Monday, August 5, 2013
WHAT A CHARACTER: RICHARD HAYDN
Richard Haydn had a laborious start to his show business career, selling tickets in the box office of London's Daly Theatre. This was followed by an unsuccessful stint with a comedy act in musical revue. For a change of pace, he became overseer of a Jamaican banana plantation only to see it wiped out by a hurricane. Returning home, he appeared in the 1926 West End production of 'Betty of Mayfair' and, soon after, also began to act on radio. It was in this medium, where he first found success, creating his signature character, the perpetually befuddled nasally-voiced fish expert and mother's boy Edwin Carp. Haydn later immortalised the character in a book, The Journal of Edwin Carp.
The Carp routine opened the door for Haydn to appear with Beatrice Lillie on Broadway in Noel Coward's 'Set to Music' (1939) and this, in turn, resulted in a contract with 20th Century Fox. While his screen debut in Charley's Aunt (1941) was relatively straight-laced, he was more often seen in comedic roles where his lugubrious face and dignified, sometimes unctuous presence could be employed to scene-stealing effect. His notable characterisations in this vein include the over-enunciating Professor Oddly in Ball of Fire (1941), Rogers the butler in And Then There Were None (1945) and Mr. Wilson in Cluny Brown (1946). He essayed a rare villainous role as the odious Earl of Radcliffe in the period drama Forever Amber (1947) and was back in his best form as Mr.Appleton in Sitting Pretty (1948). In The Late George Apley (1947), he played the character of Horatio Willing, 'with a broad edge of wheezy burlesque' (Bosley Crowther, New York Times, March 21 1947). In the late 40's, Haydn made a brief foray into directing. Of his three films for Paramount, the Bing Crosby vehicle Mr. Music (1950) enjoyed the best critical reviews. He also appeared with Crosby in The Emperor Waltz (1948) as Emperor Franz-Josef.
Haydn usually performed as a nasally odd ball character. However, he basically played it straight as the family friend of the Trapp family in The Sound Of Music (1965). It was his most acclaimed role which he played the von Trapps' family friend Max Detweiler. In the film he plays an amusing opportunist Jew, who is good friends with both the baroness and the Captain. His role was based on Father Franz Wasner, who, in the real life von Trapp story, became a life long family friend, as well as composer, conductor and arranger for The von Trapp Family Choir. Max is one of very few people who call the Captain by his first name, Georg. Max is looking for a new act for The Salzburg Music Festival, and is the person who encourages the Captain to let his children sing on stage.
He moved on to television in the 1960s, but he was lured back to Hollywood for another movie classic - a Mel Brooks comedy. In the classic comedy Young Frankenstein (1974), he played solicitor Herr Falkstein. According to the DVD commentary of Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks said that Haydn used gardening and horticulture as a means of escape from the Hollywood grind and eschewed the Hollywood lifestyle.
In the Twilight Zone episode "A Thing About Machines", he portrayed Mr. Bartlett Finchley, a quirky, self-absorbed, technophobe who is confronted by every machine in his home. On 1 April 1964, he reprised the Edwin Carp character, a poet and an expert on fish, in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show which saluted several old-time radio performers. On 11 April 1968 he appeared as a Japanese businessman on an episode of Bewitched entitled "A Majority of Two".
Richard Haydn never married but he was engaged to Marlene Dietrich's daughter briefly in the 1940s. Pretty much a recluse, Haydn died after a heart attack on April 25, 1985 in Los Angeles, California...