John Williams (actor)

John Williams
Dial M for Murder (1954) trailer 4.jpg
A scene from Alfred Hitchcock's
Dial M for Murder (1954). L-R: Ray Milland, Robert Cummings and John Williams.
Born (1903-04-15)15 April 1903
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire, England, UK
Died 5 May 1983(1983-05-05) (aged 80)
La Jolla, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1924–79
Height 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Spouse(s) Helen Williams (?-1983) (his death)

John Williams (15 April 1903 – 5 May 1983)[Note 1] was an English stage, film and television actor.[2] He is remembered for his role as Chief Inspector Hubbard in Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder, as the chauffeur in Sabrina, and as portraying the second "Mr. French" on TV's Family Affair.

Life and work

Born in Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire, England, in 1903, Williams was educated at Lancing College. He began his acting career on the English stage in 1916, appearing in Peter Pan, The Ruined Lady, and The Fake.[3] In 1924 he moved to New York, where he was cast in a series of successful Broadway productions.[3] He would appear in over 30 Broadway plays over the next four decades, performing on stage with many notable performers, such as Claudette Colbert in A Kiss in the Taxi 1925, with Helen Hayes in Alice Sit by the Fire in 1946, and with Gertrude Lawrence in Pygmalion in 1946.[3] In 1953, Williams won a Tony Award for Best Supporting or Featured Actor (Dramatic) for his role as Chief Inspector Hubbard in Dial M for Murder on Broadway. Later, when Alfred Hitchcock adapted the play to film in 1954, he cast Williams in the same role.

Williams reprised his Broadway role in Dial M for Murder for a 1958 Hallmark Hall of Fame television presentation. Also pictured are Maurice Evans and Rosemary Harris.

Williams first appearance in a Hollywood film was in director Mack Sennett's The Chumps in 1930, ultimately appearing in more than 40 films. Two other examples are Hitchcock's The Paradine Case starring Gregory Peck, in which Williams portrays a barrister, and To Catch a Thief (1955) with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, in which his character is an insurance company representative.

Williams made more than 40 guest appearances on television shows as well. He played in several episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents including "The Long Shot" (1955), "Back for Christmas" (1956),[4] "Whodunit" (1956), "Wet Saturday" (1956), "The Rose Garden" (1956), the three-part episode "I Killed the Count" (1957), "The Three Dreams of Mr.Findlater" (1957), and "Banquo’s Chair" (1959). Three of these episodes, "Back for Christmas", "Wet Saturday", and "Banquo’s Chair", were directed by Hitchcock himself.

In 1963, Williams played William Shakespeare in The Twilight Zone episode "The Bard". That same year he also guest-starred on the sitcom My Three Sons, portraying a stuffy, very precise English butler; and in that role he was clean shaven, not sporting his customary mustache.[5] Later he was part of the regular cast for the 1967 season of the family comedy Family Affair. He appeared as well on Night Gallery in the series' 1971 episode "The Doll". One of Williams' last performances was in 1979, playing alongside fellow actor Lorne Greene in a two-part episode of Battlestar Galactica titled "War of the Gods".

Williams gained notice too as the star of a frequently telecast commercial for 120 Music Masterpieces, a four-LP set of classical music excerpts from Columbia House.[6] This became the longest-running nationally seen commercial in U.S. television history, for 13 years from 1971 to 1984. The commercial began with a brief selection of orchestral music being played. Williams then began the sales promotion with the following:

I'm sure you recognise this lovely melody as 'Stranger in Paradise'. But did you know that the original theme is from the Polovetsian Dance No. 2 by Borodin? So many of the tunes of our well-known popular songs were actually written by the great masters—like these familiar themes...[6]


Williams died at the age of 80 on 5 May 1983, in La Jolla, California. It was reported at the time of his death that he had been suffering from a heart condition.[7] He was cremated and there was no funeral.[7]

Selected filmography


Burt Reynolds and John Williams in " The Bard", a 1963 episode of
The Twilight Zone
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents (selected episodes)
    • "The Long Shot" (1955)
    • "Back for Christmas" (1956)
    • "Whodunit" (1956)
    • "Wet Saturday" (1956)
    • "The Rose Garden" (1956)
    • "I Killed the Count" (3-part episode, 1957)
    • "The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater" (1957)
  • Family Affair, as Nigel "Niles" French. 9 episodes. Replaced Sebastian Cabot (Mr. French) while he was recovering from an injury to his wrist.
  • The Twilight Zone, "The Bard" (1963)
  • Combat!, "Furlough" (1966)
  • The Wild Wild West, "The Night of the Bleak Island" (1969)
  • Mission: Impossible, "Lover's Knot" (1970)
  • Night Gallery, "The Doll" (1971), with Henry Silva, and "The Caterpillar" (1972)
  • Columbo "Dagger of the Mind" (1972)
  • Battlestar Galactica, "War of the Gods" – Parts 1 & 2 Council Member
  • Columbia House – 120 Music Masterpieces TV commercial for recordings of classical music