Nigel de Brulier, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
For decades, Hollywood typed actors for their looks, personality, temperament, a shorthand telling audiences what they could expect whenever the actor appeared. Some personalities like Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, and Cary Grant rocketed to fame through their megawatt looks and charm, deep talent, or fierce drive. Others like Franklin Pangborn, Ned Sparks, Edna May Oliver, and Thelma Ritter provided tart flavor to films as prominent character actors, adding zesty spark, comic interludes, or high energy with their strong characterizations.
Gaunt, imploring Nigel de Brulier, a live version of an El Greco painting, added a note of mysticism or fanaticism to silent films with his impassioned clerics or wild-eyed madmen. His characters often seemed to inhabit their own spiritual worlds. Tall, lean, gaunt and possessing piercing eyes, de Brulier endured ill health and work struggles as a young man, bringing realistic fervor and devotion to his roles.
Corrections: This post changes the year De Brulier declared an interest in U.S. citizenship from 1909 to 1899 and notes that he was in the second screen version of “Ramona,” the first being made in 1910.
Mary Mallory’s “Hollywoodland: Tales Lost and Found” is available for the Kindle.