A moustache can make a difference. Without it, Patric Knowles was just another of Hollywood's handsome British types, but with his upper lip decorated he was dapper, distinguished, roguish and dashing - just like Errol Flynn. They were at Warner Bros at the same time, which was a blessing for Warner's and Flynn, if not Knowles.
After working for his father, a publisher, he made his stage debut at the Oxford Playhouse and his first film, Irish Hearts, in 1934. In the half-dozen which followed he was usually cast as an army officer. Warner Bros noted the resemblance to Flynn and signed him up. After romancing Kay Francis in Give Me Your Heart (1936), he was Flynn's brother and fellow- officer in The Charge of the Light Brigade, both in love with Olivia de Havilland, who actually preferred him to Flynn.
That picture consolidated Flynn's stardom and he made four more in 1937, but Knowles stayed idle till playing de Havilland's fiance the same year in It's Love I'm After, taking a back seat to her and Leslie Howard, as the actor she idolises. When he played Will Scarlett to Flynn's Robin in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) it was clear that Warner's had him pegged as a second lead, but in Four's a Crowd (also 1938) he, as a playboy newspaper proprietor, landed de Havilland while Rosalind Russell got Flynn. Flynn and Bette Davis endured a stormy marriage in The Sisters (1938 again), but as Knowles was married to one of the lesser siblings, Anita Louise, it was clearly time to move on.
He went to RKO for a spell and then Universal, settling into roles as the other man or the hero's best friend, getting his best break with John Ford's How Green Was My Valley (1942), in which he and another English stalwart, John Loder, were two of the Welsh mining brothers (mother, Sarah Allgood, was Irish, and father, Donald Crisp, was Scottish; the cast, mostly British, contained only one Welshman, Rhys Williams, in a small role).
Knowles moved on to Paramount, decorating two of Mitchell Leisen's pictures, Masquerade in Mexico (1945) and Kitty (1946), as Ray Milland's best friend and aristocratic rival for the guttersnipe Paulette Goddard. The first of these was Leisen's remake of his own Midnight, with Knowles in a watered-down version of the John Barrymore role. Leisen did it only to escape making a film with Betty Hutton, but relented when Paramount pointed out the importance of maintaining her popularity. Thus he directed her in Dream Girl (1948), which gave Knowles another of his best roles, as her publisher and suitor.
Others were in Monsieur Beaucaire (1946), as the French milord whom barber Bob Hope impersonates, and Sam Wood's Ivy (1947), as the doctor arrested for the poisoning committed by Joan Fontaine. But perhaps his finest showing was when cast against type in The Big Steal (1949), the cringing baddie hunted by Robert Mitchum because he has vamoosed with $20,000 of Jane Greer's dough.
With the advent of television the studios no longer kept players of the second rank under contract, but Knowles continued to work, irregularly and sometimes in some not very notable films. To be recalled are Auntie Mame (1958), in which he was again a publisher, an old flame of Rosalind Russell, and two westerns directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, The Way West (1967), as a Scottish-born general with white Dundrearies, and Chisum (1970), as an ally of John Wayne. His last film was Arnold (1973), a horror comedy which also featured the one-time child star of How Green Was My Valley, Roddy McDowall.
Reginald Lawrence Knowles (Patric Knowles), actor: born Horsforth, Yorkshire 11 November 1911; died 23 December 1995.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies