Dictionary of Welsh Biography



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CASSON , LEWIS ( 1875 - 1969 ), actor and theatrical producer . Born in Birkenhead , Cheshire , 26 Oct. 1875 , son of Thomas Casson of Ffestiniog, Mer. , and Laura Ann (née Holland-Thomas ) his wife. After leaving Ruthin Grammar School he helped his father build organs , attending the Central Technical College , South Kensington , for a while, and subsequently entering S. Mark's College , Chelsea , to become a teacher . In 1903 he appeared as a professional actor at the Court Theatre , in Man and Superman and other plays. His career took a decisive turn when he joined Miss Horniman's repertory company at the Gaiety , Manchester , in 1907 , for there he began directing , and he also met Sibyl Thorndike , whom he m. 22 Dec. 1908 in Aylesford, Kent . They had four children.

During World War I he served as a sergeant in the Army Service Corps ( 1914-15 ) and major in the Royal Engineers ( 1916-19 ); he was wounded, and awarded the M.C. Having resumed his career in London , he directed jointly with the author , G.B. Shaw , the original production of St. Joan ( 1924 ), his wife playing the leading role. He and his wife toured South Africa in 1928 , and the Middle East , Australia and New Zealand in 1932 . In 1938 he produced Henry V at Drury Lane for Ivor Novello , and also resumed his association with the Old Vic , directing Laurence Olivier in Coriolanus , and John Gielgud in King Lear ( 1940 ). That year he and his wife toured Wales in Macbeth , and subsequently by King John , Candida , Medea and St. Joan . They collaborated after the war, not only in London , where Lewis Casson came into his own as the leading man in J.B. Priestley 's The linden tree , but also at festivals in Edinburgh and New York , and on four tours comprising dramatic recitals and contemporary plays in the Middle and Far East , India , Australasia and Africa . They celebrated the jubilee of their wedding by appearing in Clemence Dane 's play, specially written for them, Eighty in the shade ( 1959 ). Lewis Casson had a rich, powerful bass voice, and was a versatile character actor as well as a celebrated producer . He played some hundreds of parts and continued to work until 1968 .

As a dedicated member of his profession he was for many years one of its leaders, having built up the actors' trade union movement . He spoke fearlessly on the theatre and was elected president of the British Actors' Equity ( 1941-45 ), as well as drama director to the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts ( 1942-44 ). In 1945 he was knighted , and he also received honorary degrees from the universities of Glasgow ( 1954 ), Wales ( 1959 ) and Oxford ( 1966 ). He lived at 98 Swan Court , London , but stayed occasionally at his inherited property, Bron-y-garth , Porthmadog , before it was sold in 1949 . He d. 16 May 1969 .

Bibliography:

  • Who was who? ;
  • John Casson , Lewis and Sibyl a memoir , 1972 ( 1972 );
  • The Times , 17 May 1969 ;
  • Y Genhinen , 27, 1977 , 26-7.

Author:

Dr Mary Auronwy James, Aberystwyth