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Submitted by Neal Lofthouse
Bonar Colleano: Personality Boy
By: Eric Barrett
Article from Picturegoer, Week ending, March 17, 1951
Bonar Colleano, the "Big I Am" of "Pool of London" wants to do everything. He's certainly having a go.
Said Bonar Colleano, clenching cigarette holder between lips and hising out the personal pronoun ; " I want to do everything."
Having outed with that sweeping statement, he replenished the holder with an American-brand cigarette, lit up again and puffed away in silence.
Not for long. Another minute and the plush drawing-room of his parents' home off Marble Arch reverberated to the Colleano nasal twang. And the man behind the short, clipped sentances was the subject of the talk.
What he wants to do, how he intends doing it and what he hopes the outcome will be - those, to him, are absorbing points for discussion.
Discuss them Colleano does, like a learned counsel pinpointing facts for a case - Colleano's case. He has the answers pat before you've popped the questions. That's the impression you get from his confident, definite air.
He comes over in the flesh in much the same way as he comes over on the screen - forceful and kind of brash. Casual too, the way his American sailor is in 'Pool of London'. And, like the same sailor, he has qualities which are likeable, human.
Ten minutes or so in his company and you find yourself not so much objecting to that forcefulness as wondering - wondering what it is this dark-haired, dark-eyed, gangling young son of a celebrated American circus family has which so many like.
Not much later you've got the answer ; personality. He seems to know it, too, seems to trade on it quite a bit.
"You want to do everything?" I repeated. "Everything? "
Colleano didn't bat an eyelid.
"Yep, that's it. But" - he looked at me a wee bit warily - "I say that with due modesty, of course."
This "everything," I learnt, embraces films, plays, television, vaudeville and road shows - the lot. Colleano thinks he's got the versatile equipment to handle them all.
Maybe he's right. Pictures have given him status as an actor ; shows and broadcasts have established him as a competent type for the singing, dancing and patter lines.
But what about these screen Yanks, I wanted to know. Weren't they bogging him down? After all, thats the way we've seen him in every film he's made since 'The Way to the Stars'.
"I'll play any part for what its worth - I can't say any more. Naturally, I don't approve of typed gum-sucking Joes in British films any more than the British like seeing themselves mirrored as Colonel Blimps in Hollywood pictures."
A new line of thought lured him away from that. He screwed up his face and asked 'me' a question. "Why do producers fail to understand versatility?" he wanted to know.
Something Up His Sleeve
He had the answer. Lots of film-makers, he said reprovingly, failed to use an actor's natural talent in addition to his acting ability.
Look at Burt Lancaster - a trained acrobat. See how they made use of him, for instance, in that acrobatic romp, 'The Flame and the Arrow'.
From this I gathered Colleano felt many of his other talents could be used to some purpose in films.I gathered, further, that some time in the future they would be. Up Colleano's sleeve are plans to form his own film production company.
Finance - organization - the risk of the business? He'd have that under control. He wanted to produce and direct as well as "everything" else.
"But I shan't act in my first picture. That would be too much in one go. I'll be content to direct and do the double act later on when I've had more experience."
Self-confidence coupled with a little measure of caution is the keynote of this Colleano, you'll be noting.
Maybe, if these plans ever resolve into anything, he'll be able to do all the things he says. Certainly he has a pretty creditable background to work on.
He made his first public act when he was five. He appeared at New York's Palace Theatre as partner to his father and mother.
When he was a bit older he joined up with the celebrated Colleano Family circus act, toured America and visited nearly every capital in Europe.
In 1936 he came to Britain and got in some education at Streatham Grammar School and at Eltham. During the war, with his family, he helped to put on shows for troops.
Always The Yank
Competence to gag and mime and dance and sing eventually led to his big London break in "Sweet and Low." And this brought him to the notice of Anatole de Grunwald, who signed him for the part of Joe Friselli in 'The Way to the Stars'.
Personally, I felt the typing he had in films such as 'A Matter of Life and Death', 'One Night with You', 'Once a Jolly Swagman', 'Give Us This Day' and 'Dance Hall' was much of a muchness. But Ealing has the right idea with his casting in 'Pool of London', his latest film.
True, he comes across as the big I am of a Yank again, but this time the brashness is tempered with a sensitivity which makes me believe he's as competent as I suspect, he believes.
What does he work for? For the sheer love of it - nothing else. Money? A ghastly expression of distaste made his face like a gargoyle for the moment. "I hate money ! At least," he said, as the Colleano features reverted to normal intensity, "I want enough for personal comforts. No more."
In every way this fidgety twenty-six year old seems to know the way to go. He, at least, needs no one to show 'him' the way to do what 'he' can do. The road has been signposted - by his own hands.
With his push and drive and talk and ability I daresay he'll do a lot - even if not everything.
Sadly Bonar was to die in a car accident in Birkenhead on 17th August 1958, aged just 34.