Aubrey Smith Biography
A fast-medium bowler with a curious run-up, Charles Aubrey Smith played First-Class cricket for 14 years from 1882. He also led England in the only Test match he ever played in. In his day, with his endless arms stretching out to infinity, he was a sharp slip catcher as well.
But his fame multiplied many times when he switched from the sight screen to the silver screen. Smith remains the only England captain to star in a film with Elizabeth Taylor. He is also perhaps the only England cricketer to find Greta Garbo to be ‘a rippin’ gel from close quarters.
Coached by Julius Caesar at Charterhouse public school, Smith won his Blues in Cambridge University. He became a fast medium bowler with a high action and well-developed leg-cutter.
How fast he was is subject to doubt and debate, the reports classifying him anything between fast-medium to ‘slow to the point of slow motion’. But the weirdness of his approach was undoubted. He supposedly started near mid-off, and then almost as an afterthought emerged from behind the wicket to send down his offerings from round the wicket. It earned him the unique nickname ‘Round the Corner Smith.’ WG Grace confessed: “It is rather startling when he suddenly appears at the bowling crease.”
Smith enjoyed a successful First-Class career, playing mainly for Sussex, capturing 346 wickets at an average of 22.34. In 1888-89, he captained a second string England side on the country’s first tour to South Africa. In the Port Elizabeth Test, the only one of his career, he led the inexperienced team to a win, with figures of five for 19 and two for 42.
He stayed back in South Africa after the tour, setting up a gold-prospecting company with Surrey and England wicketkeeper Monty Bowden. In October 1889, he fell ill and was reported to have died. However, Smith recovered from both the ailment and the shock of the obituary, and four months later led Transvaal in the Currie Cup match against Kimberley, capturing seven wickets in the game.
In 1896, having returned to London, Smith made his debut on the West End stage. He acted in a few early British movies and later made his successful move to Hollywood. He also made his Broadway debut in a revival of George Bernard Shaw‘s Pygmalion, starring in the role of Henry Higgins.However, it was as a character actor — typecast as a British officer or gentleman — that Smith soon became popular and recognisable.
He doted on the Hollywood Cricket Club. Five cartloads of English grass seed and a truckload of passion and sweat went into setting up the field and pavilion at Griffith Park. During shooting, Smith could be seen coaxing star actors to turn out for his cricket team. The team lists boasted the likes of Nigel Bruce, PG Wodehouse, Laurence Olivier, David Niven and Basil Rathborne.
In Hollywood, Smith entertained Gubby Allen’s Englishmen, returning after the Ashes tour of 1936-37. Later, he helped a hard-up Archie MacLaren by casting him in the movie Four Feathers.
Smith remains the only England cricketer to have a star named after him in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.