John Justin obituary in “The Guardian” in 2002.
John Justin was born in 1917 in London the son of a wealthy Argentine family. He made an enormous impact with hi first film, the classic “Thief of Bagdad” in 1940. The firm was starred in the UK but with the outbreak of World War Two, the filming was continued in Hollywood. Justin starred with June Duprez and Sabu and they all received critical praise for their roles. Other films included “The Gentle Sex” in 1943 with Joan Greenwood and Lilli Palmer and “The Man Who Loved Redheads” opposite Moira Shearer in 1955. Two years later he starred opposite Dorothy Dandridge in the star filled “Island in the Sun”. He died in 2002 leaving three daughters from his marriage to actress Barbara Murray.
The stage and film actor John Justin, who has died aged 85, first came to prominence with his appearance in the 1939 blockbuster, The Thief Of Baghdad. A lighter-hearted actor than producers expected in heroic roles, he mischievously mocked the audition for his part as Prince Achmad with the young Indian actor Sabu. “We never supposed that we should be cast,” he recalled -but Prince Achmad was one of his better screen roles.What brought Justin British stardom was the character of test pilot Philip Peel in David Lean’s The Sound Barrier (1952), especially his affecting scenes with Dinah Sheridan; and as Terence Rattigan’s romantic hero in the Harold French film, The Man Who Loved Redheads (1954). That year, too, he was the lead in the thriller, The Teckman Mystery. In 1957, he featured in Robert Rossen’s Island In The Sun.
But Justin was an actor who used the screen to subsidise his stage acting. He was tall, slim, golden-voiced, and had a rarely exploited instinct for comedy. Often appearing in children’s classics, he first played Captain Hook, and Mr Darling in Peter Pan, at the old Scala Theatre in Charlotte Street, London, at Christmas 1949, and made a charming, headmasterly Badger in Toad Of Toad Hall 15 years later at the Queen’s. When he once erroneously intoned, “It’s only half past December,” as he picked up an hour-glass, the line was deemed worthy of AA Milne, and incorporated into the script.
Born in London, Justin was a farmer’s son, educated at Bryanston school, Dorset. He resolved to make a life in theatre – although dyslexia proved a setback at rehearsals – and began his career in his teens at Plymouth Repertory. At Liverpool Rep, his name was shortened from Justinian de Ledesma to Justin; and, when he sought training at Rada in 1937, he reckoned it “no more than a finishing school for girls” – and soon left to join John Gielgud’s repertory company. There, he felt so inferior that he asked Dodie Smith, the author of Dear Octopus – in which he appeared in 1938 – if he should give up. “Carry on,” she said. “I would.”
With The Thief Of Baghdad, Justin had signed a seven-year contract with Alexander Korda but, in 1940, he joined the RAF. While serving as a pilot instructor, he acted in two semi-documentary propaganda films, The Gentle Sex (1943), with Leslie Howard, and the Boulting Brothers’ Journey Together (1944), with Edward G Robinson.
In 1948, he did a stint at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon, where he played the Dauphin in King John, Lorenzo in the Merchant Of Venice, Florizel in The Winter’s Tale, Cassio to Godfrey Tearle’s Othello and Horatio to Paul Scofield’s Hamlet, when he was dubbed “honesty’s core”. As Paris, in Troilus and Cressida, he was “lovely to hear throughout”.
In the West End, Justin was a rudely outspoken young man in Benn Levy’s Return To Tyassi (1950, Duke of York’s), Chekhov’s beautifully-mannered doctor in Uncle Vanya (1952, Arts) and an elegant Frenchman in Jean Anouilh’s Dinner With The Family (Oxford Playhouse and New, now Albery, 1957).
Two seasons later, he joined the Old Vic, where his parts included Mellefont, in Wycherley’s The Double Dealer, Orlando in As You Like It, and John Worthing in The Importance Of Being Earnest. In 1963, he played Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing, in Regent’s Park, and, at the same theatre in 1965, he was the banished duke in As You Like It.
Between 1963 and 1970, he made no film appearances, and only a further nine until his last in 1983 – they included Ken Russell’s Liztomania and Savage Messiah, and Michael Winner’s ill-starred Big Sleep remake.
Dismissing his film career as “a mistake,” Justin continued to relish stage work, which included Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman (Northampton, 1965) and Prince Escerny and Puntschu in Lulu (Royal Court and Apollo, 1971). He was in Old Fruit (King’s Head, Islington, 1974). He toured South Africa in Who Killed Santa Claus? (1971), the regions as Winston Churchill in A Man And His Wife (1974), and West Germany in recitals of Blake and Shakespeare. The first of several television appearances was in a 1949 BBC staging of Antigone.
In 1952, Justin married Barbara Murray; they divorced in 1964. He is survived by his wife Alison, whom he married in 1970, and three daughters from his first marriage.
·John Justin, (John Justinian de Ledesma) actor, born November 24 1917; died November 29 2002
The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.