Sunday, December 27, 2009
What if Laird Cregar didn't die so young?
I was watching Hangover Square last night and was, as usual, impressed by Laird Cregar. I wonder what career he would have if he didn't die so young....
After recovering from a heart attack in 1944, Cregar decided to watch more carefully over his health and career. Sure, "Hangover Square" was a big success, but he didn't want to get trapped just playing brutal killers. Actually, he did one more role similar to "The Lodger" and "Hangover Square", that was in James Whale's sensational comeback (just for one movie though): "The Barber of Fleet Street", the black comedy about Sweeney Todd, in 1947. It wasn't such a big hit, more of a sleeper and finally both earned it's money and respect. But the most important thing, it gave Cregar his first and only Oscar.
During the fifties he made a string of thrillers, and even starred in Jack Arnolds lowbudget masterpiece chiller "Golem of the Desert", where he still could play the young lead - though he by that time gained most of his weight again. Listening to his doctors orders he slowed down, said no to play one of the bad guys in "North by Northwest" (Martin Landau later got that role) and found himself still being a successful character actor. When television became more and more popular, he over twenty minor roles in two years, ending in 1961 with another heart attack. Laird Cregar loved acting, it was like a drug, and now he got an ultimate: stop acting or die.
Cregar couldn't stop acting, but learned how to say now and always had his wife - who he met six year earlier during a guest role on "The Colgate Comedy Hour". She was the script girl, and it was love at first sight. After his latest heartattack he had to give up whiskey and fat food, but indulged in wine tasting (he later wrote two books about it) and getting not one, but six dobermanns! In 1963 he finally got a chance to work with old friend Vincent Price! With Roger Corman behind the camera, they shot a slapstick-version of one of the most famous crime cases in history, "Burke and Hare" - which also was the title of the movie. But this time there was a happy ending, where Burke and Hare escapes to Asia to continue their work there!
As many other stars, Cregars stardom faded during the sixties, but he kept going in television, low budget movies and even two European westerns (one of them was Antonio Margheritis never released cold war-western "Revolver uomo che venne dal freddo"! - later stock footage from it showed up in Alfonso Brescias "La guerra dei robot" by the way) But at the age of 61 he got his big, big television break. After Simon Oakland, another good friend of him, said no to play Darren McGavin's angry boss in the TV-show version of Kolchak, he recommended Cregar who stayed with the show until it finally ended in 1982! One of the biggest succssess in TV-history, and even had a remake in 1998 (Billy Zane played Kolchak, and R. Lee Ermey played Tony Vincenzo) where also Cregar made his final appearance in a cameo, 85 years old and better than ever.
Only three months after the movie was released (it flopped by the way) Laird Cregar died in his sleep in his home. He was survived by wife, one daughter and two sons.