Wilfrid Hyde-White; English Actor of Stage, Films, TV


Wilfrid Hyde-White, the impeccably attired, properly mannered character in scores of Hollywood’s and England’s finest films, died Monday morning of heart failure.

Louella M. Benson, spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, where Hyde-White had lived since 1985, said he was 87 when he died there.

Born in Bourton-on-the-Water in England and a onetime student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, Hyde-White until a few years ago never strayed for long from his native land.


Between appearances in such roles as Col. Pickering in the film version of “My Fair Lady,” he returned to England in the summer to perform in plays--usually revivals of works by Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw. He also appeared in regional theaters in this country, reviving his famous comedy roles in “The Reluctant Debutante” and “Not in the Book.”

But it was motion pictures and television that made his sharply featured, aristocratic face distinguishable.

From 1936, when he appeared in the British film “Rembrandt,” to the 1979 TV series “The Associates,” in which he starred as aging barrister Emerson Marshall, he worked steadily with stars ranging from Charles Laughton to Orson Welles to Lucille Ball.

Hedda Hopper, the Hollywood columnist, wrote in 1960 that Hyde-White imbued his characters with “a sort of Gothic tranquillity. He could be (mistaken for) a diplomat or a director of the Bank of England.”

It was that sort of role he played in nearly 150 films, including “Elephant Boy,” “The Third Man,” “Trio,” “The Man on the Eiffel Tower,” “The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan,” “Let’s Make Love” (in which he pronounced star Marilyn Monroe “a genuine eccentric”), “Ten Little Indians” and one of his last, “Oh, God! Book II,” in 1980 with George Burns.

In December, 1980, he appeared on television as Dr. Goodfellow, an erratic scientist in “Buck Rogers.” Also in that cast was his son, Alex Hyde-White. The elder Hyde-White also was seen in TV specials, including one with Miss Ball, and briefly as Martin Peyton on the 1960s nighttime soap opera “Peyton Place.”


His lengthy stage career began on the Isle of Wight in 1922 and wended its way through London, the Oxford Festival and regular appearances throughout England for the British Arts Council.

In 1947, he came to Broadway for the revue “Under the Counter” and returned to the New York stage four years later with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in their famous twin-play production of “Caesar and Cleopatra” and “Antony and Cleopatra.”

By then he was known to American audiences for his films but said he continued to miss stage work, particularly when he compared it to TV.

“In bloody television,” he told The Times in 1979, “if your trousers don’t fall down in the first 10 seconds the audience walks out and puts the kettle on.”

Besides his son Alex, he is survived by his wife, Ethel; another son, Michael; a daughter, Juliet, and four grandsons.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. at the John Ford Chapel at the Motion Picture Country Home.