Dennis King

Broadway actor and singer whose role in THE VAGABOND KING made him an overnight sensation.
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Artist Biography

b. Dennis Pratt, 2 November 1897, Coventry, England, d. 21 May 1971, New York, USA. An actor and singer who enjoyed considerable success in the USA during the 20s and 30s, King began his career, like so many others, with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company. After touring in the UK provinces, he made his West End debut in Frederick Lonsdale’s romantic opera, Monsieur Beaucaire (1919, as Townbrake), and moved to the USA two years later. His first few appearances on Broadway were in straight plays, but in 1924 he played fur trapper Jim Kenyon, opposite Mary Ellis, in Rose Marie (‘Indian Love Call’, title song). His next show, The Vagabond King (1925, François Villon), once again with Rudolph Friml’s splendid melodies (‘Only A Rose’, ‘Some Day’), made him a star overnight. King’s recording of another of the show’s numbers, ‘Song Of The Vagabonds’, on which he was accompanied by Rosario Bourdon’s Orchestra, climbed high in the US bestsellers. He reprised his role as Villon, co-starred with Jeanette MacDonald, in the early talkie version of The Vagabond King in 1930. King starred in both Broadway (1928) and London (1930) productions of his third Friml show, The Three Musketeers (D’Artagnan), before appearing as Gaylord Ravenal opposite Norma Terris (Magnolia) in the 1932 revival of Show Boat. In the following year he was back on the West End stage, as Peter Mali, an actor masquerading as a prince, in C. Stafford Dickens’ short-lived musical romance, Command Performance. At this point, King began to devote himself to the straight theatre, although did appear in two more Broadway musicals during the 30s - a staging of Franz Lehár’s 1928 Berlin hit, Frederike (1937, the poet Goethe) and I Married An Angel (1938, Count Willi Palaffi). His subsequent work in the legitimate theatre was often extremely impressive, with starring roles in plays such as A Doll’s House (1937), The Three Sisters (1942), The Searching Wind (1944), Medea (1947, taking over from John Gielgud), The Devil’s Disciple (1950), Billy Budd (1951), Lunatics And Lovers (1954), andPhoto Finish (1963). He did return to the musical theatre in the 50s for a brief revival of Music In The Air (1951, Bruno), and an ever briefer (less than three weeks) outing for the musicalization of James Hilton’s famous novel, Lost Horizon, tantalizingly retitled Shangri-la (1956, Hugh Conway). King was also permanently in demand on radio, particularly during the 30s, and graduated to television programmes such as Twelfth Night (1957), via several late 40s guest spots on the Philco Television Playhouse, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Alcoa Hour. On the big screen he sang ‘Nichavo’ in the all-star Paramount On Parade (1930), and was no doubt amused and bemused with his involvement in Fra Diavolo (1933, aka The Devil’s Brother), a Laurel And Hardy vehicle, adapted from Daniel Auber’s 1830 operetta.

Dennis King’s son, John Michael King, made his Broadway debut in the last of the Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz’s acclaimed New York revues, Inside U.S.A (1948), then took minor or chorus parts in musicals such as Courtin’ Time (1951), Me And Juliet (1953), Hit The Trail (1954), and Ankles Aweigh (1955). In 1956 he created his first major role, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, in My Fair Lady (1956), in which he introduced the ‘shamelessly romantic’ ‘On The Street Where You Live’. He was also in the 1977 Broadway revival of The King And I (Sir Edward Ramsay) and played GI Carlton Smith in the Alan Jay Lerner - Joseph Stein - Burton Lane musical Carmelina (1979). Later in his career he appeared frequently on television, and toured.