Cyril Ritchard

Australian stage singer, actor and dancer who made a huge name for himself on Broadway.
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Artist Biography

b. Cyril J. Trimnell-Ritchard, 1 December 1897, Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, d. 18 December 1977, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Beginning as a dancer, Ritchard made his theatrical debut in Sydney in 1917. Among his first partners, in Katinka (1918), was Madge Elliott (b. 12 May 1896, London, England, d. 8 August 1955). Their second show together, Going Up (1919), made them very popular. When Elliott left for London, Ritchard went to the USA where he appeared in revues but neither one was especially successful. He joined her in London where they blossomed, appearing in several late 20s shows and The Millionaire Kid (1931). In 1932, they returned to Australia, appearing in The Quaker Girl (1933) and Roberta (1934). Although Ritchard was homosexual, they married in 1935 (and in 1939 had a son who died at birth).

Back in London, Ritchard was in Spread It Abroad (1936) and Herbert Farjeon’s revues, Nine Sharp (1938), Little Revue (1939) and Big Top (1942). Ritchard was also in Up And Doing, which opened in 1940 and, although interrupted by the blitz, enjoyed a good run. This show contained the famous sketch in which Ritchard and Leslie Henson harangued Stanley Holloway as he recited ‘The Green Eye Of The Little Yellow God’. Ritchard also made his first appearance in a straight play, as Algernon in The Importance Of Being Earnest (1942) with John Gielgud and Edith Evans. Ritchard and Elliott were in a 1943 revival of The Merry Widow and in the last year of the war took this show to parts of Europe and North Africa. In 1945, Ritchard was in a successful production of Gay Rosalinda and he also continued to play dramatic roles.

In the post-war years, Ritchard gained considerable success in the USA, appearing in numerous straight roles on Broadway, including The Millionairess (1952), with Katharine Hepburn. He appeared often on television, playing several straight roles including the title role on Pontius Pilate (1952), and he starred in and directed The Virtuous Island (1954). He also directed The Merry Widow (1954) and starred in Visit To A Small Planet (1955); two years later he was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Actor in the Broadway adaptation of this show. Still on television, he was in Dearest Enemy (1955), which used songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, The Good Fairy (1956), Cole Porter’s Aladdin (1958), he directed an episode of Profiles In Courage (1964), and was in Dangerous Christmas Of Red Riding Hood (1965), playing the wolf to Liza Minnelli’s Little Red Riding Hood. This show, which also featured the Animals and Vic Damone, had songs by Jule Styne and Robert Merrill and an original cast album was released. In the last year of his life, Ritchard appeared in Peter Ustinov’s Swordsplay (1976) with Dick Shawn. Ritchard also appeared on radio, playing Mr. Micawber in a 1950 transmission of David Copperfield with Richard Burton, in the title role, Boris Karloff and Flora Robson. Ritchard’s film work, while less distinguished, was wide ranging and included Blackmail (1929), Alfred Hitchcock’s first talkie, and Half A Sixpence (1967), which starred Tommy Steele.

Ritchard’s greatest American success came in 1954 when he was in a Broadway production of Peter Pan, playing Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, and winning a Tony Award as Best Actor In A Musical. His songs included ‘A Princely Scheme’, by Mark ‘Moose’ Charlap and Carolyn Leigh, ‘Hook’s Waltz’ and ‘Mysterious Lady’, by Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the latter song sung with Mary Martin as Peter Pan. In 1955, Peter Pan was televised and Ritchard received rave notices for his performance. In that same year, his wife died of bone cancer. The show was restaged for television in 1956 and again in 1960 and there was also a US tour. Ritchard starred in and directed The Pleasure Of His Company (1959), being nominated for Tony awards as Best Actor and Best Director; he also toured this show in the USA and Australia. In The Happiest Girl In The World (1961), music by Jacques Offenbach, lyrics by E.Y. ‘Yip’ Harburg, Ritchard played multiple roles, singing ‘The Greek Marine’, ‘Never Be-Devil The Devil’, ‘Never Trust A Virgin’, ‘The Glory That Is Greece’ (with Bruce Yarnell), ‘Vive La Virtue!’ (with Janice Rule), and ‘Love-Sick Serenade’ (with Lu Leonard). He was also in Too True To Be Good (1963, with Lillian Gish, Cedric Hardwicke, Glynis Johns and Robert Preston), he directed and co-starred with Claudette Colbert in The Irregular Verb To Love (1963), directed Roar Like A Dove (1964), and he played Sir in Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s The Roar Of The Greasepaint, The Smell Of The Crowd (1965), and was nominated for a Best Actor Tony. In this show he sang ‘A Wonderful Day Like Today’ and ‘Sweet Beginning’ with Newley, ‘Things To Remember’ and ‘Look At That Face’ with Sally Smith, and the second act reprise of ‘Who Can I Turn To’.

In 1969 Ritchard narrated Peter And The Wolf at the New York City Center. In Sugar (1972), the stage musical based upon Billy Wilder’s 1959 film, Some Like It Hot, he played Osgood Fielding Jnr., singing ‘Beautiful Through And Through’ with Robert Morse. Later he directed the touring company version of the show. He was in Max Wilk’s 1975 revue, A Musical Jubilee, co-starring with Tammy Grimes, John Raitt and Gish. In this revue, Ritchard returned to some of the old songs he had performed in London many years before, notably ‘And Her Mother Came Too’. In 1977 he provided the linking narration for a one-night special, Together On Broadway, starring Mary Martin and Ethel Merman. Ritchard was appearing in Chicago as the Narrator in Side By Side By Sondheim when he was felled by a heart attack, dying a few weeks afterwards.