Leander De Cordova

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(b. Kingston, Jamaica, 05/12/1877 – d. Los Angeles, 19/03/1969). American actor and director. Leander Hilarion Donalbin De Cordova was born in Jamaica. The son of Altamont De Cordova, a prominent Kingston merchant who was a justice of the peace and a member of the House of Assembly, he came to the United States in 1888 when his father established a brokerage firm in New York. According to The Moving Picture World of 15 April 1916, prior to becoming involved in the film industry, he had directed and managed stock companies in a dozen cities and The Film Daily of 24 April 1921 confirmed that previously he had been an actor “on the speaking stage”, his appearances included a role in a 1916 dramatization of Ben-Hur at the Manhattan Opera House. At the time he was married to the British-born actress Ethel Bland, who died in January 1920.

When later that year African Film Productions asked him to direct the film version of H. Rider Haggard’s novel “Swallow: a tale of the Great Trek”, he accepted the invitation and, together with production manager Leon D. Britton and cinematographer Edward C. Earle, sailed for South Africa on 31 December 1920. Before that he had been assistant director on a number of now forgotten films and had directed three himself. For Swallow (1922) AFP brought out Joan Morgan and Hayford Hobbs from England, and this was followed by Sam’s Kid (1922), based on a novel by F.E. Mills Young. The Film Daily of 10 October 1922 makes reference to six features based on novels by Rider Haggard he supposedly made for AFP, though clearly that is incorrect. While Swallow and Sam’s Kid were the only features he directed in South Africa, in an article written for The Film Daily of 9 May 1921, De Cordova describes his experiences while filming in Basutoland and Thelma Gutsche makes mention of a documentary entitled Peep into Basutolandl that was released by AFP a year or two later.

While in South Africa, he was joined by Emma Louise Hope, who had recently been widowed, and when he returned to the United States via England, he was accompanied by Emmy L. De Cordova. In fact, on her passport application she stated that she was going to South Africa to get married. Returning to England on the same ship were Abe Barker and M.A. Wetherell. Subsequently De Cordova had another encounter with Haggard when he directed one of the many versions of She (1925), this one starring Betty Blythe. This experience ended in a court case in which De Cordova sued producer George B. Samuelson after he had been discharged as director before his contract had expired. During the hearings it emerged that he had been hired through an agent acting on the company's behalf, who turned out to be H. Lisle Lucoque, the director of King Solomon’s Mines and Allan Quatermain. He made his last film as director in 1931 and afterwards returned to acting, frequently uncredited, but most notably as the Governor in Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939). Acting with him in that serial was C. Montague Shaw, who as Charles Sparrow had acted in With Edged Tools (1919). He continued to appear in films until 1961, though in the Federal Census of 1940 his occupation was given as manager of a match factory. The writer/actor Rudolph De Cordova, who settled in Great Britain, was his older brother. (FO)


The Moving Picture World, 15 April 1916

The Film Daily, 24 April 1921

The Film Daily. 9 May 1921

The Film Daily, 16 January 1922

The Film Daily, 8 October 1926

S.A. Pictorial, 22 July 1922

Gutsche, Thelma - The history and social significance of motion pictures in South Africa 1895-1940

Le Roux, André I. & Fourie, Lilla – Filmverlede: geskiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse speelfilm


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