Sydney Greenstreet

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Sydney Greenstreet
Sydney Greenstreet headshot.jpg
Greenstreet in Casablanca (1942)
Born Sydney Hughes Greenstreet
(1879-12-27)27 December 1879
Sandwich, Kent, England
Died 18 January 1954(1954-01-18) (aged 74)
Hollywood, California, US
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
Occupation Actor
Years active 1902–1951
Spouse(s) Dorothy Marie Ogden (1918–1954; his death)
Children 1

Sydney Hughes Greenstreet (27 December 1879 – 18 January 1954)[1] was a British actor who did not work in films until the age of 62, but enjoyed a run of notable hits in a Hollywood career lasting just eight years. He is best remembered for his Warner Bros. films with Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, which include The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), and Passage to Marseille (1944). He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1925. He portrayed Nero Wolfe on radio from 1950 to 1951.[2]

Greenstreet and Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Greenstreet and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (1942)
Greenstreet in Casablanca (1942)
Greenstreet in NBC radio's The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe (1950–51)

Early life[edit]

Greenstreet was born in Sandwich, Kent,[1] the son of Ann (née Baker) and John Jarvis Greenstreet, a tanner. He had seven siblings. He left home at the age of 18 to make his fortune as a Ceylon tea planter, but drought forced him out of business. He began managing a brewery and, to escape boredom, took acting lessons.[3]


Greenstreet's stage debut was as a murderer in a 1902 production of a Sherlock Holmes story at the Marina Theatre, Ramsgate, Kent. He toured Britain with Ben Greet's Shakespearean company, and in 1905, he made his New York City debut. Thereafter he appeared in such plays as a revival of As You Like It in 1916 with revered actress Margaret Anglin. Greenstreet appeared in numerous plays in Britain and America, working through most of the 1930s with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne at the Theatre Guild. Throughout his stage career, his parts ranged from musical comedy to Shakespeare, and years of such versatile acting on two continents led to many offers to appear in films. He refused until he was 62.

In 1941, Greenstreet began working for Warner Bros. His debut film role was as Kasper Gutman ("The Fat Man") co-starring with Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon.[1] The film also featured Peter Lorre, as the twitchy Joel Cairo, a pairing that would prove durable. The two men appeared in some nine films altogether, including Casablanca (1942), with Greenstreet as crooked club owner Signor Ferrari (for which he received a salary of $3,750 per week for seven weeks), as well as Background to Danger (1943, with George Raft), Passage to Marseille (1944), reteaming him with Casablanca stars Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Claude Rains, The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), The Conspirators (1944, with Hedy Lamarr and Paul Henreid), Hollywood Canteen (1944), Three Strangers (1946) and The Verdict (1946). In the last two in the list, and The Mask of Dimitrios, Greenstreet received top billing. The actor played roles both in dramatic films, such as William Makepeace Thackeray in Devotion (1946) and witty performances in screwball comedies, for instance Alexander Yardley in Christmas in Connecticut (1944). Near the end of his film career, Greenstreet played opposite Joan Crawford in Flamingo Road (1949).

After only eight years, Greenstreet's film career ended with Malaya (also 1949), in which he was billed third, after Spencer Tracy and James Stewart. In those eight years, he worked with stars ranging from Clark Gable to Ava Gardner to Joan Crawford. Author Tennessee Williams wrote his one-act play The Last of My Solid Gold Watches with Greenstreet in mind, and dedicated it to him. During 1950–51, Greenstreet played Nero Wolfe on the NBC radio program, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, based loosely on the rotund detective genius created by Rex Stout.

Death and legacy[edit]

Greenstreet suffered from diabetes and Bright's disease, a kidney disorder.[1] Five years after leaving films, Greenstreet died in 1954 in Hollywood due to complications from both conditions.[4] He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California, in the Utility Columbarium area of the Great Mausoleum, inaccessible to the public. He was survived by his only child, John Ogden Greenstreet (30 September 1920 – 4 March 2004), from his marriage to Dorothy Marie Ogden. Actor Mark Greenstreet is a distant relative.[5]


Year Title Role Notes
1941 The Maltese Falcon Kasper Gutman Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (lost to Donald Crisp for How Green Was My Valley)
1941 They Died with Their Boots On Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott
1942 Across the Pacific Dr. Lorenz
1942 Casablanca Signor Ferrari
1943 Background to Danger Col. Robinson
1944 Passage to Marseille Major Duval
1944 Between Two Worlds Rev. Tim Thompson
1944 The Mask of Dimitrios Mr. Peters
1944 The Conspirators Ricardo Quintanilla
1944 Hollywood Canteen Himself
1945 Pillow to Post Col. Michael Otley
1945 Conflict Dr. Mark Hamilton
1945 Christmas in Connecticut Alexander Yardley
1946 Three Strangers Jerome K. Arbutny
1946 Devotion William Makepeace Thackeray
1946 The Verdict Supt. George Edward Grodman
1947 That Way with Women James P. Alden
1947 The Hucksters Evan Llewellyn Evans
1948 Ruthless Buck Mansfield
1948 The Woman in White Count Alessandro Fosco
1948 The Velvet Touch Capt. Danbury
1949 Flamingo Road Sheriff Titus Semple
1949 It's a Great Feeling Sydney Greenstreet Uncredited
1949 Malaya The Dutchman


  1. ^ a b c d Donnelley, Paul (2003). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. Music Sales Group. p. 295. ISBN 9780711995123. Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  2. ^ Sydney Greenstreet's Petition for Naturalization,; accessed 6 October 2015.
  3. ^ Profile Archived 8 December 2015 at the Wayback Machine.,; accessed 4 December 2015.
  4. ^ Obituary, Variety, 27 January 1954, page 71.
  5. ^ "Swansea Grand Theatre Pantomime Archive". Retrieved 15 May 2017. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Sculthorpe, Derek (2018). The Life and Times of Sydney Greenstreet. Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-62933-308-3. 
  • Youngkin, Stephen D. (2005). The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-2360-7.  – Contains a chapter on the professional friendship between Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.

External links[edit]