My YouTube Video: Christopher Marlowe's Head, Canterbury, Kent - May 2014 (00:20)
Updated news: August 2004
A biography is being attempted of Dennis Price, the patrician homosexual star of the black screen comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, and later PG Wodehouse's favourite as Jeeves.
Would-be biographer Elliot J Huntley, 30, a former Labour canditate, has encountered opposition from the star's younger daughter, Tessa Burnett, 60, who wants no book written owing to Mr Price's frequently-expressed doubts over her paternity. Dennis Price's elder daughter, journalist Susan Mapp, 64. has long been estranged from her mother, his former wife, actress Joan Schofield. When the Dictionary of National Biography included Mr Price in 1993, Mrs Mapp wrote objecting to the description of her mother as 'the beautiful blonde actress'. Her mother's hair colouring, insisted Mrs Mapp, 'came out of a bottle'. Ouch!
Dennis Price (birth name Dennistoun Franklyn John Rose-Price, bit of a mouthful, good idea to shorten it) was born on the 23rd June 1915 atRuscombe, Berkshire, England.
This urbane, sourly handsome British actor was born to privilege and most of his roles would follow suit. The son of a brigadier-general, he was expected to abide by his family wishes and make a career for himself in the army or the church. Instead he became an actor.
First on stage (Oxford University Dramatic Society) where he debuted with John Gielgud in Richard II in 1937, he was further promoted in the theatre by Noel Coward.
After brief extra work, Price nabbed early star-making film roles in several Gainsborough melodramas, including the brilliant hypnotic A Canterbury Tale (1944), The Magic Bow (1946) and Hungry Hill (1947), but the one showcase role that could have led him to Hollywood, that of the title poet in The Bad Lord Byron (1948), proved a critical and commercial failure. He took this particularly hard and fell into severe depression.
His fatally charming serial murderer in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) in which he does Alec Guinness in eight times (Guinness played eight different roles) would probably his crowning achievement. However, by the 50s he was already suffering from severe alcoholism, which adversely affected his personal and professional career. A marriage to bit actress Joan Schofield in 1939 ended eleven years later, due to his alcohol problem and the fact that he was a closet homosexual. They had two daughters. He became less reliable and fell in ranking, moving into less quality "B" pictures.
Eccentric comedy renewed his fading star a bit in such delightful farces as Private's Progress (1956), I'm All Right Jack (1959) and School for Scoundrels (1960), and TV saved him for a time in the 60s with the successful series The World of Wooster in which he played the butler, Jeeves.
But bad times resurfaced, filing bankruptcy in 1967 and moving to the remote Channel Island of Sark for refuge. Many of his roles were reduced to glorified cameos and the necessity for cash relegated him to appearing in campy "Z" grade cheapfests, many helmed by the infamous writer/director Jesus Franco, a sort of Spanish version of Ed Wood. Vampyros Lesbos (1970) was just one of his dreadful Franco entries. He also played Dr. Frankenstein for Franco Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1972) and the Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1973).
Fully bloated and in delicate health, he died in 1973 at age 58 in a public ward from liver cirrhosis. A sad ending for one who was very nearly Britain's biggest film star.