Sitting Pretty with Clifton Webb (1889 – 1966)

Posted in Rewind by - October 17, 2013
Sitting Pretty with Clifton Webb (1889 – 1966)

Sitting Pretty with Clifton Webb

Although Clifton Webb remained a bachelor all his life, in movies he must have raised more children than any other actor. In just two films alone (1950’s ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ and 1958’s ‘The Remarkable Mr.Pennypacker’), he was father to 29 children. Then there was his turn in 1953’s ‘Mister Scoutmaster’ playing the title role, and the classic 1948 comedy ‘Sitting Pretty’, where he took on the role of charge to three young boys.

Born Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 18th 1889, Webb spent his early years as a professional ballroom dancer, before turning his hand to musicals, dramas, and even silent movies. It wasn’t until he was cast as classy villain Waldo Lydecker in 1944’s ‘Laura’, that he became a star, quickly followed by being perfectly cast as snobbish Elliott Templeton in ‘The Razor’s Edge’ (1946). Both movies co-starred the beautiful Gene Tierney, and both saw him nominated for the Academy Award.

The part that probably came closest to his own fussy, and sometime condescending persona, was that of Lynn Belvedere in the very popular 1948 movie ‘Sitting Pretty’, and although he was third billed after Robert Young and Maureen O’Hara, he completely stole the show and won a new generation of fans, as well as his third and final Oscar nomination. Two Belvedere sequels followed. In-between which, he starred in the family favourite ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ (1950) based on the real-life Gilbreth family, as the bossy father of twelve. His character died at the end, so could not be seen in the sequel ‘Belles on their Toes’, although his voice was heard from heaven to re-assure them all!

After playing the captain of the ill-fated ship in 1953’s ‘Titanic’, and the love interest for Dorothy McGuire in 1954’s ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’, Webb played it completely straight in the engrossing 1956 thriller ‘The Man Who Never Was’, sporting a naval beard and looking serious throughout.

His final movie was the 1962 melodrama ‘The Devil Never Sleeps’ alongside William Holden. Filmed in England, this was one of only two sound movies where Webb appeared without his trademark moustache, (the other being 1950’s ‘For Heaven’s Sake’).

Due to health problems, Webb spent the last five years of his life as a recluse at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He died of natural causes on October 13th 1966, aged 76.

Thankfully 20th Century Fox’s Cinema Archive’s have released quite a few of Webb’s movies lately (all Region 1 only), including two where he plays the father to a young Anne Francis, 1951’s ‘Elopement’, and the following years ‘Dreamboat’, in which he gives one of his best performances as a High school professor whose past career as a silent movie star, comes back to embarrass him. An enjoyable movie and a good introduction for newcomers to the career of this one-of-a kind character.

Favourite Movie: The Razor’s Edge
Favourite Performance: Cheaper by the Dozen

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