Edmund Anthony Cutlar Purdom (19 December 1924 – 1 January 2009) was an English actor, voice artist, and director. He worked first on stage in Britain, performing various works by Shakespeare, then in America on Broadway and in Hollywood, and eventually in Italy. He is perhaps best known for his starring role in 1954's historical epic The Egyptian. By taking over important roles exited by Mario Lanza and Marlon Brando, Purdom was known by the mid-1950s as "The Replacement Star". After the failure of his Hollywood career, Purdom returned briefly to the United Kingdom and then settled in Italy, where he spent the remainder of his life appearing in local films. Between the 1970s and 1990s, he was a regular in European genre cinema, working with directors like Juan Piquer Simón, Joe D'Amato, Sergio Martino and Ruggero Deodato.
His daughter Lilan Purdom became a journalist for French TV Channel TF1. She is the author of the book Hollywood Garage, which relates the tumultuous career of her father. The book is published in English and in French.
Purdom was born in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, England and educated at St. Augustine's Abbey School, then by the Jesuits at St. Ignatius Grammar School and Welwyn Garden City Grammar School.
He began his acting career in 1946 by joining the Northampton Repertory Company, appearing in productions that included Romeo and Juliet and Molière's The Imaginary Invalid. After two years of military service where he joined the Army's Central Pool of Artists, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon for two seasons. Laurence Olivier saw Purdom and offered him a chance to tour in the U.S.
In 1951–1952, Purdom appeared in small roles with the Laurence Olivier/Vivien Leigh company on Broadway in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra. His good looks brought him to the attention of Hollywood. Universal tested him for the part of the leading girl's brother in The Mississippi Gambler but decided he was too British. 20th Century Fox tested him for a role in My Cousin Rachel. MGM offered him a small role in Rhapsody, which he turned down. He made a screen test at Warner Brothers, directed by Michael Curtiz, from a scene from Force of Arms but Warners were not interested. Because Purdom had left his play, he did not have the fare to return to Britain, so he decided to stay in Hollywood.
"I was so broke," Purdom recalled, "that I couldn't afford to pay the doctor's bill when my daughter was born. I had no money for bus fare. I had to walk from studio to studio looking for a job. Once we were evicted for not paying the rent."
He managed to get a small part in Julius Caesar at MGM. George Cukor recommended him to Charles Brackett for the small role of Charles Lightoller in Titanic (1953). This brought Purdom to the attention of executives at MGM who signed him to a long-term contract.
The Student Prince
Mario Lanza was fired from the lead role in a new version of The Student Prince (1954). Lilian Burns suggested Purdom for the part, and he did a successful test directed by George Sidney. He was cast opposite Ann Blyth. The film was directed by Richard Thorpe. Purdom lip-synched to Lanza's singing voice.
Advance word on The Student Prince was promising, and when 20th Century Fox needed an actor at the last minute to replace Marlon Brando as the title character in The Egyptian, its most lavish production of 1954, Purdom was cast over John Derek, John Cassavetes and Cameron Mitchell.
MGM's head of production Dore Schary announced the studio would build up Purdom as a star. He was cast in three films: another MGM musical, Athena; the title role in the biblical epic The Prodigal, MGM's most lavish production of 1955, opposite Lana Turner; and the swashbuckler The King's Thief (1955), in a role originally meant for Stewart Granger. There was also some talk he would appear in the remake of Ben Hur.
The Student Prince was released and became a hit. Purdom was called "the most promising new star in Hollywood". Hedda Hopper called Purdom "the most surprising and notable figure this year in Hollywood...a fine actor in the great romantic tradition."
Schary later wrote in his memoirs that "Lanza's recordings were the prime ingredient for the picture's success, and that success went to Purdom's head. He believed he was responsible for the happy result. He asked for a new contract. We denied it. He asked for a release. We granted it."
Another contributing factor may have been that while The Student Prince had been a hit, The Egyptian was a box-office disappointment. Athena, The Prodigal and The King's Thief were all flops.
There was more bad publicity when he had an affair with Linda Christian (when she was married to Tyrone Power) leading to him divorcing his first wife. The split was bitter and public, and his wife later sued him for child support. Purdom argued for a reduction in child support because he no longer had his MGM contract worth $40,000 per year. He told the court he had renegotiated it in order to seek more money by freelancing and that he was in debt for $11,500. He said MGM had an option on his services for three films over three years. "It is my greatest desire to get back in front of the camera at the present time," he said.
For Allied Artists, Purdom made Strange Intruder (1956) with Ida Lupino. In 1957, he married Alicia Darr, who later got in a brawl with Christian. He continued to be sued for debts by his ex-wife and his lawyers.
Purdom returned to Broadway, appearing in Child of Fortune, an adaptation of Henry James's The Wings of the Dove, for Jed Harris. Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times stated Purdom "plays the part of the faithless suitor like a cultivated gentleman but his style is heavy." The play closed after 23 performances.
He then went to Italy, where the film industry was booming and there was a demand for English-speaking actors in order to ensure international distribution for the films. Purdom eventually settled permanently in Italy. His films included Herod the Great (1959), The Cossacks (1960), The Loves of Salammbo (1960), Suleiman the Conqueror (1961) and Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile (1961). He also occasionally worked in England on films such as Malaga (1960) and The Comedy Man (1964).
In 1962, he said "I couldn't stand Hollywood. The people, their status, symbols and public image were too much. I walked out. Perhaps I should have been more patient." Hedda Hopper wrote in response to this: "the truth is he did his best to become a star here, but he didn't make the grade - even with Mario Lanza's voice; but he did walk out on his wife and family and start gallivanting around with Linda Christian. I'll bet he'll come hopping back if anyone crooked a finger."
He eventually married Christian in 1962, but they divorced the following year.
He continued to work extensively in Italian B-films, on television and as a voice dubbing actor for many years (recording dialogue translated from Italian into English for sales of Italian films in English-speaking countries).
He also had roles in TV movies and miniseries, such as Sophia Loren: Her Own Story (as Vittorio De Sica) and The Winds of War. In 1984, he came back to his native country to direct the horror film Don't Open till Christmas.
He was also very active as a music recording engineer, including work on the soundtracks of films such as The Bible: In the Beginning... as well as many classical concerts in Florence and Vienna. He is credited for devising a technique transferring monaural sound to stereo.
Purdom died from heart failure on 1 January 2009 in Rome.
Purdom was married four times and divorced three times. His first three wives, all divorced, were:
- Anita (Tita) Philips (or Phillips), the mother of his children, Lilan (b 11 October 1952) and Marina Ann (b 8 July 1954); married 1951, divorced 1956.
- Alicia Darr (m 1957) of Polish ethnicity.
- actress Linda Christian in 1962 (divorced 1963), former wife of Tyrone Power
In 2000, he married the photographer Vivienne Purdom. His daughter Lilan Purdom became a journalist with the French television channel TF1.
- Goodyear Playhouse (1952, TV series) - episode "The Medea Cup"
- Titanic (1953) - Second Officer Lightoller (uncredited)
- Julius Caesar (1953) - Strato
- The Student Prince (1954) - Prince Karl
- The Egyptian (1954) - Sinuhe
- Athena (1954) - Adam Calhorn Shaw
- The Prodigal (1955) - Micah
- The King's Thief (1955) - Michael Dermott
- Strange Intruder (1956) - Paul Quentin
- Trapped in Tangier (1957) - John Milwood
- Sword of Freedom (1957–1958, TV series) - Marco del Monte
- Herod the Great (1959) - Erode / Herodes
- The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) - British Radio Announcer (voice, uncredited)
- The Anne Shelton Show (1959, TV series, two episodes)
- Tales of the Vikings (1959–1960, TV series) - Egil / King Lawrence
- Moment of Danger (1960, aka Malaga) - Peter Carran
- The Cossacks (1960) - Shamil, the Sheik
- The Loves of Salammbo (1960) - Narr Havas
- The Night They Killed Rasputin (1960) - Rasputin
- Fury of the Pagans (1960) - Toryok
- Big Request Concert (1960) - Harry Mell
- The Last of the Vikings (1961) - King Sveno
- La Fayette (1961) - Silas Deane
- Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile (1961) - Tumos, Scultore
- White Slave Ship (1961) - Dr. Bradley
- Suleiman the Conqueror (1961) - Ibrahim Pascià
- The Last Ride to Santa Cruz (1964) - Rex Kelly
- The Beauty Jungle (1964) - Rex Carrick
- The Comedy Man (1964) - Julian Baxter
- The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964) - John Fane
- Heroes of Fort Worth (1965) - Major 'Sugar' Patterson
- Los cuatreros (1965) - Jim James
- The Man Who Laughs (1966) - Cesare Borgia
- Giurò... e li uccise ad uno ad uno... Piluk il timido (1968) - Sheriff Roger Brown
- Sweden: Heaven and Hell (1968) - Narrator of English version
- Crisantemi per un branco di carogne (1968) - Padre
- Thomas e gli indemoniati (1970) - Marcus
- Blackie the Pirate (1971) - Viceroy
- The Fifth Cord (1971) - Edouard Vermont
- Lucifera: Demon Lover (1972) - Gunther
- Karzan, il favoloso uomo della jungla (1972) - Lord Carter (voice, uncredited)
- Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff (1973) - Inspector Crosby
- Il Boss (1973) - Avvocato Rizzo (English version, voice, uncredited)
- The Big Family (1973) - Giovanni Lutture
- High Crime (1973) - Franco (English version, voice, uncredited)
- Dagli archivi della polizia criminale (1973) - Teddy Webbs
- Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks (1974) - Prefect
- Un capitán de quince años (1974) - Admiral Marlowe
- The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974) - Andy (English version, voice, uncredited)
- What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974) - Prof. Beltrame (English version, voice, uncredited)
- The Suspects (1974) - Le journaliste américain
- The Cursed Medallion (1975) - Doctor
- Povero Cristo (1976) - Uomo in frac (man in tailcoat)
- Il colpaccio (1976)
- A Matter of Time (1976) - (uncredited)
- Mister Scarface (1976) - Luigi Cherico
- The Concorde Affair (1979) - Danker
- I contrabbandieri di Santa Lucia (1979) - Secret Service Chief
- Lo scoiattolo (1979) - Robert Sincap
- Pensieri Morbosi (1980) - The Pianist
- L'altra donna (1980) - Phillip
- Absurd (1981) - Father
- Pieces (1982) - The Dean
- Invaders of the Lost Gold (1982) - Rex Larson
- Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982) - Griba
- Amok (1983)
- 2019, After the Fall of New York (1983) - President of the Pan American Confederacy
- Champagne in paradiso (1983) - Paola's Father
- Don't Open till Christmas (1984) - Inspector Ian Harris
- Killer contro killers (1985) - His Excellency
- The Assisi Underground (1985) - Cardinal Della Costa
- Who Is Afraid Of Dracula? (1985) - Count Dracula
- Funny Boy (1987) - Samuel
- Don Bosco (1988) - Urbano Rattazzi
- Diritto di vivere (1989)
- The Rift (1990) - CEO Steensland
- Un orso chiamato Arturo (1992)
- A Ray of Sun (1997) - voice of Renzo Rossellini
- Titanic: The Legend Goes On (2001) - voice of Jeremy McFlannel
- The Knights of the Quest (2001) - Hugh of Clarendon
- The Last of Mrs Cheyney (1950)
- Anthony and Cleopatra (1951)
- Caesar and Cleopatra (1951)
- Bergan, Ronald (5 January 2009). "Obituary: Edmund Purdom". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
- Berch, Barbara (22 August 1954). "ON PAGING A PARTY NAMED PURDOM". New York Times. p. X5.
- "CHANGE OF LUCK LED TO STARDOM". The Mail. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 31 July 1954. p. 64. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
- Hopper, Hedda (4 July 1954). "The Find of the Year\s-: EDMUND PURDOM". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. f13.
- Bergan, Ronald (5 January 2009). "Edmund Purdom: British character actor famed for his roles in The Student Prince and The Egyptian". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 June 2009.
- Schallert, Edwin (6 September 1953). "Purdom Personality Matches Lanza Voice: Englishman Will Play the Role of Hero in 'The Student Prince'". Los Angeles Times. p. C3.
- Pryor, Thomas M (15 August 1953). "PURDOM WILL STAR IN 'STUDENT PRINCE': English Actor Cast by Metro for Title Role, but Lanza's Voice Will Be Heard". New York Times. p. 8.
- Pryor, Thomas M (26 February 1954). "NICHOLS HONORED BY WRITERS GUILD: Scenarist Is Awarded Laurel Achievement for His Work in Industry and Union". New York Times. p. 15.
- Pryor, Thomas (1 February 1954). "METRO STRESSING CINEMASCOPE USE: Five of Eight Films to Be Done in April and May Set for Wide Screen". New York Times. p. 19.
- "Drama: Purdom Selected as Star of 'Ben Hur'". Los Angeles Times. 17 April 1954. p. 14.
- Schary, Dore (1979). Heyday. p. 267.
- Hopper, Hedda (10 November 1954). "Edmund Purdom's Marriage Near End: Actor's Wife Changes Mind; Gets Attorney to Sue for Divorce". Los Angeles Times. p. 2.
- "Wife of Edmund Purdom Gets More Support Fund: British-Born Blonde Wins Increase From Actor After Bitter Wrangling in Court". Los Angeles Times. 23 July 1955. p. 6.
- "COURT REFUSES CUT IN PURDOM ALIMONY: Judge Turns Down Appeal for Reduction After Hearing That Star Canceled $40,000 Deal". Los Angeles Times. 3 December 1955. p. 3.
- Watts, Stephen (25 September 1955). "OBSERVATIONS ON THE BRITISH SCREEN SCENE: Graham Greene Returns to Production -- New Star Is Born -- Other Matters". New York Times. p. X5.
- "Brawl Figure". Chicago Daily Tribune. 26 September 1959. p. w9.
- "Linda Christian, Purdom Once Wed, Court Told: Ex-Wife of Actor Makes Revelation in Affidavit Supporting Contempt Citation PURDOM CASE". Los Angeles Times. 7 August 1958. p. B1.
- Atkinson, Brooks (14 November 1956). "Theatre: An Old-Fashioned Tale: 'Child of Fortune' Bows at the Royale Novel by Henry James Adapted by Bolton". New York Times. p. 41.
- Child of Fortune at IBDB
- Hopper, Hedda (15 November 1962). "Purdom Raps Hollywood; Hedda Talks Back". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. c14.
- "Linda Christian Sues Purdom for Divorce". Los Angeles Times. 10 January 1963. p. 27.
- Seven Signs of Christ's Return (1997). IMDB.com
- "Edmund Purdom Seeks Divorce". New York Times. 4 January 1955. p. 24.
- "Mrs. Purdom Receives Final Divorce Decree". Los Angeles Times. 22 March 1957. p. B1.
- Décès à Rome de l'acteur britannique Edmund Purdom. Lalibre.be (2 January 2009)