Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in April of 1900, David Joseph Manners, birth name Rauff de Ryther Duan Acklom, was a Canadian-American actor. It was not until 1940 that he officially changed his name, taken his mother’s maiden name, and applied to become a naturalized citizen of the United States.
David Manners was the son of British parents, Lilian Manners and the writer George Moreby Acklom, who was at that time the headmaster of Canada’s prestigious, private boarding school Harrow House. In 1906, George Acklom emigrated to the United States and took a position as a literary advisor for New York’s publishing company E. P. Dutton. The following year, David Manners, his older sister and mother joined his father and settled in Mount Vernon, an inner suburb of New York City.
The Acklom family relocated in January of 1920 to West 123rd Street in Manhattan where Manners, still using the name Rauff, resided with his parents. He gained employment as an assistant publisher; however, he soon returned to Canada and enrolled to study forestry at the University of Toronto. Attracted to stage work on campus, Manners started drama training and made his acting debut in 1924 at the university’s Hart House Theater with a role in Euripides’s play “Hippolytus”.
Despite objections from his father, David Manners continued his acting career after his return to the United States. He joined English stage and screen actor Basil Sydney’s Touring Company and, later, stage actress and director Eva Le Gallienne’s New York Civic Repertory Company. With these companies, Manners performed in theaters in Chicago and on New York City’s Broadway. He continued his acting studies under Le Gallienne and was able to get a co-starring role with actress Helen Hayes in Edgar Selwyn and Edmund Goulding’s play “Dancing Mothers” which premiered at Broadway’s Booth Theater in mid-town Manhattan.
In 1927, Manners relocated to California and was soon discovered at a Hollywood party by gay film director James Whale. His first appearance in film was an uncredited role as the pilot in the 1929 pre-code adventure film “The Sky Hawk”, directed by John G. Blystone for the Fox Film Corporation. This was followed in 1930 with the role of Lieutenant Raleigh in director James Whale’s war film “Journey’s End”. Manner’s performances in these two films received endorsements from reviewers working with Variety and The New York Times, both of which praised subsequent performances.
In late 1930, David Manners performed perhaps his best remembered role, that of Jonathan Harker, the protagonist to Bela Lugosi’s vampire in Universal Studios’ “Dracula”. The following year, he played a blind war veteran with co-star Barbara Stanwyck in Frank Capra’s critically acclaimed romance film “The Miracle Woman”. During his brief contract with Warner Brothers Studios, Manners progressed from supporting player to true movie-star with his successful role as Teddy Taylor in the 1932 “Crooner”. Directed by Lloyd Bacon, the musical drama told the story of Taylor’s rise and fall as a singing star
With his stardom achieved by “Crooner” and “Dracula”, Manners was able to freelance with success and worked for several years as a romantic leading man, most often tuxedo-dressed in romantic comedies and light dramas. Two exceptions to this were his role as Shep Lambert in the 1931 ensemble cast film “The Last Flight” and the role Frank Whemple, the son of archaeologist Sir Joseph Whemple, in Karl Freund’s 1932 horror film “The Mummy”, where he played opposite Boris Karloff’s role as the mummy. Manners joined the Screen Actors Guild in 1933 but became increasingly frustrated by his Hollywood roles and film career. After appearing in three films in 1936, David Manners left the studios and retired from film work, a career containing roles in thirty-nine movies.
David Mainers continued to perform regularly on stage for the next seventeen years in tour productions, summer stock, and on Broadway. He used his influence to help promising up-and-coming actors such as Lucille Ball, who had a small role in the musical “Roman Scandals” which co-starred Manners, and Marlon Brando, with whom Manners co-starred in the Broadway production of “Truckline Café”, directed by Elia Kazan. Manners quietly financed small theatrical groups in California and paid medical bills for people in the film industry who had fallen on hard times. Under his birth name, Duan Acklom, he supported anti-drug programs and helped performers overcome addictions.
Manners married Suzanne Bushnell, a native of Ohio, in New York City on the 23rd of May in 1929. The 1930 census has the couple living in Los Angeles, along with Antonio Dumles, a twenty-two year old Filipino listed as servant. The marriage soon ended with Manners and Suzanne Bushnell divorcing in 1932. Manners changed his name legally from Acklom in 1940 and achieved citizenship while he was living in Victorville, California. He became a published novelist with his 1941 “Convenient Season”, a novel of familial reconciliation, which was followed by the 1943 novel “Under Running Laughter”, both published by E. P. Dutton.
In 1948, David Manners began a long-term relationship with playwright and writer Frederic William (Bill) Mercer. They initially lived together at Manners’s ranch in Victorville but moved in 1956 to a residence in Pacific Palisades. Following his retirement, Manners spent his last decades pursuing personal interests including painting, writing and philosophy. In 1971, he published his views in “Look Through: An Evidence of Self Discovery”, published by El Cariso Publications.
Manners and Mercer were partners until Bill Mercer’s death in August of 1978, Twenty years later, David Manners died at the age of ninety-eight in the health center of a retirement community in Santa Barbara, California. His ashes were taken to San Bernardino County and scattered at Rancho Yucca Loma in Victor Valley. It is unknown where Frederic William Mercer is buried.
Second Insert Image: Sidney Hickox, “Katharine Hepburn and David Manners”, 1932, Still Shot from “A Bill of Divorcement”, Director George Cukor
Fourth Insert Image: John J. Mescall, “Boris Karloff, David Manners, Bela Lugosi”, 1934, Film Shot from “The Balck Cat, Director Edgar G. Ulmer
Note: I would be interested in knowing if there is a source available to purchase a copy of David Manners’s “A Convenient Season” or “Under Running Laughter”. Please send information through my contact page.