Nationality: American. Born: Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck in Indianapolis, Indiana, 19 November 1891. Education: Attended Public School No. 87, New York; joined Palmer Cox's Lyceum's Children's Theatre at age 8; studied painting with Robert Henri and singing with Victor Maurel. Career: Child actor: debut at age 9 in The Brownies ; member of the Aborn Opera Company: debut in Mignon ; 1913—Broadway debut as dancer in The Purple Road ; 1914—teamed with Mae Murray for engagement at Palace Theatre, then a succession of successful plays in New York as dancer and actor, including Sunny , 1925, As Thousands Cheer , 1933, The Man Who Came to Dinner on tour, 1931, and Blithe Spirit , 1941; 1920—film debut in Polly with a Past ; 1921—London stage debut in Fun at the Fayre ; 1923—performed with the Dolly Sisters in Paris; 1948—first of several films featuring the character Mr. Belvedere, Sitting Pretty . Died: 13 October 1966.
Films as Actor:
Polly with a Past (de Cordova)
Let No Man Put Asunder (Blackton)
The Heart of a Siren (Rosen) (as Maxim); New Toys (Robertson)
The Still Alarm (short)
Laura (Preminger and Mamoulian) (as Waldo Lydecker)
The Dark Corner (Hathaway) (as Hardy Cathcart); The Razor's Edge (Goulding) (as Elliott Templeton)
Sitting Pretty (Walter Lang) (as Lynn Belvedere)
Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (Nugent) (title role)
Cheaper by the Dozen (Walter Lang) (as Frank Gilbert); For Heaven's Sake (Seaton) (as Charles)
Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell (Koster) (title role); Elopement (Koster) (as Howard Osborne)
Dreamboat (Binyon) (as Thirton Sayre); Stars and Stripes Forever (Koster) (as John Philip Sousa)
Titanic (Negulesco) (as Robert Sturges); Mister Scoutmaster (Levin) (as Robert Jordan)
Three Coins in the Fountain (Negulesco) (as Shadwell); Woman's World (Negulesco) (as Gifford)
The Man Who Never Was (Neame) (as Commander Ewen Montagu)
Boy on a Dolphin (Negulesco) (as Victor Parmalee)
The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (Levin) (title role); Holiday for Lovers (Levin) (as Robert Dean)
Satan Never Sleeps ( The Devil Never Sleeps ; Flight from Terror ) (McCarey) (as Father Bovard)
On WEBB: book—
Parish, James Robert, and William T. Leonard, The Funsters , New Rochelle, New York, 1979.
On WEBB: articles—
Current Biography 1943 , New York, 1943.
Obituary in New York Times , 14 October 1966.
"Clifton Webb," in Films in Review (New York), January 1970.
Holland, L. L., "Clifton Webb," in Films in Review (New York), April 1981.
* * *
Clifton Webb's career of rather secondary parts in motion pictures obscures his brilliant Broadway career as a singer and dancer. But that was long before his cinema debut and he was never featured as a musical comedy personality in films.
Hollywood found him most useful, however, in bitchy, acerbic roles, most notably that of the columnist Waldo Lydecker in Otto Preminger's Laura . His screen career was hardly distinguished, but it was a steady one, and he had occasional strong roles such as the automobile executive in Woman's World where he played an excellent foil to the ambitious wives of candidates for an automobile company's vice presidency. But it was the character he played in Laura that typecast him, and that gave birth to such pictures as Sitting Pretty and the Mr. Belvedere series, which capitalized on his role in it.
Webb's film career, coming as it did on the heels of a long stage career, was diminished only by old age. His last film was in Leo McCarey's film, Satan Never Sleeps .