from the trailer for Woman Wanted (1935)
|Born||Carl Henry Vogt
February 19, 1895
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||May 12, 1956
|Spouse(s)||Ilka Chase (1900-1978)
Julia Hoyt (1897-1955)
Natalie Schafer (1900-1991)
Marianne Stewart (1922-1992)
Louis Calhern, born Carl Henry Vogt, (February 19, 1895 – May 12, 1956) was an American stage and screen actor.
Calhern was born in Brooklyn. His family left New York while he was still a child and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he grew up. While Calhern was playing high school football, a stage manager from a touring theatrical stock company spotted him, and hired him as a bit player. Just prior to World War I, Calhern decided to move back to New York to pursue an acting career. He began as a prop boy and bit player with touring companies and burlesque companies. His burgeoning career was interrupted by the war and he served overseas in the United States Army during World War I.
He became a matinee idol by virtue of a play titled Cobra, and soon began to act in films. He started working in silent films for director Lois Weber in the early 1920s; the most notable being The Blot in 1921. In 1923 he left film, but would come back eight years later; a little while after movies started talking; primarily cast as a character actor in Hollywood (Ambassador Trentino in the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup), while he continued to play leading roles on stage. He reached his peak in the 1950s as a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player. Among his most memorable roles were three that he played in 1950: a singing one as Buffalo Bill in the film version of Annie Get Your Gun, the double-crossing lawyer and sugar-daddy to Marilyn Monroe in John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, and his Oscar-nominated role as Oliver Wendell Holmes in The Magnificent Yankee (re-creating his stage role), as well as his portrayal of the title role in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's film Julius Caesar in 1953 (adapted from Shakespeare's play).
In addition to The Magnificent Yankee, Calhern had Broadway successes in the English-language production of Franz Werfel's Jacobowsky und der Oberst (1944) and in the title role of King Lear (also in 1950). In his film career, he played the grandfather in The Red Pony (1949), adapted from the novel by John Steinbeck and starring Robert Mitchum, and the spy boss of Cary Grant in the Alfred Hitchcock suspense classic Notorious (1946). A performance as "wicked Uncle Willie" in High Society (1956), a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story, turned out to be the actor's final film.
Calhern was married four times. First, to Ilka Chase from 1926 to 1927, then to Julia Hoyt from 1927 to 1932, and then to Natalie Schafer from 1933 to 1942, and Marianne Stewart from 1946 to 1955. All four marriages ended in divorce.
Calhern died of a sudden heart attack in Nara, Japan, while filming The Teahouse of the August Moon. He was replaced in the film by Paul Ford, who had played Calhern's role in the original stage version. By an odd coincidence, when playing Buffalo Bill in Annie Get Your Gun, Calhern had replaced Frank Morgan, who had died of a sudden heart attack during the making of that film. Calhern is interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
- Cobra (1921) as Jack Race
- Gypsy (1929) as Cleve
- The Magnificent Yankee (1946) as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
- Obituary Variety, May 16, 1956.
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