Who was Michael Rennie?
Michael Rennie was a British actor, best known for his role in the science-fiction film ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still.’ Born and raised in the Idle, West Riding of Yorkshire, Michael hailed from an affluent business family. He did not want to be involved in the family business and did multiple odd jobs before he decided to pursue a career in acting. He made his acting debut with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1936 film ‘Secret Agent.’ He also did theatre, while simultaneously appearing in small roles in many films, such as ‘The Man Who Could Work Miracles,’ ‘Bank Holiday,’ and ‘The Briggs Family.’ The 1941 suspense drama film ‘Tower of Terror’ turned out to be his first major acting breakthrough. He then appeared in several films in the 1940s, such as ‘The Root of All Evil’ and ‘The Idol of Paris.’ The 1951 science-fiction film ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ turned out to be a cult classic and established Michael as a versatile actor. He also made a mark on TV, with roles in series such as ‘The Third Man’ and ‘Batman.’
Childhood & Early Life
Michael Rennie was born Eric Alexander Rennie, on August 25, 1909, to James and Amelia Rennie. He was the second child in the family and had an older brother, William, and two younger siblings, brother Gordon and sister Edith.
Michael’s family owned a wool business, which was quite well-established. Hence, Michael’s family was financially sound and the children received the best education. Michael studied at the ‘Leys School,’ which was located in Cambridge.
Once he graduated high school, he was asked by his family to work in the family business. However, Michael had no interest in working there. Instead, he started doing odd jobs in order to avoid working in the family business.
He worked as a car salesman. He also worked at his uncle’s steel ropes factory. He did that for a few years, until he turned 26. Soon, he decided that he wanted to become an actor.
When he continued to look for work in films, he attracted attention due to his tall frame and attractive looks. He mostly worked as an “extra” in films or behind the scenes, initially. However, Michael regretted nothing and said that this experience gave him ample time to learn about the process of filmmaking.
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In 1936, Michael made his film debut with ace director Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Secret Agent,’ as a stand-in for actor Robert Young. He was completely inexperienced at that time, and many filmmakers refused to cast him in proper roles in their films.
Michael took this as another sign that he needed to learn acting first, and he soon decided to work in theater. He joined the ‘York Repertory Company’ after moving to Yorkshire, to hone his skills as an actor. There, he worked in many plays, such as ‘Pygmalion’ (as ‘Professor Henry Higgins’).
He also did small parts in films such as ‘The Man Who Could Work Miracles’, ‘Conquest of the Air,’ and ‘The Squeaker.’
While the Second World War began in 1939, Michael began getting bigger roles in films. One of the first films in which Michael played a significant part was the 1940 thriller film ‘This Man Is Dangerous.’ He played the role of an inspector in the film. It was a decent box-office hit and was praised by critics, too.
In 1941, he appeared as ‘Kapulski’ in the film ‘Dangerous Moonlight’ and also appeared in the supporting role of ‘Lieut. Maxwell’ in the 1942 war-drama film ‘Ships with Wings.’ Even though he had started to do bigger roles in films, he continued to work in repertory theater.
In the early 1940s, Michael continued appearing as a supporting cast member in films such as ‘Tower of Terror’ and ‘The Big Blockade.’
Michael then put his thriving acting career to a halt and served his country in the Second World War. He was enlisted in the ‘RAF Volunteer Reserve’ and served for a year, until 1942. When he returned to work in films, he earned better roles.
His first major breakthrough film was the 1945 release ‘I’ll Be Your Sweetheart,’ in which he played one of the lead roles, opposite actor Margaret Lockwood. The film was a box-office success and gained a lot of praises from critics, too.
With some more successful films, such as ‘The Wicked Lady’ and ‘Caesar and Cleopatra,’ Michael further established himself as a talented leading man. With the release of the 1947 film ‘The Root of All Evil’ and its thunderous success, Michael also became one of the highest-paid British actors of his time.
In the early 1950s, he also became popular in Hollywood after starring in films such as ‘The Black Rose’ and ‘The 13th Letter,’ In 1951, he was cast to play the leading role of an alien named ‘Klaatu’ in the American science-fiction film titled ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still.’ The film was one of the biggest hits of the year and was also critically acclaimed.
Michael was at the pinnacle of his career in the mid-1950s. By the late 1950s, he also became a known face on TV, appearing as ‘Harry Lime’ in the series ‘The Third Man.’ He also did guest appearances in many TV series such as ‘The Great Adventure,’ ‘Daniel Boone,’ and ‘Route 66.’
He made his only ‘Broadway’ performance as ‘Dirk Winsten’ in the marital comedy ‘Mary, Mary.’ The play opened at the ‘Helen Hayes Theatre’ on March 8, 1961. He was later replaced by Michael Wilding.
Some of the last films of his career were ‘Ride Beyond Vengeance,’ ‘Hotel,’ and ‘Death on the Run.’
Family, Personal Life & Death
Michael Rennie married twice. He was married to Joan England from 1938 to1945 and to Margaret “Maggie” McGrath from 1947 to1960. Both his marriages ended in divorce.
He had two sons: David Rennie, from his second wife, Margaret, and John Marshall, from his mistress, Renée Gilbert. John Marshall later used the pseudonym “John M. Taylor” while he worked as a producer in the film industry.
Michael was also engaged to Mary Gardner, former wife of Hollywood director Otto Preminger, for a while.
He died from aortic aneurysm on June 10, 1971, in Harrogate, West Riding of Yorkshire. He was 61 years old at the time of his death.