Elsa Sullivan Lanchester was born in Lewisham, England. She had a free-spirited upbringing by her parents, James Sullivan and Edith Lanchester. They never married and didn’t believe in the institution of marriage.
At an early age, Elsa wanted to become a dancer and her mother enrolled her at the famed Isadora Duncan's Bellevue School in Paris in 1912. After World War I, she began performing in theatre and cabaret, where she established her career over the following decade.
In 1927 she met actor Charles Laughton and they were married two years later. She began to play in small British films including the role of Anne of Cleves with Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). Because Laughton was a successful American film actor, the couple moved to Hollywood where Elsa began taking on small roles in American films.
Perhaps she will always be best remembered for her dual roles in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), as both the Frankenstein monster's mate and his "creator," author Mary Shelley. Bride is widely considered the best of the Golden Age Universal Monster films.
A two-time Academy Award Nominee for supporting roles in Come to the Stable (1949) and Witness to the Prosecution (1957) which was also the last of what would be twelve films Lanchester and Laughton would appear together.
After Laughton’s death in 1962, Elsa would go on to appear in the Disney films Mary Poppins (1964), That Darn Cat! (1965) and Blackbeard's Ghost (1968).
She also appeared in Willard (1971), Murder by Death (1976) and several more projects throughout the 1970s.
After suffering multiple strokes in the 1980s, Elsa passed away on December 26, 1986 at the age of 84.
Other Vital Statistics:
Elsa Sullivan Lanchester
28 October 1902
Lewisham, London, England
26 December 1986 (aged 84)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
She was refused top billing in The Bride of Frankenstein eventhough she was the title character.
"The most memorable thing I did in that film, I believe, was my screaming. In almost all my movies since, I've been called upon to scream. I don't know if it's by chance, but I would like to think that I'm not hired for that talent alone" (On playing the title part in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
"There is a deserate quality about her art; in some curious way, she takes her listeners out of a close, tidy world and into a disquieting place filled with sharp winds and unsteady laughter."
-The New Yorker, 1951
Other Places of Interest:
Elsa Lanchester, Herself (amazon books)
the Features Page