British-born actor who became a US naturalized citizen in 1950. He is remembered for a series of outstanding character performances in the cinema.
The son of a hotelier, Laughton was born in Scarborough and was originally destined to follow in his father's footsteps. After World War I, during which he served on the western front, he became interested in the stage and in 1925 enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he won a gold medal. In 1926 he made his professional debut in The Government Inspector at Barnes and by 1931 was appearing in New York in Payment Deferred. His work in the theatre included a season with the Old Vic in 1933, an appearance with the Comédie Française in 1936, and performances in A Midsummer Night's Dream and King Lear at Stratford-on-Avon in 1959. His film career began with three silent shorts with Elsa Lanchester (1902–86), whom he married in 1929. In the same year he made Piccadilly and three years later made his first Hollywood film, The Old Dark House (1932).
A large man with an expressively mobile face, Laughton played his many character parts with an exuberance that some of his peers regarded as overacting. The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), which won him an Oscar, The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), in which he played Elizabeth Barrett Browning's father, The Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), playing the irascible Captain Bligh, Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), and Rembrandt (1937) are among his memorable films. His make-up and performance as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) were widely acclaimed, as was his portrayal of the inebriated bootseller in Hobson's Choice (1954). Laughton's only film as director, The Night of the Hunter (1955), proved a commercial failure but has since been hailed as a minor masterpiece. His last film was Advise and Consent (1961).