Sydney Greenstreet, born 136 years ago today in Sandwich, England, made only 24 movies in a brief, eight-year movie career, but what an indelible mark he made in that brief span.
As a young man, Greenstreet sets his sights on a career as a tea planter in Ceylon, but drought conditions brought him back to England, where he managed a brewery. He also took acting lessons, as a lark.
He made his stage debut in a 1902 production of Sherlock Holmes and would go on to appear in many plays, in England and the U.S, appearing frequently with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine in Theatre Guild productions.
Sydney Greenstreet’s film debut came at age 62 in The Maltese Falcon, and few actors in the history of cinema could boast as high a ratio of classics to movies made: Casablanca, Christmas in Connecticut, They Died with Their Boots On, Across the Pacific, Passage to Marseille, The Mask of Dimitrios, Flamingo Road.
Of Greenstreet’s 24 pictures, Peter Lorre costarred in nine of them (and in a tenth—Hollywood Canteen (1944)—the pair made a shared cameo appearance). Greenstreet made six pictures with Humphrey Bogart.
Throughout his film career, Greenstreet battled diabetes and Bright’s disease, and his health forced him to retire from films in 1949. In 1950-51, though, he would star in a radio series for NBC, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe. He died at age 75 in 1954, survived by his wife of 36 years, Dorothy Marie Ogden, and their son, John Ogden Greenstreet.
Happy birthday, Mr. Greenstreet, wherever you may be.