Brian Aherne surrounded by adoring nurses during a World War II USO tour.
I started this blog, in part, because I always had a fantasy of producing a modern version of the fairly trashy movie magazines that were popular during the golden age of Hollywood. If I had such a power, I would print lots of lovely pictures of all my favorite actors and actresses and of course give all my favorite obscure English actors the spotlight they deserve. I would probably devote an entire issue,or at least a cover to the under-rated Brian Aherne. I first noticed Aherne in Sylvia Scarlett (1935) playing the floppy-haired bohemian artist rival to Cary Grant's "bad, handsome" cockney piano man. It's the rare actor that can turn my head away from Cary for even a moment. Though Aherne's character is kind of a jerk in the movie, I've always gotten what it is that Katharine Hepburn's character sees in him.
Brian Aherne was a British theatrical star who had been on stage since he was eight years old. Like many of his fellow thespians he was recruited to Hollywood when the movies got sound. Women ruled at the box office in those days and Aherne was fortunate enough to play second fiddle to some of the best. His first talkie was made at Paramount as Marlene Dietrich arm candy in Song of Songs (1933). One of his first films was the British version of The Constant Nymph (1934), which was later remade in 1943 starring Ahern's then-wife, Joan Fontaine. Another standout part for Aherne was the male lead to Helen Hayes in What Every Woman Knows (1934) where he plays a thickly-accented Scottish politician at the turn of the century. That same year he starred opposite Ann Harding in the World War I picture The Fountain. He also played the male lead in the Joan Crawford vehicle, I Live My Life (1935). He played the sympathetic Irish rebel, Dennis O'Riordan, in Beloved Enemy (1936) with Merle Oberon and David Niven.
Aherne got his first starring role in 1937 in Jame Whale's The Great Garrick, a biopic about the great 18th Century actor, David Garrick. Though the movie was a critical success it was expensive, especially for a Warner's picture and it flopped. Aherne's comic abilities got further airing with Constance Bennett in the My Man Godfrey knock-off, Merrily We Live (1938). Ahern eplays a rehabilitated tramp who becomes the family chauffeur. Screwball antics ensue. In 1939, Aherne starred in Captain Fury, his most commercially successful movie, about another Irish rebel who escapes from an Australian prison. That same year he earned his only Oscar nomination in a hilariously-bearded supporting role in the Paul Muni biopic Juarez. He played a self-made man who spoils his child in My Son, My Son (1940) and made the first of three comedies with Rosalind Russel, Hired Wife and My Sister Eileen and What a Woman.
He co starred in a courtroom drama with Rita Hayworth, The Woman in Question (1940) . He starred in The Man who Lost Himself (1941) and the musical remake of Smilin' Through where he listened contemplatively to songbird, Jeanette McDonald. He made a romantic comedy with Lorraine Day, A Night to Remember and a pair of war movies Forever and A Day and First Comes Courage. After that he took some time off from film and returned in the later forties as a supporting player. One later Aherne role that comes to mind is the teen pregnancy drama Susan Slade (1961) in which his wife is played by Natalie Schafer, best known as Mrs. Thirston "Lovey" Howell the Third on "Gilligan's Island."
After retiring from Hollywood, Aherne tried his hand at writing, composing a casual biography of George Saunders called "Dreadful Man" and his own autobiography "Proper Job." He was married to actress Joan Fontaine, from 1939-1945. He met Fontaine because he had first dated her sister, Olivia De Haviland, while filming their movie, The Great Garrick. He later married Eleanor de Liagre Labrot, the sister of celebrated broadway producer Alfred de Liagre, Jr. The couple were married until his death in 1986.
Enjoy more pictures of Brian in my gallery.
Bridget Jones's Dairy (2001)
7 years ago