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 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.
Since 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 mysteryOn 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.