John Carradine was a renowned American actor of the 20th century, best known for his roles in horror films and Shakespearean theatre. One of Hollywood’s most prolific actors, he had appeared in more than two hundred films, mostly portraying antagonistic characters. Born in Manhattan, New York City, in the US, Carradine began his early film career with horror movies such as ‘House of Frankenstein’ and ‘House of Dracula’. He later joined renowned American film director John Ford’s company, and appeared in several of his films including ‘Mary of Scotland’, ‘Stagecoach’, and ‘The Man who shot Liberty Valance’. Some other popular films he appeared in include the biblical epic film ‘The Ten Commandments’, where he portrayed Aaron, brother of Moses, and the comedy film ‘The Court Jester’, where he played the supporting role of Giacomo, an Italian court jester and an assassin. During his career Carradine had also made a few appearances on television. He played a significant role in the American comedy series ‘The Munsters’. After a long and productive career, he passed away at the age of 82 due to multiple organ failure.
Childhood & Early Life
John Carradine was born as Richmond Reed Carradine in Manhattan, New York City, the United States, on February 5, 1906. His father was William Reed Carradine, a correspondent for a news agency, and his mother Dr. Genevieve Winnifred Richmond was a surgeon.
His father died of tuberculosis when John was only two. His mother then married a man from Philadelphia who was a paper manufacturer. Carradine was abused by his stepfather, which is why he ran away at the age of fourteen. Later he returned and attended the Philadelphia's Graphic Arts Institute. He lived with his maternal uncle for a while and worked in the film archives of the public library.
According to his son, Carradine also served for some time as an apprentice to Daniel Chester French, an acclaimed American sculptor known for the famous statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. He supported himself as a painter for some time.
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Carradine made his stage debut in 1925, appearing in a production of a popular play named ‘Camille.’ For some time he worked with a New Orleans Shakespeare Company.
His first credited appearance on the big screen was the 1930 film ‘Tol’rable David’. It was in 1935 that he adopted his stage name ‘John Carradine’. Soon he joined film director John Ford’s stock company and appeared in his films, such as ‘Mary of Scotland’ (1936) and ‘Stagecoach’ (1939). In 1940 he appeared in his first significant role in the drama film ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.
In the 1940s, he appeared in the horror films ‘House of Frankenstein’ (1944) and ‘House of Dracula’ (1945). He also continued his work in theatre, playing roles in plays like ‘Hamlet,’ ‘Macbeth’, and ‘The Duchess of Malfi’. He also played a supporting role in the adventure film ‘Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake’.
In 1956, he earned huge popularity for the Oscar winning biblical epic film ‘The Ten Commandments’. Carradine portrayed Aaron, brother of the famous Biblical prophet Moses. The film was nominated for seven Oscars out of which it won one. The same year, he also appeared in the comedy film ‘The Court Jester’. It was the most expensive comedy film of that time.
He also made several appearances on television. He appeared in two episodes of the acclaimed TV series ‘The Twilight Zone’. He also played an important role in the comedy series ‘The Munsters’.
Some of the last works in Carradine’s career include voice roles in the animated films ‘The Secret of NIMH’, and ‘Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp’, and a supporting role in the comedy-drama film ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’.
John Carradine’s first significant role was in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ a 1940 drama film, which is considered one of the best American films ever made. Directed by John Ford, the film also starred actors such as Henry Fonda, Ward Bond, Jane Darwell, Charley Grapewin and Charles Tennen. The film was a commercial success, and was nominated for seven Oscars, out of which it won two.
Carradine also earned acclaim for his role in ‘Hitler’s Madmen’, a World War II film, where he played a main role. Directed by Douglas Sirk, the film was about the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich, which resulted in the Lidice Massacre.
‘The Ten Commandments’, another one of John Carradine’s best known works, was a Biblical epic drama released in 1956. Directed by Cecile B DeMille, the film starred Charlton Heston in the lead role as the Biblical prophet Moses, along with Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne de Carlo and John Carradine. It was nominated for seven Oscars, out of which it won one. The film is regarded as one of the best films of American cinema.
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One of Carradine’s last movies was ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’, an American comedy drama film where he played a supporting role. The film, which was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starred actors, such as Kathleen Turner, Nicolas Cage, and Barry Miller. It was a commercial success and won three Oscar nominations.
Awards & Achievements
John Carradine won the ‘Daytime Emmy Award’ for ‘Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Program’ for his role of an eccentric old man in the Young People's Special, ‘Umbrella Jack’ in 1985.
Other awards won by Carradine include the ‘Fantasporto Award’ and ‘The Golden Boot Award’. His contribution to the film industry earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Personal Life & Legacy
John Carradine married four times. His first wife was Ardanelle Abigail McCool whom he married in 1935. They had two children. The couple divorced after some years due to personal issues.
He later married Sonia Sorrel. They had three sons, Christopher, Keith, and Robert. They divorced in 1957, which was followed by a custody battle for their sons. Carradine won custody of his sons and they were not allowed to see their mother for eight years.
He later married Doris Grimshaw in 1957. She died in 1971 due to a fire in her apartment which caused by a burning cigarette.
From 1975 to his death in 1988, Carradine was married to Emily Cisneros.
Carradine had been suffering from crippling rheumatoid arthritis for some time. He passed away on 27th November 1988 in Fatebenefratelli Hospital, in Milan, Italy due to multiple organ failure.
Four of his sons, David, Keith, Robert, and Bruce, followed their fathers’ footsteps and became actors. The most successful of them was David Carradine, who appeared in more than 200 movies, and also directed several independent projects.