Did Bob Cummings Pretend to be British to Get a Broadway Role?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about theater and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: Bob Cummings pretended to be from England to get a role on Broadway.

Bob Cummings was a popular actor with a career that stretched a number of decades, from the stage to the screen to television.

He’s probably best known for his critically acclaimed (and popular) sitcom, The Bob Cummings Show, that ran from 1955-1959, where he plays a womanizing photographer.

The show launched the career of Ann B. Davis, as she won two Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actress for her work on the program (years before she was Alice on The Brady Bunch).

Cummings had a successful film career during the 1940s, with King’s Row….

and Saboteur probably being his two most notable roles…

(he was most popular as a comedic actor, but his dramatic films have seemed to stand the test of time a bit better – he also had a co-starring role in the classic drama Dial M for Murder).

An experienced and talented pilot, Cummings tried to fit that background into many of the roles he took (including his character on The Bob Cummings Show)…

But what’s at issue here is how Cummings got his start in show business period.

You see, when Cummings was a young man in the early 1930s, he was not having a very good go at getting a job as an actor in New York on the theater circuit. Then, as it remains true now, I suppose, British actors were the “hot” ticket on Broadway, so Cummings devised a rather devious plan.

He actually traveled to England and lived there for a month, developing a British accent and purchasing British clothes, so that when he returned to the States, he was now calling himself Blade Stanhope Conway. He even managed to get an acquaintance to put up a temporary marquee outside a British playhouse stating “Blade Stanhope Conway in Shaw’s Candida.”

He then sent letters of introduction to various New York theater companies telling them that he, Blade Stanhope Conway, would be coming to New York and was hoping to do some theater work there.

And sure enough, he was given a small role in a Broadway play, The Roof.

He soon got work under his own name working as a comedian in The Ziegfeld Follies.

Soon, though, Cummings decided to make the trek out to California to pursue a career in film. This time around, to gain entrance into the world of westerns, he decided to take on ANOTHER persona, this time of a Texan named Bruce Hutchens.

I don’t know if his Texan approach was what got him his first gig, but whatever the reason, he soon got a small role in a film and his career developed from there.

Isn’t that an amazing act of deception and/or ingenuity?

The legend is…

STATUS: True

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

2 Responses to “Did Bob Cummings Pretend to be British to Get a Broadway Role?”

  1. Bob was a very interesting guy. He was not just an experienced and talented pilot, but he was the first person in the US to be licensed as a pilot trainer – he literally had license number 1. And he learned from one of the best, his godfather … Orville Wright. His full name was Charles Clarence Robert ORVILLE Cummings.

    And his character on the Bob Cummings Show, Bob Collins, once had occasion to pretend to be British and adopted a British phony name: you guessed, Blade Stanhope Conway.

    It was a very funny show (and the first ever summer replacement series), and many episodes are available at archive.org because they are now public domain. Go check ‘em out!

  2. Thanks!

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