Thursday, 6 August 2009

Victor McLaglen – son of a Bloomsbury missionary

For Hollywood film buffs, the name Victor McLaglen conjures up epics of derring-do, in which our hero was inevitably typecast as a ‘hard man’ with a soft centre.

Local historian, Paul Rason, has discovered that McLaglen’s father was a ‘probationer’ missionary from 1877-1879 at St Saviour’s Church, Fitzroy Square, part of which parish encroaches into Bloomsbury. (The church was built in 1865, united with St John, Fitzroy Square, in 1904, but no longer exists). Andrew Charles Alfred McLaglen served his Bloomsbury apprenticeship with the London City Mission, a Christian evangelical institution founded in 1835 which was (and still is) concerned with ministry amongst the people of London, particularly the underprivileged. McLaglen was about 23 years old in the late 70s. He married Lily Marion Adcock in January 1881 and their first child, Frederick, was born the same year in Bromley, Kent. Victor was born in 1886 at number 505 Commercial Road, Stepney, East London, although for the benefit of Hollywood he seems to have ‘upgraded’ his birthplace to the Royal spa town of Tunbridge Wells.

According to Victor’s entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, his father was an Anglican clergyman who became bishop of Clermont, South Africa. However, Paul’s research suggests that the ‘Right Reverend Bishop ACA McLaglen, DD’ was a title without substance. Although his occupation is listed as ‘Clerk in Holy Orders’ on his marriage certificate, he is not listed in Crockfords Clerical Directory of the Anglican clergy, nor in the archives of the non-conformist churches such as the Congretational Church and the Methodist Church. Furthermore, he does not appear on any ships’ passenger lists although both Victor and Frederick appear as passengers to Canada in 1905 and 1906 respectively. The Reverend McLaglen was apparently ‘known to the police’, being involved in a number of dubious charities from the 1890s to the 1920s, and was involved in a bankruptcy case in 1902.

The McLaglen’s 9 children (8 sons and 1 daughter) were all born in Bromley or the East End, and the family appears in the 1891, 1901 and 1911 censuses. By 1914/15, they were living in Chiswick, and Andrew Charles Alfred died in Lambeth in 1928. He and his wife are buried in Kensington Cemetery, near Hanwell, Middlesex. The photograph above, taken by Simon White (Flickr) is captioned ‘Grave of Lily Marion and Bishop Andrew McLaglen’.

Victor McLaglen arrived in Hollywood in the mid-1920s, after several years in the British film industry and a previous career as a roistering global adventurer. During the early 20th century he travelled through Canada and the US, working as a prize fighter amongst other occupations. He apparently ended up as personal trainer to the Raja of Akola, India, before joining the Middlesex Regiment at the Outbreak of World War I, from which he was demobbed with the rank of captain.

Victor’s Hollywood career spanned 35 years. He won a best actor Academy Award for his performance as Gypo Nolan in The Informer (1935), a film based on Liam O’Flaherty’s novel about the Irish Uprising (1922), and was nominated as best supporting actor for his role as Red Will Danaher in John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952). However, his action movies such as Gunga Din (1939), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950), are probably his most popularly remembered.