Elsa Lanchester

  1. Anita Louise, Marie Anoinette, 1937. Delays caused by Norma Shearer’s pregnancy, meant that Lanchester (and chubby hubby Charles Laughton were busy elsewhere when shooting finally began.  Louise, who ahd been Marie Anoinette in  Madame Du Barry, 1933, took nover as the Princess de Lamballe and Robert Morley made his Hollywood debut as Louis XVI in Shearer’s favourite film.
  2. Vivien Leigh, St. Martin’s Lane (US: Sidewalks of London), 1938.    Without hesitation, Charles Laughton sacked his wife, Elsa, once producer Alexander Korda offered to finance the film – as long as the leading lady was Viv.
  3. June Lockhart, Son of Lassie, 1945.    Elsa was asked to play the adult version of Priscilla – Liz Taylor inthe first film, Lassie Come Home, 1943, when Elsa had portrayed the mother of Lassie’s mate, Roddy McDowall.  Lockhart went on to star in all 207 episodes of the 1958-1964 Lassie TV series.
  4. Katharine Hepburn, The African Queen, 1951.     “A story of two old people going up and down an African river,” sneered Alexander Korda. “Who’s going to be interested in that?” After Columbia passed on the  project for Charles Laughton and his wife, Elsa Lanchester, Warner Bros moved in, buying the rights to the CS Forrester novel for Davis. Then, SP Spiegel (later reverting to Sam Spiegel) and his Horizon Pictures partner, John Huston, snapped it up.  “Both were seeking escape,” reported Sam’s biographer Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni. “Spiegel from financial ruin, Huston  from commercial mediocrity.”
  5. Lillian Gish, Night of the Hunter, 1954.    “There was some question  that I might do  the Lilian Gish character,” said Elsa, of her husband’s celebrated directing debut. “But I didn’t want to be around Charles when he was in such  a hypersensitive condition and I didn’t want to be anywhere near [producer] Paul Gregory.” Spoilt  for choice  for guardian angel Rachel Cooper, Laughton saw Ethel Barrymore, Jane Darwell, Louise Fazenda, Helen Hayes, Agnes Moorehead.Then Elsa recommended Zasu Pitts and …The Iron Butterfly, herself.
  6. Diane Cilento, The Admirable Crichton, 1957.     Only one of the four films announced by her husband’s 1937-9 Mayflower company that was ever made as planned in 1938.
  7. Sheila Keith, House of  the Long Shadows, 1983.     The legendary Bride of Frankenstein, 1935, was too ill to fly to London to join the final pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. “Stardom,”  Elsa reflected, “is all hard work, aspirins and purgatives.”


 Birth year: 1902Death year: 1986Other name: Casting Calls:  7