Dennis Price

Birth name:
Dennistoun Franklyn John Rose-Price
Date of Birth:
6 October 1915 Twyford, Berkshire, England, UK
This tall (6' 2"), suave, elegant leading man of the 1940's and later character star of distinction, was born Dennistoun Franklyn John Rose-Price, the son of Brigadier General T. Rose-Price, on 23 June 1915, in Twyford, Berkshire, England. He was educated at Radley, and at Worcester College, Oxford, where he became a member of the OUDS and made his stage debut in 1936. The following year he appeared in the film 'No Parking' as well as in a number of early BBC television plays, until the outbreak of war in 1939. Also in 1939, he met and married the actress Joan Schofield (also the child of a Brigadier general). They had two daughters, Susan (born 1940) and Tessa (born 1944).In 1940, Price joined the Royal Artillery, where he served until being wounded in 1942. His brother Arthur, who had joined the RAF, was shot down and killed in the Battle of Britain. Returning to England in 1942, he resumed his career, touring with Noel Coward in 'This Happy Breed,' and other plays Coward's company produced. In 1943 prominent director Michael Powell saw him in the play 'Springtime for Others' at the Arts Theatre. Powell was so impressed that he cast Price immediately to star in 'A Canterbury Tale." The Film was both critically and financially successful, and Price's career as a leading man was under way.He starred in 1945 with James Mason in 'A Place of One's Own,' which also starred Margaret Lockwood, with whom he had an affair which carried on during subsequent films they made together: 'Hungry Hill' (1946), 'The White Unicorn' (1947), and 'Jassy' (1947). Lockwood stated in an interview in 1984 "We were both married with small children, so we decided to call it off."Price had been making a number of successful films, most of them for Gainsborough, such as 'Caravan' (1946), 'The Magic Bow (1947), 'Holiday Camp' (1947), (in which he played a murderer), 'Dear Murderer' (1947), 'Snowbound' (1948), and 'Good Time Girl' (1948), but the one that could have made him an international name, 'The Bad Lord Byron' (1948), was a flop.He began drinking heavily after this failure, but the following year saw probably his greatest triumph, that of Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini, who schemes to murder those who stand in line to his becoming the Duke of Chalfont in Ealing Studios' brilliant black comedy, 'King Hearts and Coronets'(1949). This was considered Ealing's masterpiece, and, although Alec Guinness is remembered for his eight different characters, it's really Price who dominates the film with his cold, refined, urbane and elegant performance and narration.In 1950 there was a divorce from Joan Schofield, which sent him into further depression, not helped by his heavy drinking and fondness for gambling. His next film, 'The Adventurers' (1951), was a very fine film with Jack Hawkins, and was ballyhooed as "the British 'Treasure of the Sierra Madre'!"Price was still appearing on the stage quite often, and made his U.S. debut in 'Bell, Book and Candle' in 1951. 'The Intruder' (1953) was another good film which reunited him with Jack Hawkins, although by now he was getting somewhat smaller roles and those he starred in were B pictures. Still drinking and depressed, he attempted suicide in 1954 in his Kensington flat in a gas oven; fortunately a servant found him in time.He resumed his career immediately, appearing in such films as 'That Lady' (1955), with Olivia de Havilland, and 'Private's Progress' (1956), and in 1957 scored a big success while touring South Africa as Major Pollock in the play 'Separate Tables.' He also made a film with his good friend Jack Hawkins that year called 'Fortune Is a Woman' ('She Played with Fire' in the USA).By now Price was showing a great flair for character roles, sometimes comedic, and very good films were coming along, including 'The Naked Truth' (1958), 'Danger Within' (1959), 'I'm All Right Jack' (1959), 'Tunes of Glory' (1960), 'The Millionairess' (1960), 'School for Scoundrels' (1960), 'Victim' (1961), 'No Love for Johnnie' (1961), 'The Rebel' (1961), 'The Cracksman' (1963), 'Tamahine' (1963), 'The Comedy Man' (1964), and 'Ten Little Indians' (1965) as alcoholic Dr. Armstrong.1965 saw Price cast as Jeeves in the television series 'The World of Wooster,' which ran until 1968, and also starred Ian Carmichael as Bertie Wooster. The series, which was a huge success, endeared Price as a new character to a different generation. P.G. Wodehouse, upon seeing it, stated that Dennis Price was "born to play Jeeves," and Wodehouse was pleased no end about the casting.Unfortuantely, Price had two major vices: drinking and gambling, and, in 1967, was in bankruptcy court, where he stated "extravagant living and most inadequate gambling" as the reason he was there. He owed the Inland Revenue some 20,000 pounds, which he eventually paid back, partly by appearing some quite awful film productions in Spain, mostly directed by Jesus Franco. Price also moved to the Channel Islands in 1967.Although appearing on television and still in some decent films like 'The Magic Christian' (1970), 'Pulp' (1972), and several Hammer horror films, Price was now being seen in some rubbish which was beneath his talent and dignity. One of his last films was 'Theatre of Blood' (1973) with Vincent Price as a mad actor killing off all the critics, played by such stars as Robert Morley, Jack Hawkins, Harry Andrews, and the like. Dennis was very good as critic Hector Snipe, and showed he could still give a good turn.In October 1973, in his home in the Channel Islands, Price fell and broke his hip; he was taken to hospital in Guernsey where he died on October 6th, from heart failure as a direct result of the hip fracture. There has been a rumor that he died of cirrhosis of the liver, but his death certificate states that is not the case, as no autopsy was performed. His last film, 'Son of Dracula' (1974), was released the following year. He is buried on the Isle of Sark, next to the Dame of Sark.Dennis Price made nearly 170 film and television appearances, and numerous theatre work, first as a suave leading man, (although he often was either a murderer, or a murder victim!), and later as a character star of great versatility. He once said "I am a second-rate feature actor. I am not a star and never was. I lack the essential spark." Many people would disagree, and it goes to show that one is not always the best judge of one's own talent. In a career spanning nearly forty years, he never seemed to be out of work and was always good value for money. A 1969 TV Times article called him "very nearly Britain's biggest film star."
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