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William Austin (12 June 1884 – 15 June 1975) was an English character actor. He was the first actor to play Alfred in a Batman adaptation. Austin was a minor character actor whose forte was the highly effeminate, offensive homosexual stereotype. In a skit in Paramount on Parade (1930), he is almost killed by an outraged George Bancroft, and it must be noted that the attack on Austin's person is greeted with delight by audiences today—and presumably by audiences then as well.
William Austin was born on a sugar plantation in Georgetown in British Guiana (now Guyana). On the death of his father he was brought to the United Kingdom to complete his education. He later filled a business post in Shanghai and on being sent to San Francisco by the company he worked for, he decided to stay in America and take up acting on the stage and later in films. He appeared in many American films and serials between the 1920s and the 1940s, though the vast majority of his roles were small and uncredited. He was the brother of actor Albert Austin.
Of the numerous silent films Austin appeared in, he is best remembered as the sidekick friend of Clara Bow in Bow's best known film It (1927). He supported Laurel and Hardy in two of their films, Duck Soup and County Hospital.
Austin's portrayal in the 1943 Batman serial of Batman's butler Alfred is the iconic portrayal still used in the comics. Previous to being played by Austin, the character was fat and had no facial hair. Performed by Austin, the character was thin with a moustache. Shortly after the serial was released, Alfred in the comics was changed to match the look of the serial; this representation of the character has for the most part continued to this day except for the live action films, the Birds of Prey series, and the Deadshot short in Batman: Gotham Knight where he has no moustache.
His son, Lawrence Austin, was a silent film promoter and theater owner, owned and operated Los Angeles' only extant silent movie house on Fairfax Avenue in south Los Angeles, until his murder at 74, in 1997, shot in the right eye in the lobby while a Larry Semon comedy preceded a scheduled showing of Sunrise.
Austin died in his Newport Beach home from complications of a stroke.
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