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