Not everyone  can be  a big star in Hollywood. In fact, many make a comfortable living and end up drifting into other opportunities.  Some still toil on camera, being the face  you know but can’t put a name to. Whether David Manners  fits into that category along with  Lyle Talbot and  John Qualen, and a  few others, is  debatable.  Mr. Manners  was  unique in his style of being himself.

David Manners was  born  Rauff de Ryther Daun Acklom in  Halifax,  Nova Scotia, Canada in 1900 in to a  rich family. His father ran the prestigious  private boarding school for boys on Tower Road called  Harrow House and later became a literary advisor for E.P. Dutton Publishing Co. in New York.  His mother and sister Cecily immigrated from Canada to join  their father.   Manners  was  an assistant publisher at the  age of nineteen with the same firm as his father.  Wanting a change, he returned to Canada and  attended classes at the University of Toronto in forestry.  However,  it was  the boards of the stage that attracted him as he found the curriculum  to be  boring .  Manners received  training and made his debut  in 1924  in at the school’s Hart House theatre in the Greek play Hippolytus.


He returned  to New York where, against his father’s wishes, he continued to pursue acting as his vocation.   It was not long before Manners  was performing in Chicago, and on Broadway plus other places as he joined  touring companies which were  the way actors were trained.   William Pratt, who later became Boris Karloff, took a similar route to the  stage  although he spent more time  in Canada.   Joining Eva Le Gallienne’s Civic Repertory Co., he forged enduring friendships with the legendary teacher and later with Helen Hayes, when both appeared in front of the footlights in the play “Dancing Mothers.”


Rauff de Ryther Daun Acklom unoffically changed his name to David Manners to get film work, making it legal in 1940.   The  inspiration for  the Manners  last name was his   Mother’s maiden name.  David was  discovered by James Whale at a Hollywood party and given work in JOURNEY’S END (1930). One could speculate that it was the wholesome look of  Manners that brought him to the attention of Mr Whale.   He rose through the ranks, playing leading and supporting roles to some of the biggest stars like  Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, Gloria Stuart, Myrna Loy, Loretta Young  and Ann Dvorak.   Roles were usually romantic  or light comedy,often playing the dashing wholesome suitor or the hard working fellow that gets the girl.

Manners  was loaned to studios, as was the practiced way of achieving stardom, in CROONER (1932).   His most famous role was that of Jonathan Harker in Universal Studios DRACULA  (1931), with Bela Lugosi and Helen Chandler.  Long after his retirement from films,  Manners  would receive letters about that performance from fans. He claimed to never have seen the finished  picture. He would also appear in THE MUMMY (1932) and  the brilliant THE BLACK CAT (1934)  with both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

Studio wise he began to freelance, resulting in an appearance in the  David O Selznick production at  R.K.O. called  A BILL OF  DIVORCEMENT (1932). That film was also the on screen debut of Katherine Hepburn.  David was  a huge star on the lot, making Hepburn nervous, yet he  was  a total charming professional.    Lucille Ball, who was  “Goldwyn Girl” dancer in the chorus in 1933 ROMAN SCANDAL  expressed her admiration and  for the encouragement he  gave her during early in her career.

“David wasn’t in the one scene I did in Roman Scandals, but he watched every scene shot. He was tremendously enthusiastic, and he…invited me to supper…He was mobbed everywhere. All the time he kept telling me I had style and personality. He said if I persevered I’d get somewhere in Hollywood. Not once did he ever hint that he’d like to take me home to his boudoir…He was so utterly charming.”

He was  briefly married in  1929 to Suzanne Bushnell and lived in Los Angeles during the marriage. The two divorced in 1932. 

David Manners  was one of the first members of the  newly formed (and disliked by studios) Screen Actors Guild.   He grew increasingly frustrated with the roles he was given and retired from film in 1937.  He would perform  on stage in New York and other places after this,  ending the his acting career in 1953.  He began to take an interest in writing after moving back to Victoriaville, Calfornia, where he  published in 1941 the  novel Convenient Season; a second novel, Under Running Laughter, followed in 1943. (He used the name David J. Manners for his novels, both of which were published by his father’s firm,  E.P. Dutton.)  In 1948 he formed a  partnership with playwright Frederic William “Bill” Mercer  who lived at the ranch in Victoriaville and later Pacific Palisades  until  Bill’s death in 1978.

David Manners had  a restless spirit that would not allow  him to stay in one vocation. Did it all come easy for him because of his looks and  money? Perhaps.   Did he play himself  like so many of the leading men of that age did? Maybe.   What he did leave on film are  roles not of a necessarily distinguished  nature but representative of the  time  they were done. Manners  was at the right place, at the right time in history for his  ‘type’ to be  well used.  He was sincere on the screen; bordering on the corny at times, yet that was the work he was  given in the pictures  being made in Precode Hollywood. He will forever be  Jonathan Harker to many,  however, I personally liked  him as  the lovable  heel  who lures small town girl Loretta Young to the big city  in THEY CALL IT SIN (1932).

In later  years  David Manners  painted and studied philosophy,  publishing his reflections  in  Look Through: An Evidence of Self  Discovery.  He passed away at the age of 98 at the Health Center of a retirement community in Santa Barbara. His ashes were taken and scattered at Rancho Yucca Loma in San Bernadino county. The wandering spirit and restless intellect of David Manners had finally found a place to rest.


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