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Submitted by Nicky Smith
John JustinJohn Justin, who has died aged 85, was an actor with the looks, bearing, voice and elegance of a matinee idol, which enabled him to pursue a steady career on the stage and in films.
He proved particularly adept in Shakespeare, making a notable Paris in Troilus and Cressida and an honest Horatio (to Paul Scofield and Robert Helpmann in Hamlet) at the Stratford Memorial Theatre in the 1940s. At the Old Vic, his Romeo and Orlando in the 1950s were hailed as promising.
Justin then played "a snarling, mouthing" Richard II which never rose above self-pity at the Old Vic in 1959; the performance prompted the critic Caryl Brahms to predict that it would "haunt me through every Richard II that I shall see".
His film career began in 1940 when he played the dispossessed Prince Ahmad in Alexander Korda's Thief of Bagdad, a dashing adventure with special effects which was begun in Britain during the Blitz and completed at Hollywood.
After the war Justin's tall, athletic figure and fair hair fulfilled every foreigner's idea of an Englishman, and he went on to make a series of generally unmemorable films in America, as well as in France and Italy.
In 1954, he made Seagulls Over Sorrento back in Britain, then played the puzzled sleuth in The Teckman Mystery, which led to a sequel in the form of a popular television serial. As well as playing the charming ADC in Island in the Sun, he put his repertory experience to good use in The Man Who Loved Redheads (1955).
His part demanded that he start out as a young sprig of 29 who gradually aged "without losing the assets to win the hearts of girls to whom he has been attracted in his search for the ideal woman" - as he described it in an on-set interview.
Justin continued to be in demand for the screen into the 1970s, when he had smaller parts in Ken Russell's films Savage Messiah, Lisztomania, and Valentino. His last film role was in the lacklustre Disney comedy-drama Trenchcoat (1983).
Justin's greatest affection was for acting, and that meant the stage. Since Shakespeare was the world's greatest writer of dialogue, Justin once confided, the Bard was easy to play: the actor did not have to make up for the deficiencies of the script. But the three months each year fulfilling a Hollywood contract in America meant he could maintain his family comfortably while performing on stage in England.
The son of an Argentine, John Justin was born John Justinian de Ledesma at Knightsbridge, London, on November 24 1917. His father, who later became a naturalised Englishman, took John to his ranch in Argentina before his son was one.
Young John returned to go to Bryanston in Dorset with a view to becoming a professional man. But the acting bug took firm hold, and at 16 he left to join the Plymouth Repertory Company where he played parts which ranged from boys to 80-year-olds.
His enraged father took him away to learn farming in Norfolk. But John soon joined the Liverpool Repertory. Buoyed up by new confidence, he came to London where he could find only walk-on parts at suburban theatres and work as a film extra.
He was so discouraged that he took a third class passage to Argentina; but he soon recovered his health and spirits, and sought stage work in Buenos Aires before working his passage back to England as a deck-hand.
Justin's grandmother then took a hand, paying for him to spend three seasons at Rada. Her faith was rewarded when he found his first West End work with John Gielgud's Repertory Company. He was Hugh Randolph in Dodie Smith's domestic comedy, Dear Octopus (Queen's, 1938) and a footman in The Importance of Being Earnest (Globe, 1939).
Justin volunteered for the RAF, and was allowed to finish The Thief of Bagdad, which gave him badly needed time to improve his mathematics. Although injured in a crash, he became an instructor and then flew VIPs.
His return to the theatre in 1945 was as Richard Rowan, the writer-protagonist in James Joyce's play Exiles at the Torch. After starring in The Thracian Horses at the Lyric, Hammersmith, he showed that he had not reached maturity in John Fernald's revival of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya at the Arts in 1952.
But he went on to have leading parts at the Royal Court in Miss Hargreaves, which starred Margaret Rutherford; at the Duchess in Someone to Talk To (1956); and at the Aldwych (1957) in the comedy Olive Ogilvie.
In classical leads at the Old Vic, he played Mellefont to Maggie Smith's Lady Plyant in Congreve's DoubleDealer and John Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest. He made his American stage debut in Philadelphia and New York in Little Moon of Alban.
When working-class drama came into vogue, Justin felt no urge or occasion to adapt his voice or manners to the demands of "kitchen sink" drama. He did not mind being dubbed "the Wolfit of Regent's Park", an allusion to the stalwart Shakespearean actor-manager Donald Wolfit. At the Open Air, he enjoyed playing Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing; the banished Duke in As You Like It; and Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night.
Justin was also Giles Ralston in The Mousetrap and Badger in Milne's Toad of Toad Hall. He made a permanent addition to the script of the latter when he picked up an hourglass and said, "It's only half past December"; it has remained in the script ever since.
Justin took the parts of Prince Escerny and Puntschu in Peter Barnes's adaptation for the Nottingham Playhouse of the Wedekind play Lulu; it was seen at the Royal Court in 1970 and the West End (Apollo, 1971).
He toured as Winston Churchill in A Man and His Wife in 1974, and went to West Germany in 1975 to give recitals of Blake and Shakespeare for the British Council.
John Justin, who died on November 29, was married three times; first to the dancer Pola Nirenska; then the actress Barbara Murray, with whom he had three daughters. His third wife was Alison McMurdo.
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