Biography

Christopher Hewett spent much of his four-decade acting career toiling in roles into which he could melt -- it was only when he found a part, near the end of his career, into which he could inject a large part of himself, that he became a star. Born in England in 1922, he was the son of a former actress, and at age seven made his stage debut, in Ireland, in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. He attended Wimbledon College and served in the Royal Air Force from 1938 until 1940. Hewett became an actor after his discharge, joining the Oxford Repertory Company, where he spent the next few years learning his craft in repertory work, eventually playing over 100 roles. In 1951, at the age of 29, he made his first screen appearance in Pool of London, and he was seen as a police detective later that same year in the classic Ealing comedy The Lavender Hill Mob. Hewett left England in 1954 and moved to New York, where he made his Broadway debut in the original cast of My Fair Lady two years later. He was primarily associated with New York theater for the next 20 years, apart from a notable screen appearance in Mel Brooks' The Producers, portraying Roger DeVries, the flamboyantly gay (and transvestite) director chosen by Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) to direct his production of "Springtime for Hitler." Hewett dominated most of the scenes in which he appeared with his flamboyant, brilliantly comic performance, and his scenes included the side-splittingly funny audition of the various Hitlers, and the scene introducing Dick Shawn's character, L.S.D. The movie was a modest success on its original release, but has since become a major cult hit and something of a pop-culture phenomenon, partly owing to the immense success of Brooks' theatrical adaptation of the same story. Hewett was delightfully looney and very visible in the role, but it was such an outre screen credit, and the movie itself such a cult item in its first decade or so in release, that it led to little else in film or television for years after. Brooks subsequently used Hewett in The Elephant Man, and he started getting occasional television work, in series such as the original E.R. (1984), and as a regular on Fantasy Island (1983-1984) for one season. Hewett, by then in his sixties and somewhat overweight, had developed a persona that could be comical or villainous, yet always seemingly jovial. In 1985, he won the title role in the series Mr. Belvedere, loosely based on the film Sitting Pretty. As prissy, fastidious housekeeper/valet Lynn Belvedere, taking care of the family that had hired him, Hewett endeared himself to millions of viewers for four seasons, and was regularly covered in the television gossip columns, his ballooning weight at times eliciting public expressions of concern from his fellow cast members. He also worked in one-off appearances on Murder, She Wrote and other series. When the series finished its run in 1990, he had achieved television stardom and name recognition far beyond anything he had known -- modern viewers were often startled to realize, on seeing The Producers, that it was Hewett playing the director of the seemingly ill-starred play. He continued to make occasional television and movie appearances for the next decade. Hewett died from complications of diabetes at the age of 79. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi