(b. Cape Town, 22/08/1890 – d. Los Angeles, 28/02/1973). Actor. Cecil Lauriston Kellaway was to achieve fame in Hollywood, but he started his acting career on the stages of South Africa. His father was Edwin John Kellaway, who had been a plumber in England but who, after a number of setbacks in his personal life, came out to settle in Cape Town. He was engaged to do a job on the parliamentary building of what was then the Cape Colony and was subsequently appointed as full-time caretaker. By the time the children he had with his second wife, Rebecca Brebner, were born, he was a “sanitary engineer”. Cecil was named after Cecil John Rhodes, who was Prime Minister of the Cape Colony at the time. He is said to have been educated at Normal College in Cape Town and at Bradford Grammar School in England (in fact, during the British Census of 1901, the family were living in Islington, London).
As a boy he acted in the play The White Man with Freda Godfrey and though he occasionally assisted his father with his duties at parliament, he soon switched to acting. From 1913 onwards he was permanently on the stage, touring the country with companies like the American Dramatic Company and the New Comedy Company and appearing at the Standard Theatre, the Empire Palace of Varieties and His Majesty’s Theatre in Johannesburg, the Theatre Royal in Durban and the Tivoli in Cape Town. The plays in which acted included The Belle of New York, Helena’s Hope Ltd., Van Kalabas Does His Bit, The Flapper, S’nice, The Misleading Lady, A Matter of Fat, Lads of the Village, Turn to the Right, The Cinderella Man, Nothing But the Truth, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, Business Before Pleasure, Arlette, A Funnier Fare, The Bing Boys on Broadway, Twin Beds, Palace, Bedroom and Bath, Fair and Warmer, The High Cost of Loving, Potash and Perlmutter and the pantomime The Sleeping Beauty.
Some sources claim that he made his first screen appearance in Australia, but, in fact, in 1918 he acted in Bond and Word, directed by Dick Cruikshanks for African Film Productions. In 1919 he married Doreen Elizabeth Joubert (1902-1995) and in 1921 he left for Australia under contract to J.C. Williamson. He had a successful stage career in Australia, primarily in musical comedies, and also appeared in three films, one for Beaumont Smith and two for Ken G. Hall. In 1937 he was placed under contract by RKO Radio Pictures in the United States, but it was only after he played Earnshaw in William Wyler’s 1939 version of Wuthering Heights that his career took off. After that he was seldom out of work, acting in such major films as The Letter (William Wyler/1940), I Married a Witch (René Clair/1942), The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett/1946), Joan of Arc (Victor Fleming/1948) and Harvey (Henry Koster/1950). He was twice nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor, for The Luck of the Irish (Henry Koster/1948) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Stanley Kramer/1967). He was actually offered the role of Kris Kringle in popular Miracle of 34th Street (George Seaton/1947), but turned it down. Instead the part went to his cousin, Edmund Gwenn (real name Edmund John Kellaway).
He became an American citizen in 1954 (according to his 1938 immigration visa for the United States he was then Australian, not South African). He and Doreen had two sons, Peter (1920) and Bryan (1925), both born in Johannesburg. His brother, Alec (1897-1973) also went on the stage and followed him to Australia, as did the youngest brother, Leon (1902-1990), who became a prominent ballet dancer and teacher. Cecil is buried in the Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, together with Doreen and Bryan. (FO)
Le Roux, André I. & Fourie, Lilla – Filmverlede: geskiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse speelfilm
Stewart, John - An encyclopaedia of Australian film
Return to ESAT Personalities K
Return to South African Theatre Personalities
Return to The ESAT Entries
Return to Main Page