Forever remembered for his portrayal of Alfred Doolittle – the liquor-drenched, ne’er-do-well father of the Cockney flower girl Eliza in My Fair Lady – Stanley Holloway had a long career on the British stage and on screen. Born in Manor Park, England, in 1890, Holloway was drawn to acting early on. Already in his teens he was performing at English seaside resorts. Around 1912, Holloway, as a baritone, was one of the entertainers working for Bert Graham and Will Bentley, and he was later hired by the comedian Leslie Henson for his company. To develop his vocal skills, Holloway studied briefly in Milan, but the outbreak of World War I ended his stay there, and he joined the Connaught Rangers infantry regiment. After the war, he landed a spot in the London variety revue The Co-Optimists (1921). The show was a great success and in 1929 was made into a film, again with Holloway as one of the performers. He soon gained wide popularity for his comic routines and songs, and from 1933 to the early 1970s he was a regular presence on the British screen, appearing almost every year – often several times a year – on film and, later, television.
Among the film classics in which Holloway performed are Shaw’s Major Barbara (1941), playing alongside Rex Harrison and Wendy Hiller; David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945), based on Noël Coward’s Still Life; Nicholas Nickleby (1947), in which he played Mr. Crummles; Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), as the gravedigger; and the Alec Guinness crime-caper comedy The Lavender Hill Mob (1951).
Holloway came to Broadway for the first time in 1954 in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the old Metropolitan Opera House. With the Old Vic Company, he played the weaver and wannabe thespian Bottom in a production that included Mendelssohn’s incidental music.
Holloway returned to Broadway in 1956, scoring his greatest triumph there as Alfred Doolittle in Lerner and Loewe’s monster hit My Fair Lady, playing opposite Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. Doolittle’s bouncy tune “With a Little Bit of Luck,” cheerily delivering its frankly amoral message, was an instant favorite, and Holloway earned a Tony® nomination for his spirited performance. (The title of Holloway’s autobiography, Wiv a Little Bit o’ Luck, acknowledges the debt he owed to the role of Alfred Doolittle.) The show itself, of course, won multiple Tonys®, including Best Musical. Holloway went on to play the same role in the 1959 London production and in the Oscar®-winning 1964 movie, and his performances can be heard on the soundtrack and two cast recordings available on Sony.
Holloway returned to Broadway one more time for his one-man-show Laughs and Other Events, which ran for eight performances in 1960. He entered many American homes, however, through his starring role as the English butler Higgins in the sitcom Our Man Higgins, which ran in the 1962–63 season.
Holloway appeared on stage, on screen, and on television into the 1970s, dying at age 91 in Littlehampton, England, in 1982.