Filled Under: Leslie Banks
Leslie Banks was an English theatre and cinema actor, director, and producer best remembered for playing gruff, menacing characters in black-and-white films of the 1930s and 1940s.
Leslie Banks was born June 9, 1890 in West Derby, Liverpool, Lancashire, England to George and Emily Banks. Banks attended school in Scotland at Glenalmond College and later studied at Keble College, Oxford. He joined British actor F.R. Benson’s company and made his acting debut in October 1911 at the town hall, Brechin, playing Old Gobbo in “The Merchant of Venice”. From 1912-1913, Banks then toured the United States and Canada with the British husband and wife team Henry V. Esmond and Eva Moore. Returning to London, he appeared for the first time on the West End stage at the Vaudeville Theatre on 5 May 1914, as Lord Murdon in “The Dangerous Age”. During WWI, Banks served with the Essex Regiment 1914-1918 and received injuries that left his face partially scarred and paralyzed. During his acting career he would use this injury to good effect by showing the unblemished side of his face when playing comedy or romance and the scarred, paralyzed side of his face when playing drama or tragedy. After the war, Banks joined the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, one of the most influential companies in the history of the English Stage, establishing himself as a leading dramatic actor known for his powerful stage performances. Making his New York stage debut in 1924 as Captain Hook in “Peter Pan”, Brooks continued to work in both London and New York and won trans-Atlantic fame. It was when he was in New York that American film producer Kenneth Macgowan persuaded him to go to Hollywood and make his stage debut there in “The Hounds of Zaroff” in 1932.
In his first film role, Leslie Bank’s formidable bulk and intimidating persona served him well as a diabolical Russian hunter of human prey in “The Most Dangerous Game” (1932) which co-starred popular actors Joel McCrea and Fay Wray. Other film roles included Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934) with Peter Lorre, “Fire Over England” (1937) with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, “Jamaica Inn” (1939) with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara, as the eccentric Inspector Anthony Slade in “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery” (1939), Laurence Olivier’s “Henry V” (1944), and David Lean’s “Madeleine” (1950) with Ann Todd and Norman Wooland. During this time of his career, Banks divided his time between Britain and the United States and between film and theatre. Other theatre roles of note included Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew” (1937), the schoolmaster in “Goodbye, Mr Chips” (1938), and James Jarvis in the Kurt Weill musical “Lost in the Stars” (1950).
Leslie Banks married Gwendoline Haldane Unwin in 1915 and the couple had three daughters together, Daphne, Virginia, and Evangeline. Their daughter Evangeline Banks is the mother of actors Matthew Evans and Serena Evans.
In 1950 Banks was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to theatre in 1950, the year in which he made both his final stage and film appearances.
Leslie Banks died from a stroke on April 21, 1952 in London, England. He was sixty one years old.