Dwight Frye

Dwight Frye
Born Dwight Iliff Fry
February 22, 1899(1899-02-22)
Salina, Kansas, U.S.
Died November 7, 1943(1943-11-07) (aged 44)
Hollywood, CA, U.S.
Years active 1922-43
Spouse Laura Mae Bullivant (1928-1943) his death

Dwight Iliff Frye (February 22, 1899 – November 7, 1943) was an American stage and screen actor, noted for his appearances in the classic horror films Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933), and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).


Early life and career

Frye was born in Salina, Kansas. Nicknamed "The Man with the Thousand-Watt Stare" and "The Man of a Thousand Deaths", he specialized in the portrayal of mentally unbalanced characters, including his signature role, the madman Renfield in Tod Browning's 1931 version of Dracula. Later that same year he also played the hunchbacked assistant in the film Frankenstein. (This character, named Fritz, is often mistakenly referred to as Ygor, a character originated by Bela Lugosi in the later film Son of Frankenstein.)

Frye also portrayed Wilmer Cook (the "gunsel") in the original movie version of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon in 1931, the role later played by Elisha Cook, Jr. in the remake a decade later.

Frye had a prominent role in the horror film The Vampire Bat (1933), starring Lionel Atwill, Melvyn Douglas, and Fay Wray, in which he played Herman, a half-wit suspected of being a killer.

He also had memorable roles in The Invisible Man (1933) as a reporter, The Crime of Dr. Crespi (1935), and in the classic Bride of Frankenstein (1935), in which he played Karl. The part of Karl was originally much longer and many extra scenes of Frye were shot as a sub plot but were edited out of the final version to shorten the running time as well as to appease the censor boards. The most memorable of these "cut scenes" was that of Karl killing the Burgomaster portrayed by E. E. Clive. No known prints of these scenes survive today, but photographs of the scene were used to illustrate the scene's synopsis and are included in the recent Universal Studios DVD release of the film.

During the early 1940s, Frye alternated between film roles and appearing on stage in a variety of productions ranging from comedies to musicals, as well as appearing in a stage version of Dracula. In 1924 he played the Son in a translation of Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author.[1] There was a Dwight Frye Fan Club at one time,[2] but it is currently dormant. He also made a contribution to the war effort by working nights as a tool designer for Lockheed Aircraft.


Frye's strong resemblance to former Secretary of War Newton D. Baker helped land him what would have been a substantial role in the biopic Wilson (1944), based on the life of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, but he died of a heart attack while riding on a bus in Hollywood a few days before filming was to have begun.

Frye was interred in Glendale's Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.

Cultural references

  • The shock rock group Alice Cooper included a song entitled "Ballad of Dwight Fry" (without the final "e") on their 1971 album Love It to Death. It is sung from the point of view of a character such as the actor might have played.
  • The music company Wind-Up Entertainment Inc. houses one music publishing concern called Renfield Music Publishing, and another called Dwight Frye Music, which publishes artists such as Evanescence and Creed.


  • Gregory W. Mank, Dwight D. Frye, James Coughlin (1997). Dwight Frye’s Last Laugh. Midnight Marquee. ISBN 1887664114. 

External links

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