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Finding Aid for the Charles Laughton Papers, 1920-1964 (bulk 1940-1962)
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Charles Laughton Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1920-1964
    Date (bulk): (bulk 1940-1962)
    Collection number: 851
    Creator: Laughton, Charles, 1899-1962
    Extent: 24 boxes (12 linear ft.) 1 oversize box
    Abstract: Charles Laughton (1899-1962) was a theater and film actor, radio personality, and public performer. The collection consists of photographs, publicity materials, press clippings, correspondence, radio and theatre scripts, screenplays, assorted readings, and miscellaneous items.
    Repository: University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.
    Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
    Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.


    Charles Laughton was born July 1, 1899 in Scarborough, England to hotel proprietors Robert and Eliza Laughton. He attended the public Jesuit school Stonyhurst College and enlisted into the army during the First World War in 1917. In 1924, Laughton enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to study acting and drama. His performances earned him much respect and admiration, and soon Laughton was starring in many professional theatrical and film productions in London. In 1927, Laughton met the actress Elsa Lanchester. They were married in 1929.
    Laughton and Lanchester first traveled to the United States in 1931, where Laughton was hired to perform the successful English play Payment Deferred. For the next 19 years, they spent the majority of their time in the United States. Laughton became one of the most well-respected film actors of the era, capturing roles in the films Island of Lost Souls (1933) and The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), for which he won the Academy Award for best actor. Other notable productions include: Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), The Man from Down Under (1943), and The Paradine Case (1947). Laughton and Lanchester became American citizens in 1950 and settled in Southern California.
    During the Second World War, Laughton began reading selected passages to wounded soldiers at local hospitals. For the rest of his life, Laughton would devote much of his time to reading selected passages from his favorite authors. Recognized for his powerful voice and presence, Laughton's readings led to a number of reading tours, spoken-word albums, performances, and publications, including Tell Me a Story (1957) and The Fabulous Country (1962). Laughton made his directorial debut in 1955 with The Night of the Hunter starring Robert Mitchum. Although the production was not a financial success, it was critically lauded as one of the better films of the decade, and is considered a masterpiece of American cinema. Laughton also performed on radio and, occasionally, on television.
    Laughton's health declined in the early 1960's. After a year of fighting cancer, Charles Laughton died at his home on December 15, 1962. He was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood, California.

    Scope and Content

    The collection consists of Charles Laughton's photographs, publicity materials, press clippings, correspondence, scripts, screenplays, assorted readings, and miscellaneous items documenting Charles Laughton's 35-year career as an actor in theater and film, and as a public performer. Of particular interest are photographs of Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, Laughton's reading selections, correspondence, and miscellaneous items such as Laughton's award for the Academy nomination of best actor in Witness for the Prosecution (1957). The collection also contains numerous scripts from his work in theatre and radio, screenplays from films, and selected readings that Laughton used in his reading tours, publications, and performances.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Laughton, Charles, 1899-1962--Archives.
    Actors--Archival resources.
    Theatrical producers and directors--Archival resources.
    Lanchester, Elsa, 1902-1986--Correspondence.

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Film scripts.