Friday, January 11, 2013
Happy Birthday To George Zucco
Most classic horror film fans have a fond regard for Zucco. He was blessed with a rich, melodious voice that he used like a fine-tuned musical instrument. That voice, along with his authoritative British manner, made him perfect for several villainous roles. He was cast as a "Mad Doctor" several times in movies such as THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL, THE FLYING SERPENT, DR. RENAULT'S SECRET, and THE MAD MONSTER. He also appeared three times in Universal's Mummy series as High Priest Andoheb, perhaps his most remembered performance.
Despite the various low-budget thrillers Zucco was associated with, his reputation as an actor was such that he was able to appear in various "prestige" pictures of the era. He can be seen in RKO's 1939 version of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, MGM's MARIE ANTOINETTE, THE BLACK SWAN, CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE, and THE SECRET GARDEN.
One of Zucco's more renowned bad guy roles was as Professor Moriarty in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, up against Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Zucco is considered one of the top Moriartys in the history of Sherlock Holmes films.
My personal favorite George Zucco performance is in THE MAD GHOUL, where his evil Dr. Morris turns poor David Bruce into the title monster. Zucco is the real star of the movie, and he gets a lot more screen time than usual. He even tries to put some moves on Bruce's girlfriend, Evelyn Ankers (you certainly can't blame Zucco for doing that).
Away from the camera Zucco was a mild-mannered homebody who was happily married. Unlike horror stars such as Karloff, Lugosi, Atwill, Clive, and Chaney Jr., Zucco wasn't surrounded by "monster movie gossip".....until a book by Kenneth Anger called HOLLYWOOD BABYLON II claimed that Zucco had gone insane, died in a mental asylum, and his wife and daughter had then committed suicide. The truth of the matter is that Zucco had suffered a stroke while working on the movie THE DESERT FOX. He never made another movie again, and died in a sanitarium (NOT an asylum) in 1960. His wife lived for several years afterward, but unfortunately Zucco's daughter, Frances (who appeared in a few films as an actress in the 1950s) died of cancer two years after Zucco passed.
George Zucco was certainly an excellent movie villain, but more than that, he was one of the finest character actors of Hollywood's Golden Age. If one wishes to know more about George Zucco, I highly recommend reading Gregory William Mank's magnificent HOLLYWOOD'S MADDEST DOCTORS, a triple biography of Lionel Atwill, Colin Clive, and George Zucco. Much of the information in this blog comes from that book.