Dwight Frye was born in Salina, Kansas on February 22nd 1922. The youngster was raised a Christian Scientist. Early on he received training in voice and piano and was originally moving towards a goal in music. However, fate intervened and he found himself drawn to the theater. After touring with several companies he ended up in New York where he found success in a variety of roles as a stage actor. He was the original “Young Man” in the debut of Luis Pirandello’s ‘Six Characters in Search of An Author’ and was also in ‘The Devil in the Cheese’ in 1926 with Bela Lugosi. In Aughust 1st 1928 he married stage actress Laura Mae Bullivant. They opened a popular tearoom in NY. The following year the stock market crash dried up their business and put a serious dent on the Broadway shows being produced.

Having already been in the film ‘The Night Bird’ (1928), Dwight and his wife decided to relocate to Los Angeles during the great migration of stage actors flocking to Hollywood at the dawn of the talkie era. The couple welcomed a son, Dwight Jr., into the world the day after Christmas 1930.

Dwight found work in Hollywood and acted in several films before making the first of two pictures in 1931 that would make him a screen immortal, as well as stereotype him for the rest of his career. He was the original Renfield, the fly and spider munching real estate agent who becomes the vampire’s first victim in ‘Dracula’ (1931) opposite the incomparable Bela Lugosi. That same year he also played the doctor’s wild-eyed and hunchbacked assistant Fritz in James Whale’s ‘Frankenstein’ with Boris Karloff (The Monster), Mae Clarke, and Colin Clive (Dr. Henry Frankenstein). Also of note: that same year he was Wilmer in the original screen version of Dashiell Hammett’s ‘The Maltese Falcon’, but it was far overshadowed at the Universal Studios by his impact in the previous two roles.

The casting office had him pegged. For the remainder of his film career he was cast as crazed assistants, lunatics, spies, shifty characters, psychopaths, and the like in countless pictures – ‘The Black Camel’ (1931) – an early Charlie Chan picture with Warner Oland as the detective, ‘A Strange Adventure’ (1932), ‘The Vampire Bat’ (1933), ‘The Circus Queen Murder’ (1933), ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933), ‘The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) as Karl, ‘The Crime of Dr. Crespi’ (1935) with Erich von Stroheim, ‘Alibi For Murder’ (1936), ‘The Man Who Found Himself’ (1937), ‘The Shadow (1937) as Vindecco, ‘The Invisible Enemy’ (1938), ‘The Night Hawk’ (1938), ‘Who Killed Gail Preston?’ (1938) as Mr. Owen, ‘The Drums of Fu Manchu’ (1940), ‘The Mystery Ship’ (1941), ‘The Ghost of Frankenstein’ (1942), ‘Dead Men Walk’ (1943) as an evil hunchback named Zolarr who is henchman (or would that be hunchman?) to vampire Elwyn Clayton, ‘Hangmen Also Die’ (1943), ‘Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man’ (1943), etc. His film parts were growing progressively smaller and the films increasingly less distinguished. Throughout this period he also returned periodically to the stage where he could at least experience some variety in his roles (comedies and even musicals!). However, in this period he also played Renfield on a staged revival of ‘Dracula’.

Discouraged by his film career and eager to help with the war effort -- he eventually took a night job as a draftsman and tool designer at Lockheed Aircraft Company in Los Angeles, working there between film assignments.

In 1943 he was offered the role of Secretary of War Newton D. Baker in the A-production bio-pic ‘Wilson’ about the life of president Woodrow Wilson. It was a substantial part in what would become a highly celebrated and award winning film. Things were looking up for Dwight…in a way.

The actor had suffered from previous heart problems, but being a Christian Science practitioner he refrained from any sort of treatment. Three days prior to the start of filming for ‘Wilson’, he suffered a heart attack while running for a bus with his wife and son and died while riding that crowded Los Angeles city bus on November 7th, 1943. This screen immortal who still manages to give audiences the creeps 75 years after his signature roles is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, CA.

If you wanna read more about this guy a new biography of this very interesting actor is also available -- Dwight Frye’s Last Laugh by Gregory William Mank and James T. Couglin, $25 from Luminary Press.