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C. Aubrey Smith
Charles Aubrey Smith c1895.jpg
Smith in about 1895
Personal information
Full name
Charles Aubrey Smith
Born (1863-07-21)21 July 1863
London, England
Died 20 December 1948(1948-12-20) (aged 85)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Batting Right-handed
Bowling Right arm fast
International information
National side
Only Test (cap 66) 12 March 1889 v South Africa
Domestic team information
Years Team
1882–1896 Sussex
1882–1885 Cambridge University
1889/90 Transvaal
Career statistics
Competition Test First-class
Matches 1 143
Runs scored 3 2,986
Batting average 3.00 13.63
100s/50s 0/0 0/10
Top score 3 85
Balls bowled 154 17,953
Wickets 7 346
Bowling average 8.71 22.34
5 wickets in innings 1 19
10 wickets in match 0 1
Best bowling 5/19 7/16
Catches/stumpings 0/– 97/–
Source: CricketArchive, 23 September 2008

Sir Charles Aubrey Smith CBE (21 July 1863 – 20 December 1948) was an English Test cricketer who became a stage and film actor, acquiring a niche as the officer-and-gentleman type, as in the first sound version of The Prisoner of Zenda (1937). In Hollywood, he organised British actors into a cricket team, much intriguing local spectators.

Early life

Smith was born in London, England, to Charles John Smith (1838–1928), a medical doctor, and Sarah Ann (née Clode, 1836–1922). His sister, Beryl Faber (died 1912), was married to Cosmo Hamilton.

Smith was educated at Charterhouse School and St John's College, Cambridge. He settled in South Africa to prospect for gold in 1888–89. While there he developed pneumonia and was wrongly pronounced dead by doctors. He married Isabella Wood in 1896.

Cricket career

As a cricketer, Smith was primarily a right arm fast bowler, though he was also a useful right-hand lower-order batsman and a good slip fielder. His oddly curved bowling run-up, which started from deep mid-off, earned him the nickname "Round the Corner Smith". When he bowled round the wicket his approach was concealed from the batsman by the umpire until he emerged, leading W. G. Grace to comment "it is rather startling when he suddenly appears at the bowling crease." He played for Cambridge University (1882–1885) and for Sussex at various times from 1882 to 1892.

While in South Africa he captained the Johannesburg English XI. He captained England to victory in his only Test match, against South Africa at Port Elizabeth in 1888–89, taking five wickets for nineteen runs in the first innings. The English team who played were by no means representative of the best players of the time and nobody at the time realised that the match would enter the cricket records as an official Test match. His home club for much of his career was West Drayton Cricket club. Actors would arrive from London to the purpose-built train station in West Drayton and taken by horse-drawn carriage to the ground.

In 1932, he founded the Hollywood Cricket Club and created a pitch with imported English grass. He attracted fellow expatriates such as David Niven, Laurence Olivier, Nigel Bruce (who served as captain), Leslie Howard and Boris Karloff to the club as well as local American players. Smith's stereotypical Englishness spawned several amusing anecdotes: while fielding at slip for the Hollywood Club, he dropped a difficult catch and ordered his English butler to fetch his spectacles; they were brought on to the field on a silver platter. The next ball looped gently to slip, to present the kind of catch that "a child would take at midnight with no moon." Smith dropped it and, snatching off his lenses, commented, "Damned fool brought my reading glasses." Decades after his cricket career had ended, when he had long been a famous face in films, Smith was spotted in the pavilion on a visit to Lord's. "That man over there seems familiar", remarked one member to another. "Yes", said the second, seemingly oblivious to his Hollywood fame, "Chap called Smith. Used to play for Sussex."

Acting career

C Aubrey Smith in Waterloo Bridge trailer
Trailer for Waterloo Bridge (1940)
C. Aubrey Smith's gravestone
Smith's gravestone in St Leonard's churchyard, Aldrington, Brighton and Hove. "With malice towards none: with charity for all."

Smith began acting on the London stage in 1895. His first major role was in Prisoner of Zenda the following year, playing the dual lead roles of king and look-alike. Forty-one years later, he appeared in the most acclaimed film version of the novel, this time as the wise old adviser. When Raymond Massey asked him to help him understand the role of Black Michael, he answered "My dear Ray, in my time I have played every part in The Prisoner of Zenda except Princess Flavia. And I always had trouble with Black Michael!" He made his Broadway debut as early as 1895 in The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith. In 1907 he appeared with Marie Doro in The Morals of Marcus, a play Doro later made into a silent film. Smith later appeared in a revival of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion in the starring role of Henry Higgins.

Smith appeared in early films for the nascent British film industry, starring in The Bump in 1920 (written by A. A. Milne for the company Minerva Films, which was founded in 1920 by the actor Leslie Howard and his friend and story editor Adrian Brunel). Smith later went to Hollywood where he had a successful career as a character actor playing either officer or gentleman roles. One role in 1937 was as Colonel Williams in Wee Willie Winkie, starring Shirley Temple, Victor McLaglen, Cesar Romero and June Lang. He was regarded as being the unofficial leader of the British film industry colony in Hollywood, which Sheridan Morley characterised as the Hollywood Raj, a select group of British actors who were seen to be colonising the capital of the film business in the 1930s. Other film stars considered to be "members" of this select group were David Niven (whom Smith treated like a son), Ronald Colman, Rex Harrison, Robert Coote, Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce (whose daughter's wedding he had attended as best man), Leslie Howard (whom Smith had known since working with him on early films in London), and Patric Knowles.

Smith expected his fellow countrymen to report for regular duty at his Hollywood Cricket Club. Anyone who refused was known to "incur his displeasure". Fiercely patriotic, Smith became openly critical of the British actors of enlistment age who did not return to fight after the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Smith loved playing on his status as Hollywood's "Englishman in Residence". His bushy eyebrows, beady eyes, handlebar moustache, and height of 6'2" made him one of the most recognisable faces in Hollywood.

Smith starred alongside leading ladies such as Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor, and Vivien Leigh as well as the actors Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier, Ronald Colman, Maurice Chevalier, and Gary Cooper. His films include The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), The Four Feathers (1939), Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), And Then There Were None (1945) in which he played General Mandrake, and the 1949 remake of Little Women starring Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh, in which he portrayed the aged grandfather of Laurie Lawrence (played by a young Peter Lawford), who generously gives a piano to the frail Beth March (played by Margaret O'Brien). He also appeared as the father of Maureen O'Sullivan in Tarzan the Ape Man, the first Tarzan film with Johnny Weissmüller. Smith also played a leading role as the Earl of Dorincourt in David O. Selznick's adaption Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936).

He appeared in Dennis Wheatley's 1934 thriller Such Power Is Dangerous, about an attempt to take over Hollywood, under the fictitious name of Warren Hastings Rook (rather than Charles Aubrey Smith). Author Evelyn Waugh leaned heavily on Smith in drawing the character of Sir Ambrose Abercrombie for Waugh's 1948 satire of Hollywood The Loved One. Commander McBragg in the TV cartoon Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales is a parody of him.


Smith died of pneumonia at home in Beverly Hills on 20 December 1948, aged 85. He was survived by his wife and their daughter, Honor. His body was cremated and nine months later, in accordance with his instructions, the ashes were returned to England and interred in his mother's grave at St Leonard's churchyard in Hove, Sussex.

Honours and awards

Smith has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Smith was an officer in the Legion of Frontiersmen.

In 1933, he served on the first board of the Screen Actors Guild.

He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1938 and was knighted by George VI in 1944 for services to Anglo-American amity.


Year Film Role Director Notes
1915 The Builder of Bridges Edward Thursfield
1915 John Glayde's Honor John Glayde
1916 Jaffery Jaffery
1916 The Witching Hour Jack Brookfield
1918 Red Pottage Lord Newhaven Meyrick Milton
1920 The Face at the Window Bentinck
1920 Castles in Spain The builder Horace Lisle Lucoque
1920 The Bump short
1920 The Shuttle of Life Reverend John Stone D. J. Williams
1922 The Bohemian Girl Devilshoof Josef von Sternberg
1922 Flames of Passion Richard Hawke, K.C. Graham Cutts
1923 The Temptation of Carlton Earle Carlton Earle Wilfred Noy
2018 The Unwanted Col. Carrington Walter Summers (rediscovered and restored 2011)
1924 The Rejected Woman Peter Leslie Albert Parker
1928 Show People Extra at Movie Preview King Vidor uncredited
1930 Such Is the Law Sir James Whittaker Sinclair Hill
1930 Birds of Prey Arthur Hilton Basil Dean
John E. Burch (assistant)
1930 Passion Flower Man at Ferry Boat Pier William C. deMille (uncredited) uncredited
1931 The Bachelor Father Sir Basil Algernon 'Chief' Winterton Robert Z. Leonard
1931 Trader Horn St. Clair W.S. Van Dyke uncredited
1931 Contraband Love Paul Machin, JP Sidney Morgan
1931 Daybreak General von Hertz Jacques Feyder
1931 Never the Twain Shall Meet Mr. Pritchard W. S. Van Dyke
1931 The Man in Possession Mr. Dabney Sam Wood (uncredited)
1931 Son of India Dr. Wallace Jacques Feyder
1931 Guilty Hands Reverend Hastings Lionel Barrymore
1931 The Phantom of Paris Bourrelier John S. Robertson
1931 Surrender Count Reichendorf William K. Howard
1932 Polly of the Circus Reverend James Northcott Alfred Santell
1932 Tarzan the Ape Man James Parker W. S. Van Dyke Jane's father
1932 But the Flesh Is Weak Florian Clement Jack Conway
1932 Love Me Tonight the Duc d'Artelines Rouben Mamoulian
1932 Trouble in Paradise Adolph J. Giron Ernst Lubitsch
1932 No More Orchids Jerome Cedric Walter Lang
1932 They Just Had to Get Married Aubrey Hampton Edward Ludwig
1933 The Monkey's Paw Sgt. Maj. Morris Wesley Ruggles
Ernest B. Schoedsack (uncredited)
1933 Luxury Liner Edward Thorndyke Lothar Mendes
1933 Secrets Mr. William Marlowe Frank Borzage
1933 The Barbarian Cecil Harwood Sam Wood
1933 Adorable Prime Minister Von Heynitz William Dieterle
1933 Morning Glory Robert Harley "Bob" Hedges Lowell Sherman
1933 Curtain at Eight Detective E. Mason Hopper
1933 Bombshell Mr. Wendell Middleton Victor Fleming
1933 Queen Christina Aage Rouben Mamoulian
1934 Caravan Baron von Tokay Erik Charell
1934 Gambling Lady Peter Madison Archie Mayo
1934 The House of Rothschild Duke of Wellington Alfred L. Werker
Maude T. Howell (asst.)
1934 The Scarlet Empress Christian August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst Josef von Sternberg Catherine's father
1934 One More River Gen. Charwell James Whale
1934 Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back Captain Reginald Neilsen aka Colonel Roy Del Ruth
1934 Cleopatra Enobarbus Cecil B. DeMille
1934 We Live Again Prince Kortchagin Rouben Mamoulian
1934 The Firebird Police Inspector Miller William Dieterle
1935 The Lives of a Bengal Lancer Major Hamilton Henry Hathaway
1935 Clive of India British Prime Minister Richard Boleslawski
1935 The Gilded Lily Lloyd Granton, Duke of Loamshire Wesley Ruggles
1935 The Right to Live Major Licondra William Keighley
1935 The Florentine Dagger Dr. Lytton Robert Florey
1935 Jalna Uncle Nicholas Whiteoak John Cromwell
1935 China Seas Sir Guy Wilmerding Tay Garnett
1935 The Crusades The Hermit Cecil B. DeMille
1935 Hollywood Extra Girl documentary short
1935 The Tunnel Lloyd Maurice Elvey
1936 Little Lord Fauntleroy The Earl of Dorincourt John Cromwell
1936 Romeo and Juliet Lord Capulet George Cukor his only Shakespearean role on screen
1936 The Garden of Allah Father J. Roubier Richard Boleslawski
1936 Lloyd's of London Old 'Q' Henry King
1935 The Story of Papworth, the Village of Hope short
1937 Wee Willie Winkie Colonel Williams John Ford
1937 The Prisoner of Zenda Colonel Zapt John Cromwell
W. S. Van Dyke (uncredited)
1937 Victoria the Great Herbert Wilcox
1937 The Hurricane Father Paul John Ford
1937 Thoroughbreds Don't Cry Sir Peter Calverton Alfred E. Green
1938 Four Men and a Prayer Col. Loring Leigh John Ford
1938 Kidnapped Duke of Argyle Alfred L. Werker
1938 Sixty Glorious Years Duke of Wellington Herbert Wilcox
1939 East Side of Heaven Cyrus Barrett Snr. David Butler
1939 The Four Feathers General Burroughs Zoltan Korda
1939 The Sun Never Sets Sir John Randolph Rowland V. Lee
1939 Five Came Back Professor Henry Spengler John Farrow
1939 The Under-Pup Grandpa Richard Wallace
1939 Eternally Yours Gramps, aka Bishop Peabody Tay Garnett
Charles Kerr (assistant)
1939 Another Thin Man Colonel Burr MacFay W. S. Van Dyke
1939 Balalaika Gen. Karagin Reinhold Schünzel
1940 City of Chance The Judge Ricardo Cortez
1940 Rebecca Colonel Julyan Alfred Hitchcock
1940 Beyond Tomorrow Allan Chadwick A. Edward Sutherland
1940 Waterloo Bridge Sr. Military officer / The Duke Mervyn LeRoy
1940 A Bill of Divorcement Dr. Alliot John Farrow
1940 A Little Bit of Heaven Grandpa Andrew Marton
1941 Maisie Was a Lady Al Walpole Edwin L. Marin
1941 Free and Easy The Duke George Sidney
Edward Buzzell (uncredited)
1941 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Bishop Manners Victor Fleming
1943 Forever and a Day Admiral Eustace Trimble multiple director
1943 Two Tickets to London Admiralty Detective Fairchild Edwin L. Marin
1943 Flesh and Fantasy Dean of Norwalk Julien Duvivier Episode 2
1943 Madame Curie Lord Kelvin Mervyn LeRoy
1944 The Adventures of Mark Twain Oxford Chancellor Irving Rapper
1944 The White Cliffs of Dover Colonel Walter Forsythe Clarence Brown
1944 Sensations of 1945 Dan Lindsey Andrew Stone
1944 Secrets of Scotland Yard Sir Christopher Pelt George Blair
1945 Forever Yours Grandfather William Nigh
1945 Scotland Yard Investigator Sir James Collison George Blair
1945 And Then There Were None General Sir John Mandrake René Clair
1946 Terror by Night Elderly gentleman on train station Roy William Neill uncredited
1946 Cluny Brown Colonel Charles Duff Graham Ernst Lubitsch
1946 Rendezvous with Annie Sir Archibald Clyde Allan Dwan
1947 High Conquest Col. Hugh Bunning Irving Allen
1947 Unconquered Lord Chief Justice Cecil B. DeMille
1947 An Ideal Husband Earl of Caversham, Goring's Father Alexander Korda
1948 Luxury Liner Edward Thorndike Richard Whorf
1949 Little Women Mr. James Laurence Mervyn LeRoy final film role

See also

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