It was while spending eighteen months in the north at Dundee Repertory Theatre that Richard Todd met a lovely young girl in the company called Catherine Bogle. Richard had been to see Robert Lennard the Associated British Casting Director, and was advised to get all the stage experience he could-and Robert Lennard promised to send for him when a suitable part turned up. Richard’s thoughts immediately turned to the Dundee Repertory Theatre. Surely that was the best place to pick up the threads of his career. He took Lennard’s advice and went back to Dundee. He loved Scotland and the Scots loved Richard.
During that time he played a number of roles, including, oddly enough, ‘The Yank’ in the stage version of The Hasty Heart and David in Claudia. With every performance his work improved, but Richard was fired with a burning desire to do something more than repertory work. He wanted to be a success for more reasons than one.
Catherine Bogle was an excellent actress in her own right and she played opposite him in Claudia. Richard fell in love with her. But he did not want one of those theatrical marriages where the wife is touring all over the country in one company, while the husband is touring in yet another, and travelling in the opposite direction.
A life such as this was not for Richard-he wanted a home. He wanted to get himself established as an artist so that he had something substantial to offer the girl he loved, before he asked her to marry him.
In Dundee, Richard began to think the right part would never come along, when Robert Lennard telegraphed him to come to London for a screen test. Richard arrived in London, took the test, and was immediately accepted for the part.
The eagle eyes of the casting director for Associated British Pictures saw a prospective star in Richard, his undoubted acting ability, plus his good looks, convinced Lennard that young Todd would go a long way. After the successful test he offered him a contract-a good one-Richard gladly accepted.
Associated British Pictures felt that in their latest twenty-eight-year-old contract player, they had a suitable artist for the role of Herbert in their new film, For Them That Tresspass. The part was that of a young tough, bed in the drab surroundings of poverty who finds himself convicted of a murder he did not commit. Although he eventually leaves prison a free man, there is a bitter hate and revenge in his heart against the real criminal and those who sent him to prison.
Richard was tested for the part and got it-this was indeed his big chance. The first day on the set was a gruelling ordeal for the young actor. He knew that his whole career depended on how well he played the part and naturally, he was nervous.
However it was soon obvious to everyone on the set that Richard knew his job. He brought real acting ability and strength of personality to the screen and in his capable hands the character of Herbert came to life. He was a success.
At that time Richard was living at one of London’s Airborne Clubs. It was jolly there and at night he would sit talking to some of his ex-army pals, chatting about old times, or discussing his ambitions for the future.
Richard puffed away at his favourite pipe and told his colleagues that if he was ever lucky enough to make good at this acting business, it was his ambition to own a stud farm. Another dream was some day to build a small repertory theatre in London where new plays and promising young actors and actresses could delight the London theatre-goers.
Richard was full of high hopes and dreams, but at that time he had a long way to go. He had only mounted the first step of the ladder. Still, like all young men he found it exciting to plan ahead and to dream. Some day he might be a star-but those evenings, as he sat talking to his army friends, he little imagined how soon his dream of stardom would be realised.
Associated British executives were so impressed with Richard’s performance in For Them That Trespass that when an actor was sought for the key role of ‘Lachie’ in The Hasty Heart, they immediately and unanimously put forward their young protégée’s name for the test. He was under contract to Associated British Pictures for seven years; his salary was a good one, but not enormous. They expected big things of Richard and it was agreed that his salary would increase each year, but not even top men in the motion picture business expected their young contract artist to jump to stardom in his second film!
Vincent Sherman, the American director had come to England to direct the test for The Hasty Heart. He brought with him Patricia Neal and Ronald Reagan who were to star in the film. The part of ‘Lachie’ a dour and embittered young Scottish convalescent soldier, was not easy to cast, but when Richard’s test was screened, Vincent Sherman slapped his knee and cried “That’s my boy!” So young Todd got the part. The test was flown to Warner Brothers’ Burbank Studios and back came the reply: “Sign Todd. He’s terrific.”
The part of the shy, surly, soured and friendless young Scot, who is doomed to die in a Burma military hospital, was so beautifully played by Richard Todd that it sent him rocketing to stardom. He was a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. For the American public, The Hasty Heart had two Hollywood stars, but it was Richard who made the audiences sit up. The blazing sincerity of his acting claimed their sympathy even when he was in his bitterest mood.
He acted with his eyes, even when the rest of him was stonily still. His performance shook the top executives at Warner Brothers when the first rough cut of the film reached America. They could see that a great new British star had blazed into the celluloid sky, and it was clear from that one film that he was ready and able to hold his own with high-salaried, top-ranking stars from Hollywood.
As for Richard, he knew before the film was finished that he was doing a good job. He thought, when the picture was released, that it would be successful, but it never occurred to him that HE would be a sensation. When The Hasty Heart was finished, he had one day’s rest, and then started to play opposite Valerie Hobson in The Cord, at Riverside Studios.
Before the film was finished, director Alfred Hitchcock, who had see rushes of his previous films, offered him the leading part in Stage Fright.
Richard was extremely thrilled to be working for that great director and Stage Fright gave him the opportunity of sharing honours with such international stars as Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich and Michael Wilding. The film was to be made at Elstree Studios and the part of ‘Jonathan’ greatly appealed to Richard.
Considering that he had been less than fifteen months in the motion picture business, to be cast opposite such stars was really remarkable. He felt that now his success was fairly assured he could ask the girl he loved to marry him.
On August 13th 1949 Richard took time off from filming to marry his twenty-two-year-old Kitty, the girl he met and loved and who loved him, when he was just another repertory actor working for less than ten pounds a week with the Dundee Repertory Company.
The Todds took a four-roomed flat in Park Street, Mayfair, London.
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