Thursday, March 22, 2012

Clivey Rules!

E.E. Clive (1879-1940)
The Hound of the Baskervilles

The character actors who grace our favourite classic movies came from varied backgrounds and brought a wealth of talent to their screen portrayals. E.E. Clive (his parents named him Edward) was born in Monmouthshire in Wales in 1879. Clive was 22 when he decided to abandon the path of respectability as represented by his medical studies to pursue a life in the theatre. Was it an easy decision? Had he found himself bilious at the sight of blood? Was he always the class clown who liked the attention? Did a pretty girl lead him astray? His wife's name was Eleanor Ellis. It could be the name of an actress. Whatever the reason, switching careers was the correct decision.

E.E. Clive, known as Clivey to his many friends, was successful and respected in his new life. For many years he toured the provinces becoming a master of every dialect the British Isles possessed. His facility for dialects would serve him well later in Hollywood where he could portray every sort of British character from crooks to butlers to peers in such films as Captain Blood, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Earl of Chicago, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula's Daughter, Tarzan Escapes, Congo Maisie, The Great Garrick, Arsene Lupin Returns, Foreign Correspondent and Pride and Prejudice. Clivey even taught William Powell how to fish in Libeled Lady.

Seeking new worlds to conquer, E.E. Clive emigrated to America in 1912 where he ran a company at the Copley Theatre, located near the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. Clivey produced, directed, acted in plays and mentored the young people who luckily found a start to their careers in the company, including Walter Pidgeon and Rosalind Russell. In her 1977 autobiography Life is a Banquet written with Chris Chase, Roz describes the theatre as a place where the kettle was always boiling for tea and where she learned much not only by performing, but by observing the professionals in the troupe. Here she describes a lesson in negotiation:

"...By now, though I'd been working a year and wanted more money, I didn't know how to approach Clivey. Having suffered the experience of graduation day, I wasn't anxious to see yet another manager backing out of a room gasping like a fish and trying to get his breath to call the cops. But I knew I deserved a raise. So I turned in my two weeks' notice, in writing. It'll kill 'em, I thought. They'll fall apart; the theatre will have to close.

And I waited. The first week went by. Nothing happened. Nothing. I started gibbering to myself. So we were into the second week, at the end of which I would have to leave. Miss Smart-Ass, hoist by her own presumption.

Clivey was not only our director, he sometimes acted with us, and he happened to be in the Ian Hay play. I started timing my entrances for the curtain call so that I'd walk up the stairs right in front of him. Or I'd stand next to him in the wings, ostentatiously asking him how he was tonight. On the stairs he didn't chat; in the wings he said only, "Fine, Rosalind, very fine."

It came down to the matinee of the last performance. My two weeks were up. I knew I'd have to go to the hotel - I was living at the Copley - and pack. After the curtain fell, Clivey finally spoke to me. "Come into my dressing room for a minutes, will you?"

In his dressing room he was a kindly uncle. For two weeks he'd been teasing, now he really wanted to know. "Why have you done this?" he said. "Has somebody been rude to you?"

"No, no," I Said. "I just feel I should have some more money."

"How much more money do you think you should have?" he said. My original plan had been to ask for a bundle, but I settled on fifty dollars. "Fifty dollars a week."

"I'll give you twenty-five," he said. "Now go back to work."

E.E. Clive and Claude Rains
Constable Jaffers confronts The Invisible Man

As he once crossed the Atlantic to broaden his career which included producing, directing and acting on Broadway, in the 1930s E.E. Clive crossed the continent to give Hollywood a whirl. He made an impression in the first of seven movies with director James Whale as the stubborn and doomed constable in The Invisible Man. Rosalind Russell and Clivey would cross paths in three movies, 1936s Trouble for Two based on Robert Louis Stevenson's The Suicide Club, 1937s Live, Love and Learn with a screenplay by Charles Brackett, and Emlyn Williams' Night Must Fall. Jacqueline Lynch's detailed look at Night Must Fall can be found at Another Old Movie Blog. I particularly like Clivey's role in the movie as an entrepreneur who conducts tours of a murder site. Proof positive that human nature hasn't changed much through the years.

The fabled year of Hollywood greatness, 1939, would see Clivey featured in 13 movies, many fondly recalled by fans including The Little Princess, Raffles, Rose of Washington Square and Mr. Moto's Last Warning. He would cross paths twice with Mr. Sherlock Holmes. In The Hound of the Baskervilles he is a cabby with a startling revelation. In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes he is a stubbornly wrong-headed Inspector Bristol.

Warner Oland and E.E. Clive
Charlie Chan in London

"I must write that down. That's our method here, Mr. Chang."

Since my movie universe revolves around the Charlie Chan series, it is an especial treat for me to watch E.E. Clive as Detective Sergeant Thacker in 1934s Charlie Chan in London. The Sergeant is wary of the courtly and famous Inspector from Hawaii, but gradually comes to respect Chan and take pride in helping solve the case. Clivey is but one of the joys of the movie which features a young Raymond Milland, and some of the loveliest evening gowns this side of Gosford Park (wink).

Reginald Denny, John Howard, E.E. Clive, John Barrymore
Algy Longworth, "Bulldog" Drummond, Tennison, Colonel Nielson

Clivey also spent time in an official capacity, that is portraying Bobbies, with some other crime solvers in 1934, Walter Connolly as Father Brown, Detective and Ronald Colman in Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back.

Bulldog Drummond would figure prominently in Clivey's career when Paramount would bring "Sapper" McNeile's intrepid adventurer back in a series of movies with a cast that included John Howard (The Philadelphia Story) as Drummond, and John Barrymore (Twentieth Century) and later H.B. Warner (It's a Wonderful Life) as Colonel Neilson of Scotland Yard. Reginald Denny (The Lost Patrol) plays Hugh's pal Algy, the sort of amiable twit who would fit in quite nicely at P.G. Wodehouse's Drone's Club. Heather Angel (The Last of the Mohicans) was the actress most often cast as Phyllis, the more than understanding love interest. Fun trivia: Barrymore and Denny co-starred in 1922s Sherlock Holmes.

Clivey plays Drummond's valet Tenny, or Tennison for the more formal among you. Tenny was often annoyed at the complications brought into the household by Captain Drummond's exploits, but he was ever loyal, frequently resourceful, witty, and a vital part of the team. There were seven Bulldog Drummond pictures made between 1937 and 1939 and I find something to enjoy in each of the titles.

A popular performer until his untimely death from a heart attack at age 61, once seen on screen there is no doubt that Clivey Rules!


  1. Thanks for the in-depth look at E.E. Anyone who appeared in Dulldog Drummond, Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto and Sherlock Holmes films is OK in my book!

  2. Somehow, I knew you'd feel that way. A Clivey film festival would be filled with faves.

  3. Wonderful tribute to someone I always love to see in movies! You are so right that a Clivey film festival would be fantastic - his line-up of great movies is remarkable. I really enjoyed this bio, CW, of someone I love but never knew anything about. And I really loved the story of Rosalind Russell vs. Clivey. Isn't that just what you would expect of him? Good stuff!

  4. Thanks, Becky. Just his name in the credits can make me grin.

  5. Great piece. I love to learn of film/theatre crossover careers. Thanks for the mention.

    I was hoping to discuss Rosalind Russell's early theatre tour in New England on my other blog sometime, when I can scrouge up more info.

  6. Thank you, for the wonderful post on a character actor E.E. Clive, whom, I did know much about..

  7. Thanks, Jacqueline and Dawn.

    When you're a classic movie fan somedays it's all about Cary Grant and other days it's all about Clivey.

  8. Oh, how untimely, indeed. He looks the physical type to have lasted much longer. Live and learn. I love the guy but never knew his name. Now I know that Clivey Rules, indeed.

    I recently rewatched Charlie Chan in London and Clivey was such a treat to watch. 'Mr. Chang." Ha!

    And I do remember him, of course, in The Invisible Man as well as in other films. Thanks so much, C.W. for such a wonderful tribute.

    Loved that Rosalind Russell story.

  9. Thanks so much, Yvette. Our classic movies are endlessly fascinating because of all the individuals involved in their creation. I'm kinda getting in the mood for "Charlie Chan in London" myself. Maybe tonight.

  10. CW,
    I'll have to email a link to my mom for her to read since she's crazy for all things Charlie Chan. (She has great taste!)

    I swooned when seeing Reginald Denny. Boy, do I have a crush on that guy that rivals the one I have for George Sanders. Smooth as silk..those two!

    A nice tribute to EE Clive. I think you've inspired a few others with this one. Always a great sign that you have another successful article. On a side note. I just saw The Emperor's Candlesticks recently and really enjoyed it. The Bulldog Drummond films are also great.

  11. Your mom obviously passed that "good taste" gene on to you, Page. I also will admit to a certain yen for old Reggie Denny. Some guys just got it!

  12. Just LOVE E.E. Clive, one of the best character actors ever - thanks so much for all the great info! He's wonderful in the John Howard Bulldog Drummond series (and, yes, you're right, Denny's Algy really could step into the Drones Club, no questions asked!) - Clive's sang froid when encountering the many bizarre escapades that Howard manages to get him into is one of the most memorable parts of that series.

  13. Wouldn't it be wonderful if TCM gave us the Bulldog Drummond flicks? I keep hoping.



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