Began his film career at age 62 and is best known for his roles in The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and Christmas in Connecticut.
Across the Pacific
Background to Danger
Between Two Worlds
The Mask of Dimitrios
Pillow to Post
That Way with Women
The Woman in White
The Velvet Touch
It’s a Great Feeling
The lens is the actor’s best critic… showing his mind more clearly than on the stage. You can get wonderful cooperation out of the lens if you are true, but God help you if you are not. Pictures are much harder to do than the theater… You’re at the mercy of the camera angles and the piecemeal technique. ~ Sydney Greenstreet
Sydney Greenstreet was born Sydney Hughes Greenstreet on December 27, 1879 in Sandwich, Kent, England, the son of Ann (née Baker) and John Jarvis Greenstreet, a tanner. He had seven siblings. He left home at the age of 18 to make his fortune as a Ceylon tea planter, but drought forced him out of business. He began managing a brewery and, to escape boredom, took acting lessons.
Greenstreet’s stage debut was as a murderer in a 1902 production of a Sherlock Holmes story at the Marina Theatre, Ramsgate, Kent. He toured Britain with Ben Greet’s Shakespearean company, and in 1905, he made his New York City debut.
Greenstreet appeared in numerous plays in Britain and America, working through most of the 1930s with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne at the Theatre Guild. Throughout his stage career, his parts ranged from musical comedy to Shakespeare, and years of such versatile acting on two continents led to many offers to appear in films. He refused until he was 62.
In 1941, Greenstreet began working for Warner Bros. His debut film role was as Kasper Gutman (“The Fat Man”) co-starring with Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon. The film also featured Peter Lorre, as the twitchy Joel Cairo, a pairing that would prove durable. The two men appeared in some nine films altogether, including Casablanca (1942), with Greenstreet as crooked club owner Signor Ferrari as well as Background to Danger (1943, with George Raft), Passage to Marseille (1944), reteaming him with Casablanca stars Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Claude Rains, The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), The Conspirators (1944, with Hedy Lamarr and Paul Henreid), Hollywood Canteen (1944), Three Strangers (1946) and The Verdict (1946). In the last two in the list, and The Mask of Dimitrios, Greenstreet received top billing. The actor played roles in both dramatic films, such as William Makepeace Thackeray in Devotion (1946) and witty performances in screwball comedies, for instance Alexander Yardley in Christmas in Connecticut (1944). Near the end of his film career, Greenstreet played opposite Joan Crawford in Flamingo Road (1949).
After only eight years, Greenstreet’s film career ended with Malaya (1949), in which he was billed third, after Spencer Tracy and James Stewart. In those eight years, he worked with stars ranging from Clark Gable to Ava Gardner to Joan Crawford. Author Tennessee Williams wrote his one-act play The Last of My Solid Gold Watches with Greenstreet in mind, and dedicated it to him. During 1950–51, Greenstreet played Nero Wolfe on the NBC radio program, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, based loosely on the rotund detective genius created by Rex Stout.
Greenstreet suffered from diabetes and Bright’s disease, a kidney disorder. Five years after leaving films, Greenstreet died in 1954 in Hollywood due to complications from both conditions. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California, in the Utility Columbarium area of the Great Mausoleum, inaccessible to the public. He was survived by his only child, his son, John Ogden Greenstreet (September 30 , 1920 – March 4, 2004), from his marriage to Dorothy Marie Ogden. Actor Mark Greenstreet is his great-nephew.