Sir Guy Standing – death by rattlesnake?
By Allan R. Ellenberger
April 2, 2010
A myth can be described as a popular belief or story that has become associated with a person, institution, or occurrence. Hollywood, the land of make believe, is full of myths – and this is one.
Myth: Actor Sir Guy Standing died of a heart attack after being bitten by a rattlesnake while hiking in the Hollywood Hills.
Sir Guy Standing was born on September 1, 1873 in London, the eldest son of actor, Herbert Standing and one of several brothers to appear on stage. He made his debut at London’s Criterion Theatre in Wild Oats, using the name Guy Stanton.
He was only 19 when he first acted in New York as Captain Fairfield in Lena Despard at the Manhattan Opera House. In 1897 he joined Charles Frohman’s company at the Empire Theatre, where he appeared in several plays.
Among the plays he appeared in before World War I were The Sorceress, Mrs. Leffingewil’s Boots, The Duel, Hedda Gabler, with Nazimova in 1907, and a tour of The Right of Way in 1909. After seventeen years in the States, he returned to England for four years in a steady run of plays.
Standing returned to the United States in 1913 and appeared in Daddy Longlegs at Powers Theatre, in Chicago. Afteward he signed a contract with Famous Players to star in the film, The Silver King. While preparing for the film as he vacationed on his yacht, World War I broke out. He asked Adolph Zukor for permission to break his contract, thinking he would come back soon.
He returned to England and offered his services, which eventually included membership on the British War Mission to the United States. He also served on His Majesty’s Navy as a commander in the Dover Patrol. For his performance of these duties he was created a Knight Commander of the British Empire in June 1918.
Scene from The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935). Sir Guy Standing is in the middle.
In November, 1925, after an absence of eleven years, Standing returned to the stage in The Carolinian, at New York’s Sam H. Harris Theatre, and again in November, 1927, appearing with Ethel Barrymore in The Constant Wife. He continued acting in plays until 1932 when he met Albert Kaufman of Paramount while on tour in Los Angeles. This led to a contract for his film debut at the age of 60 in The Story of Temple Drake (1933), with Miriam Hopkins. Other films include Death Takes a Holiday (1934), The Witching Hour (1934), The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), Lloyds of London (1936), and his last film, Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937). He planned to revise his role as Col. Nielson in the next Bulldog Drummond film, Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (1937), at the time of his death.
Standing took an active part in Hollywood social life as president of the Malibu Lake Club and boasted that his baseball team, The Paramount Cubs, was the only one in the world with a British president.
Standing was married three times, first in 1895 to Isabel Urquehar, a stage actress, who preceded him in death. His second wife, Blanche Burton, who also died before him, was an actress and the mother of his two children, Guy, Jr., and Katherine (Kay Hammond), both actors. His third wife was Dorothy Hammond and was also an actress.
On Wednesday, February 24, 1937, Standing was at the Hillcrest Motor Company at 7001 Hollywood Boulevard (across from the Roosevelt Hotel) to make a payment on his car. He was chatting with a salesman and was asked how he felt.
“Excellent,” he responded. “In fact, I never felt better.” A moment later, his legs gave out and he was on the floor clutching at his chest and writhing in pain. He never said another word.
The former Hillcrest Motor Company at 7001 Hollywood Boulevard where Sir Guy Standing died – (PHOTO: Allan R. Ellenberger)
Doctors arrived from the Hollywood Emergency Hospital and administered adrenaline and other restoratives, but he failed to respond. Standing died a few minutes later. His body was taken to the hospital and later removed to the Le Roy Bagley Mortuary (5440 Hollywwod Blvd. – demolished) in Hollywood pending funeral arrangements and word from his wife who was in London.
Close friends at Paramount claimed his death was related indirectly to a black widow spider bite he received two years earlier on the set of The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. Standing apparently responded to treatment but took the poisoning lightly, according to friends.
Shortly before his death he complained of having leg pains and he walked with a limp. For whatever reason, he neglected medical help, feeling he would recover. The New York Times consulted an expert at the Bronx Zoo who said it was difficult to believe that the cause of Standing’s death was indirectly connected to the insect bite he received two years earlier. He said that he had never heard of a person dying of either a black widows bite or even a snake bite so long after the infliction of the wound. Perhaps this is where the myth of Standing’s death from a snake bite first originated. Later reports noted that Standing died from a heart ailment.
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Hollywood where Sir Guy Standing’s funeral was held [shot taken from Yucca Street]- (PHOTO: Allan R. Ellenberger)
Standing’s funeral was held the following Sunday at 11 a.m. in the chapel of St. Stephens Episcopal Church (6129 Carlos Street) where more than 250 friends heard Dr. Philip Easley read the ritual. Pallbearers included Philip MacDonald, Henry Herzbrun, Nat Deverich, Christopher Dunphy, Albert Kaufman and Bayard Veiller. At exactly the same hour at Paramount Studios, hundreds of employees bowed their heads for a five minute period of silence and prayer.
The grave marker of Sir Guy Standing at Grand View Cemetery in Glendale, California
(PHOTO: Allan R. Ellenberger) – Thank you Lisa Burks
Newspaper accounts reported that Standing’s body would be returned to London for burial, however, for whatever reasons, that never occurred. Sir Guy Standing was buried at Grand View Cemetery in Glendale, an unusual choice considering he did not live near there. His father, Herbert Standing, had died in Los Angeles in 1923 and his cremains were placed in vaultage at the Chapel of the Pines.
Therefore Sir Guy Standing did not die from a rattlesnake bite as most biographies of the actor state. Nor did he die from the bite of a black widow spider as some friends noted after his death. Is that how the myth began – progressing from a spider to a snake bite over the past 73 years? We may never know.
Click below to watch Sir Guy Standing in a brief scene from The Story of Temple Drake (1933) with Miriam Hopkins