The Life of Patric Knowles

University of Huddersfield history student and library volunteer Haaris Mahmood looks back over the life of a legendary but lesser-known Hollywood star who began life in Horsforth.

Image of Patric Knowles holding a revolver while grasping Angela Lansbury in a still from the 1952 film, Mutiny
Patric Knowles stars with Angela Lansbury in the 1952 film, Mutiny

The city of Leeds has been home to many advancements in the world of filmmaking; both technically and in talent, being the birth place of a number of famous actors that rose to fame nationally and internationally. Some names include Tom Wilkinson, the actor born in Wharfedale (Leeds) and gone on to be headlined in blockbuster Hollywood films such as Batman Begins.[1] Malcolm McDowell, the actor from Horsforth associated with films such as the horrifying 1971 A Clockwork Orange.[2] Even Peter O Toole – Lawrence of Arabia himself, whose exact base of origin is disputed, with most believing it to be from Hunslet, Leeds as opposed to the other suggestion of Connemara, Ireland.[3] Regardless, it is clear to see that there have been a number of successful actors from Leeds that have gone on to make it big in showbiz.

Even in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, Leeds was making a name for itself as the birthplace of film. The first ever film to be made and released to the public came from Leeds by Louis Le Prince in 1888, called The Roundhay Garden Scene.[4] This short scene, built the foundation to what the global industry film has become today.  Furthermore, a forgotten, yet equally significant figure in film from Leeds, who made a name for himself as a world famous actor during the bulk of the 20th Century is Patric Knowles.

The front view of Louis Le Prince’s 16 lens camera built in 1887. (Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net)

Initially named Reginald Lawrence Knowles, since his birth on 11 November 1911, the world was stacked against him to follow his dreams.[5] At the age of 14, Knowles left school and was being prepared to join the family bookbinding business.[6] However, Knowles was adamant to move away from his parents’ pressures of a traditional lifestyle and towards pursuing his dreams, which led to him running away from home twice. During 1932 and at the age of 21, Knowles joined the British sound films and changed his name to Patric Knowles. He later joined the repertory group of the Playhouse Theatre where he was featured in 14 films and met his wife Gladys Enid Percival who was also an actress and who he later married in 1935.[7]  After the hardship of touring the country and making a name for himself, he was spotted in London by Warner Bros and was given a 2 year contract in Hollywood.[8]

He began as the second lead in many films where he met and befriended Errol Flynn. However, he eventually became the lead in many films and made his way into many genres including, romance, horror and comedies.[9] His filmography demonstrates his image of being a popular and experienced actor. During his time as an actor from 1932-1973 he worked with 20th Century Fox and Universal and retired with 125 films to his name. Besides acting, Knowles also proved to be a man of many talents. During his free time he became a licensed private pilot and during WWII he served as a flying instructor in the RCAF.[10] He also was involved with college lectures, wrote a novel called “Even Stevens” and was a part of commercials such as the Kellogg’s Cereal commercial.

Patric Knowles clutches onto his co-star Lon Chaney Jr in a stern manner in the film Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
Patric Knowles alongside Lon Chaney Jr (the Wolf Man)

By the end of his career Knowles had retired in 1973 and lived with the fruits of his labour until 1995 where he passed away due to a brain haemorrhage in his residence in Los Angeles, California USA.[11] He became a household name during the mid-19th Century involved in films such as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and The Adventures of Robin Hood, and demonstrates yet another international superstar with humble beginnings from Leeds.

[1] IMDB. Tom Wilkinson. Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0929489

[2] Borges, P. Malcolm Mcdowell. Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000532/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm

[3] Sinyard, N. (2017). O’Toole, Peter Seamus. Retrieved from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-108349?rskey=rwBOm1&result=1

[4] IMDB. Roundhay Garden Scene (1888) . Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0392728/.

[5] Yorkshire evening post. 27/1/1984.

[6] Mcpeak, William. “Patric Knowles Biography”. IMDB. Retrieved 8th May 2018.

[7] http://trees.ancestrylibrary.com/tree/65760458/person/46144476336/print.

[8] http://articles.latimes.com/print/1995-12-27/local/me-18313_1_patric-knolwes.

[9] Mcpeak, William. “Patric Knowles Biography”. IMDB. Retrieved 8th May 2018.

[10] http://articles.latimes.com/print/1995-12-27/local/me-18313_1_patric-knolwes.

[11] http://interactive.ancestrylibrary.com/Print/2352/rg14_25925_0317_03/26623060?landscape+true&sourcePlacement=0&query+backurl

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