Difference between revisions of "F. Finch Smiles"

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Revision as of 18:27, 23 June 2018

F. Finch Smiles (b. Ramsgate, Kent, **/**/1865 - d. Putney, London, 14/04/1944) was an actor.


Though the British Census of 1881 lists Francis Augustin Finch-Smiles (also known as Frank Finch Smiles) as a clerk with an insurance broker, he did not stay in that profession for long. In 1890 he immigrated to Canada and, by extension, to the United States, where he toured with the theatrical company of Fanny Davenport and notably that of the celebrated Richard Mansfield, acting in Don Juan (1891), Nero (1891), Ten Thousand a Year (1892) and A Parisian Romance (1892). His parting with Mansfield was acrimonious and after supporting Carrie Turner at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York, in 1898 he returned to Canada, settling in Victoria, British Columbia. By the following year he was heavily involved in the local theatre scene, not only as elocutionist and actor but also as stage manager and occasional director for the Victoria Dramatic Club. When the Anglo Boer War broke out, Finch-Smiles joined the Royal Canadian Regiment to fight in South Africa and in February 1900 he was badly wounded at Paardeberg when he was shot in the left leg. By September 1900 he was back in Victoria, resumed his theatrical career and became the proprietor of the short-lived The Outlook, “a fortnightly journal of local and general interest”.

In 1901 he returned to South Africa via England and there is a record of him having appeared in a show in 1903. Somewhere along the line he married Hannah Pickard and in 1904 they were living in Cape Town. The following year their baby son died in Umtali, in what was then Rhodesia, and later that year they returned to England, with Frank appearing in The Sailor’s Wedding at the Royal Theatre in Leeds (1908), The Speckled Band at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh (1910) and Baby Mine at the Vaudeville Theatre in London (1911). Always peripatetic, in June 1912 he returned to South Africa, with his wife and two young sons following in September. By 1916 he was in the town of Parys, in what was then the Orange Free State, where he was manager of the Recreation Department. In 1921 he acted in The Man Who Came Back, produced by H. Lane Bayliff, at His Majesty’s Theatre and in 1923 he appeared in the only film he made in South Africa, namely The Reef of Stars, based on the novel by H. De Vere Stacpoole and directed by Joseph Albrecht.

This may have inspired him to try his luck in the United States, because later that year he turned up as Finch Smiles in his first Hollywood film, entitled For Sale, directed by George Archainbaud. He played a butler and this was a part he played again and again in a number of his known subsequent 16 films. His most significant role was as Austin in Harry O. Hoyt’s adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1925), though Austin is, of course, Professor Challenger’s butler. While in some films he wasn’t even credited, his directors included the likes of Clarence Brown, Maurice Tourneur, John Ford, Tod Browning and Sidney Franklin, and amongst his fellow actors were Mary Pickford, Laura La Plante, Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer and Lon Chaney. It would appear that his wife died in 1928 and the following year Frank, accompanied by his three almost adult children, arrived back in Great Britain. Now 64, he apparently retired from the acting profession. Curiously, the British website Find a Will, which gives the date of his death, refers to him as the Reverend Finch-Smiles. (FO)

(Trivia: He was also the great-grandson of Anne Marie Grosholtz (1761-1850), better known as Madame Tussaud.)


Victoria Daily Colonist, 9 April 1899

Victoria Daily Colonist, 25 May 1899






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