Ronald Sinclair was known as Ra Hould when his parents took him to Hollywood in 1936, seeking stardom for their son in the movies. There his perceived resemblance to Freddie Bartholomew, a popular child actor of the 1930s, would work both for and against him.
MGM changed his name to Ronald Sinclair when he replaced Bartholomew in racetrack story Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937). Studio executives were worried that with a name like Ra Hould, he would end up being known as Wahoo.
After WWII service in the US Army, Sinclair chose not to continue his acting career. He wanted to be a cinematographer, but despite being a skilled cameraman, he would find his niche as a film editor.
He was born Richard Arthur Hould at St Clair, Dunedin, on 21 January 1924. Always known as Ra to his family, the boy with the dark wavy hair and blue grey eyes showed an early flair for acting. Aged nine, he appeared in Dunedin alongside famed English actor Dame Sybil Thorndike in Medea of the Euripides.
He was cast as the colonel’s son in Down on the Farm (1935), a rural comedy filmed in the Otago countryside. The film was likely the first New Zealand-directed dramatic feature to feature sound (The Devil’s Pit, released six years earlier, and 1935’s Hei Tiki were both directed in NZ by Americans). Down on the Farm got weak reviews, although Ra was said to have photographed well.
After the movie’s release, Arthur Hould wrote to Thorndike about his son’s chances of getting a contract in British films. Thorndike thought he would do better in Hollywood. Hould knew Dunedin-born actor Colin Tapley, then under contract to Paramount Pictures, through shipping company connections in Dunedin. Hould credited Colin Tapley’s influence for the boy winning a seven year contract with Paramount, just a week after arriving in Hollywood.
Ra Hould’s first American movie was a loan out to Samuel Goldwyn for Beloved Enemy (1936), a drama dealing with the 1921 war of independence in Ireland. Hould learnt his Irish brogue from Dubliner Ray Barry.
Dropped by Paramount, he made two films at Republic before being signed to play Roger Calverton in Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry at MGM, the first of the studios’ movies to star Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Hould replaced Freddie Bartholomew, whose contract had been suspended thanks to a legal wrangle over the young star’s salary.
MGM disliked the name Ra Hould; the studio decided he would be called Ronald Sinclair. He hated its first choice of Ronny St Clair.
Despite getting what was called ‘the chance of a lifetime’, Sinclair wished he was back at Republic making westerns with Gene Autry. He'd had more fun with Autry on Boots and Saddles, although he enjoyed working with Rooney and Garland.
Sinclair had got his chance at last. “I can be myself, and it is a relief. I can show people that Freddie and I are really quite different.”
In February 1938 MGM terminated Sinclair’s contract. A second male child actor was no longer required now that Bartholomew was back under contract. Sinclair returned to MGM later in the year, to play young Scrooge in a version of Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol.
His last role before starting WWII service was playing Flight Sergeant Lloyd Hollis in Desperate Journey (1942), which saw him joining Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan among the crew of a downed British bomber, trying to escape the Nazis.
Instead of his hoped for career as a cameraman, Sinclair would become a film editor after the war. His first recorded credit was 1953 sex comedy The Moon is Blue, helmed by Otto Preminger. Sinclair edited under ‘supervising editor’ Otto Ludwig (it was Ludwig who got nominated for an Academy Award). The film was originally banned in a few American states for supposed salacious content; it marked the first time a major US studio dared to release a film without winning a Production Code seal of approval from America’s Motion Picture Association (the MPAA).
Soon after Sinclair began working with legendary low budget producer/director Roger Corman. His professional association with Corman began with Corman's directorial debut, 1955 Western Five Guns West. The film was shot in two weeks; Sinclair was asked to cut in stock footage of Native Indians on horseback. He went on to edit roughly a dozen pictures for Corman, including acclaimed racism drama The Intruder, one of Corman’s few commercial failures.
Sinclair also cut three now classic horror films which were marketed as being from the works of Edgar Allan Poe: Premature Burial (1962), The Raven (starring Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre) and The Haunted Palace (1963), which is actually based on an HP Lovecraft novella. Sinclair was also The Haunted Palace’s associate producer.
The last, and probably strangest film Sinclair edited for Corman was The Trip (1967). Scripted by then out of work actor Jack Nicholson, the film’s psychedelic portrait of an LSD trip proved a box office hit, despite extended bannings in the UK, and a ‘drugs are bad’ prologue added by worried financiers.
Sinclair also edited cult movie Attack of the Puppet People (1958) and The Little Dragons and Thunder Alley, two early films directed by future Oscar-nominees Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) and Richard Rush (The Stunt Man).
By the 80s, Sinclair was specialising in the sound side of post-production. Much of his work in this period saw him doing Automated Dialogue Replacement editing, which involves using dialogue recorded in a studio to replace the original sound recorded during filming. Among other movies, Sinclair did ADR editing on action hits Die Hard and Commando.
Sinclair married Carol Larsen on 3 September 1961, and they had a son, who they named Richard. The family came to New Zealand on holiday in 1992. During the visit, Sinclair recorded an interview about his career with Peter Harcourt for the New Zealand Film Archive, which was broadcast posthumously as a series over National Radio the following year.
Ronald Sinclair died from respiratory failure in California on 22 November 1992. He was 68.
Profile written by Christopher Moor
Roger Corman, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime (New York: Random House, 1990)
Lee Harris, ‘Ex-Dunedin film pioneer fighting to stay here’, Otago Daily Times, May 22, 1992, page 7
Lon Jones, ‘Dunedin Boy’s Chance in Hollywood’, The Weekly News, 3 September 1937, page 90
Nola Luxford, ‘Ra Hould Secured a Film Contract, But for Just How Long?’, New Zealand Freelance, 15 April 1936, page 42
Noel O’Hare, ‘The Lucky Child Star’, Listener, 20 March 1993, page 42
JM Ruddy, ‘I Want to do Dramatic Roles in Pictures’, The Weekly News, 18 November 1936, page 87
JM Ruddy, ‘Ra Hould’s Chance’, The New Zealand Herald, 4 December 1937, page 18
Scrapbooks, Photo Albums [Copies] : Ronald Sinclair, (Ra Hould), MA0718, Documentation Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision
Unknown writer, ‘Has New Zealand a Freddie Bartholomew?’ New Zealand Free Lance, 2 January 1936, page 5
Unknown writer, ‘Local Boy shines in Hollywood’, Evening Star, Dunedin, p7, 3 January 1961, page 7
'NZ Film Timeline - Down on the Farm' Nga Taonga website. Accessed 30 September 2015