Laughton’s a first class act

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A book which celebrates the life and work of Scarborough-born actor Charles Laughton has been re-issued in paper back.

By award-winning actor Simon Callow, Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor charts the Oscar winner’s career and times from his birth on July 1 199 to his death in December 1962.

The biography was written 25 years ago and none have appeared since. Laughton,laments Callow, is under-rated and forgotten by those - even actors - under 40.

“This is tragic,” said Callow for whom Laughton was a hero. “He was a great orignal. His approach to acting, and his ambition for it, remain a constant inspiration.”

It is a tragedy. Laughton won an Oscar for The Life of Henry VIII and was feted for performances in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Muting on the Bounty.

Research for the book is impeccable and does not gloss over Laughton’s homosexuality or his capriciousness as a performer. Callow watched every film Laughton made, studied every play he appeared in and read evey biography - including the autobiography by Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester. Among those Callow interviewed was Billy Wilder - director of Some Like It Hot. “His [Wilder] unreserved enthusiasm for Laughton was thrilling,” said Callow. Hollywood star Deanna Durbin, actress Clare Bloom, Stewart Granger and Robert Mitchum, the star of the only film Night Of The Hunter, which Laughton directed were all interviewed.

He also tracked down members of Laughton’s family including the widow of his brother Tom, a famous Scarborough hotelier and art collector.

Tom’s widow boasted of a recording of a family gathering but when she played it to Callow there was nothing on it.

“She had presumably pressed the record button while playing it back,” said Callow.

Callow devotes a chapter to Laughton’s life in Scarborough and his relationships with his hotelier parents and siblings. He talks about Laughton’s love of the entertainment in the town and his life-long love of botany inspired by the North York Moors.