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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

RHODES, ERIK (1906-1990).

Erik Rhodes was the stage name of Ernest R. Sharpe, born in El Reno, Oklahoma Territory, on February 10, 1906, to Ernest A. and Virginia Sharpe. The family moved to Oklahoma City circa 1913, where the elder Sharpe was assistant manager of a loan company. The younger Ernest, later to be known as the actor Erik Rhodes, attended public school, graduating from Central High School in 1923. After four years at the University of Oklahoma as a drama major, he graduated in 1927. Elected to Phi Beta Kappa, during his senior year he performed in Chautauqua and took courses by correspondence in order to finish his degree. In 1927 he won the Marion Talley Scholarship and studied drama in New York for a year.

Blessed with a fine singing voice and a facility in the French, Spanish, Italian, and German languages, Sharpe soon found work in radio, Broadway shows, and motion pictures. His stage debut came in 1928 with a play titled A Most Immoral Lady. He first used the name Erik Rhodes for his billing in the play Gay Divorce (1932), precursor to a similarly titled movie, The Gay Divorcee (1934), in which he reprised his role as a gigolo, with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. His talent for languages and accents making him a popular choice to portray a "Continental" type, a suave and sophisticated gigolo, or a bon vivant, Rhodes maintained a successful Hollywood career through the 1930s. Memorable movies included Top Hat (1935) and On Your Toes (1939).

After the outbreak of World War II Rhodes enlisted in July 1942. He worked in military intelligence in the U.S. Army Air Force, rose to the rank of captain, and served mainly in the Pacific. After the war he returned to New York and Broadway. Notable appearances came in Can-Can  (1953) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum  (1962). He also appeared on television. Late in life Rhodes returned to live in Oklahoma City, where he died on February 17, 1990. He was buried in El Reno.

Dianna Everett

Learn More

Richard M. Caldwell, "Portrait of a Sooner in Cinema," Sooner Magazine 9 (January 1937).

"Erik Rhodes: Almost a Star," Sooner Magazine 32 (Spring 2012).

"Erik Rhodes, Known to Sooners as Ernest Sharpe, '27," Sooner Magazine 7 (November 1934).

New York Times 19 February 1990.

"Ernest Sharpe (aka Erik Rhodes)," typescript biography, Federal Writers' Project Collection, 1935–1942, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Rhodes, Erik,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=RH001.

Published February 11, 2015

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