|Errol Flynn as Major Geoffrey Vickers and Donald Crisp as Colonel Campbell in director Michael Curtiz's 1936 production of
The Charge of the Light Brigade.
Like most Hollywood historic epics at the time this film was a highly fictionalized account of the charge made by British cavalry at
Balaclava during the Crimean War.
While Errol Flynn's "remarkable" life is generally well known, his military career limited to his Hollywood roles. Flynn had
sneaked off to Spain during the Spanish Civil War with the hope of fighting on the Republican side but studio boss Jack L. Warner
managed to get Flynn to return to the U.S. before any damage could occur to his highest grossing star. Flynn was 4F during World
War II due to a bad heart - he suffered a heart attack during the filming of Gentleman Jim in 1942 - as well as recurring malaria
he had contracted while running a plantation is Borneo. He was not as some have implied a Nazi spy during the war. The life and
varied military career of his co-star in The Charge of the Light Brigade, Donald Crisp is not so well known.
Born George William Crisp in London, England on 27 July, 1882 the son of James and Elizabeth Crisp. Some sources state that he
was born in Aberfeldy, Scotland on 27 July 1880. While Crisp adopted the screen name of Donald Crisp he seems to have used
that name only for screen and film related credits. His naturalization papers that were taken out in 1930 when he became a United
States Citizen where completed twice, first under the name of George William Crisp and secondly under his more widely
recognized screen name. While returning to California on the SS Tahiti from the of island of the same name after the close of
production of the film The Pagan, Crisp had himself list not by his screen name of Donald by his birth name of George William.
According to many Hollywood-based biographical sources Crisp served as a trooper in the 10th Hussars in South Africa during the
Anglo-Boer War. In fact the earliest reference to Crisp serving in South Africa appears in a 1914 issue of Photoplay magazine
and clearly states that Crisp served with the 10th Hussars, was wounded three times and rose to the rank of Colour Sergeant. In
Films & Editing magazine (Volume 7 Issue 3 1961) Crisp is specifically mentioned as having fought at Kimberly, Ladysmith and
Tugela Heights (while the 10th did take part in the relief of Kimberly I do not think that they were entitled to clasps for the other
two battles). In spite of extensive searching I been unable to fine any references to a George William Crisp ever serving with the
10th Hussars during the Anglo-Boer War or anyone by that name being entitled to either Queen's or King's South Africa Medals.
The closest possibility so far is No. 3673 Farrier Quarter Master Sergeant G. Crisp of the 19th Hussars who also served with
Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry though I doubt this is the same man since his address is given as being in Hastings, Sussex.
Crisp emigrated to the United States in 1909 - becoming one of the earliest members of then yet to be named "Hollywood
Raj"and began a long and successful career as not just an actor but also a director, career and financial advisor to fellow actors
and Chairman of the Board of Bank of America.
During World War One Crisp returned to England and according to many usual Hollywood biographical sources served in a
military intelligence capacity. I am not sure how correct this may be and think that the truth of the matter may have been
overlooked by the Hollywood writers. I have found the records of a man who may very well be the same George William Crisp
who became so well known in Hollywood.
This George William Crisp is listed as being a cadet with the Officers training Corps/The Artist Rifles and being promoted to 2nd
Lieutenant in the 23rd Battalion, London Regiment on 15 June, 1916. He was promoted Lieutenant in the 23/London Regiment on
15 December, 1917. On 3 November, 1918 was promoted to Acting Captain "...whilst comdg. a Co." It should also be noted that
this Act. Capt. G.W. Crisp is also listed as the recipient of the Military Cross. The 11 January, 1919 edition of the London
Gazette give the following citation:
Lt. George William Crisp, 1/23rd Bn., London R.
He unusual qualities of initiative and marked ability in dealing efficiently with unexpected and difficult situations when
immediate action was essential and it was impossible to refer to his commanding officer. When the enemy successfully attacked
part of the line he carried out the reorganization of the survivors and the defence of the second line with great gallantry and
complete success in spite of intense fire.
Lieutenant George William Crisp's Medal Index Card shows his entitlement to the British War and Victory Medal. If indeed Lt.
G. W. Crisp is the same as the actor is still open to debate since definitive proof linking the two men has yet to be found.
Circumstantial evidence such has his joining the London Regiment via the Artist Rifles might lead on to suspect that the two men
are one and the same. I should also mention that this George William Crisp's address as given on the medal index card is care of
the British Bank of South America, Buenos Aries, Argentina. I have found no evidence of the actor ever living in South America
c. 1920 but he did travel widely and the bank affiliation is interesting given Donald Crisp's latter position as Chairman of the
Board of Bank of America.
Later during World War II Crisp entered the army of his adopted homeland - the United States - rising to the rank of Colonel in
the U.S. Army Reserves. If Crisp did indeed serve in the British Army during the Anglo-Boer War and World War One and later
with the U.S. Army during World War Two his medal group would be a rather interesting one.
Donald Crisp died in Van Nuys, California in 1974 just shy of his 92nd birthday.
Sepia Production Still
8 inches by 10 inches (28cm x 18cm)
Warner Brothers Pictures