Denholm Mitchell Elliott, CBE (31 May 1922 – 6 October 1992) was an English actor, with more than 120 film and television credits. Some of his well-known roles include the abortionist in Alfie (1966), Marcus Brody in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Coleman in Trading Places (1983), and Mr. Emerson in A Room with a View (1985).
Photo © Clare Park, 1985
Denholm Mitchell Elliott
31 May 1922
|Died||6 October 1992 (aged 70)|
|Cause of death||Tuberculosis caused by AIDS|
|Resting place||Remains scattered in Ibiza|
|Alma mater||Royal Academy of Dramatic Art|
|Spouse(s)||Virginia McKenna (1954; divorced)|
Susan Robinson (1962–92; his death)
Elliott earned critical acclaim in his later career. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in A Room with a View and won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in three consecutive years in the 1980s, becoming the only actor ever to have achieved this. The American film critic Roger Ebert described him as "the most dependable of all British character actors." The New York Times called him "a star among supporting players" and "an accomplished scene-stealer".
Elliott was born in London, the son of Nina (née Mitchell) and Myles Layman Farr Elliott. Myles was a barrister who had read law and Arabic at Cambridge before fighting with the Glosters at Gallipoli and in Mesopotamia. In 1930 Myles Elliott was appointed solicitor-general to the Mandatory Government in Palestine. Three years later, following a series of controversial government prosecutions, he was assassinated outside the King David Hotel and buried in the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion. Elliott's elder brother Neil was land agent to Lady Anne Cavendish-Bentinck.
Elliott attended Malvern College and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He was asked to leave the academy after one term. As Elliott later recalled, "They wrote to my mother and said, 'Much as we like the little fellow, he's wasting your money and our time. Take him away!'"
In the Second World War, he joined the Royal Air Force, training as a wireless operator/air gunner and serving with No. 76 Squadron RAF under the command of Leonard Cheshire. On the night of 23/24 September 1942, his Handley Page Halifax DT508 bomber took part in an air raid on the U-boat pens at Flensburg, Germany. The aircraft was hit by flak and subsequently ditched in the North Sea near Sylt, Germany. Only Elliott and two crewmen survived, and he spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp in Silesia. While imprisoned, he became involved in amateur dramatics.
After making his film debut in Dear Mr. Prohack (1949), he went on to play a wide range of parts, often ineffectual and occasionally seedy characters, such as the drunken journalist Bayliss in Defence of the Realm, the criminal abortionist in Alfie, and the washed-up film director in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Elliott and Natasha Parry played the main roles in the 1955 television play The Apollo of Bellac. He took over for an ill Michael Aldridge for one season of The Man in Room 17 (1966)
Elliott made many television appearances, which included plays by Dennis Potter such as Follow the Yellow Brick Road (1972), Brimstone and Treacle, (1976) and Blade on the Feather (1980). He starred in the BBC's adaptation of Charles Dickens's short story The Signalman (1976).
In the 1980s he won three consecutive British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards—Best Supporting Actor for Trading Places as Dan Aykroyd's kindly butler, A Private Function, and Defence of the Realm—as well as an Academy Award nomination for A Room with a View. He also became familiar to a wider audience as the well-meaning but addlepated Dr. Marcus Brody in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. A photograph of his character appears in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and a reference is made to Brody's death. Also, a statue was dedicated to Marcus outside Marshall College, the school where Indy teaches. In 1988 Elliott was the Russian mole Povin, around whom the entire plot revolves, in the television miniseries Codename: Kyril.
Having filmed Michael Winner's The Wicked Lady (1983), Elliott was quoted in a BBC Radio interview as saying that Marc Sinden and he "are the only two British actors I am aware of who have ever worked with Winner more than once, and it certainly wasn't for love. But curiously, I never, ever saw any of the same crew twice." (Elliott in You Must Be Joking! (1965) and The Wicked Lady and Sinden in The Wicked Lady and Decadence). Elliott had worked with Sinden's father, Sir Donald Sinden, in the film The Cruel Sea (1953). He co-starred with Katharine Hepburn and Harold Gould in the television film Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry (1986) and with Nicole Kidman in Bangkok Hilton (1989).
In 1988 Elliott was appointed a commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to acting. His career included many stage performances, including with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and a well-acclaimed turn as the twin brothers in Jean Anouilh's Ring Round the Moon. His scene-stealing abilities led Gabriel Byrne, his co-star in Defence of the Realm, to say: "Never act with children, dogs, or Denholm Elliott."
Despite being described by British Film Institute's Screenonline as an actor of "versatile understanding and immaculate technique," Elliott described himself as an instinctive actor and was a critic of Stanislavski's system of acting, saying, "I mistrust and am rather bored with actors who are of the Stanislavski school who think about detail."
Privately bisexual, Elliott was married twice: first to actress Virginia McKenna for a few months in 1954, and later, in an open marriage, to American actress Susan Robinson (7 March 1942 – 12 April 2007), with whom he had two children, Mark and Jennifer. Jennifer committed suicide in 2003.
Elliott was diagnosed with HIV in 1987 and died of AIDS-related tuberculosis at his home in Santa Eulària des Riu on Ibiza, Spain, on 6 October 1992 at the age of 70. Tributes were paid by actors Sir Donald Sinden and Sir Peter Ustinov, playwright Dennis Potter, and former wife Virginia McKenna. Sinden said, "He was one of the finest screen actors and a very special actor at that. He was one of the last stars who was a real gentleman. It is a very sad loss." Ustinov said, "He was a wonderful actor and a very good friend on the occasions that life brought us together." Potter commented: "He was a complicated, sensitive, and slightly disturbing actor. Not only was he a very accomplished actor, he was a dry, witty, and slightly menacing individual. As a man, I always found him very open, very straightforward and very much to the point." McKenna added: "It is absolutely dreadful, but the person I am thinking of at the moment more than anybody is his wife. It must be terrible for her." Ismail Merchant described Elliott as "an all-giving person, full of life ... He had an affection and feeling for other actors, which is very unusual in our business."
His widow set up a charity, the Denholm Elliott Project, and collaborated on his biography. She worked closely with the UK Coalition of People Living with HIV and AIDS. Susan Robinson Elliott died on 12 April 2007, aged 65, in a fire in her flat in London.
|1949||Dear Mr. Prohack||Oswald Morfrey|
|1952||The Sound Barrier||Christopher Ridgefield||Released as Breaking the Sound Barrier in USA|||
|The Holly and the Ivy||Michael Gregory|
|1953||The Cruel Sea||Morell|||
|The Heart of the Matter||Wilson|||
|1954||Lease of Life||Martin Blake|||
|They Who Dare||Sgt. Corcoran|||
|1955||The Man Who Loved Redheads||Denis|||
|The Night My Number Came Up||Mackenzie|
|1956||Pacific Destiny||Arthur Grimble|||
|1960||Scent of Mystery||Oliver Larker|
|1964||Nothing But the Best||Charlie Prince|||
|1967||Maroc 7||Inspector Barrada|
|1968||The Night They Raided Minsky's||Vance Fowler|||
|The Sea Gull||Dorn, a doctor|||
|1970||Too Late the Hero||Captain Hornsby|||
|The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer||Peter Niss|
|The House That Dripped Blood||Charles Hillyer||(segment 1 "Method for Murder")|
|Quest for Love||Tom Lewis|
|1972||Madame Sin||Malcolm De Vere|
|1973||The Vault of Horror||Diltant||(segment 5 "Drawn and Quartered")|
|A Doll's House||Krogstad|||
|1974||The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz||Friar|||
|1975||Russian Roulette||Commander Petapiece|
|1976||Robin and Marian||Will Scarlet|
|To the Devil a Daughter||Henry Beddows|
|1977||A Bridge Too Far||R.A.F. Met. Officer|
|1978||The Hound of the Baskervilles||Stapleton|
|The Boys From Brazil||Sidney Beynon|
|Sweeney 2||Detective Chief Superintendent Jupp|
|1979||Zulu Dawn||Colonel Pulleine|
|Saint Jack||William Leigh|
|1980||Bad Timing||Stefan Vognic|
|Rising Damp||Charles Seymour|
|Sunday Lovers||Parker||(segment "An Englishman's Home")|
|1981||Raiders of the Lost Ark||Dr. Marcus Brody|||
|1984||The Razor's Edge||Elliott Templeton|||
|A Private Function||Dr Charles Swaby|||
|1985||A Room with a View||Mr Emerson|||
|1986||Defence of the Realm||Vernon Bayliss|||
|The Whoopee Boys||Col. Phelps|
|1989||Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade||Dr. Marcus Brody|||
|1992||Noises Off||Selsdon Mowbray||(final film role)|||
|1958-59||Alfred Hitchcock Presents||John Manbridge/Jack Lyons||2 episodes|
|1966||The Man in Room 17||Defraits||13 episodes|
|Mystery and Imagination||Roderick Usher||episode "The Fall of the House of Usher"|
|1968||Mystery and Imagination||Count Dracula||episode "Dracula"|
|1972||The Persuaders!||Roland||Episode: A Death in the Family|
|Follow the Yellow Brick Road||Jack Black||Television play|
|1976||Brimstone and Treacle||Television play|
|Clayhanger||Tertius Ingpen||9 episodes|
|The Signalman||The Signalman||Television play|
|1977||Ripping Yarns||Mr Gregory||Episode: Across The Andes by Frog|
|1980||Hammer House of Horror||Norman Shenley||Episode: 'Rude Awakening'|
|1980||Blade on the Feather||Jack Hill||TV film|
|1982||Marco Polo||Niccolo Polo||8 episodes|
|1983||The Hound of the Baskervilles||Dr. Mortimer||TV film|
|1984||Camille||Count de Noilly||TV film|
|1985||Bleak House||John Jarndyce||7 episodes|
|1986||Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry||George Parker||TV film|
|1987||Hotel du Lac||TV film|
|Scoop||Mr. Salter||TV film|
|A Child's Christmas in Wales||Old Geraint||TV film|
|The Happy Valley||Sir Henry 'Jock' Delves Broughton||TV film|
|1988||Codename: Kyril||Povin||4 episodes|
|The Bourne Identity||Dr Geoffrey Washburn||TV mini-series|
|Noble House||Alastair Struan||4 episodes|
|1989||Bangkok Hilton||Hal Stanton||3 episodes|
|1990||A Green Journey||James||TV film|
|1991||A Murder of Quality||George Smiley||TV film|
|One Against the Wind||Father LeBlanc||TV film|
|The Black Candle||William Filmore||TV film|
- "British Film Institute Biography". Retrieved 24 September 2007.
- Roger Ebert (2008). Roger Ebert's Four Star Reviews 1967-2007. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 655. ISBN 978-0740771798.
- Lambert, Bruce (7 October 1992). "Denholm Elliott, Actor, 70, Dies; A Star Among Supporting Players". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
- "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/51023.
- "Obituary Neil Elliott". Daily Telegraph. 14 April 2003. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
- BBC Radio. Desert Island Discs, 14 September 1974.
- "Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved 24 September 2007.
- Record for Halifax DT508, LostAircraft.com
- Falconer, Jonathon (1998). The Bomber Command Handbook 1939–1945. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7509-1819-0.
- "Giraudoux Play On Television 'The Apollo Of Bellac'", The Times, 13 August 1955.
- Woods, Judith (8 February 2011). "Michael Winner: 'The Life I've Lived, the Girls I've Had... Ht's Been Incredible'". The Daily Telegraph.
- "Obituary: Denholm Elliott". The Independent. 7 October 1992.
- Oliver, Myrna (7 October 1992). "Denholm Elliott; Veteran Character Actor". articles.latimes.com. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
- "Susan Robinson Elliott obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 24 April 2007.
- "Denholm Elliott dies from AIDS-related TB, aged 70". The Independent. 7 October 1992.
- "Oscar nominee Elliott dies of AIDS problems". Variety. 7 October 1992.
- Elliott, Susan; Turner, Barry (1994). Denholm Elliott: Quest for Love.
- Brian McFarlane (16 May 2016). The Encyclopedia of British Film (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 228. ISBN 9781526111975. Retrieved 12 March 2017.