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Charles Ambrose Bickford
January 1, 1891
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||November 9, 1967
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||pneumonia and blood infection|
|Resting place||Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery|
|Spouse(s)||Beatrice Loring (1916-67) (his death), two children|
|Children||Doris Bickford (b. 1919)
Rex Bickford (1924-1960)
Charles Ambrose Bickford (January 1, 1891 – November 9, 1967) was an American actor best known for his strong supporting roles. He was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for The Song of Bernadette (1943), The Farmer's Daughter (1947), and Johnny Belinda (1948). Other notable roles include Whirlpool (1948), A Star is Born (1954) and The Big Country (1958).
Bickford was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the first minute of 1891. The fifth of seven children, Charles was an intelligent but very independent and unruly child. He had a particularly strong relationship with his maternal grandfather (a sea captain) who was a powerful influence during his formative years. At the age of nine he was tried and acquitted of the attempted murder of a trolley motorman who had callously driven over and killed his beloved dog. Always more interested in experiencing life than reading about it, Charles was generally considered "the wild rogue" of this family, causing his parents frequent consternation. In his late teens he drifted aimlessly around the United States for a time. Before breaking into acting he worked as a lumberjack, investment promoter, and for a short time, ran a pest extermination business. He was a stoker and fireman in the United States Navy when a friend dared him to get a job in Burlesque. Bickford served as an Engineer Lieutenant in the United States Army during World War I. His first entry into acting was on the stage, eventually including Broadway. This venue provided him with an occasional living and served as the principal training ground for developing his acting and vocal talents.
Bickford had intended to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to earn an engineering degree, but while wandering around the country, he became friends with the manager of a burlesque show, who convinced Bickford to take a role in the show. He debuted in Oakland, California, in 1911. Bickford enjoyed himself so much that he abandoned his plans to attend M.I.T. He made his legitimate stage debut with the John Craig Stock Company at the Castle Square Theatre in Boston in 1912. He eventually joined a road company and traveled throughout the United States for more than a decade, appearing in various productions. In 1925, while working in a Broadway play called Outside Looking In, he and co-star James Cagney (in his first Broadway role) received rave reviews. He was offered a role in Herbert Brenon's 1926 film of Beau Geste but, anxious not to give up his newfound Broadway stardom, turned it down, a decision he later came to regret. Following his appearance in the critically praised but unsuccessful Maxwell Anderson-Harold Hickerson drama about the Sacco and Vanzetti case, Gods of the Lightning (Bickford was the Sacco character), Bickford was contacted by filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille and offered a contract with MGM studios to star in DeMille's first talking picture, Dynamite. He soon began working with MGM head Louis B. Mayer on a number of projects.
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