Actress. She was a character player of British and Hollywood films, best known for the title role of the classic "The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935). Though only a brief non-speaking part, her performance was so indelible that viewers tend to forget she also played demure authoress Mary Shelley in the same film. Her looks and personality were most effective in eccentric or comic roles. She received Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations for "Come to the Stable" (1949) and "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957), was greatly remembered as Anne of Cleves in "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1933). Her other credits include "The Constant Nymph" (1928), "David Copperfield" (1935), "Naughty Marietta" (1935), "The Ghost Goes West" (1936), "Rembrandt" (1936), "Lassie Come Home" (1943), "The Spiral Staircase" (1946), "The Razor's Edge" (1946), "The Bishop's Wife" (1947), "The Big Clock" (1948), "The Inspector General" (1949), "Les Miserables" (1952), "The Glass Slipper" (1955), "Bell Book and Candle" (1958), "Mary Poppins" (1964), "That Darn Cat" (1965), "Willard" (1971), "Murder by Death" (1976), and "Die Laughing" (1980). Elsa Sullivan Lanchester was born in Lewisham, England. She had a free-spirited upbringing by her nonconformist parents, who distrusted government authority and refused to marry because it was the "respectable" thing to do. As a child she studied dancing in Paris with Isadora Duncan and was only 16 when she helped organize the Children's Theatre of London, where she taught neighborhood children for several years. In the 1920s she was also associated with the Cave of Harmony, a group of entertainers who delighted in provoking London's bourgeoisie; one of her bawdier performances caused a member of Britain's Royal Family to storm out of the theatre in high dudgeon. (It was through this group that she became friends with director James Whale, who later cast her in "The Bride of Frankenstein"). She made her screen debut in a British short, "The Scarlet Woman" (1924). Like her parents, Lanchester embraced the unconventional in her life, loathing anything that made her feel, as she put it, "blue-eyed and normal." She married actor Charles Laughton in 1929 and was devoted to him until his death in 1962, despite the fact he was gay. They appeared together in several films, notably "The Private Life of Henry VIII" and "Witness for the Prosecution," though they never thought of themselves as a team. She also gave Hollywood press agents nightmares with her off-the-cuff remarks, once defining fame as "A lot of hard work, aspirin, and purgatives." Lanchester wrote two books of memoirs, "Charles and I" (1939) and "Elsa Lanchester Herself" (1983). She died of pneumonia at the Motion Picture Country Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. At her request there were no funeral or memorial services, and her ashes were scattered in the Pacific. Actress Rosalind Ayres portrayed Lanchester in the film "Gods and Monsters" (1998).
Bio by: Bobb Edwards
1899–1962 (m. 1929)