Melvyn Douglas (Who’s Who at MGM, 1937) 🇺🇸

January 08, 2022

Biography — One of the two sons of Edouard Hesselberg, Russian-born, internationally known concert pianist and composer, and of Lena Shackelford, of Kentucky, Melvyn Douglas was born on April 5, in Macon, Ga. He attended grade school in Nashville, Tenn., and preparatory schools in Lincoln, Neb., and Toronto, Canada. His parents wanted him to study law. He wanted to be a poet. So he compromised by becoming an actor.

It was while he was at school in Lincoln that he obtained his first taste for dramatics, playing leading roles in such plays as “The Little Princess.”

He served in the medical corps during the war and almost decided to turn doctor. But after the Armistice an actor named William Owen, convinced that Melvyn had talent, took him on a tour of the Middle West with a repertory troupe.

Dropped Hesselberg

It was then that Melvyn decided that the name Hesselberg would never do for theater marquees. His mother, of Scotch and English descent, had told him in his childhood exciting stories of her ancestor, that swashbuckling Highlander, the Black Douglas. While Melvyn had been in Toronto, he tried to join the Canadian Scottish but was turned down on account of his age. Now he decided to adopt that Scotch name and became a Douglas himself.

His stock experience included two seasons with Jessie Bonstelle, in Detroit, Sioux City, la., Evansville, Ind., Madison, Wis., where he owned and managed his own company.

Played Gangster Role

In January, 1928, he reached Broadway in the role of Ace Wilfong, the gangster, in A Free Soul, later played by Clark Gable on the screen. A series of important plays followed.

One of them, Tonight or Never, was a lucky production for him for the star was Helen Gahagan, whom he married on his birthday in 1931. The role also brought him to the attention of Hollywood, where he was called to play in the screen version opposite Gloria Swanson.

His next pictures were “Prestige,” “The Wiser Sex,” “The Broken Wing” and “As You Desire Me,” opposite Greta Garbo. He made one picture, “Dangerous Corner,” between a series of plays on Broadway, which included “No More Ladies” and “Mother Lode.” “She Married Her Boss,” “Annie Oakley,” “Mary Burns,” “Fugitive” and “The Lone Wolf Returns” were his next pictures before he returned to Broadway to do Tapestry in Gray.

Father in “Courageous”

Among his most recent pictures are “And So They Were Married,” The Gorgeous Hussy, with Joan Crawford; “Theodora Goes Wild,” “Women of Glamour” and the role of Freddie Bartholomew’s father in Captains Courageous. After this he was loaned to Paramount for “I Met Him in Paris,” opposite Claudette Colbert, and remained at that studio for a second picture, “The Angel,” with Marlene Dietrich.

Douglas is six feet one and one-half inches tall, weighs 180 pounds, has brown hair and hazel eyes. His favorite actress was the late Eleanora Duse, but he’s also an enthusiastic lover of slapstick comedy. Also, while he’s invariably to be found at the symphony and the opera, he can obtain equal enjoyment from Esquire or the New Yorker. Tennis is his favorite sport, travel his favorite relaxation. And his wife and young son, Peter Gahagan Douglas, his favorite company.

Because he has become so well-known under his adopted name, Douglas petitioned Los Angeles courts to make it legal. In this move, he follows the lead of Jean HarlowKay Francis and others in legalizing their stage names.

Source: Who’s Who at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1937