FOUR years before his death in 1962, the great actor Charles Laughton arrived in Edinburgh, with his wife, Elsa Lanchester. At least one city schoolboy was able to secure his autograph.

It was May, 1958, and Laughton was headed for the Lyceum for the world premiere of Jane Arden’s drama, The Party, which he had directed, and in which he starred alongside Elsa and a youthful newcomer, Albert Finney.

“A formidable to-do, and very naturally. on the stage of the Lyceum; the return of such a player as Mr Laughton demands every sort of preparation”, began Christopher Small’s review in these pages. “He appears, as it happens, at the very bottom of the cast-list, and ‘in order of appearance’, as the programmes say, his way is elaorately, and successfully, made ready for him”.

Incidentally, a copy of the programme from the play’s London run that month, signed by Laughton, Lanchester, Finney and theatre and film producer Oscar Lewenstein, sold for $300 in an online auction in 2016.

Laughton died, aged just 63, at his Hollywood home in December 1962. He had been ill for some time.

Obituries praised his stage career, including his memorable performance as Captain Hook, in Peter Pan, and his film career. In the latter, he had become established as a major star in The Private Life of HenryVIII.

Hus most outstanding film performance, the Herald noted, was as William Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) in which he starred opposite Clark Gable. The film was a “tremendous success and was frequently reissued: Laughton’s huskily drawled ‘Mis-tah Christian’ became a popular catchphrase”.

The British Film Institute (BFI) ScreenOnline highlights several Laughton film roles: a perverted Nero in The Sign of the Cross, the overbearing father in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty, the title character in The Hunchback of Notre Dame “and, above all, for The Night of the Hunter (1955), which he directed, and which is one of the greatest of all films”.

Upon his death, the Herald played affectionate tribute to Laughton in a leading article. “Charles Laughton’s acting was like Winston Churchill public speaking”, it said. “He made his own rules and his own cadences, he broke what rules the conventions of his craft had dictated, and he made his nonconformity something dazzling. Indeed, it was perhaps the recognition of a competitor of his own mettle that moved Sir Winston ‘very firmly to put his foot down’ when it was suggested a few years ago that he should be the subject of a play or a film with Laughton in the leading role.

“Laughton was a kind, humorous, and considerate man and an inveterate thief of the limelight, of whom one of his Hollywood friends and colleagues has said, ‘Never get caught in a picture with dogs, children, motor boats or Charles Laughton”.

Read more: Herald Diary