Every once in a while, you’re getting all set to write a nice, cheerful article about a guy who was in three of your favourite Disney movies, and you discover his Tragic Backstory. Now, David Tomlinson lived a long, seemingly happy life for decades after the incident in question, and he was only married to his first wife for a few months, but the fact remains that his first wife jumped out of a window while holding her two children. This is not the kind of thing you’re thinking of when you’re writing about a guy who flew a kite and danced under the sea and tried to kill Herbie and all.
At the time, he was a flying instructor for the RAF. He’d been a pilot, but his plane crashed—technical issues, it seems—and he got the new job. He’d been in the army at some point, too, and joked that he’d played a few naval officers, to complete the set. His acting career was starting up around about the same time, too; his first movie was in 1940. He made four movies in 1941, and then there was the war and all, and he didn’t get back to things until 1945, which hopefully gave him some time to deal with his personal tragedy.
I actually have seen one of his not-Disney movies. He was in a not terribly good adaptation of Three Men in a Boat that’s 84 minutes, trims a lot of the book, and feels ridiculously padded. But Tomlinson is fine as J, our narrator. He’s not given a lot to do, but that’s a script problem, not an acting problem. A look at some of his older movies suggests that, yeah, that’s going to be a recurring problem.
But you’re not here to talk about Here Come the Huggetts. Who is? No, you’re here to tell me that I chose the wrong Disney movie for my article image and that I should’ve gone for Mr. Banks. (Except the very small percentage of you who think of him as Thorndyke, I guess?) Or else you’re all on board with Angela Lansbury fighting Nazis, because what’s better than Angela Lansbury fighting Nazis? The fact is, these are three very different characters, and Tomlinson is genuinely great in all three. All three are iconic, and they’re iconic in different ways.
In the end, however, he’s Professor Browne to me. That may be because the Disney Channel of my childhood played Bedknobs and Broomsticks a lot more often than they played Mary Poppins. But it also strikes me that it’s the more accessible movie. It’s slightly grubbier, less wholesome. I connect to it better. Your mileage may vary on this one; that’s okay. The thing about movies is that we connect to them differently based on our individual life experiences, and there’s a David Tomlinson for all of us.