Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Quotes & Snippets • Ernest Thesiger

A charcoal drawing of Ernest Thesiger by John Singer Sargent (circa 1911).

A charcoal drawing of Ernest Thesiger by John Singer Sargent (circa 1911).

The British stage and screen actor Ernest Thesiger was certainly quite a character. He originally studied at the Slade School of Art but settled on acting instead of painting. His great hobby was needlework, even to the extent that he took his embroidery to France during The Great War. When asked afterwards how he would describe life in the trenches, he is alleged to have said, “Oh, my dear! The noise! And the people!”

There is a letter in The Guardian from April last in which Thesiger’s great-nephew, John Thesiger, writes: ‘Camp he certainly was. He enlisted as a private in September 1914, aged 35. “I thought a kilt would suit me, so I applied at the London Scottish headquarters, but my Scottish accent, assumed for the occasion, was apparently not convincing.” So he fell back on the Queen Victoria Rifles, was wounded on New Year’s Day 1915, and later (when not on the stage) taught needlework to soldiers in hospital.’

Although Thesiger made no secret of his homosexuality when it came to the theatrical, literary and artistic circles in which he moved,  he was married from 1917 to Janette Mary Fernie Ranken until his death in 1961. It seems they both adored her brother!

George Bernard Shaw wrote the part of the Dauphin in Saint Joan for Thesiger, but the response the actor received from Somerset Maugham when he asked the writer why he wrote no parts for him was not as satisfying: “But I am always writing parts for you, Ernest. The trouble is that somebody called Gladys Cooper will insist on playing them.” (Wikipedia)

On acting, he said: “Anyone with a modicum of intelligence and the right kind of physique ought to make a film actor, if they are lucky enough to be told exactly what to do, and I cannot see that the actor for the screen deserves any more credit than a schoolboy who is good at dictation should have for writing admirable prose.” (IMDb)

First cousin once removed of the explorer Wilfred Thesiger, Ernest is probably best known for the two films he did with director James Whale —  The Old Dark House (1932) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Sarah Vernon © 03-10-14

8 comments on “Quotes & Snippets • Ernest Thesiger

  1. Very entertaining Sarah, certainly a character.

  2. First Night Design
    10/03/2014

    I’m very glad you enjoyed it, Sally. I had fun researching it.

  3. George Kaplan
    10/12/2014

    Ms Vernon, this is delightful. Ernest Thesiger was sui generis. I learned things I did not know, most spectacular of all is that splendid sketch by one of my favorite artists, John Singer Sargent (even his name is fabulous). Regarding Ernest, I have been known to quote his line “Have a po-TAY-TO.” from The Old Dark House simply because he makes it sound hilarious through his perfect and eccentric enunciation. What a charming and unexpected post.

  4. First Night Design
    10/13/2014

    If I didn’t take myself in hand, if you’ll pardon the expression, all the posts would be about the past. I’m ‘ever so’ pleased you enjoyed it.

  5. George Kaplan
    10/13/2014

    I shall gladly pardon that expression, any comment I could make could appear to be written by Talbot Rothwell! Ah, if the present is oft-intolerable, there’s no harm in taking occasional safe refuge in a glittering past. Hm. Who said that? Oh. Yes. Me. Just now! Altho’ I likely unconsciously snaffled it from elsewhere. Ha! Good day to you.

  6. First Night Design
    10/13/2014

    Sounds frightfully familiar so I suspect you have snaffled it from somewhere. But who cares, Mr. K.

  7. George Kaplan
    10/13/2014

    Who indeed? It may well be akin to Paul McCartney suspecting he had copied the tune to what became yesterday from elsewhere. Or not.
    Before I vanish into the ether – and despite not enjoying giving my prenom out over the web – my name is Robert, altho’ I will gladly answer to George or Mr K in comments.

  8. First Night Design
    10/13/2014

    I’m flattered you should have vouchsafed your name. However, I like the idea of continuing to call you Mr K. Good evening!

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