Great Couples: Elsa Lanchester & Charles Laughton

When I think of Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton, I think of movies like Witness for the Prosecution, David Copperfield and The Razor’s Edge but to the masses they are better known for their iconic roles in The Bride of Frankenstein (Lanchester) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Laughton). The couple first met in 1927 on a West End stage, staring side by side. The couple would eventually marry 2 years later and would be together till Charles death in 1963. 

Elsa Lanchester was possibly one of the most under-appreciated character actresses of her era. Her wide range had no limits, from comedy sidekick to pensive nanny. One of her short but memorable roles was that of the flustered and exiting nanny to the Banks Family in Mary Poppins. Early in her life she was born into “bohemian” family who were also socialists, vegetarians and Elsa spent large chunk of her childhood living in Paris. During these younger years Elsa found her love for music and dance. She even studied with the great icon Isadora Duncan in Paris. She didn’t have kind words for Duncan, her education and the dance school. She portrayed Duncan as a bon-bon eating diva, requiring her pupils to kiss her hand every morning. (Duncan is actually coming up in my list of posts, so we will see how far the truth stretches with this one.)

Lancaster's family had to return to England shortly after WWI started due her parents out of work status and Duncan was forced to close her school. Lanchester and Laughton were inseparable throughout both of there careers. The couple appeared on stage together several times and in many films. Their dynamic on stage was magnetic and pure energy on screen, according to critics. Outside of their careers the duo was also great presence socially, making friends with many iconic people from H.G. Wells, Laurence Olivier and even Lucille Ball. Elsa even appeared on Ball’s show I Love Lucy. 

In the 1980’s Elsa wrote her autobiography and in it she explained her relationship with Laughton in great detail. She admitted she did have two abortions early in her life and one of them was with Laughton’s child. In the book she explained the reason why the couple never had children later one, because Laughton was a homosexual. A former co-star and friend Maureen O’Hara spoke out publicly against Elsa’s claim. But let’s be honest, who would you believe more, the wife and longtime companion or the woman who was just an industry friend who he only stared in 3 films together.