Before achieving his greatest fame in the 1950s as television’s “Robin Hood”, handsome Richard Greene had a significant if largely unremarkable film career, turning in several skillful leading man performances in the late 1930s before becoming type-cast in routine costume adventures. Like his friendly rival, Tyrone Power, Greene’s good looks aided his entry into films but ultimately proved detrimental to his development as a film actor.
A descendant of four generations of film actors, and the grandson of film pioneer William Friese-Greene, Richard Marius Joseph Greene seemed destined for a career as a movie actor. Born August 25, 1918 (Some sources list his birth-date as 1914) in the port city of Plymouth, Devonshire, England, Greene was educated at the Cardinal Vaughn School in Kensington. At an early age, he became determined to pursue the acting profession, making his stage debut in 1933 at the Old Vic as a spear carrier in a production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”. By this time, the formerly gawky teenager was rapidly maturing into an exceedingly good-looking young man with an athletic build, dark wavy hair, and a pleasant speaking voice. So handsome was he, in between acting gigs, supplanted his income as a shirt and hat model.
After a small role in a 1934 revival of “Journey’s End and a bit part in the British musical film, Sing As We Go! (1934), Greene joined the Brandon Thomas Repertory Company in 1936, traveling the length and breadth of the British Isles in a variety of productions. His first major break came in 1936 when he won accolades on the London stage as the juvenile lead in Terence Rattigan’s “French Without Tears”, which brought him to the attention of Alexander Korda then Darryl F. Zanuck. Fox signed the youngster in January, 1938, brought him to America, and immediately cast him in his first film: as the youngest of four brothers in John Ford’s Four Men and a Prayer (1938). His excellent reviews and camera-friendly physical appearance (which inspired mountains of fan mail from adoring feminine moviegoers) convinced Zanuck to rush Greene into a series of top-notch films which showed him to advantage and might have been the springboard to more substantive roles and super-stardom had fate and World War II not intervened.
Greene gave several notable performances as a Fox contractor. He was a banker’s son-turned-horse trainer in the popular horse-breeding epic, Kentucky (1938), a murdered baronet’s son in the eerie “Sherlock Holmes” mystery, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), a college student estranged from his alcoholic father in Here I Am a Stranger (1939), and steamboat inventor Robert Fulton in the fanciful historical drama, Little Old New York (1940). At the peak of his popularity, with a growing resume of critically-acclaimed film work, and fan mail rivaling Fox’s number one heartthrob, Tyrone Power, Greene abandoned his studio contract in 1940 and returned to his homeland to aid in the war effort: an admirable personal decision which would have negative professional consequences. Enlisting in the Royal Armoured Corps of the Twenty-Seventh Lancers, he distinguished himself throughout World War II, eventually becoming a captain. He was discharged in December, 1944. During the war, he was given three furloughs to appear in three British propaganda features. After the conflict ended, Greene and his young bride, beautiful British actress, Patricia Medina (whom he married in 1941) remained in England for a time, where both appeared on stage and in British movies. Richard’s films included the charming comedy, Don’t Take It to Heart! (1944), and the disappointing biopic, Showtime (1946).
In 1946, the ambitious Greene (accompanied by his wife who’d been offered a Fox contract) returned to Hollywood hoping to take up where he’d left off. When his dreams of regaining his lost momentum did not materialize, he opted to take whatever film work he could find. After landing a solid supporting role in the wildly popular costumer, Forever Amber (1947), he found himself cast as a swashbuckling hero in a long series of films, the most memorable of which was The Black Castle (1952), in which the heroic Greene battled an evil one-eyed Bavarian count. By the 1950s, the increasingly restless actor turned away from filmmaking in favor of the stage and television. His TV credits of the period included memorable performances on several life drama series including Studio One in Hollywood (1948) and The United States Steel Hour (1953). In 1955, Yeoman Films of Great Britain approached the still-youthful-looking middle-aged star to play the legendary “Robin of Locksley” in a proposed series, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955), aimed at the American market. The disillusioned, newly divorced (in 1951), financially-strapped actor eagerly signed on. The result was one of the most memorable and successful series of the decade, lasting five years, consisting of 143 half-hour episodes which made Greene a major television star and a rich man.
When the series ended, the veteran actor purchased an Irish country estate and settled into a life of leisure with his new wife, Brazilian heiress, Beatriz Summers. Together, they pursued many of his hobbies including traveling, sailing, and breeding champion horses. By the 1960s and 1970s, Greene appeared less and less interested in his profession, only occasionally accepting acting work. His latter films were mostly forgettable action adventures and horrors. His second marriage ended in divorce in 1980. Two years later, he suffered serious injuries in a fall followed by a diagnosis of a brain tumor. In the autumn of 1982, he underwent brain surgery from which he never fully recovered. Richard Greene died in Norfolk, England on June 1, 1985. He was survived by a daughter by his second marriage.
Although his movie career was ultimately a disappointment to him, eventually he came to accept, even embrace his cinematic fate as a swashbuckling hero. “This swashbuckler stuff is a bit rough on the anatomy”, he revealed in a 1950s interview, “but I find it more exhilarating than whispering mishmash into some ingénue’s pink little ear”. Of his most famous swashbuckling role, “Robin Hood”, Greene expressed a special fondness and pride. “Kids love pageantry and costume plays. But the most important thing is: Robin can be identified with any American hero. He’s the British Hopalong!”.
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