Richard Cromwell (actor)
Richard Cromwell (January 8, 1910 – October 11, 1960) 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. Mr. Cromwell was best known for his work in Jezebel (1938) with Bette Davis and Henry Fonda at 20th Century Fox 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 on January 10, 1910, the oldest in a family of five children. His father Hobart Radabaugh died of a sudden illness, possibly influenza during the Spanish flu pandemic, when Cromwell was still in grade school. While helping his young widowed mother, Faye Stocking Radabaugh, to support the family with odd-jobs, Cromwell enrolled as a teenager in the Chouinard Art School 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 including Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford, Anna Q. Nilsson, Greta Garbo, and even Marie Dressler (whom he would later share top-billing with in 1932's Emma).
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. (Note: the UCLA Film Archives today contains one of the few remaining restored prints, donated by the Radabaugh-Putnam family). Radabaugh won the role over thousands of hopefuls, and in storybook fashion, Harry Cohn gave him his screen name and launched his career. Cromwell earned $75 per week for his work on Tol'able David. Noah Beery, Sr. and John Carradine co-starred in the film. 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. Amidst the flurry of publicity during this period, Cromwell toured the country, even meeting President Herbert Hoover in Washington, D.C.
Cromwell by then had maintained a deep friendship with Marie Dressler, which continued until her death. Dressler was nominated for a second Best Actress award for her 1932 portrayal of the title role in Emma. With that film, Dressler demonstrated her profound generosity to other performers: Dressler personally insisted that her studio bosses cast Cromwell on a loan-out in the lead opposite her--it was another break that helped firm up his rising status in Tinseltown. Cromwell's follow-up role at RKO in 1932 was as Mike in Gregory La Cava's, The Age of Consent co-starring Eric Linden and Dorothy Wilson.
One early standout performance by Cromwell was his role as the leader of the youth gang in Cecil B. Demille's now cult-favorite, This Day and Age (1933). While on loan from Columbia, Cromwell's salary of $200 per week was paid by Demille's studio. Cromwell is also remembered in Hoopla (1933), where he is seduced by Clara Bow. This film is considered the swan song of Bow's career.
After a promising start, Cromwell's many early pictures at Columbia Pictures and elsewhere were mostly inconsequential and are largely forgotten today. For example, Cromwell starred with Will Rogers in Life Begins at 40 for Fox Film Corporation in 1935, and while it was one of Rogers' last roles, nary a video directory can be found including it. The same goes for Poppy from Paramount in 1936 wherein Cromwell played the suitor of W.C. Fields' daughter, Rochelle Hudson. Later, he performed opposite Lionel Atwill in the rarely-screened but still interesting, The Wrong Road for RKO.
In the late 1930s, Cromwell appeared in Storm Over Bengal, for Republic Pictures, in order to capitalize on the success of The Lives of A Bengal Lancer. 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).
Cromwell served admirably during WWII with the United States Coast Guard. During this period, popular composer/lyricist Cole Porter rented Cromwell's home in the Hollywood Hills . Director George Cukor was a personal friend, as well as director James Whale, for whom Cromwell starred in The Road Back (1937), the ill-fated remake to All Quiet on the Western Front. Returning to California from the Pacific upon the war's end, Cromwell forayed into acting in local theater productions and in Summer Stock back East, as well as into live Radio broadcasts for a serial program in the 1940s.
Mr. Cromwell was married once, briefly from 1945–46, to British-born actress Angela Lansbury, when she was 19 and Cromwell was 35. Ms. Lansbury candidly discusses her first marriage to Cromwell, and its demise, in her authorized biography, Balancing Act. In the book, Lansbury recounts the couple's friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Zachary Scott. By coincidence, both Lansbury and Cromwell have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that are each within walking distance of the other on Vine Street. Cromwell and Lansbury remained friendly until his death.
Cromwell enjoyed regular, if not critically-acclaimed, work in the mid-1940s film serial of the radio hit: Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher. In the early 1940s, Enemy Agent starred Cromwell as a draftsman who thwarts the Nazis. The film was from Universal Pictures and it co-starred Helen Vinson, Robert Armstrong, and Jack La Rue. He then went on to appear in marginal but still watchable fare such as Baby Face Morgan, which co-starred Mary Carlisle and was produced by Producers Releasing Corporation, one of the "Poverty Row" studios. Cromwell finally retired from films after his last, a noir flick of 1948, entitled Bungalow 13, in which he starred with Margaret Hamilton.
In the 1950s, Cromwell went back to his given name and studied ceramics. He built a pottery studio at his home. The home still stands today and is located in the hills above Sunset Boulevard on North Miller Drive. There, Radabaugh successfully designed coveted decorative tiles for his industry-friends, as well as for noted architectural landmarks, including the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. Radabaugh's original tiles as well as his large decorative wall paintings can still be seen today in the lobby of the restored theater.
As Radabaugh, he also wrote extensively, producing a novel in the 1950s. Cromwell was an early participant and supporter of Alcoholics Anonymous in the Los Angeles Area.
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. Cromwell was survived by some of his siblings, including Opal Radabaugh Putnam, and his many nieces and nephews.