East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

C. Aubrey Smith


This is very very circuitous.
I was looking for details about A Night in Cairo, a 1933 movie better known as The Barbarian – a pre-Code movie that features Ramon Novarro and Myrna Loy.
The reason is simply explained.
First, of course, there is my veneration for Myrna Loy, especially in her younger roles. And second, the movie is set in a Cairo hotel that is a pretty close reconstruction of the Shephaerd’s Hotel… that is the place in which the first episode of AMARNA opens.
So, research, and Myrna Loy – and her famous bath-tub and rose petals scene…

Annex - Loy, Myrna (Barbarian, The)_01

While I was looking for more details about The Barbarian, I checked out the cast listing, and I found a name that’s well known to lovers of old movies: C. Aubrey Smith.
And I thought, what the heck, I might as well do a post about the old chap.

Sport, Cricket, Circa 1895, Charles Aubrey Smith, played for Sussex from 1882-1896, During that time he played for England only once in1888, but made captain, Smith remained in South Africa after a 1889 tour and played for Transvaal, He gained fame as anBecause let’s admit it – we all know he always played old chaps, right?
One of the reasons, it turns out, is that Smith, born in London in 1863, had a different career in his youth: he was a cricketer. Quoth Wikipedia…

His oddly curved bowling run-up, which started from deep mid-off, earned him the nickname “Round the Corner Smith”

By the mid-1890s, Smith moved on to an acting career, and he debuted on stage in The Prisoner of Zenda1, playing both King Rudolph and his British lookalike Rudolf Rassendyll. In the following years, he played various roles in other stagings of Hope’s novel, so that he would later quip

in my time I have played every part in The Prisoner of Zenda except Princess Flavia

Starting in 1920s, C. Aubrey Smith moved to the screen, and later moved to Hollywood, where he was regarded as the leader of the so called Hollywood Raj. He also organized the Hollywood Cricket Club, a team that included David Niven, Laurence Olivier, Nigel Bruce, Leslie Howard and Boris Karloff. And as the photo shows, occasionally Errol Flynn.


Smith was usually cast as a father-figure, often a member of the aristocracy, an officer or a priest. Fans of adventure movies remember Smith for his roles in The Prisoner of Zenda, in Johnny Weismuller’s first Tarzan movie, Tarzan the Ape Man, in which he plays the role of Jane’s father, in The Four Feathers, in the Dietrich Oriental melodrama Garden of Allah, in De Mille’s Cleopatra, Gable’s China Sea, in Kidnapped from the Stevenson novel, in the 1941 version of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde. He also had roles in two classics I have discussed in the past, Queen Christina and The Scarlet Empress.


And as I said in the beginning, he was in The Barbarian, with Myrna Loy – that had already shared the bill with Smith in Love me tonight… the movie in which Loy played the role of the narcoleptic nymphomaniac2. Ah, those pre-Code days!

Selection_966C. Aubrey Smith was certainly one of the most easily recognizable character actors in early Hollywood, and I think it was high time I did a post about him.
There is also a biography of Sir C. Aubrey Smith, but I’ve been so far unable to track down a cheap copy.
But I have tracked down a good copy of The Barbarian, so I’ll be able to do some research after all.
And I’ll enjoy Myrna Loy’s skill and beauty, and C. Aubrey Smith’s presence. I’m not sure about Ramon Novarro singing, but I’ll try and survive it.

C. Aubrey Smith died, aged 85, on the 20th of December 1948 – which means that this post was written on his anniversary.
And now that’s a strange coincidence…

  1. and as you know, we love Zenda here on Karavansara. 
  2. the character of Valentine, as played by Loy in Love me tonight was one of the inspirations for the character of Helena in The Ministry of Thunder and Cynical Little Angels

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “C. Aubrey Smith

  1. I remember Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies with William Powell. Always hot looking and the script gave her a never ending supply of one-liners!


  2. As for C. Aubrey Smith, I can’t even begin to count the number of movies I saw him in as British officer in India on the Northwest Frontier defending the Raj!


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