Anthony Bushell, Barry O'Neill, Colin Clark, Disraeli, Fredric March, George Arliss, Her Cardboard Lover, Jealousy, Jeanne Eagels, Jeanne Eagels: A Life Revealed, Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard, Marilyn Monroe, The Prince And The Showgirl
Anthony Arnatt Bushell was born in Westerham, Kent on May 19, 1904. He was educated at Magdalen College School, and later Hertford College in Oxford. He was a champion boxer, rower, and member of the Hypocrites Club, infamous for its wild parties. After graduating, Bushell trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and made his theatrical debut in Diplomacy (1924), opposite Gerald Du Maurier.
In October 1927, Bushell crossed the Atlantic to star in Her Cardboard Lover, replacing fellow Englishman Leslie Howard. His leading lady was Jeanne Eagels. After a four-month run on Broadway, Her Cardboard Lover – based on Jacques Deval’s romantic comedy, with additional material by P.G. Wodehouse – was set for a nationwide tour. Bushell’s role as Andre, an impoverished gambler hired by a Parisian divorcee (Eagels) to act as a buffer between herself and her former husband (Barry O’Neill), was considered the best part, and Howard’s exit had been partly been caused by his rivalry with Jeanne.
She would later claim that Bushell was recommended to her by Edward, Prince of Wales during a trip abroad in the summer of 1926. This cannot have been correct, however, because Eagels had spent the previous summer touring America in her great success, Rain. Prince Edward had attended an earlier performance during his trip to New York in 1924.
As Her Cardboard Lover began its tour with stops in Syracuse, Buffalo, and Newark, Jeanne finally won the critical acclaim denied to her during the play’s initial run. Without Leslie Howard to steal her thunder, the show was running smoothly. “Once the audience had decided to take the play as a bit of nonsense – and it was that – it just settled back to have a good time,” the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, adding, “the star was ably assisted by Anthony Bushell, a good-looking youngster …”
In January 1928, Her Cardboard Lover received a mixed review from the Boston Globe. Once again, Eagels was overshadowed: “When Leslie Howard acted this role in New York he fairly ran away with the honors of the performance. Here the part is very agreeably played by Anthony Bushell, a personable young English actor.” In February, the Chicago Tribune noted, “Anthony Bushell is pleasant, engaging and fairly expert.”
While this might have bothered Jeanne a few months earlier, she now had more pressing matters on her mind. This was made clear when a press statement announced that she was divorcing her husband. On March 11, the company arrived in Milwaukee for a week’s run at the Davidson Theatre. However, on opening night it was announced that Eagels was unable to perform, due to severe ptomaine poisoning. The Davidson Theatre remained dark all week. Jeanne was confined to her room at the Milwaukee Plaza Hotel, accepting no calls or visitors. It was hoped that she would recover in time for the St. Louis opening on March 19, but when the company left, Jeanne remained at the Plaza.
The main reason behind Jeanne’s self-imposed seclusion, according to press-agent John Montague, was unrequited love. “Miss Eagels fell in love like she did everything else – tempestuously,” he observed, “and when the youth of her choice showed a preference for another woman, she shot up like a sky-rocket and carried the stick – which was her career – up with her.” Montague didn’t name the object of her infatuation, but he was most likely Barry O’Neill, who at twenty-nine was eight years her junior, rather than the twenty-three year-old Bushell.
Not knowing when, or even if their star would be ready to resume Her Cardboard Lover, the producers cancelled the rest of the tour and the cast headed back to New York. Meanwhile, Actors Equity filed charges against Eagels, on April 6, she was suspended from any union production for eighteen months.
Bushell married actress Zelma O’Neal, and in November, made his Broadway debut in W. Somerset Maugham’s The Sacred Flame, starring Conrad Nagel and Lila Lee. It folded in December after just twenty-four performances. Meanwhile, Jeanne Eagels signed a contract with Paramount Pictures, and her first talking picture, The Letter (another Maugham vehicle) opened to acclaim in March 1929.
Paramount announced on February 2 that they had purchased Jealousy, a play by Louis Verneuil, for Jeanne’s next picture. The storyline focused on Yvonne, newly married to Pierre, a poor and temperamental artist. Anthony Bushell was cast as Pierre. With Jeanne among colleagues who knew and respected her, Jealousy should have progressed comfortably, but after executives saw the finished product, they became concerned with Bushell’s performance. Published reports implied that his voice hadn’t adapted well to the sound equipment, and he was subsequently replaced by Fredric March. An editorial in Photoplay may have revealed the truth when posing this cryptic question: “Did you ever hear of a film actress being so tempestuously good that her work dangerously overshadowed that of her leading man?”
In a strange twist of fate, the revered English actor George Arliss, whom Eagels had supported during his theatrical tour of Disraeli twelve years before, insisted Bushell be cast as the romantic juvenile in the screen adaptation, after seeing his performance in The Sacred Flame. Joan Bennett took the role formerly played by Jeanne. Disraeli was released in November 1929: two months after Jealousy’s opening, and only a month after Eagels’ tragic death.
In James Whale’s anti-war film, Journey’s End (1930), Bushell played the first of many military roles. In Five Star Final (1931), a pre-code exposé of newspaper corruption, he supported Edward G. Robinson. Bushell played Captain Dobbin in his last American film, a 1932 adaptation of William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.
Back in Britain, he continued making films, including The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), which starred Leslie Howard (the original Andre from Her Cardboard Lover.) His marriage to Zelma O’Neal ended in 1936, and in 1937, he appeared with Vivien Leigh in Dark Journey.
When World War II broke out in 1939, thirty-five year-old Bushell joined the British Army. He was commissioned in the Welsh Guards and served in the Guards Armoured Division as a tank squadron commander. During the war, he married an heiress whom, according to actor David Niven, had been the wife of a fellow officer. After being demobbed in 1945, he was known as Major Bushell.
He returned to film and began a long association with Sir Laurence Olivier, working as assistant producer on Hamlet (1948), in which Olivier starred and also directed. Bushell played a bomb disposal expert in Powell and Pressburger’s The Small Back Room (1948), and made his directorial debut with The Angel With the Trumpet (1950), followed by The Long Dark Hall in 1951.
In 1956, he played a wily politician in another Powell and Pressburger film, The Battle of the River Plate; and was an associate director on George Cukor’s Bhowani Junction, as well as another Olivier project, The Prince and the Showgirl, overseeing scenes in which the actor-director performed. Bushell may have been reminded of his difficulties with Jeanne Eagels almost thirty years before, as the production was rife with tension between Olivier and his co-star, Marilyn Monroe.
“Tony looks like a bluff military man – bald, red-faced and jovial,” Colin Clark (an assistant director) noted in his diary, later published as The Prince, the Showgirl and Me. “In fact he was in the Guards during the war and almost everyone forgets he is an actor … I don’t think Tony could direct traffic in Cheltenham. Despite his imposing appearance he is really a pussy cat. But [Olivier] needs a chum to guard his rear, as it were, and it is a great joy to have Tony around. He has a heart the size of a house which he loves to hide behind a glare.”
Bushell was cast as the Captain of Carpathia in A Night to Remember, Roy Ward Baker’s 1958 film about the Titanic disaster; and in 1959, he played Colonel Breen in the classic sci-fi television series, Quatermass and the Pit. Later that year, he directed several episodes of The Third Man, a BBC adaptation of Grahame Greene’s novel. He directed Christopher Lee in The Terror of the Tongs (1961), and produced a 1962 series about the explorer, Sir Francis Drake.
By the late 1960s, he had retired from the film industry. He continued to enjoy a busy social life, and became a director of the Monte Carlo Golf Club. Anthony Bushell died aged ninety-two in Oxford on April 2, 1997.