Charles Sparrow

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(b. Woodside, South Australia, 22/03/1882 – d. Los Angeles, California, 06/02/1968). Actor, elocution teacher. Charles Montague Discombe Sparrow was born in Woodside, a small town in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia. An amateur actor from an early age, he took part in a number of elocution competitions and after moving to Fremantle in West Australia, won a first prize for a recital at the 1905 Eisteddfod held in Ballarat, Victoria. This brought him to the attention of the composer/pianist Guglielmo Lardelli, who invited him to join him on an engagement in England. There he joined the Shakespearean company of Frank Benson on a two-year contract. This was followed by a stay in South Africa where, in 1914, he joined the Union Defence Force when, during World War I, it invaded what was then German South West Africa and rose to the rank of major. He became a tutor in elocution at what would become the University of the Witwatersrand and during this time he also appeared at the Standard Theatre with the Turffontein Operatic Society in a performance of The Mikado for the Patriotic Fund. In 1919 he appeared as the hero opposite Mabel May and Ada Edney in the film With Edged Tools, based on the novel by Henry Seton Merriman and directed by Joseph Albrecht for African Film Productions. In January 1921 he and Madge Fabian produced Twelfth Night as a fund-raiser for the Transvaal Memorial Hospital for Children with, followed closely by a staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Palladium.

House Peters, an actor in silent films who was in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War, encouraged him to try his luck in Hollywood. He changed his name to C. Montague Shaw and his first film in the United States was a western called The Set-Up (1926). After that he appeared in some 140 movies, ranging from small roles in features such as The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936) and Monsieur Verdoux (1942), to larger parts in serials such as Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938) and Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939). Though often uncredited, his authoritative bearing and demeanour meant he usually played characters like judges, doctors, scientists, businessmen, ranking military officers, major-domos and, in Rouben Mamoulian’s film Queen Christina (1933), King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, the father of the title character played by Greta Garbo. During this time he also continued his career as an elocution teacher and was highly regarded in this field. He became a citizen of the United States in October 1943. He retired in 1947 and died at the age of 85 at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, California. (FO)


The Register, Adelaide, 4 September 1915

South African Pictorial, 26 July 1919

The News, Adelaide, 22 November 1928

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