps of China (1935)
McCargar
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
[Thomas] Burkitt
Laddie (1935)
Charles Pryor
The Life of Vergie Winters (1934)
Mike Davey
What Every Woman Knows (1934)
David [Wylie]
The Key (1934)
[Peadar] Conlan
Crime Doctor (1934)
The district attorney [Mr. Anthony]
The Little Minister (1934)
Doctor McQueen
British Agent (1934)
Marshall O'Reilly
Broadway Bad (1933)
Darrall
A Passport to Hell (1932)
Sergeant Snyder
Red Dust (1932)
Guidon
Kick In (1931)
Garvey
Svengali (1931)
The Laird
Scotland Yard (1930)
Charles Fox
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929)
Colonel Moran
Trent's Last Case (1929)
Sigsbee Manderson
The Pagan (1929)
Henry Slater
The River Pirate (1928)
Caxton
The Viking (1928)
Leif Ericsson
The Black Pirate (1926)
McTavish
Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925)
Don Sebastian
The Bonnie Brier Bush (1921)
Lachlan Campbell
Broken Blossoms (1919)
"Battling" Burrows
Ramona (1916)
Jim Farrar
May Blossom (1915)
Steve Harland
The Commanding Officer (1915)
Colonel Archer, the commandant
The Love Route (1915)
Harry Marshall
A Girl of Yesterday (1915)
A. H. Monroe
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
Gen. U.S. Grant
Home, Sweet Home (1914)
Her son
The Great Leap; Until Death Do Us Part (1914)
The Escape (1914)
"Bull" McGee
The Battle of the Sexes (1914)
Frank Andrews
The Mountain Rat (1914)
Steve
Effecting a Cure (1910)

Writer (Feature Film)

The Cook of Canyon Camp (1917)
Scen
The Cook of Canyon Camp (1917)
Story

Cast (Short)

Screen Actors (1950)
Himself

Life Events

1899

Fought in the Boer War as a volunteer

1906

Moved to the USA

1906

Stage acting debut

1908

Began making one-reelers with Biograph studios in NY area

1910

Screen acting debut in D.W. Griffith's "Sunshine Sue"

1914

Film directing debut, "Her Father's Silent Partner"

Photo Collections

The Long Gray Line - Lobby Card Set
The Long Gray Line - Lobby Card Set
The Long Gray Line - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
The Long Gray Line - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Lassie Come Home - Movie Posters
Here are a few American movie posters for Lassie Come Home (1943), starring Lassie, Roddy McDowall, and Elizabeth Taylor.
The Uninvited - Movie Poster
Here is the American One-Sheet Movie Poster from The Uninvited (1944), starring Ray Milland. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
The Dawn Patrol (1938) - Scene Stills
Here are several scene stills from Warner Bros' The Dawn Patrol (1938), starring Errol Flynn, David Niven, and Basil Rathbone.
Pollyanna (1960) - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Disney's Pollyanna (1960). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Hills of Home - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Hills of Home (1948), featuring Lassie. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

City For Conquest (1940) - These Boys Better Be Good James Cagney as trucker Danny dipping his toe back into fighting, Frank McHugh as corner-man Mutt, Donald Crisp the visiting promoter, George Tobias his wing-man, and Kit Guard as the worse-for-wear ex-fighter, early in Warner Bros.’ City For Conquest, co-starring Ann Sheridan and Arthur Kennedy.
Adventures Of Mark Twain, The (1944) - You And Your Tall Tales Facing failure as miner in Nevada, with Alan Hale as his partner, Fredric March as Samuel Clemens doesn’t realize that Donald Crisp as J.B. Pond, is looking for “Mark Twain,” the pseudonym he first used when he submitted “The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County,” which had become a sensation back east, in The Adventures Of Mark Twain,1944.
Adventures Of Mark Twain, The (1944) - You Are Merely The Most Numerous Samuel Clemens (Fredric March, title character) uncomfortable and working with no introduction, in New York for his first lecture appearance as “Mark Twain,” improvises, with some real witticisms from the author, and Alexis Smith, her photo seen frequently before, appearing at last in the audience, with her brother, his old pal, Walter Hampden, in The Adventures Of Mark Twain,1944.
Greyfriars Bobby (1961) - His Monument Stands In Scotland's Capital Opening narration from Walt Disney Pictures, with luxurious shooting in the Lammermuir hills near Edinburgh, where the true underlying story took place, introducing Alex Mackenzie as Jock, Gordon Jackson and Jennifer Nevinson as a farmer and daughter, in Greyfriars Bobby, 1961, starring Donald Crisp.
Greyfriars Bobby (1961) - Our Mediator And Redeemer Skirting the funeral of his beloved master, the title character makes his way to what appears to be the real Greyfriars Churchyard, where we meet top-billed Donald Crisp, well into the third reel, in Walt Disney’s Greyfriars Bobby, 1961, shot largely on location in and around Edinburgh, Scotland.
Dawn Patrol, The (1938) - Those Are The Orders Commander Brand (Basil Rathbone) interrupts his Royal Flying Corps unit, who party constantly to cope with stress, with chilling orders, top pilot Courtney (Errol Flynn) first defiant, then happy again with best pal Scotty (David Niven), in the 1938 version of the WWI drama, The Dawn Patrol.
Old Maid, The (1939) - Socially Important Opening the first of two famous pairings of formidable actors (see Old Acquaintance, 1943), Miriam Hopkins as pre-nuptial Delia, Bette Davis her cousin, de-facto sister, Charlotte, Cecilia Loftus their mutual grandmother, Donald Crisp the family doctor, in The Old Maid, 1939, from the Edith Wharton novel.
Daughters Courageous (1939) - Who's Head Of The Family Landlord Sam (Donald Crisp), his proposal accepted by Mrs. Masters (Fay Bainter) is joining the girls (Priscilla Lane, Lola Lane, Rosemary Lane and Gale Page) for a first meal when maid Penny (May Robson) announces dad Jim (Claude Rains), appearing for the first time in 20 years, in Daughters Courageous, 1939.
What Every Woman Knows (1934) - I Never Laughed In Me Life! The Scottish Wylies (Helen Hayes as notably un-married Maggie, Donald Crisp and Dudley Digges her brothers, David Torrence her father) discover that the person sneaking into their library has been local train porter Shand (Brian Aherne), who acquits himself ably, early in MGM’s What Every Woman Knows, 1934.
Oklahoma Kid, The (1939) - Feel The Air? In Oklahoma, 1893, eve of the Cherokee Strip Land Run, James Cagney appears, an as-yet un-named and unaffiliated cowboy, introducing himself to Rosemary Lane, daughter of the judge (Donald Crisp), annoying Ned (Harvey Stephens) then tangling with the innkeeper (Irving Bacon), early in the Warner Bros. Western The Oklahoma Kid, 1939.
Old Maid, The (1939) - Since You Went Out West First scene after a history montage ending the Civil War and killing their former almost-mutual boyfriend, now-married Delia (Miriam Hopkins) visits the orphanage run by cousin Charlotte (Bette Davis), promoting her brother-in-law, Marlene Burnett the featured waif, in The Old Maid, 1939.
Man from Laramie, The (1955) - I Own This Town Lockhart (James Stewart) tangles with all three head men from the Waggoman Ranch in town as Dave (Alex Nicol) starts, Vic (Arthur Kennedy) takes over and Alec (Donald Crisp) settles, neighbor Kate (Aline MacMahon) rescuing, in Anthony Mann's The Man from Laramie, 1955.

Trailer

What Every Woman Knows - (Original Trailer) An ambitious wife (Helen Hayes) backs her husband's political career in this adaptation of the James M. Barrie play. with Brian Aherne, directed by Gregory La Cava.
Jezebel - (Re-issue Trailer) Bette Davis received her second Academy Award portraying a fiery Southern belle in Jezebel (1938).
That Certain Woman - (Original Trailer) A gangster's widow (Bette Davis) fights for love despite society's disapproval in That Certain Woman (1937) co-starring Henry Fonda.
Prince Valiant - (Original Trailer) A young Viking prince strives to become a knight in King Arthur''s Court and restore his exiled father to his rightful throne in Prince Valiant (1954).
Uninvited, The - (Original Trailer) Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey are siblings who discover their new house is visited by The Uninvited (1944), one of the first, and best, serious ghost stories from Hollywood.
Daughters Courageous - (Original Trailer) A father (Claude Rains) returns to the family he left years earlier and tries to solve their problems. Co-starring John Garfield.
British Agent - (Original Trailer) Leslie Howard is the British Agent (1934) falling in love with Russian agent Kay Francis during the Bolshevik Revolution.
Beloved Brat, The - (Original Trailer) A compassionate teacher (Dolores Costello) tries to reach a spoiled tomboy (Bonita Granville) in The Beloved Brat (1938).
Son Of Lassie - (Original Trailer) Peter Lawford and his dog are trapped behind enemy lines in World War II in the sequel to Lassie Come Home (1943).
Lassie Come Home - (Original Trailer) A faithful collie undertakes an arduous journey to return to his lost family in Lassie Come Home (1943) starring Roddy McDowall.
Mutiny On The Bounty (1935) - (Original Trailer) The sadistic Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) drives his men to revolt during a South Seas expedition in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935).
Doctor Ehrlich's Magic Bullet - (Original Trailer) Doctor Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940) starring Edward G. Robinson, the true story of the German scientist who devoted his life to curing syphilis.

Family

James Crisp
Father
Elizabeth Crisp
Mother
Eliza Matilda Crisp
Sister

Companions

Marie Crisp
Wife
Divorced.
Jane Murfin
Wife
Screenwriter. Married in 1932; divorced in 1944; died in 1957; known for stories about a dog named Strongheart.

Bibliography

Notes

For most of his career, Crisp was perceived as Scottish. When the town of Aberfeldy in Scotland dedicated a plaque to him in 1996, a local librarian named Lorna Mitchell did some research and discovered that Crisp had been born not in Aberfeldy but in Bow, a Cockney section of London's East End.