Richard Cromwell, born LeRoy Melvin Radabaugh, was an American actor. His family and friends called him Roy, though he was also professionally known and signed autographs as Dick Cromwell. Cromwell’s career was at its pinnacle with his work in Jezebel with Bette Davis and Henry Fonda and again with Fonda in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln. Cromwell’s fame was perhaps first assured in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, where he shared top billing with Gary Cooper and Franchot Tone. That film was the first major effort directed by Henry Hathaway and it was based upon the popular novel by Francis Yeats-Brown. The Lives of a Bengal Lancer earned Paramount Studios a nomination for Best Picture in 1935, though Mutiny on the Bounty instead took the top award at the Oscars that year.
Leslie Halliwell in The Filmgoer’s Companion, summed up Cromwell’s enduring appeal when he described him as “a leading man, gentle hero of early sound films.”
Cromwell was born in Long Beach, California on, the second-born in a family of five children. His father Ralph R. Radabaugh, an inventor. Cromwell’s father Ralph R. Radabaugh’s claim to fame was his patented invention of the “amusement park swing” ride, called the “Monoflyer”, of which a variation can still be seen in use at most carnivals today. Ralph died suddenly from influenza during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, when Cromwell was still in grade school.
While helping his young widowed mother, Fay B. Stocking Radabaugh, to support the family with odd-jobs, Cromwell enrolled as a teenager in the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles on a scholarship. The Institute was the precursor of what later became California Institute of the Arts, and one of Cromwell’s then-classmates would also eventually rise to fame as costume designer Edith Head. Cromwell ran a shop in Hollywood where he sold pictures, made lampshades and designed colour schemes for houses. As Cromwell developed his talents for lifelike mask-making and oil-painting, he curried friendships in the late 1920s with various then-starlets who posed for him and collected his works including Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford, Anna Q. Nilsson, Greta Garbo, Claire Dubrey, Ann Sothern, and even Marie Dressler. Other patrons of Cromwell’s life masks included Broadway actresses Lilyan Tashman, Katharine Cornell, and Beatrice Lillie.