Richard Cromwell born 8 January 1910 (d. 1960)
Richard Cromwell was an American actor, born LeRoy Melvin Radabaugh. His family and friends called him Roy, though he was also professionally known and signed autographs as Dick Cromwell.
Cromwell was best known for his work in Jezebel (1938) with Bette Davis and Henry Fonda and in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) where he shared top billing with Gary Cooper and Franchot Tone. That film was the first major effort directed by Henry Hathaway and it was based upon the popular novel by Francis Yeats-Brown. The Lives of a Bengal Lancer earned Paramount Studios a nomination for Best Picture in 1935, though Mutiny on the Bounty instead took the top award at the Oscars that year.
Cromwell was born in Long Beach, California. His father died suddenly from influenza during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, when Cromwell was still in grade school. While helping his young widowed mother to support the family with odd-jobs, Cromwell enrolled as a teenager in the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles on a scholarship. As Cromwell developed his talents for lifelike mask-making and oil-painting, he curried friendships in the late 1920s with various then-starlets who posed for him and collected his works including Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Claire Dubrey, Ann Sothern, and even Marie Dressler (whom he would later share top-billing with in 1932's Emma). Other patrons of Cromwell's life masks included Broadway actresses Lilyan Tashman, Katharine Cornell, and Beatrice Lillie.
The young Roy Radabaugh, as he was then known, had dabbled in film extra work on the side. On a whim, friends encouraged Roy to audition in 1930 for the remake of the Richard Barthelmess silent: Tol'able David (1930). Radabaugh won the role over thousands of hopefuls, and in storybook fashion, Harry Cohn gave him his screen name and launched his career. Later, Cohn signed Cromwell to a multi-year contract based on the strength of his performance and success in his first venture at the box-office.
Cromwell appeared in a number of now mostly forgotten movies throughout the 1930s, aside from the aforementioned standout roles in Jezebel and The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. Cromwell did another notable turn as defendant Matt Clay to Henry Fonda's title-performance in Young Mr. Lincoln (1939). He also made occasional appearances on stage.
During this period, Cromwell was continuing to enjoy the various invitations becoming him as a member of the A-list Hollywood social circuit. According to Bob Thomas, in his biography of Joan Crawford, Cromwell was a regular at the Saturday Night dinner parties of his former co-star Franchot Tone and then-wife Crawford. Other guests whom Cromwell dined with there included Barbara Stanwyck and then-husband Frank Fay, and William Haines and Jimmy Rogers. During the freewheeling heydey of West LA nightlife in the late 30s, Cromwell is said by author Charles Higham to have carried on a sometime, though obviously very discreet, affair with aviator and businessman Howard Hughes.
Cromwell served admirably during the last two years of World War II with the United States Coast Guard, alongside fellow actor and enlistee Cesar Romero.
During this period, popular composer/lyricist Cole Porter rented Cromwell's home in the Hollywood Hills, where Porter worked at length on Panama Hattie. Director James Whale was a personal friend, for whom Cromwell had starred in The Road Back (1937), the ill-fated remake to All Quiet on the Western Front. With the war's end, and upon returning to California from the Pacific after nearly three years of service with the Coast Guard, Cromwell continued his foray into acting in local theatre productions and Summer Stock in the East.
When in town, Cromwell was a fixture within the Hollywood social scene. Like many young, good-looking male screen favorites of the era, Cromwell had experimented with an alternative lifestyle. According to the book Cut! Hollywood Murders, Accidents and Other Tragedies, Cromwell was a regular at George Cukor's notorious 'boys nights'. Whatever his true sexual preference, Cromwell felt compelled to settle down for awhile, at least publically, and he got married.
Back in California for good, Cromwell was married once, briefly from 1945-1946, to the British-born actress Angela Lansbury, when she was 19 and Cromwell was 35. Cromwell and Lansbury eloped and were married in a small civil ceremony on September 27, 1945 in Independence, California. It was nearly 50 years later that Lansbury would candidly discuss her first marriage to Cromwell, and its demise due to Cromwell's bisexuality (though other sources list him as being gay).
Cromwell's break from films due to his stint in the Service meant that he was not much in demand after the War's end. Cromwell finally retired from films after his comeback fizzled: his last role was in a noir flick of 1948, entitled Bungalow 13. All told, Cromwell's film career spanned 39 films.
In the 1950s, Cromwell went back to his given name and studied ceramics. He built a pottery studio at his home. There, Radabaugh successfully designed coveted decorative tiles for himself and for his industry-friends. Radabaugh's original tiles as well as his large decorative art deco-style wall paintings of Adam and Eve can still be seen today in the mezzanine off the balcony of the restored Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, which is today considered a noted architectural landmark.
In July of 1960, Cromwell planned another comeback of sorts. Unfortunately, he fell ill and he died on October 11, 1960 in Hollywood of complications from liver cancer. He was just 50 years old. He is interred in Santa Ana, California.
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