Kenneth More in 1969
Kenneth Gilbert More
20 September 1914
|Died||12 July 1982 (aged 67)|
(m. 1939; div. 1946)
(m. 1952; div. 1968)
Angela Douglas (m. 1968)
Kenneth Gilbert More, CBE (20 September 1914 – 12 July 1982) was an English film and stage actor.
Initially achieving fame in the comedy Genevieve (1953), he later appeared in many roles as a carefree, happy-go-lucky gent. His biggest hits from this period include Raising a Riot (1955), Reach for the Sky (1956), The Admirable Crichton (1957) and A Night to Remember (1958). He starred in Doctor in the House (1954), the first of the popular Doctor film series.
Although his career declined in the early 1960s, two of his own favourite films date from this time – The Comedy Man (1964) and The Greengage Summer (1961) with Susannah York, "one of the happiest films on which I have ever worked." He also enjoyed a revival in the much-acclaimed TV adaptation of The Forsyte Saga (1967) and the Father Brown series (1974).
Kenneth More was born in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, the only son of Charles Gilbert More, a Royal Naval Air Service pilot, and Edith Winifred Watkins, the daughter of a Cardiff solicitor. He was educated at Victoria College, Jersey, having spent part of his childhood in the Channel Islands, where his father was general manager of the Jersey Eastern Railway.
When More was 17 his father died, and he applied to join the Royal Air Force, but failed the medical test for equilibrium. He then travelled to Canada, intending to work as a fur trapper, but was sent back because he lacked immigration papers.
On his return from Canada, a family friend, Vivian Van Damm, took him on as assistant manager at the Windmill Theatre, where his job included spotting audience members misbehaving or using opera glasses to look at the nude players during its Revudeville variety shows. He was soon promoted to playing straight man in the Revudeville comedy routines, appearing in his first sketch in August 1935.
He played there for a year, which then led to regular work in repertory, including Newcastle, performing in plays such as Burke and Hare and Dracula's Daughter. Other stage appearances included Do You Remember? (1937), Stage Hands Never Lie (1937) and Distinguished Gathering (1937).
More continued his theatre work until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. He had the occasional bit part in films such as Look Up and Laugh (1935).
More played Badger in a TV adaptation of Toad of Toad Hall (1946) and a bit part in the film School for Secrets (1946). He was seen by Noël Coward playing a small role on stage in Power Without Glory (1947), which led to him being cast in Coward's Peace In Our Time (1948) on stage.
More's earliest bit parts in films date from before the war, but around this time, he began to appear regularly on the big screen. For a small role in Scott of the Antarctic (1948) as Edward Evans, 1st Baron Mountevans, he was paid ₤500. He had minor parts in Man on the Run (1949), Now Barabbas (1949), and Stop Press Girl (1949).
He could also be seen in The Franchise Affair (1951) and The Galloping Major (1951). More's first Hollywood-financed film was No Highway in the Sky (1951) where he played a co-pilot. Thomas cast him in another strong support part in Appointment with Venus (1952).
More achieved above the title billing for the first time with a low budget comedy, Brandy for the Parson (1952), playing a smuggler.
Director Henry Cornelius approached More during the run of The Deep Blue Sea and offered him £3,500 to play one of the four leads in a comedy, Genevieve (1953) (a part turned down by Guy Middleton). More said Cornelius never saw him in the play but cast him on the basis of his work in The Galloping Major. More recalls "the shooting of the picture was hell. Everything went wrong, even the weather." The resulting film was a huge success at the British box office.
More next made Our Girl Friday (1953) and Doctor in the House (1954), the latter for Ralph Thomas. Both films were made before the release of Genevieve so More's fee was relatively small; Our Girl Friday was a commercial disappointment but Doctor in the House was the biggest hit at the 1954 British box office and the most successful film in the history of Rank. More received a BAFTA Award as best newcomer.
He was now established as one of Britain's biggest stars and Korda announced plans to feature him in two films based on true stories, one about the Transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown in 1919 also featuring Denholm Elliott, and the other Clifton James, the double for Field Marshal Montgomery. The first film was never made and the second (I Was Monty's Double) with another actor. Korda also wanted More to star in a new version of The Four Feathers, Storm Over the Nile (1956) but he turned it down.
However More did accept Korda's offer to appear in a film adaptation of The Deep Blue Sea (1955) gaining the Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his performance. The film was something of a critical and commercial disappointment (More felt Vivien Leigh was miscast in the lead) but still widely seen. He also did the narration for Korda's The Man Who Loved Redheads (1955).
He received an offer from David Lean to play the lead role in an adaptation of The Wind Cannot Read by Richard Mason. More was unsure about whether the public would accept him in the part and turned it down, a decision he later regarded as "the greatest mistake I ever made professionally". (Lean dropped the project and was not involved in the eventual 1958 film version which starred Dirk Bogarde and was directed by Thomas).
Instead More played the Royal Air Force fighter ace, Douglas Bader, in Reach for the Sky (1956), a part turned down by Richard Burton. It was the most popular British film of the year. By 1956 More's asking price was £25,000 a film.
More received offers to go to Hollywood but turned them down, unsure his persona would be effective there. However, he started working with American co-stars and directors more often. In February 1957 he signed a contract with Daniel M. Angel and was to make ten films over five years, seven which would be distributed by Rank and three by 20th Century Fox. In June of that year he said:
Hollywood has been hitting two extremes – either a Biblical de Mille spectacular or a Baby Doll. Britain does two other kinds of movie as well as anyone – a certain type of high comedy and a kind of semi-documentary. I believe we (the British film industry) should hit these hard.
His next film, The Admirable Crichton (1957), was a high comedy, based on the play by J. M. Barrie. It was released by Columbia Pictures. It was directed by Lewis Gilbert who had also made Reach for the Sky who later said:
I was very fond of Kenny as an actor, although he wasn't particularly versatile. What he could do, he did very well. His strengths were his ability to portray charm; basically he was the officer returning from the war and he was superb in that kind of role. The minute that kind of role went out of existence, he began to go down as a box office star."
Regarding his performance in this film, critic David Shipman wrote:
It was not just that he had superb comic timing: one could see absolutely why the family trusted their fates to him. No other British actor had come so close to that dependable, reliable quality of the great Hollywood stars – you would trust him through thick and thin. And he was more humorous than, say, Gary Cooper, more down-to-earth than, say, Cary Grant.
The Admirable Crichton was the third most popular movie at the British box office in 1957.
In 1957 More had announced that he would play the lead role of a captain caught up in the Indian Mutiny in Night Runners of Bengal but the film was never made. More turned down an offer from Roy Ward Baker to play a German POW in The One That Got Away (1957), but agreed to play the lead part of Charles Lightoller in the Titanic film for the same director, A Night to Remember (1958). This was the first of a seven-year contract with Rank at a fee of £40,000 a film. It was popular though failed to recoup its large cost; it was one of More's most critically acclaimed films.
More then made a series of films for Rank that were distributed in the US by 20th Century Fox.
The first was The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958), a Western spoof originally written for Clifton Webb. He had an American director (Raoul Walsh) and co-star Jayne Mansfield), although the film was shot in Spain. It was the tenth most-popular movie at the British box office in 1958.
The third Fox-Rank film was an Imperial adventure set in India, North West Frontier (1959), co-starring Lauren Bacall and directed by J. Lee Thompson. It was another success in Britain but not in the US.
However Sink the Bismarck! (1960), directed by Gilbert, was a hit in Britain and the US.
In 1960, Rank's Managing Director John Davis gave permission for More to work outside his contract to appear in The Guns of Navarone (1961). More, however, made the mistake of heckling and swearing at Davis at a BAFTA dinner at the Dorchester, losing both the role (which went to David Niven) and his contract with Rank.
More went on to make a comedy, Man In The Moon (1960), which flopped at the box office, "his first real flop" since becoming a star, according to Shipman. He returned to the stage directing The Angry Deep in Brighton in 1960.
More and Gilbert were reunited on The Greengage Summer (1961) which remains one of More's favourite films, although Gilbert felt the star was miscast.
More says he accepted the lead in the low budget youth film, Some People (1962), because he had no other offers at the time. The movie was profitable. He was one of many stars in The Longest Day (1962) and played the lead in a comedy We Joined the Navy (1962), which was poorly received.
More tried to change his image with The Comedy Man (1963) which the public did not like, although it became his favourite role.
Some felt More's popularity declined when he left his second wife to live with Angela Douglas. Film writer Andrew Spicer thought that "More's persona was so strongly associated with traditional middle class values that his stardom could not survive the shift towards working class iconoclasts" during that decade. Another writer, Christopher Sandford, wrote that "as the sixties began and the star of the ironic, postmodernist school rose, More was derided as a ludicrous old fogey with crinkly hair and a tweed jacket."
More went back to the stage, appearing in Out of the Crocodile (1963) and Our Man Crichton (1964–65), which ran for six months.
More's popularity recovered in the 1960s through West End stage performances and television roles, especially following his success in The Forsyte Saga (1967). Critic David Shipman said More's personal notices for his performance on stage in The Secretary Bird (1968) "must be among the best accorded any light comedian during this century".
On screen More had a small role in Dark of the Sun (1968) and a bigger one in Fräulein Doktor (1969). He was one of many names in Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) and Battle of Britain (1969). He took the role of the Ghost of Christmas Present in Scrooge (1970) and had long stage runs with a revival of The Winslow Boy (1970) and Getting On by Alan Bennett (1971).
More's later stage appearances included Signs of the Times (1973) and On Approval (1977). He played the title character in ATV's Father Brown (1974) series.
More was married three times. His first marriage in 1940 to actress Mary Beryl Johnstone (one daughter, Susan Jane, born 1941) ended in divorce in 1946. He married Mabel Edith "Bill" Barkby in 1952 (one daughter, Sarah, born 1954) but left her in 1968 for Angela Douglas, an actress 26 years his junior, causing considerable estrangement from friends and family. He was married to Douglas (whom he nicknamed "Shrimp") from 17 March 1968 until his death.
More wrote two autobiographies, Happy Go Lucky (1959) and More or Less (1978). In the second book he related how he had since childhood, a recurrent dream of something akin to a huge wasp descending towards him. During the war he experienced a German Stuka dive-bomber descending in just such a manner. After that he claimed never to have had that dream again. Producer Daniel M. Angel successfully sued More for libel in 1980 over comments made in his second autobiography.
More and Douglas separated for several years during the 1970s but reunited when he was diagnosed with a rare form of Parkinson's Disease. This made it increasingly difficult for him to work, although his last role was a sizeable supporting part in a US TV adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities (1980). In 1980, when he was being sued by producer Danny Angel for comments in his memoirs, he told the court he was retired.
In 1981 he wrote:
Doctors and friends ask me how I feel. How can you define "bloody awful?" My nerves are stretched like a wire; the simplest outing becomes a huge challenge – I have to have Angela's arm to support me most days... my balance or lack of it is probably my biggest problem. My blessings are my memories and we have a few very loyal friends who help us through the bad days... Financially all's well. Thank goodness my wife, who holds nothing of the past over my head, is constantly at my side. Real love never dies. We share a sense of humour which at times is vital. If I have a philosophy it is that life doesn't put everything your way. It takes a little back. I strive to remember the ups rather than the downs. I have a lot of time with my thoughts these days and sometimes they hurt so much I can hardly bear it. However, my friends always associate me with the song: "When You're Smiling..." lt isn't always easy but I'm trying to live up to it.
More died of the disease on 12 July 1982, aged 67. His body was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium.
The Kenneth More Theatre, named in his honour, is in Ilford, Essex. An Official website was launched in 2018 to coincide with the birth of the late actor, by entertainment publicist and writer Nick Pourgourides, who represents More's estate on behalf of wife Angela Douglas and More's children, Jane and Sarah. In 2019, in collaboration with Talking Pictures TV, the estate helped to create and promote the first national Kenneth More Day, marking the late actor's passing on July 12. In 2020, More Please, the first authorised book on Kenneth More by his estate, and written by Nick Pourgourides is due for publication.
British exhibitors regularly voted More one of the most popular stars at the local box office in an annual poll conducted by the Motion Picture Herald:
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