Clifton Webb

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Mark Stevens and Clifton Webb in The Dark Corner

Clifton Webb (November 19, 1889October 13, 1966) was an American actor.

He was born Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck in Beech Grove, Indiana, the son of Jacob Grant Hollenbeck (1867-May 2, 1939) and Mabelle A. Parmalee (March 24, 1869-October 17, 1960).

In 1892, his formidable mother, Mabelle, moved to New York with her beloved "little Webb," as she called him for the remainder of her life. She dismissed questions about his father, a railroad manager, by saying, "We never speak of him. He didn't care for the theatre."

Privately tutored, Webb also studied dance and acting. He made his stage debut at age seven. He sang with the Boston Opera Company when he was seventeen. Taking the stage name Clifton Webb, he was a professional ballroom dancer at age nineteen and appeared in about two dozen operas before debuting on Broadway as Bosco in The Purple Road (1913). Over the next twenty-five years, the tall and slender performer, who sang in a clear, gentle tenor, appeared in numerous musicals and worked his way from featured dancer to leading man.

Webb introduced George and Ira Gershwin's "I've Got a Crush on You" in Treasure Girl (1928); Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz's "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan" in The Little Show (1929); and Irving Berlin's "Not for All the Rice in China" in As Thousands Cheer (1933).

Despite his impressive Broadway credentials, and some appearances on the London stage, he did not fare as well in Hollywood. After a few silent movies, he was classified as a character actor and stereotyped as a fussy effete snob. His first major motion picture roles came in his middle-age as the classy but villainous radio columnist Waldo Lydecker in the noir classic Laura (1944) and as the elitist Elliott Templeton in The Razor's Edge (1946).

Webb received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 1945 for Laura and in 1947 for The Razor's Edge. He received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 1949 for Sitting Pretty.

He also played the priggish title role in a series of comedic "Mr. Belvedere" features, beginning with Sitting Pretty (1948); the husband of Myrna Loy and father of twelve children in Cheaper by the Dozen (1950); a silent movie star, Bruce Blair, called "Dreamboat," turned college professor, Prof. Thornton, who wants to go and stop a recent revival of his movies on TV, in Dreamboat (1952); John Philip Sousa in Stars and Stripes Forever (1952); the doomed husband of Barbara Stanwyck in the 1953 version of Titanic; and John Frederick Shadwell in Three Coins in the Fountain (1954).

Webb's comically foppish mannerisms as Mr. Belvedere and in other movies flaunted his homosexuality, but his scrupulous private life kept him free of scandal. In fact, his character of Mr. Belvedere is said to have been very close to his real life–he had an extreme devotion to his mother, who lived with him until her death at age ninety-one. When Webb's mourning for her continued for what seemed a prolonged period of time, his longtime friend, Noel Coward, is said to have remarked with a bit of exasperation, "It must be tough to be orphaned at seventy-one."

Webb's elegant taste kept him on Hollywood's best-dressed lists for decades. He retired after making the movie Satan Never Sleeps (1962).

He died of a heart attack at his home in Beverly Hills, California, at age seventy-six. He is interred in crypt 2350, corridor G-6, Abbey of the Psalms in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood.

Clifton Webb has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6840 Hollywood Boulevard.


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