Sydney Greenstreet ranked among Hollywood's consummate character actors, a classic rogue whose villainous turns in motion pictures like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon remain among the most memorable and enigmatic depictions of evil ever captured on film. Born December 27, 1879, in Sandwich, England, Greenstreet's initial ambition was to make his fortune as a tea planter, and toward that aim he moved to Sri Lanka at the age of 18. A drought left him penniless, however, and he soon returned to England, where he worked a variety of odd jobs while studying acting in the evening under Ben Greet. In 1902, he made his theatrical debut portraying a murderer in Sherlock Holmes, and two years later he traveled with Greet to the United States. After making his Broadway debut in Everyman, Greenstreet's American residency continued for the rest of his life.
Greenstreet remained exclusively a theatrical performer for over three decades. He shifted easily from musical comedy to Shakespeare, and in 1933 he joined the Lunts in Idiot's Delight, performing with their Theatre Guild for the duration of the decade. While appearing in Los Angeles in a touring production of There Shall Be No Night in 1940, Greenstreet met John Huston, who requested he play the ruthless Guttman in his 1941 film adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. A heavy, imposing man, Greenstreet was perfectly cast as the massive yet strangely effete Guttman, a dignified dandy who was in truth the very essence of malevolence. Making his film debut at the age of 62, he appeared alongside the two actors with whom he would be forever connected, star Humphrey Bogart and fellow character actor Peter Lorre.