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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