Dr. Bob's minions tire away endlessly to help the good Doctor in the name of science,
but with what little downtime they get they would like to share with you fine people!
This time, I would like to tell you about an actor whom you may not be as well acquainted with: Dwight Frye. Dwight Frye is best remembered as Thomas Renfield in Universal’s "Dracula" and Fritz in “Frankenstein”, though you can see him in many, many movies in bit parts if you watch for him. I am fairly sure that Dracula was the first horror film I ever saw, back when I was 4 or 5 years old, and had loved the characters of Renfield and Dracula ever since.
When I was younger, I didn't know many people who knew who Dwight Frye was. He was one of those people that people only know if you said, "You know Renfield from Lugosi's 'Dracula'". He seemed to be a loved face whose name few remembered; I am happy to say that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. In the last 4 years, I have been seeing a lot more people who are into Dwight Frye.
Unlike Vincent Price, whom I wrote about last time, Dwight did not love the characters he played. Dwight was well regarded on Broadway for his comedy roles, but was never given the opportunity to really play those roles on the silver screen, so we will never see such performances. He was also rarely given the opportunity to perform in great dramatic roles. He was almost always a very minor role - normally some form of a henchman, lunatic, or lost soul. Thankfully for anyone watching these movies, he was extraordinary in these roles.
Though Dwight may never have been thrilled with the roles he was given in his career, I for one have to disagree. Though he may have only had minor roles, he is often the most memorable part of the movies he played in. Dwight played opposite Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, and still shone brightly within these roles. Dwight Frye is often the best part of any film in which he appears for more than a few moments. He had a natural ability to take any small role and add small nuances that made the character seem so much more significant. In 'Frankenstein', watch as he pauses to fix his socks while coming down the stairs; that was ad-libbed by Frye, and it is an oddly memorable moment that made Fritz seem more human, more natural. Dwight had an amazing ability to do this, and it is a rare talent.
Sadly, Dwight died on November 7, 1943, at a young 44 years of age and just days after receiving word that he would be cast in the upcoming movie 'Wilson', which would be released in 1944. Dwight saw this as his chance to prove his acting capabilities; we will never know if this would have given Dwight the accolades he craved.
I don't know how he would feel knowing how loved he is for roles he never really cared for. But I would hope he would enjoy knowing how many fans he had, and how well he is remembered for taking small, underdeveloped characters and often making them the best part of the movie. I hope that if he could see how he is remembered for these roles, he would be content with the roles he was given.
In 2001 Sideshow Collectibles released the 12" Renfield doll and much to my excitement I received it for Christmas from my parents the next year. I remember my parents telling me they had hid it so I would open last because they knew I would have not have opened anything else if I had received it early. My parents knew me very well I carried it around nonstop for several days showing everyone, mostly just confusing my family.
If you would like to see a good example of his work and have not seen “Dracula” or “Frankenstein” I would start there, if you would like to see more of his movies I highly recommend you see the movie "The Vampire Bat" from 1933, even though the movie has a decent cast. Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray included, his performance as Herman is stand out. What he can do with the role proves Dwight was a truly under appreciate role.
For Dwight Frye bio and filmography please check here:
Or read Dwight Frye's Last Laugh By Gregory Mank.
Previously on Minion Musings...