Feature

Richard Todd

The British actor who played dashing roles

Richard Todd
1919–2009

“Small and slightly built, Richard Todd was an actor of limited range,” said the London Times. “But his likable personality and youthful good looks made him ideal for clean-cut heroes.” Ian Fleming liked Todd so much that he favored him over Sean Connery to play James Bond in the first 007 thriller, Dr. No, but he lost the part because of a scheduling issue.

Born into an Anglo-Irish family in Dublin, Todd studied at the Italia Conti Academy, a London drama school. When World War II broke out, he immediately enlisted. With the 9th Parachute Battalion, he landed in France on D-Day and helped relieve the forces that had seized the Pegasus Bridge near Caen. After the war, he established himself on stage and in film, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Hasty Heart (1949). After portraying a suspected murderer in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950), said the London Daily Telegraph, he pursued “swashbuckling heroics in Disney’s The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), The Sword and the Rose (1953), and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue (1954), all of which served only to prove Todd was no Errol Flynn.”

Todd was best remembered as a straightforward action figure in war films, including The Dam Busters (1955), said The New York Times. The film was based on the actual story of Royal Air Force Squadron 617, “which in daring wartime raids used specialized ‘bouncing’ bombs to demolish strategic German dams.” His most personal role was in The Longest Day (1962) as Maj. John Howard, “the British officer who in the predawn hours of D-Day led the glider-borne seizure of Pegasus Bridge”—the very target that Todd had been assigned in real life 18 years before. He was given the chance to play himself but declined: “I did not do anything special that would make a good sequence.”

Todd later set a London theater record for the largest number of consecutive performances by a leading actor in a dramatic role, playing the seedy, manipulative “Mr. Stone” in The Business of Murder more than 2,500 times over seven years in the 1980s.

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