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Dwight Frye Dwight Frye
Born: February 22, 1899
Died: November 7, 1943 (at the age of 44)
Dwight Frye - Fritz

Born Dwight Iliff Fry on February 22, 1899, in Salina, Kansas to his parents Charles and Ella Fry. The family soon moved to Denver, Colorado where Dwight studied voice and piano. Dwight practiced the piano many hours a day and performed many recitals. He was determined to become a concert pianist until he got the acting bug.

While Dwight attend Business College he was offered the chance to play the juvenile lead in the Denham Stock Company. He quickly added the ‘e' to Fry (he thought it would look better in print) and began learning his craft. Dwight worked had and critics started to take notice. The Company moved west to Spokane, Washington and changed it’s name to the Woodward Company and Dwight was invited along.

Dwight would continue to work hard and it was exhausting work. Actors would do between 8 – 13 shows every week, learning and rehearsing a new play each week also. The critics in Spokane noticed the improvement and enthusiasm from Dwight, especially when playing piano or singing and the would remark on it. When the season ended Dwight headed east, touring with a vaudeville routine, a road show musical, and a traveling repertory company before signing with The Colonial Players in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Dwight FryeDwight handled his roles with talent and ability, and always something a little special when singing and/or dancing would take place. When The Colonial Players closed for the season, Woodward Company asked him to come back to help regain it’s audience. He played fops, villains, minstrels and more to help his acting ability. While in Washington he met a local girl name Laura Bullivant (using the stage name of Laura Lee). Laura Lee was the Woodward Company’s ingénue for that season. Soon Dwight and Laura Lee had a stage romance (and off-stage romance) in bloom. After a run with Woodward he returned to the Colonial Players in Massachusetts for another season.

Upon return to The Colonial Players, Dwight still found more diverse roles as dope addictsm and singing doughboys and he acquired many fans with his skills as an actor. One very enthusiastic fan, an heiress, who persuaded Broadway producer Brock Pemberton to go to Pittsfield to was Dwight. Pemberton was so impressed with Dwight’s ability and quickly signed him to a long-term contract at the end of the season with The Colonial Players.

Dwight would debut in California in “Rope’s End” by Patrick Hamilton about two murderous students who flaunt their crime under the noise of their professor. Dwight played the high-strung thrill-killer Charles Granillo. The critics were very favorable for him and he would play the part for six weeks at the Vine Street Theatre in Hollywood in 1929. He would then take the show to San Francisco.

Dwight would then do “A Man’s Man” starting on June 5, 1930, and Dwight would show off his finest work as a dramatic lead.

Dwight Frye - ReinfieldSince Dwight moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1929, he hoped that one of the plays would make Hollywood casting agents take notice. As notice they did. He was signed to appear in his first Hollywood film “Doorway To Hell” (with Lew Ayres & James Cagney). His tage plays are what attracted Todd Browning’s attention to cast him as “Renfield” in “Dracula”

With Several films released in 1931 (Dracula, The Black Cat, The Maltese Falcon, Frankenstein), Dwight Returned to the stage. On February 22, 1932 (His 33rd Birthday) he began to tour in the Edgar Wallace Mystery Thriller “Criminal At Large”. This tour went from San Francisco and ended in Boston. The play stared Pauline Fredrick as Lady Lebanon and Dwight her quiet, demented, murderous son Lord Lebanon. Aduiences loved this as they were begining to recognize him from his films.

Dwight toured with Actress Pauline Fredrick and his wife Laura and played in “Her Mayesty the Widow” which had it’s debut on May 8, 1933 at the Biltmore Theatre in Los Angles and “Amber” on May 11, 1933

Dwight returned to Broadway to play in the first Chale Chan Mystery to be seen on stage “Keeper of the Keys ”, it opened on October 18, 1933 at the Fulton Theatre. Dwight played an aged Chinese servent (Ali Sing) and m major suspect in the mystery On December 25, 1933 at the Tremont Theatre in Boston, Dwight was in “The Play;s the Thing”.

The next play was February 15, 1934, “Queer People” for only 13 performances. This was his last Broadway play.

The next play was at the Broad Street Theatre, “The Second Mauby” opened April 30, 1934. In the cast was a little-known actress by the name of Rosaland Russell.

July 16, 1934 cane “Squaring the Circle” opening at the Joh H. Hessel Memorial Hall In Long Island, NY. Next up was ‘The Pursuit of Happiness” also in the Summer of 1934

On May 3, 1938 Dwight starred in “Night Must Fall” at the Mason Opera house in Los Angeles. Dwight took this rool at the request of O.D. Woodward his director from The early stock days.

In 1941 Dwight took his final stage role, at Beaux Arts Playhouse in Los Angeles, he would again play the character of Renfield in the stage adaptation of “Dracula”

In 1942, Broadway would beckon once more, but Dwight turned down the role to stay on the West Coast working for Douglas Aircraft, designing tools. Dwight was unable to serve in World War I because he was too young and to old for World War II so he did this to fulfill his duty for the war effort.

In 1943 Dwight would be in his last horror film and the last role in the Frankenstein series in “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.” He would play Rudi a pipe smoking newlywed and he would get a chance to dance in “The Festival of the New Wine”. But in the revised script, he would become the voice of reason within the group of superstitious countrymen.

There is a quote about acting and actors “There are no Small Parts, Only Small Actors.” By physical height Dwight was 5’ 6.5”, but by his acting abilities he was most defiantly a giant. No matter what the character, how brief the role or how thankless the part was, Dwight would always excel in everything he did. Every time Dwight would be seen on the screen he would show that he was a true master actor. It is sad that he was not seen in more mainstream type roles or at least bigger roles. It would have been interesting to what he could have done from reading about his Theater Groups and Broadway career.

Dwight roles became smaller and smaller and nearly disappeared by 1942 Finally 20th Century Fox called an wanted him to play Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker. Producer Darryl F. Zanuck loved the Technicolor image of Dwight in wig and make-up. Dwight was upbeat and optimistic. On Sunday, November 7, 1943 (3 days before he was to begin filming) Dwight took his son “Buddy” and wife Laura to a double feature at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre and when boarding a bus at Hollywood and Vine to return Home, Dwight collapsed in the aisle. He was taken by ambulance to Hollywood Receiving Hospital. That night, at the age of 44, Dwight passed away due to a double coronary thrombosis. Dwight was a devout Christian Scientist and had concealed he heart conditions from family and friends for a long period of time.

The original Alice Cooper Group was so inspired by Frye’s ‘Reinfield’ they recorded the song “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” (no ‘e’ on Frye) and included the nearly 7 minute long song on the “Love It To Death” album.

Dwight Frye - Reinfield

------------ Films -----------
(1928) The Night Bird
(1930) The Doorway to Hell
(Warner Brothers)
(1930) Man to Man
(Warner Brothers)
(1931) Dracula
(1931) The Black Camel
(1931) The Maltese Falcon
(Warner Brothers)
aka Dangerous Female
(1931) Frankenstein
(1932) Attorney for the Defense
Dwight plays a condemned man whose protestations of innocence and tearful farewell to his wife and young son before his execution transform is erstwhile prosecutor into the titular defense attorney.
(1932) By Whose Hand?
(1932) The Western Code
(1932) A Strange Adventure
(1933) The Vampire Bat
(1933) The Circus Queen Murder
(1933) The Invisible Man
(1935) Bride of Frankenstein
(1935) Atlantic Adventure
(1935) The Great Impersonation
Dwight's character Roger Unthank, murdered years before, now haunts a bog nightly, screaming and weeping. Long-haired Roger briefly appears in the flesh with a wild beard on his face and revenge on his mind.
Roger Unthank
(1935) The Crime of Doctor Crespi
(1936) Tough Guy
(1936) Florida Special
(1936) Alibi for Murder
(1936) Beware of Ladies
(1937) Sea Devils
(RKO Radio)
A luxury liner catches fire at sea, and the Coast Guard responds to the frantic calls of the ship's operator, played by Dwight. Hysterically refusing to leave his post, he's knocked unconscious and hauled out over a guardsman's shoulder.
(1937) The Man Who Found Himself
(RKO Radio)
A flying ambulance's inaugural flight transports a medical case for emergency treatment. Patient Dwight has mental problems as well, and when he panics in-flight, he's knocked unconscious and strapped onto his gurney. This film is especially notable as it features, in a very small part of his own, Dwight's six-year-old son, Dwight D. Frye, being carefully removed from a train wreck in his screen debut.
(1937) The Road Back
German soldiers returning home pass through a little village embroiled in upheaval in this James Whale film. Dwight's character, a spry man with a brushy mustache leads the soldiers, directs traffic and conducts the town band in a procession to the mayor's house.
(1937) Something to Sing About
(Grand National)
(aka Battling Hoofer)
(1937) Renfrew of the Royal Mounted
(Grand National)
Dwight steps out from behind the reservation desk of the Totem Pole Lodge just long enough to provide first aid to a Mountie who unexpectedly parachutes in to investigate counterfeiters.
(1937) The Shadow
(1938) Who Killed Gail Preston?
Nightclub singer Gail Preston perishes mid-act, and Dwight, as her tux-clad, alcoholic ex-husband is not only seen firing his gun at her but confesses his crime before leaping off a roof top to his death. Surprisingly, it's a bum rap -- it turns out he's not the murderer.
(1938) Invisible Enemy
(1938) Sinners in Paradise
(aka Secrets of a Sinner)
A businesswoman depends on her personal secretary Marshall to make arrangements for her to leave town in a hurry. Dwight, in his fifth James Whale film, played Marshall seeing his boss off on her flight across the Pacific with brisk efficiency, wire-rimmed specs, and loyalty.
(1938) Fast Company
(1938) Think It Over
(Crime Does Not Pay short #19)
(1938) The Night Hawk
(1938) Adventure in Sahara
(1939) Mickey, the Kid
Dwight's character Bruno has a brief and unprofitable career as a bank robber who doesn't get away.
(1939) The Man in the Iron Mask
(United Artists)
In his sixth and final appearance for director James Whale, Dwight donned a frock coat, a powdered wig and a deferential attitude as the valet helping the film's villain primp in his dressing room.
(1939) Conspiracy
(1940) Drums of Fu Manchu
(1940) Gangs of Chicago
(1940) Sky Bandits
(1940) Phantom Raiders
(1940) The Son of Monte Cristo
(United Artists)
Deep within the bowels of the Russian Embassy, Dwight as Prince Pavlov's secretary single-handedly holds off an invasion of patriots demanding he turn over the contents of the embassy's safe. He refuses -- until they brandish their weapons at him.
(1941) Mystery Ship
(1941) The People vs. Dr. Kildare
Dwight does his civic duty in this film, appearing as the jury foreman in a court case seeking to hold Dr. Kildare responsible for crippling a young ice skater.
(1941) Flying Blind
(1941) The Blonde from Singapore
Divers are smuggling pearls ashore, and Dwight briefly appears as a barber doing a brisk trade in black market pearls between shaves.
(1941) The Devil Pays Off
Dwight again embraces the latest technology in his appearance in this film as a radio operator
(1942) Sleepytime Gal
Instead of joining the chorus in this Judy Canova musical comedy, Dwight supplied atmospheric menace as "2nd mug."
(1942) The Ghost of Frankenstein
(1942) Donít Talk
(Crime Does Not Pay short)
(1942) Danger in the Pacific
Dwight spices up his otherwise bland role as a hotel clerk in the South Seas with a nifty little accent for his three lines of dialog.
(1943) Dead Men Walk
(1943) Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
(1943) Hangmen Also Die!
(United Artists/Arnold Pressburger)
Dwight languishes in a detention camp with other Czech intellectuals held hostage as Nazis search for an assassin. Even as they are transported to their execution, they burst into stirring, patriotic song.
(1943) Submarine Alert
(1943) Dangerous Blondes
Barely 13 years after his promising Hollywood film debut as a hoodlum in Doorway to Hell, Dwight turns in his final performance as "1st Hoodlum" in this mystery film.

Copyright © 2009 - 2015 by the author, Jess Oliver. All rights reserved