Monday, December 07, 2009

Richard Todd Dies

Richard Andrew Palethorpe-Todd, actor, born 11 June 1919; died 3 December 2009 of cancer, aged 90, will be best remembered for the films in which he played a wide assortment of clean-cut British heroes. His most famous performance was as Wing Commander Guy Gibson in The Dam Busters (1955), although he also played Robin Hood and Sir Walter Raleigh.

As dour and stiff upper-lipped as any of the characters he portrayed in his highly successful film career in the 1940s and 1950s, he was one of the first members of the Parachute Regiment to jump on D-day – a real-life role he later echoed, albeit at a higher rank, in The Longest Day (1962), the reconstruction of the invasion of Normandy 17 years after the event (another actor posed as Todd himself).

As Gibson, Todd starred as the leader of the daring airborne mission in May 1943 to smash German industry in the Ruhr valley by strategic bombing of its dams, causing massive flooding. The movie retold the story of Barnes Wallis's invention of a bouncing bomb that skimmed the surface of the reservoirs before colliding with the three targets – two of which were destroyed.

Born in Dublin, Todd was the son of an army major of Scots and Irish descent. His early life in England was one of private schools, including Shrewsbury, genteel poverty and family squabbles, usually over his father's drinking and extravagances that included buying a large Chrysler roadster behind his wife's back.

His tear-jerking portrayal of a dying and bitter Scots corporal in his second contract film, The Hasty Heart (1949), made him an instant hot property. Ronald Reagan was in a supporting role, his only appearance in a film made in Britain. The two men stayed in touch and once dined together at 10 Downing Street with a woman they both admired, Margaret Thatcher. Hitchcock used him in Stage Fright (1950), Walt Disney used him in Robin Hood (1952). Todd appeared as Raleigh, alongside Bette Davis, in The Virgin Queen in 1955, made The Sword and the Rose (1953) for Disney and Saint Joan (1957) for Otto Preminger. But he was happiest while filming in England, Never Let Go, although he refused the lead in The Guns of Navarone (1961) and was also unable to accept the role of James Bond – despite being Ian Fleming's first choice – because of other commitments. Sean Connery took the role instead.

Todd, the star of 50 films over 20 year, physically small but sturdy, Todd was more of a realist than many actors, was married twice, in 1949 to Catherine Grant-Bogle, by whom he had a son and daughter, and in 1970 to Virginia Mailer, by whom he had two sons. Both marriages ended in divorce. His son from his first marriage and one of his sons from his second marriage killed themselves. He is survived by his other two children.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers