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Dwight Iliff Frye (February 22, 1899 – November 7, 1943) was an American stage and screen actor. He is best known for his neurotic, murderous villains in several classic Universal horror films, most notably as Renfield in Dracula (1931) and as Fritz in Frankenstein (1931).[1]

Dwight Frye
Dwight Frye.png
in A Strange Adventure (1932)
Born Dwight Iliff Fry
(1899-02-22)February 22, 1899
Salina, Kansas, U.S.
Died November 7, 1943(1943-11-07) (aged 44)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale)
Occupation Actor
Years active 1922–1943
Spouse(s) Laura Mae Bullivant (1928-43)
Children 1



Early life and careerEdit

Frye was born in Salina, Kansas and studied for a career in music and first appeared as a concert pianist.[1] In the 1920s, he made his name as a stage actor, often in comedies. In 1924, he played the Son in a translation of Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author.[2]

He had a few minor roles in silent pictures, but with the coming of sound he soon became known for playing villains. Nicknamed "The Man with the Thousand-Watt Stare" and "The Man of a Thousand Deaths", he specialized in the portrayal of mentally unbalanced characters, including his signature role, the madman Renfield in Tod Browning's 1931 version of Dracula.

Later that same year, he played the hunchbacked assistant Fritz in Frankenstein. Also in 1931, Frye portrayed Wilmer Cook (the "gunsel") in the original film version of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. He had a featured role in the horror film The Vampire Bat (1933) in which he played Herman, a half-wit suspected of being a killer. He had memorable roles in The Invisible Man (1933) as a reporter, and in The Crime of Dr. Crespi (1935).

In Bride of Frankenstein (1935), he played Karl. The part was originally much more substantive, and many additional scenes of Frye were shot as a subplot but were edited out of the final version to shorten the running time and appease the censors. One of these deleted scenes was that of Karl killing a Burgomaster, portrayed by E. E. Clive.

No known prints of these scenes survive today, but photographs of the scene were used to illustrate the scene's synopsis and are included in the recent Universal Studios DVD release of the film. He played similar characters in Ghost of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man; another appearance in Son of Frankenstein was deleted prior to release. Also in the 1930s he appeared in two films featuring James Cagney: The Doorway to Hell (as a hit man) and Something To Sing About (as a fussy hairdresser).

During the early 1940s, Frye alternated between film roles and appearing on stage in a variety of productions ranging from comedies to musicals, as well as appearing in a stage version of Dracula. During World War II, he made a contribution to the war effort by working nights as a tool designer for Lockheed Aircraft.[1]


On November 7, 1943, Frye died of a heart attack while riding on a bus in Hollywood, a few days before he was scheduled to begin filming the biopic Wilson. He is interred in Glendale's Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale.[3]

Musical tributeEdit

American rock band Alice Cooper wrote and recorded a tribute track to Dwight Frye entitled "The Ballad of Dwight Fry" (purposefully dropping the last "e") that was included on their 1971 LP Love It to Death.

On stage, this song would be portrayed with Alice in a straitjacket trying to escape, and finally breaking free at the end of the song to strangle the nurse with the ties.


Year Title Role Notes
1926 Exit Smiling Balcony Heckler Uncredited
1927 Upstream Theatre Audience Spectator Uncredited
1928 The Night Bird Party Guest Uncredited
1930 The Doorway to Hell Gangster
1931 Dracula R. M. Renfield
The Maltese Falcon Wilmer Cook
The Black Camel Jessup, the butler Uncredited
Frankenstein Fritz
1932 Attorney for the Defense James Wallace
A Strange Adventure Robert Wayne
1933 The Vampire Bat Herman Gleib
The Invisible Man A reporter Uncredited
1935 Bride of Frankenstein Karl
The Crime of Dr. Crespi Dr. Thomas
1937 Sea Devils SS Paradise Radio Operator Uncredited
The Road Back Small Man at Rally Uncredited
Something to Sing About Mr. Easton
The Shadow Vindecco 1938 Fast Company
1939 Son of Frankenstein Villager Unconfirmed
1940 Phantom Raiders Eddie Anders
Drums of Fu Manchu Professor Anderson
Gangs of Chicago Pinky
1941 The Devil Pays Off Radio Operator Uncredited
Flying Blind Leo Qualen
1942 The Ghost of Frankenstein Villager Uncredited
1943 Dead Men Walk Zolarr
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man Rudi
Hangmen Also Die! Hostage Uncredited
Dangerous Blondes Hoodlum Uncredited



  • Gregory W. Mank; Dwight D. Frye; James Coughlin (1997). Dwight Frye's Last Laugh. Midnight Marquee. ISBN 1-887664-11-4. 

External linksEdit