Obituary: Ferdy Mayne
Wednesday 04 February 1998
A master of charmingly sly villainy, the tall dark and urbane actor Ferdy Mayne will be remembered for the effective menace he provided in countless films and television shows in his 60-year career, though his versality extended well beyond portraying suave duplicity, to include comedies, musicals and classic plays (his favourite role was Trigorin in The Seagull).
He was born Ferdinand Mayer-Horckel in Mayence, Germany in 1916. His father was the Judge of Mayence and his mother, who was half- English, a singing teacher. Since the family was Jewish, the teenage Ferdinand was sent to England in 1932 to stay with his aunt Lee Hutchinson, a noted photographer and sculptress.
He attended Frensham Heights School prior to training for the stage at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Old Vic School. His first stage appearane was as the White Knight in Alice Through the Looking Glass with the West Croydon Repertory Company, but most of his early work came in radio - his fluent German put him in demand for propaganda broadcasts during the Second World War.
His parents had been briefly interned in Buchenwald but were fortunate enough, due to his mother's lineage, to get to England before the outbreak of war. Mayne's first West End appearance was in a German role, as Kurt Muller in Lillian Hellman's powerful anti-Fascist play Watch on the Rhine at the Aldwych (1943), the same year that he made his screen debut (billed as Ferdi) in Old Mother Riley Overseas.
In the highly prolific career that followed, Mayne appeared in over 80 films. In one of his earliest, Prelude to Fame (1950), as the hearty peasant father of a child progidy, he was enormously touching in the scene in which he realises he must temporarily give his son up to the wealthy socialiate who can develop the boy's talent.
Though Mayne's singing in the film was dubbed, he possessed a fine baritone voice which he displayed to effect in several West End musicals. It was while appearing in the musical Belinda Fair (1949) that he met the actress Deidre de Peyer who became his wife - they named their first daughter Belinda in memory of the show - and though they divorced in 1976 they remained close.
He later played a feature role in Richard Rodgers' musical No Strings (1963) in which as the bored millionnaire dillentante Louis de Pourtal he had a solo number "The Man Who Has Everything (has nothing)", and in 1965 he took over the role of Max in the long-running Rodgers and Hammerstein hit The Sound of Music.
Other stage work included the role of the German officer Hauptman Schultz in Albert RN (1952), the true-life story (later filmed) of prisoners-of- war who substituted a dummy during roll-call for an escaping officer, and Judge Advocate Kunz in John Osborne's A Patriot For Me (1965) at the Royal Court.
On screeen he was a sheikh in the delightful comedy The Captain's Paradise (1953) in which Alec Guinness maintained two contrasting wives, one in North Africa and the other in Gibraltar, and in the epic Ben-Hur (1959) played the captain of the vessel which rescues the hero from the wreck of the galley ship. Mayne effectively bared fangs in Roman Polansky's parody of Dracula movies, Dance of the Vampires (1967), an unsubtle farce which, despite a mixed reception on its initial release, has become a cult favourite, and Polanski used him again in The Pirates (1986), an equally broad pastiche of swashbucklers.
In the war adventure Where Eagles Dare (1968) Mayne had an important role as a traditionalist Nazi general trying to curb the more vicious excesses of the Gestapo, and he worked with Kubrick in Barry Lyndon (1975). His television credits included a leading role in Epitaph for a Spy (1953), a six-part adaptation of Eric Ambler's espionage story, and a regular role as a chef in the series The Royalty (1957-58), which starred Margaret Lockwood as the owner of a luxury hotel.
In recent years Mayne filmed frequently in Europe (he was a particular favourite of German audiences) and in the mid-1970s he settled in America, working consistently until two years ago on television and in such films as The Black Stallion Returns (1983) and Conan the Destroyer (1984), but with the onset of Parkinson's Disease he returned to England to be near his family.
- Tom Vallance
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