One of the almost forgotten greats of Hollywood’s Golden Era, Fredric March was a distinguished actor of both cinema and stage, with a long list of accolades.
Born Ernest Frederick McIntyre Bickel on August 31, 1897 in Racine, WI, young March served in the Army as an artillery lieutenant during World War I, and began a career in banking, despite an interest in acting. However, an emergency appendectomy made him reconsider his career choice and he decided to pursue his interest in the theater.
While appearing in films and on stage in New York in the 1920s, he shortened his first name and adopted a shorter version of his mother’s maiden name of “Marcher” to become “Fredric March.” Hollywood came calling in 1929, and with his good looks and rich voice, he easily segued from silent films to talkies. After his five-year contract with Paramount Pictures expired, he became one of the few actors during the studio-controlled era to successfully freelance. He knew how to pick good roles, and producers sought him out. As such, other than a few duds in his early contract days, there are very few bad Fredric March films.
Freelancing also gave him the unusual ability to split his time equally between Hollywood and Broadway. He found success in a variety of roles from lightweight comedy to horror to heavy drama, sliding so effortlessly into these characters that he seemed to disappear completely. He received his first of five Academy Award nominations in 1931, winning the following year for “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” making his one of the rare acting performances to win for a horror role. In 1947, he and Jose Ferrer tied for the first Best Actor Tony award, and that same year March became the only actor to win a Tony and an Oscar (for “The Best Years of Our Lives” directed by William Wyler) in the same year. Then 10 years later, he won his second Tony for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” becoming the only actor to have two wins in the Best Actor categories for these two major awards. In addition, he accumulated three Primetime Emmy nominations, three BAFTA nominations and three Golden Globe nominations (winning one Globe in 1954 for “Death of a Salesman”).
After a short-lived marriage in the 1920s, March married actress Florence Eldridge in 1927. They appeared together in several films and plays, and adopted two children. They remained together until his death from prostate cancer in 1975 at the age of 77.
Tour our photo gallery, which features the 15 greatest March film performances, ranked worst to best. Our list includes “A Star Is Born,” “Inherit the Wind” and “Death of a Salesman.”
– Original text and gallery published in August 2019.