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From the Archives: Suave Film Star Clifton Webb Dies at 76

From the Archives: Suave Film Star Clifton Webb Dies at 76
Dorothy McGuire and Clifton Webb in "Three Coins in the Fountain." (20th Century Fox)

Clifton Webb, suave star of the screen, died Thursday night in his Beverly Hills home at the age of 76.

Mr. Webb had been in his residence at 1005 N. Rexford Drive from surgery he underwent last May for an intestinal block.

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Miss Helen Matthews, his secretary for 20 years, was with him when he died at 9 p.m. of what his physician described as heart failure.

It was at the age of 51 that the mustachioed, dapper actor made his Hollywood debut in the movie "Laura." Director Otto Preminger had been impressed by Mr. Webb's stage performances.

Signed to 5-Year Contract

So satisfied was 20th Century Fox with Mr. Webb's portrayal of a villain in the mystery film that they signed him to a five-year contract.

Mr. Webb went on to make 19 more movies, but he was perhaps best known for his portrayal of a babysitter in "Sitting Pretty." In that film, he taught children, among other things, to chew their food 27 times.

He continued the role in "Mr. Belvedere Goes to College," made in 1948 and "Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell," filmed in 1951.

Although Mr. Webb remained a bachelor all his life, he was a popular family man on the screen, especially in such movies as "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker."

He also starred in "The Razor's Edge," "Three Coins in the Fountain," "Boy on a Dolphin," and "Holiday for Lovers." He made his last film, "Satan Never Sleeps," in 1961.

The dignified performer had many careers. He was an opera singer at 17, then became a dancer in nightclubs. He later was a dance school proprietor and instructor, turned to vaudeville, then became a stage star.

Mr. Webb danced in "She's My Baby," with Beatrice Lillie. He also appeared in "Treasure Girl," with Gertrude Lawrence. In the play "As Thousands Cheer," he did such impersonations a Mahatma Gandhi and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Returns to Stage

It was on the heels of this play that he was brought to Hollywood to do a movie about a dancer. For 18 months, at a reported $3,000 a week, Mr. Webb fidgeted while production problems developed. The film was never made and he returned to the Broadway stage.

Later, for a year and a half, he played the role of a cantankerous wheel chair patient in "The Man Who Came to Dinner." Next came his success in "Blithe Spirit," in which he played for three seasons and toured from Toronto to Seattle. It was this role which led to his being approached by Preminger for the part of a caustic critic in "Laura."

Three Nominations

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Three times Mr. Webb was nominated for Academy Awards — for his parts in "Laura," The Razor's Edge" and "Sitting Pretty."

The urbane actor, whose real name was Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck, was born in Indianapolis, Ind. He seldom talked of his father, but was very close to his mother, Mabel. They attended parties together until she died six years ago.

In 1963 Mr Webb underwent surgery to correct an abdominal aneurysm. The operation was performed in Houston by Dr. Michael DeBakey, famed heart specialist.

Funeral services are pending at Pierce Bros. Mortuary in Beverly Hills. Mr. Webb will be entombed at Hollywood Cemetery.

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