Clifton Webb

On screen, actor Clifton Webb was as crisp and clear as a freshly pressed sheet of paper  - his well modulated voice, impeccable appearance and sharp wit gave him an edge in Hollywood and although he was not considered romantic lead material, throughout the 1940s and 50s he was rarely out of work.
Clifton Webb. Source

Webb was a fine character actor, much in demand and appeared in a number of classic films alongside some of the screens most beautiful actresses, including Laura (1944) and The Razor's Edge (1946) with Gene Tierney,  Sitting Pretty (1948) with Maureen O'Hara and Cheaper by the Dozen (1950) with Myrna Loy.

Born in Indianapolis in 1889, the versatile Webb began his professional life as a ballroom dancer, while still in his teens. With the encouragement of his mother Maybelle, Webb's creative and artistic talents manifested early, beckoning him away from school and academia, toward a theatrical life.

Before his successful foray into feature films, he had performed in scores of operettas and musicals on Broadway, as well as dramatic plays, revues, Vaudeville and occasionally, in silent films. Webb's crisply amusing stage personality particularly suited the plays of Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde and his considerable skills did not go unnoticed by the major Hollywood talent players.

A Late Start in Films
Laura considered me the wisest, the wittiest, the most interesting man she'd ever met. I was in complete accord with her on that point.... Waldo Lydecker, Laura

By the time he scored his first major role in a feature film, the seasoned actor was already well into his fifties, though this scarcely detracted from his performances - with the sort of roles he was given,  maturity was a distinct advantage. Not one to squander his opportunities, Webb shone luminously in his first significant film role as malevolent radio columnist Waldo Lydecker, in the 1944 mystery, Laura,  earning him critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination. Director Otto Preminger had chosen him over the protestations of studio head, Darryl F Zanuck and the film's subsequent success meant the former's faith in Webb was well and truly vindicated.

Following Laura, Webb went from strength to strength, making many more feature films and securing for himself in the process a reputation as one of Hollywood's most accomplished character actors. His distinctive presence on screen commanded attention, as it had on stage and he found himself in late middle-age, a star with considerable box office draw.

A dapper Clifton Webb in his early thirties. Source
Webb never married, having lived with his mother, to whom he was very close,  until her death in 1960, six years before his own demise at the age of seventy-six.  It was no secret in Hollywood that the actor was gay - the clues were there for all to see and in an age where macho virility and straightness seemed a prerequisite for screen saleability, it makes Webb's outstanding success seem even more admirable.

It was of course, his unique persona and strong individuality that set him apart and formed a large part of his appeal - what would be considered a no-no in a leading man was somehow acceptable in a character actor. Webb had a kind innate self-confidence that he carried with him in all his roles. Like Noel Coward, he had a strong sense of identity - a sheer force of personality that seemed to transcend rigid cultural mores.

Mr Belvedere
Sitting Pretty with Maureen O'Hara and Robert Young established Webb in one of his most enduring, if lightweight, roles, as Lyn Belvedere; self-proclaimed genius, master baby-sitter and font of general wisdom. The role seemed  tailor-made for Webb and earnt him his second Oscar nomination, although it was in fact the film version of a popular 1947 novel,  Belvedere, written by Gwen Davenport.

Following the success of the first film, Mr Belvedere became a recurring gig for Web and two more Belvedere films followed, ensuring financial comfort in his old-age. Mr Belvedere Goes to College (1949) was the second in the series. To get a glimpse of Clifton Webb's inimitable style, watch the entire film below. (keep an eye out for a puppyish Alan Young of Wilbur Post/ Mr Ed fame).