Laird Cregar: A Hollywood Tragedy
Published by McFarland, 2018. 329 pages
By Gregory William Mank
The reading goal that I have set for myself is to get through at least one book per month, and for the last couple of years, I’ve happily gone a little past that goal. But thanks to the wonderfully talented Mr. Mank, my average for this year just went up. It usually takes me 3-4 weeks to get through a book, mainly because I have to steal away time to read. But once I started this latest volume, on the actor Laird Cregar, I went through the first half of it in the first two days, finishing it off within a week. I just couldn’t put it down.
I have been a fan of Cregar’s since the very first time I watched The Lodger (1944). I was just amazed at not only how effective and well made the picture was, but also the amazing talent of Cregar. I immediately started to seek out other of his films, especially Hangover Square (1945), again being mesmerized by his performance. I started to read up on this seemingly unknown (to me at least) actor and his life in various books and online, only be to be depressed on how this brilliant performer was treated in his life, by others as well as how he treated himself. A couple of years ago, while talking to Mank at a Monster Bash conference, he mentioned Cregar was going to be the subject of an upcoming book, which I knew I would get the minute it came out. Which I did.
Born July 28th, 1913 – Died Dec. 9th, 1944
Cregar was an actor of amazing stature, but in physical size and talent. Being 6′ 3″ and 300 lbs., he was a figure to be reckoned with. But even more powerful than his size, was his acting talent. With such deep and soulful eyes and soft voice, he gave the audience an incredible performance. It was his performance in his self-produced one-man play ‘Oscar Wilde” where Cregar really caught the attention of Hollywood. He would make his feature debut in the 1941 film Hudson’s Bay along side Paul Muni. Because of his size, he was getting roles of the villains and heavies but desperately wanted to be a leading man. His portrayals of two different madmen, in The Lodger (1944) and Hangover Square (1945) where the characters he is playing are hiding a deep dark secret. Maybe one of the reasons for his stellar performance was because Cregar was hiding his own secret that he was scared to death of it getting out. Cregar was a homosexual and thought if that news got out in Hollywood in the ’40s that it would ruin his chance of being a romantic leading man. Watching him in these two films is both fascinating and tragic since he was battling his own inner demons the whole time.
Between the two films, he decided that he would lose weight which he hoped would put him in the leagues of the leading man roles, dropping 100 lbs. He went into the hospital for an abdominal surgery for his weight loss, but suffered two heart attacks, with the second one killing him. It was such a loss, especially because he was only 28 years old. But the real tragedy was that he was afraid to be who he was, and felt that he had to hide it from the public. Granted, back then one might have to do that, but it is still a damn shame.