Laird Cregar

A Hollywood Tragedy

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About the Book

In 1944, Laird Cregar played Jack the Ripper in The Lodger, giving one of the most haunting performances in Hollywood history. It was the climax of a strange celebrity that saw the young American actor—who stood 6’ 3” and weighed more than 300 pounds—earn distinction as a portrayer of psychopaths and villains. Determined to break free of this typecasting, he desperately desired to become “a beautiful man,” embarking on an extreme diet that killed him at 31. This first biography of Cregar tells the heartbreaking story of the brilliant but doomed actor. Appendices cover his film, theatre, and radio work. Many never before published photographs are included.

About the Author(s)

Gregory William Mank, a Delta, Pennsylvania, freelance writer, has acted in more than 100 stage productions. He has written numerous books on classic horror films.

Bibliographic Details

Gregory William Mank
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 329
Bibliographic Info: 95 photos, filmography, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2019 [2018]
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7899-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2844-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  ix

Author’s Note  xi

Introduction: The Ripper Incarnate  1

Part I: If You Try to Find Me, I Will Kill Myself

1 • Philadelphia  8

2 • The “Secret Heart” Thing  18

3 • A Grotesque  26

4 • Life in a Sedan  33

5 • Oscar Wilde  44

Part II: The Lion of the Hour

6 • Success  54

7 • The Rabbit with the Glass Teeth  60

8 • Gooseberry the Great  67

9 • ­He-Goat Lucifer  76

10 • The Saint Bernard  83

11 • I Wake Up Screaming with Laird Cregar  91

Part III: Betsey

12 • Seven Years Old in Hollywood  100

13 • The Man Who Shouldn’t Have Come to Dinner  103

14 • Quaking Like Jelly  107

15 • Riding the Cannon  118

16 • Swashbuckler  125

17 • The Hideaway and a Sad Farewell  131

Part IV: “We Want You Just As You Are, Mr. Cregar.”

18 • Who Was Who in the Zoo  136

19 • Three in 1943  145

20 • Horror  154

21 • “Don’t Let Him Catch Ya, Dearie!”  157

22 • “Gloomy Sunday”  166

23 • The Ripper in Person  170

Part V: “A Beautiful Man”

24 • Hangover Square’s First Draft, and the Debacle of Laura  180

25 • A Failed Romance, a Revised Script, Abbott and Costello Meet Laird Cregar, a Female Stalker, and the Tragedy of Henry VIII  187

26 • “The Bette Davis of the 20th Century–Fox Lot”  194

27 • Blowing Up  201

28 • Fox Infernos  210

29 • The Last Act  219

Part VI: Denouement

30 • What I Wanted for Christmas  230

31 • Legacy  235

32 • A Final Tribute  242

Filmography  245

Theater Credits  285

Radio Credits  289

Unrealized Film Projects  291

Chapter Notes  293

Bibliography  307

Index  309

Book Reviews & Awards

Booklist Starred Review

“Decades of research…the author brings Cregar back to vivid life in this culmination of an ‘almost lifelong’ fascination with the actor…as with most good Hollywood biographies, this one interweaves its subject’s life story with the story of the movie business itself…Mank finds joy as well as tragedy in Cregar’s attempt to live his dream…gives rich life to an unknown Hollywood story”—Booklist

“Mank offers one of the first in-depth studies of Samuel Laird Cregar…a compelling, cautionary tale of an actor who held his own”—Library Journal

“Mank quotes many people who knew or researched Cregar. The stories are amazing as are the photos…an incredible entertaining opus. As good as anything you have ever read, or will ever read about an actor and name we knew…yet, we really didn’t know”—Little Shoppe of Horrors

“With his hyper-dramatic style and flawless research, Mank has become one of the finest classic film writers/historians working today, and he has been raising the bar of film scholarship for decades…excellent…Creggar’s life and career has never had the light of scholarship and film criticism sine on it until now, and there is so much here to discover and enjoy..the highest recommendation.”—Midnight Marquee

“Incredibly detailed and meticulously researched”—Pop Culture Classics