Wyrley Birch

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Wyrley Birch (b. Montreal, Quebec, 07/05/1883 – d. Mount Kisco, Westchester County, New York, 07/02/1959) was an actor and theatrical manager.


Though Canadian-born, Ernest Home Wyrley-Birch became a citizen of the United States in 1921 and made an appearance on Broadway as early as 1906 in a play called Julie Bonbon. Early in his career he is said to have appeared on the stage with Richard Mansfield and at one time he was a reader to Henry Wilson Savage. In 1913 he headed the Eleanor Gordon Players at the Plymouth Theatre in Boston and in May 1916 he arrived in Johannesburg to manage the Standard Theatre for the African Theatre Trust, acting in the production of Bought and Paid For with Stephen Ewart and Naomi Rutherford. It was also during this time that he took the role of the Rev. Owen in Harold M. Shaw's De Voortrekkers / Winning a Continent (1916) for African Film Productions.

Late in 1916 I.W. Schlesinger sent him to the United States to act on behalf of the newly established Johannesburg-based International Variety & Theatrical Agency (ITVA). He was to establish offices in New York with the aim of engaging American companies to tour South Africa, obtain films for local screening and sell distribution rights to AFP productions. He arrived back in the United States in January 1917, but must have left again because in October of that year he arrived in San Francisco from Yokohama.

It's not known how successful he was, but by 1925 he was back on the stage and in 1928-29 he toured Australia as actor/manager of the American Comedy Company for E.J. Carroll, acting in plays like New Brooms, The Family Upstairs, Whispering Friends and The Baby Cyclone. His wife Grace (née Bullock), whom he married in 1905, and their son Richard accompanied him, though they had returned to the United States when, on 16 December 1929, the steamer Manuka, with the touring company on board, ran aground near Long Point on New Zealand's Otago coastline. Though the ship was wrecked, there was no loss of life.

Throughout his life he stayed in demand as an actor, performing in the original Broadway casts of such plays as Arsenic and Old Lace (1941) and The Desperate Hours (1955). He also appeared in more than 30 films and television series. Though always in small roles and sometimes uncredited, he worked with directors such as Tay Garnett, Frank Capra and Elia Kazan. His wife was a talented cellist and sometimes performed as a member of the Huguenot String Trio. (FO)


S.A. Pictorial, 3 February 1917

The Daily News, Perth, 7 October 1929

Evening Post, Wellington, 18 December 1929

New Zealand Herald, Auckland, 10 January 1930


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