George Zucco – actor

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George Desylla Zucco – 11 January 1886 to 27 May 1960 – was an English character actor who appeared, almost always in supporting roles, in ninety-six films during a career spanning two decades, from 1931 to 1951. In horror films, he often played a suave villain.

Zucco was born in Manchester, Lancashire, England. His mother, Marian ran a dressmaking business. His father, George De Sylla Zucco, was a Greek merchant. He debuted on the Canadian stage in 1908. He and his wife Frances toured the American vaudeville circuit during the 1910s, often performing their satirical sketch about suffragettes. He returned to Great Britain and served as a lieutenant in the army during World War I. He became a leading stage actor of the 1920s and made his film debut in The Dreyfus Case (1931).

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Zucco travelled to the US in 1935 to play Benjamin Disraeli in Victoria Regina, and appeared in Souls at Sea (1937). Perhaps his best-known screen role was that of Professor Moriarty in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939), opposite Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.

During the 1940s, he took every role he was offered, frequently in B-films and Universal horror films, including The Mummy’s Hand (1940), The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), The Mad Monster (1942), The Mad Ghoul (1943), Dead Men Walk (1943), The Mummy’s Ghost (1944), House of Frankenstein (1944), and Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948). He was reunited with Basil Rathbone in another Sherlock Holmes adventure, Sherlock Holmes in Washington, this time playing not Moriarty, but a Nazi spy.

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Zucco retired due to illness, after playing a bit part in David and Bathsheba (1951). In his 1988 book Hollywood Babylon II, Kenneth Anger spuriously claimed that Zucco died in a madhouse, convinced that he was being haunted by H.P. Lovecraft‘s creation Cthulhu, and that Zucco’s wife and adult daughter committed suicide in response to the loss. However, in reality, Zucco died from pneumonia in an assisted-living facility in 1960 at the age of seventy-four.

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Selected filmography:

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  • Who Killed Doc Robbin (1948)

 

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