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Archive for August, 2010

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Vera Lynn

Dame Vera Lynn
Dame Vera Lynn

Vera Lynn
Vera Lynn

The magnificent Dame Vera Lynn became in 2009 the oldest living artist to have a Number 1 album chart at the age of 92.   The Forces Sweetheart of World War Two published her autobiogaphy in 2010 and has given several television performances which show her genuineness and gentleness.   She made three films in the 1940’s, the most popular been “We’ll Meet Again” in 1942 with the beautiful Patricia Roc.   A boxed set of these three movies has just been rele

ased on DVD in 2010

Interview with Dame Vera Lynn in “Saga” magazine can be accessed here.

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Mandy Miller

Mandy Miller
Mandy Miller


 

Child actors of prominence in British films are few and far between.   Mandy Miller was one of the few children to gain widespread public recognition in British films of the 1950’s.   She was first noticed in a small part in the Ealing comedy “The Man in the White Suit” with Alec Guinness in 1951.   The following year she gained national fame for the title role of “Mandy” about the trials and tribulations of a young girl who is profoundly deaf.   She made her last film in 1959 when she made “The Snorkel” when she 15.   She continued to act on television uuntil the mid 1960’s when she retired from performing.   When she was a child she even had a hit children’s song which is still heard to-day – “Nellie the Elephant”.

Gary Brumburgh’s entry:

The sensitive-looking British child star of the fifties was born Carmen Isabella Miller in 1944 but affectionately called “Mandy” practically from birth. Her father, a BBC Radio producer, took Mandy (then age 6) and her older sister, Jan Miller to watch a film being made at Ealing Studios. Instead of her sister, it was Mandy who impressed the powers-that-be at the studio commissary that day and was offered a small role in the Alec Guinness film The Man in the White Suit (1951). The little girl took gingerly to acting and signed up for classes along with dancing lessons, finding some work in commercial modeling. She achieved in the 1950s what popular child star Hayley Mills would accomplish a decade later, except in a dramatic vein for Mandy’s strong suit was no-holds-barred tearjerkers. Her finest hour in film came with the movie Crash of Silence(1952), in which she portrayed a disturbed deaf girl called “Mandy”. Other moving performances came in Edge of Divorce (1953), as the young product of a bitter divorce,The Secret (1955), which was a covert thriller, and Child in the House (1956), which proved to be another sob story suited to her talents. In her final film, The Snorkel(1958), Mandy played a young teen who leads police to her mother’s murderer. After guest shots on TV’s The Avengers (1961) and The Saint (1962), she left the limelight, forever. At the age of 18, she moved to New York to become an au pair. Mandy married an architect in 1965, had three children (two girls and a boy), and settled down to a life of domesticity.

– IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Review of the film “Mandy” in “MovieMail” can be found here.

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David Robb

David Robb
David Robb

David Robb has many television appearances to his credit including a major role with Haley Mils in “The Flame Trees of Thika”.   He is a very interesting actor and brings great characterisation to his guest roles on such television series as “Taggart”, “Rebus”, “The Bill”, “Casualty”, “Monarch of the Glen” etc etc.

TCM Overview:

Actor David Robb was known for his roles on the silver screen. Robb started off his acting career mostly in film roles, appearing in “The Swordsman” (1974), the Michael York dramatic adaptation “Conduct Unbecoming” (1975) and “The Wars” (1983). He additionally landed roles in the TV movies “The Four Feathers” (NBC, 1977-78) and “Ivanhoe” (CBS, 1981-82). He worked in series television while getting his start in acting, including a part on “The Flame Trees of Thika” (PBS, 1981-82). His film career continued throughout the eighties and the nineties in productions like the Pierce Brosnan dramatic adventure “The Deceivers” (1988), the action film “Hellbound” (1993) with Chuck Norris and the Robert Sean Leonard dramatic musical “Swing Kids” (1993). He also worked in television around this time, including a part on “King Arthur” (1987-88). More recently, he continued to act in the action picture “Treasure Island” (2002) with Jack Palance, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (2007) and the historical love story “The Young Victoria” (2009) with Emily Blunt. Most recently, Robb appeared in “Wolf Hall” (2014).

David Robb’s interview in “Daily Express” can be found here.

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Diana Wynyard

Diana Wynyard
Diana Wynyard

 

 

“Had she wanted it, Diana Wynyard might have had a screen career as long and distinguished as that of Davis or Hepburn.   As a stage actress she was excellent but seldom outstanding, nor was her later screen work likely to make anybody’s eyes pop out.   But her early film work is quite, quite stunning.   Quiet, cool, gracious, ladylike, she was warmer and more believable than those adjectives imply: either her acting has not dated an iota or it was years before it’s time.  In “Rasputin and the Empress” the Barrymores are acting away like mad and about as convincing as a tree-full of parrots, but Wynyard simply exists ion the same way that someone like Spencer Tracy existed.   In “One More River” the cast are expectedly more subdued, the film is still Galsworthy junk but when Wynyard is on screen at any point, you might be watching a film made yesterday” – David Shipman in “The Great Movie Stars” (1970).

Diana Wynyard was born in London in 1906.   She had a cool calm presence on film and was seen to best effect  in the UK made “Gaslight”, and “An Ideal Husband”.   In the earlier part of her career she made films in Hollywood including “Rasputin and the Empress” and “Cavalcade” by Noel Coward.   Diana Wynyard had a flourishing stage career and was in rehersal for a new play with Maggie Smith when she died suddenly in 1964.   An article reviewing Diana Wynyard and her role in “Cavalcade” can be found here.

TCM Overview:

A luminous and intelligent British actress, Diana Wynyard brought genteel grace and an aristocratic dignity to a highly successful stage career. With a carriage and mien well-suited to period drama, she briefly made her mark in several classy roles in Hollywood during the depths of the Depression in the 1930s. Her US film stardom didn’t take, however, but she was sporadically active in British film for 20 years thereafter, leaving behind several outstanding performances that made one wish she had done more in film.

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Alec Guinness

Alec Guinness
Sir Alec Guinness

“Apart from Oliver, none of the serious highly regarded top-drawer British actors has had such a successful career in films as Alec Guinness.   He has been in many very popular films,most of them enhanced by his performance.   His versatility has been a byword over the past 30 years and perhaps it is the diffidence in his character which has prevented him from being a really magical actor” – David Shipman in “The Great Movie Stars – The International Years”. (1972).

Alec Guinness was one of the most distinguished British screen actors ever.   His first screen role was as Herbert Pocket in “Great Expectations” and then went on to play Fagin in “Oliver Twist”.   Both of these films were directed by David Lean and Guiness made several films with Lean over the years including “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, “Laurence of Arabia”, “Dr Zhivago” and “Passage to India”.   He won an Oscar for his performance in “Kwai” but he was dreadfully miscast as an Indian in “A Passage to India”.   He won critical acclaim for his performance on television in the series “Tinker, Tailor, Spy” as George Smiley.   Alec Guinness was also an accomplished write and had several books published.   He died in 2000 at the age of 86.

Tom Sutcliffe’s”Guardian” obituary:

Sir Alec Guinness, who has died aged 86, was one of the best known and loved English actors of the 20th century. He was also a profoundly unostentatious and reserved man, and although he undertook a great variety of roles, all were informed at heart with the wisdom of the sad clown. It was this spiritual severity, together with those cool, clear, wide-open eyes, capable of melting on screen to the most reassuringly serene of smiles, which lent his performances force and authenticity.

In his later career, Guinness became something of an icon of spirituality and enlightened human understanding – especially after playing Obi-Wan Kenobi, in Star Wars (1977), with a notable and profound emotional charge. Subsequently, he was bemused to find himself being consulted as an agony uncle by American students, as a sort of substitute for CS Lewis. More important for him personally, his Star Wars contract guaranteed 2% of the profits, though the role had been much reduced, and he had nearly left the production.

The resulting financial security made this already fastidious actor even choosier about live stage roles. After Star Wars he was in just two West End plays, and was an unusual and sensitive Shylock at Chichester in 1984.

But Guinness was not the first great actor to find the ability, and the inclination, to learn parts after 70 much reduced. He had already avoided the theatre for six years when he came to star as TE Lawrence in Terence Rattigan’s Ross in 1960. More than any other English star of his generation, he was equally at home on stage, in film and on television – where he had an Indian summer as John Le Carré’s spymaster, Smiley, in the BBC’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) and Smiley’s People (1981-82) .

Guinness had an impecunious childhood, with a modest boarding-school education at Pembroke Lodge, in Southborne, and Roborough, in Eastbourne. At 18, he got a job as a junior copywriter in Arks Publicity, an advertising agency.

In his discreet autobiography, Blessings In Disguise (1985), he describes how the acting bug had bitten him. On the recommendation of John Gielgud, who assumed he was related to brewing and money, he got in touch with the formidable and eccentric Martita Hunt. She was, he noted, the first woman he had met who wore silk trousers and painted her toenails, and she coached him to audition for a Leverhulme scholarship at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. But Rada were not giving the award that year, so he enrolled at the Fay Compton studio for as long as his money lasted, and then rapidly went to work in the London theatre. He made his debut at 20, walking on in Libel! at the Playhouse.

In his unpretentious and beautifully written book, Guinness exorcised a long-suppressed anxiety about his origins. He was, he made clear, illegitimate – his name a mystery, his father probably called Geddes, the circumstances of his conception vague. His mother was Agnes Cuffe, and he was registered as Alec Guinness de Cuffe.

Finally, the question of his birth did not matter to him, but in the beginning it must have. A reluctance to expose himself, an almost neurotic discretion, was famously the mark of both his professional and his personal style. In a 1953 monograph about him, the critic, Kenneth Tynan, wrote: “Were he to commit a murder, I have no doubt the number of false arrests following the circulation of his description would break all records.”

While still only 20, Guinness was a flowery Osric, in Gielgud’s Hamlet at the New Theatre. Thereafter, until the outbreak of the second world war, his career alternated between working with Gielgud, or with Tyrone Guthrie at the Old Vic, where he impressed with a modern-dress Hamlet in autumn 1938. Even the Sunday Times’s formidable critic, James Agate, conceded that Guinness’s refusal to play the role in a traditional way had “a value of its own”.

Guinness always denied having any technique as an actor – or knowing what technique might be. Yet he was proud of his gift. A favourite story, which he told quite often, concerned his time in The Seagull, in May 1936, playing the small part of Yakov. The director Komisarjevsky, a big influence, was convinced that he was pulling a rope to open the little stage curtains for the play within a play in the first act. But, as Peggy Ashcroft pointed out to Komis’s chagrin, there was, in fact, no rope.

For Guinness, the purpose of acting was to make believe. The theatre was an act of faith, whose object was to tell the inner truth about situations and feelings, not to embroider falsehood with trickery and display.

He was a master of disguise, as he demonstrated in the Ealing comedy Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949), with a multiplicity of roles. But the Kind Hearts gallery of family victims was consciously broad brush. Guinness was an actor, not an entertainer or vaudevillian like Peter Sellers, who specialised in pretence and adopting other personas. The spiritual core of his inner conviction remained the same – whatever game of actorish disguise he might play.

Guinness’s conversion to Roman Catholicism followed an episode in France during the 1954 filming of Father Brown, in which he was GK Chesterton’s cheery cleric-cum-detective. Walking back in the dark to the station hotel of a village near Macon, and still wearing his cassock, his hand was seized by a small boy, a complete stranger, who called him “Mon père” and trotted along beside him chatting in French. Despite his phony credentials as a cleric, Guinness felt strongly that the reality of this trust was important. When his 11-year-old son Matthew was temporarily crippled with polio, he had taken to dropping in on church and praying.

As an actor, Guinness had acute and particular tastes, an infallible instinct for the apt moment, the ideal tone, the canny strategy. When he was Fool, to Laurence Olivier’s unsuccessful King Lear (1947), he explained to me once, the irritating (to Olivier) fact that he, Alec, had the lion’s share of the reviewers’ favour was a direct consequence of Larry’s actor-managerish vanity.

“Every time Larry came on stage, the lights went up in his vicinity. All I had to do was just stay very close to him.” Guinness, of course, could not fail to be noticed – if only because he was doing so little so well.

He knew his own vulnerabilities and exploited them with courage. That lent the danger to his best performances. He had resented, for instance, the Oliviers’ assumption, in the mid-1930s, that he was Gielgud’s boyfriend. Not because he could not have been, or was ashamed or offended to be cast in that role, but because he was not, and they had no reason to assume it. In 1938, Guinness became a scrupulous husband and father – though his sexuality was complex.

Typically, he did not balk at playing the transvestite criminal Mrs Artminster in Wise Child (1967), with the then glamorous-looking Simon Ward. His Lawrence, in Ross, rang dangerously true to self. Being mixed-up, discreet, acutely intelligent and voraciously well-read fuelled the neurotic, but muffled, engine that drove him as an artist.

Being so private a personality let Guinness bring out the normally hidden interior aspects of Harcourt Reilly, in TS Eliot’s The Cocktail Party. He played this role at Chichester, Wyndham’s and the Haymarket in 1968 and 1969, as well as in Edinburgh and New York in 1950. His radio reading of Eliot’s Four Quartets were spellbinding. He was perfect material for Alan Bennett’s Old Country (1977) and Habeas Corpus (1973). In the latter, he devised – and performed alone – a typically self-revealing dance at the end.

Tynan’s fine portrait of him misinterpreted the diffidence and humility. Guinness, Tynan wrote, “never will be a star in the sense that Olivier is . . . He does everything by stealth . . . He will illumine many a blind alley of subtlety, but blaze no trails . . . His stage presence is quite without amplitude; and his face, except when, temporarily, make-up transfigures it, is a signless zero.” The suggestiveness, the wish to avoid being domineering, was a different sort of contract with the audience’s imagination. Guinness also wielded glacial fierceness and terror with unchallengeable authority.

His greatness did without Olivier’s showmanship, Ralph Richardson’s abandoned cussedness or Gielgud’s resonant lyricism. Tynan admired, but was inclined to patronise, Guinness’s poetry and versatility. At 24, in 1951, the critic was engaged by Guinness as Player King, in his second Hamlet. Guinness invested much amour propre in this production. Tynan called it “Hamlet with the pilot dropped”, and said it was cast with “exuberant oddness”.

Yet, ironically, its failure turned out to be a major factor in Guinness’s career, leading him away from the classics and Shakespeare into films, ultimately television, and new plays. Tynan found Guinness less potent in the classical arena because he expected actors to perform like concerto soloists.

I did not see Guinness’s inspirational Richard II, for Ralph Richardson’s Old Vic company, at the New Theatre (now Albery) in 1947. But his Macbeth at the Royal Court (1966) was certainly a quiet, clipped tragic victim, without the expected sexiness and physicality.

In fact, Guinness was an actor for a new theatrical style, subtle and undecorated. From the 1960s, in the West End, he mostly created roles in brand new plays, rather than challenging memories of Gielgud, Richardson or Olivier. He might have been a marvellous and unusual Lear, but, when he took the role on radio, it was underwhelming. Though his work in Alan Bennett’s plays was superb, he was far less inclined at the end of his career to accept risks as Gielgud – secure in a theatrical dynasty – famously did with Harold Pinter, David Storey and Julian Mitchell.

He was always a bit of a social upstart in an English theatre world full of great families, a self-made actor with no advantages, dependent on a very spiritual stillness and charisma. When I first met him in the mid-1970s, he had a slightly grand shyness off-stage. Yet, of all the great British stage actors, his was the busiest film career, for which his modest way of acting was flawless.

Guinness was not just an actor. He was good at drawing and did a really charming, diffident design for his own Christmas cards each year. Like Caruso, he was a natural at caricatures, especially of himself. His handwriting was beautiful. He was a very able author. Just before the war, his stage version of Great Expectations – later the basis of David Lean’s film – had been directed by George Devine.

His adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov, directed by Peter Brook in 1946, marked his return to the stage, as Mitya, after war service in the Royal Navy. He had joined as a rating in 1941, been commissioned in 1942 and commanded a landing-craft ferrying supplies to the Yugoslav partisans. He also appeared in the West End during the war, in Rattigan’s Bomber Command play, Flare Path.

After playing Herbert Pocket, in Lean’s Great Expectations (1946), and Fagin, in Oliver Twist (1948), Guinness went on to a series of glorious Ealing comedies – perhaps most memorably as the bankteller-turned-robber Henry Holland in Charles Crichton’s The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), for which he was nominated for an Oscar, and as the criminal Professor Marcus, in Alexander Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers (1955).

His greatest film role was probably Colonel Nicholson, in Lean’s The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957), where his quintessentially English stiff upper lip under dreadful Japanese maltreatment and, eventually, obsessive unreasonableness, won him a best actor Oscar and numerous other prizes.

Further work included the artist Gulley Jimson, in The Horse’s Mouth (1958) – another Oscar nomination – with his own screenplay based on Joyce Carey’s novel. In 1959, he starred in Carol Reed’s Our Man In Havana, and a year later gave a brilliantly unpleasant Scottish impersonation of an irascible soldier in Tunes Of Glory. It was not followed by many more good film starring roles, and Guinness settled mostly for lucrative supporting parts in films like The Quiller Memorandum (1966), The Comedians (1967) and Cromwell (1970).

Yet some of those supporting roles were distinguished – Prince Feisal, in Lean’s Lawrence Of Arabia (1962), General Yefgrav Zhivago, in Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Professor Godbole, in A Passage to India (1984). In Anthony Mann’s The Fall Of The Roman Empire (1964), Guinness’s Marcus Aurelius was one of the film’s few redeeming features.

He was again nominated for an Oscar with Star Wars (1977), and six years later appeared in its sequel, Return Of The Jedi. Yet another Oscar nomination followed his appearance as Dorrit, in Christine Edzard’s epic adaptation of Dickens’s Little Dorrit (1988).

At the end of the 1970s, he achieved a new fame with his television appearances in the BBC2 adaptations of Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People. These works were effectively his screen monument, and for which he achieved Bafta awards.

Guinness was a charming, fascinating and elusive companion. He did not enjoy playing the star, though he liked the respect he got when visiting famous restaurants. From the mid-1950s, he lived in a modest way outside Petersfield, in Hampshire, with a large garden that much occupied his wife, Merula, whom he had married in 1938.

He had a small circle of particular friends, many outside the theatre. For years, he and Merula were close to Rachel Kempson and Michael Redgrave. If one visited him in his dressing room in the West End in the 1970s, one might find a surprisingly broad collection of people there, many of whom were never destined to discover what the others’ link with the great actor might be. He preferred to keep his friends separate; he was a one-to-one person.

He liked good food and drink. His favourite London hotel was the Connaught, with its superb cuisine. He was not a club man. He was knighted in 1959 and made a Companion of Honour in 1994.

Anybody outside his immediate circle was intrigued by the Guinness enigma. But the reserve through which that attractive generosity and warmth powerfully shone was, for him, an impenetrable and necessary protection.

He is survived by Merula and his son, Matthew.

The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

A “Guardian” article by Xan Brooks on Alec Guiness’sbest movies can be found here.

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June Ritchie

June Ritchie
June Ritchie

June Ritchie has one great role on film to her credit – ‘Ingrid’ opposite Alan Bates in “A Kind of Loving” in 1962.   She was born in 1938 in Manchester.   Her other films include “Live Now – Pay Later” and “Man in the Moon”.   Details on her best known film “A Kind of Loving” can be found on the IMDB website here.

TCM Overview:

June Ritchie was a big screen film actress known for powerful performances. Ritchie found her beginnings in film with roles in “A Kind of Loving” (1962) and “Live Now – Pay Later” (1962). She went on to act in the Margaret Rutherford adaptation sequel “The Mouse on the Moon” (1963) and “Pere Goriot” (PBS, 1970-71). Later in her career, Ritchie appeared in “December Flower” (PBS, 1986-87).

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Helen Walker

 

Helen Walker
Helen Walker


Helen Walker was a U.S. actress who had a short career and died young in 1968.   She did however make many good movies, three  in particular are worthy of attention – ” Call Northside 777″, “The Big Combo” and “Nightmare Alley”.   In the latter she was chillingly effective as a psychatrist who manipulates Tyrone Power.   Great article on Helen Walker can be found on “Moviemoorelocks” website here.

TCM Overview:

Helen Walker was an actress who made a successful career for herself in film. In her early acting career, Walker appeared in such films as “The Man in Half Moon Street” (1944), “Brewster’s Millions” (1945) and “Murder, He Says” (1945). She also appeared in the comedy “Cluny Brown” (1946) with Charles Boyer, “Her Adventurous Night” (1946) and the Vera Ralston crime picture “Murder in the Music Hall” (1946). She kept working in film throughout the forties and the fifties, starring in “Nightmare Alley” (1947) with Tyrone Power, the Cornel Wilde dramatic sports film “The Homestretch” (1947) and the James Stewart drama “Call Northside 777” (1948). She also appeared in “My Dear Secretary” (1948), “Impact” (1949) and “Problem Girls” (1953). Walker was most recently credited in the Daniel Craig hit action film “Quantum of Solace” (2008). Walker continued to exercise her talent in the fifties through the early 2000s, taking on a mix of projects like “The Big Combo” with Cornel Wilde (1955), “The Marriage Broker” (CBS, 1956-57) and “Birdland” (1991-94). Her credits also expanded to “The Darkest Light” (2000), “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” (2004) starring Clive Owen and “Notes on a Scandal” (2006) starring Judi Dench. Walker was previously married to Edward DuDomaine and Robert F Blumofe. Walker passed away in March 1968 at the age of 48

The above TCM Overview can also be accessed online here.

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Natasha Parry

Natasha Parry
Natasha Parry
Natasha Parry
Natasha Parry
Natasha Parry

Natasha Parry was born in London in 1930.   She made her first film “The Gay Adventure” in 1949.   During the 1950’s she many many British film and television appearances.   In 1960 she made her only Hollywood film “Midnight Lace” with Doris Day and Rex Harrison.   She played the mother to Olivia Hussey’s Juliet in Franco Zefferelli’s “Romeo and Juliet”.   She is married to the director Peter Brook and the mother to the actress Irina Brook.   Interview with Peter Brook can be found here.   She died in July 2015.

Her “Guardian” obituary by Michael Billington:

Natasha Parry, who has died aged 84, was an actor of exceptional poise and beauty. Her career was inescapably defined by her marriage, at the age of 20, to the director Peter Brook, with whom she worked many times in productions of Shakespeare, Chekhov, Anouilh and Beckett. She was also a vital part of Brook’s experimental, theatrical work in Paris, Persia (as Iran then was) and the villages of Africa. But Parry also had an independent career in films that marked her out as a fine screen actor.

Her origins were romantically mysterious. She was born in London. But John Heilpern, in Conference of the Birds, which records Brook’s expedition through Africa in 1972, describes Parry thus: “The daughter of a Russian who fled the revolution and is said to be related to Pushkin, her first father was a gambler and newspaper man, her stepfather a film director.”

It may have been partly through the influence of the latter, Gordon Parry, whom her mother, Lusia, married when Natasha was very small, that Natasha made her screen debut at 19 in an Ealing Studios drama, Dance Hall (1950), co-starring Diana Dors, Petula Clark and Kay Kendall. Directed by Charles Crichton, the film was a forerunner of the British cinematic realism one associates with the 1960s and Parry made an instant impression. “Slender, dark and full of life,” enthused one critic, “Parry reminds one of Sylvia Sidney when her oriental kind of beauty first hit the screen.” Of the films Parry went on to make, the most memorable were Knave of Hearts (1954) directed by René Clément, in which she played opposite Gérard Philipe, and Midnight Lace (1960), which showed Doris Day being terrorised by a mystery caller.

If Parry’s film career was intermittent, it was partly because her life was changed by her marriage to Brook in 1951. Brook himself describes in his 1999 memoir,Threads of Time, how he was captivated by Parry when he first met her in an interval at Covent Garden and how he zealously pursued her to Paris. Once married, they became a vital part of London’s artistic life.

They first worked together in an American TV production of King Lear in 1953, in which Parry played Cordelia to Orson Welles’s King Lear. They were back in New York in 1959 in a Broadway production of Anouilh’s The Fighting Cock, where Parry played opposite Rex Harrison. And when Brook set up his International Centre for Theatre Research in Paris in 1971, Parry – with what Brook called “her exquisite and fragile insistence on truth” – was an integral part of the exploratory workshops.

For Parry there were occasional opportunities to work with other directors. In 1968 she was a striking Lady Capulet in Franco Zeffirelli’s film of Romeo and Juliet. In 1978 she also joined – all too briefly – the Royal Shakespeare Company to play Phaedra in David Rudkin’s version of Euripides’s Hippolytus. She was part of a strong cast that included Michael Pennington in the title role and Patrick Stewart as Theseus but it was Parry’s Phaedra that made a lasting impression: she conveyed both the agonised guilt and moral worth of a woman driven to ruin by her uncontrollable passion for her stepson.

In later years, Parry went on to give equally memorable performances in Brook productions. She played the bankrupt landowner, Madame Ranevskaya, in a startling stripped-down production of The Cherry Orchard in Paris in 1981 with Michel Piccoli as her brother, Gayev. In 1988 Brook revived it in an English-language version at the Brooklyn Academy of Music where Parry’s performance prompted a rave review from Frank Rich in the New York Times: “When the beautiful Natasha Parry returns to her estate from Paris, her brimming eyes take in the auditorium in a single sweeping glance of nostalgic longing but when she says ‘I feel like a little girl again’ the husky darkness of her voice fills in the scarred decades since childhood.”

Parry was also superb in Brook’s production of Beckett’s Oh Les Beaux Jours (Happy Days) at London’s Riverside Studios in 1997. Playing Beckett’s half-buried Winnie, Parry not only presented her as a refined, cultivated woman using decorum to keep chaos at bay. Because she performed in French, Parry also brought out the exquisite musicality of Beckett’s text so that the phrase “Et maintenant?” chimed through the evening like a refrain.

Parry was last seen in London in Brook’s The Tragedy of Hamlet at the Young Vic in 2001: as Gertrude to Adrian Lester’s Hamlet, she displayed the delicate sensibility that characterised all her work. In one sense, it is frustrating not to have seen Parry more often on stage or screen. But she was an invaluable partner to Brook and a distinguished actor in her own right, who invested everything she did with beauty, stillness and an inviolable quest for truth.

She is survived by Brook and their two children, Irina and Simon.

• Natasha Parry, actor, born 2 December 1930; died 23 July 2015

 

The above Michael Billington “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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Evelyn Laye

Evelyn Laye

Evelyn Laye
Evelyn Laye

Evelyn Laye was a Britihs musical comedy star who made her Boradway debut in 1929 in Noel Coward’s “Bitter Sweet”.   She made a few films in Hollywood before returning to Britain to concentrate on stage and film there.   One of her last roles was as Jean Simmon’s mother in “Say Hello to Yesterday”.   She died in 1996 at the age of 96.   Article about Evelyn Laye and Jessie Matthews can be accessed here.

“Independent” obituary:

“They don’t make them like that any more,” was the refrain of Evelyn Laye’s hit number in the 1969 musical Phil the Fluter at the Palace Theatre, and as she sang it audiences must irresistibly have related the sentiment to the singer herself – for, even 27 years ago, they were being enchanted by an artist who had been a major figure in the British musical theatre for over 50 years.That, if you think about it, was no easy feat. The musical part of Laye’s career belonged to the era long before the use of amplified sound had ruined the immediacy and charm of the naturally projected singing voice in the theatre, and when leading ladies were expected to give the full complement of eight performances a week in the identical large venues used by today’s miked singers, who can rarely be prevailed upon to manage more than five.

As for miming to a pre- recorded “click” track – another creeping disease afflicting the musical theatre – I once saw her at a rehearsal for a Royal Gala Charity performance refuse point blank to cheat the public in this way, with the result that, of all the many singers who took part, only she and Dame Vera Lynn actually sang their numbers live on the night.

I doubt if any artist has ever had a fiercer commitment to the “profession” than Evelyn Laye had – it was, without doubt, the ruling passion of her life. Her adored parents, Gilbert Laye and Evelyn Stuart, were minor touring actors forever struggling to make a living between their annual pantomime engagements (her mother was a respected provincial Principal Boy), and eking out their precarious existence either in theatrical digs, or, when there was no work, in a series of furnished rooms.

Nevertheless, they were the kind of old pros who would never even consider “giving it up” and changing their way of life, and it was this sense of dedication that they passed on to their daughter. No wonder that a theatre was the only place in which she really felt she was at home, and why she was still working in the theatre even in 1992, when she was 92 years of age.

She was only 15 when she made her debut at the Theatre Royal, Brighton (where her father was briefly manager of the pier), as a Chinese servant girl in a touring company of the London success Mr Wu. For three years she played the provinces in a variety of parts (including a revue, Honi Soit, and the Principal Girl in pantomime at Portsmouth), by which time her singing voice and emerging beauty had begun to be recognised.

She made her London debut in 1918 when she took over a supporting role in The Beauty Spot at the illustrious Gaiety Theatre in the Strand, still basking in the glory that its late manager, George Edwardes, had bestowed on it by mounting a long succession of glamorous musical comedies. She remained a “Gaiety Girl” for the next three years, appearing in such shows as Going Up (during the run of which she made the first of her many records), and The Kiss Call. Whilst playing in the theatre every night, it was typical of her determination to equip herself for stardom that she sought to add to her armoury all the techniques she might conceivably need to help her to gain it. So her days were filled with dancing, fencing and singing lessons, all paid for out of her meagre salary.

She did not have long to wait. Seymour Hicks and his wife, the exquisite Ellaline Terriss, had had an enormous success at the Gaiety in 1894 with The Shop Girl. Now it was to be revived under Hicks’s direction, and he chose the 19-year-old Laye to play the lead. Her reception was so rapturous that it made her a star overnight. As the applause roared over her, Ellaline Terriss, standing up in her box, threw her own bouquet down at the young girl’s feet, whilst in the dressing-room afterwards, Sir Alfred Butt, the manager, tore up her contract for pounds 20 a week and trebled it.

London was now hers to command, and the successes of the next 20 years consolidated her position as the undisputed leading lady of the English musical comedy stage. Among them were three shows for Charles B. Cochran, a revival of The Merry Widow, and, most ambitious of all, her assumption of the Fritzi Massary role in Leo Fall’s Madame Pompadour (Daly’s Theatre, 1924).

Massary was no less than a theatrical genius, and the arch-sophisticate of German operetta, so no one thought that Evelyn Laye would be able to touch the role. But her success in it was emphatic, and the critics wrote lavishly in praise of her perfomance, noting that, in addition to the “inventory of beauty which is Miss Evelyn Laye” (James Agate’s phrase) and the lovely quality of her singing voice, was now added the confidence and ease of an accomplished actress. Other musicals – The Dollar Princess, Cleopatra, Betty in Mayfair, Princess Charming, Lilac Time, and Jerome Kern’s Blue Eyes – soon followed.

In 1925 Laye fell in love with and married the light comedian Sonnie Hale, much against the wishes of her parents, who refused to attend her wedding or to give her a reception afterwards. Since she had never before been separated from them, her deep distress soon led to a reconciliation, but it may well have been the strain that this must have imposed on the marriage that led Hale to abandon her in 1928 for another emerging talent, Jessie Matthews. The break-up led to the greatest mistake of her career.

Noel Coward invited her to star in his new musical play Bitter Sweet – she refused out of pique because it was to be presented by Cochran, who at that time was employing both Hale and Matthews in a Coward revue at the London Pavilion. Only when she saw Peggy Wood playing Sari in Bitter Sweet at a matinee did she realise the extent of her folly, and, as she admitted in her autobiography Boo To My Friends (1958), “I had broken the great rule of the theatre; I had not put it first.”

It was a mistake I doubt she ever made again. She had the considerable guts to swallow her pride and ask them humbly if she could be considered for the part when it was produced in New York. Meanwhile she was appearing in Sigmund Romberg’s The New Moon at Drury Lane, in which, with the cruellest irony, she nightly had to sing the hit number of the show, “Lover, Come Back to Me”.

In his autobiography Present Indicative, Noel Coward, describing the Broadway opening of Bitter Sweet, paid her the tribute of a lifetime:

It was Evelyn’s night from first to last. She played as though she were enchanted . . . Early on in the ballroom scene she conquered the audience completely by singing the quick waltz song so brilliantly and with such a quality of excitement, that the next few minutes of the play were entirely lost in one of the most prolonged outbursts of cheering I have ever heard in a theatre . . . It was she, and she alone, who put the play over that night.

In a letter to his mother, he also wrote, “How right you were about Evelyn, she certainly does knock spots off Peggy.”

Laye’s tremendous success on Broadway led to a Hollywood contract with Sam Goldwyn, for whom she made just one film, One Heavenly Night (1932). Seeing it today, even an appalling script and mediocre songs do not entirely efface her charm and beauty. But the experience made her escape back home to play Bitter Sweet in London, where she was triumphantly received.

At the Adelphi Theatre in 1932, she starred in Helen!, for which Cochran had assembled an astonishing array of talent. The musical adaptation of Offenbach’s La Belle Helene was by Korngold, the translation by A.P. Herbert, the choreography by Massine, the designs by Oliver Messel (the revolutionary all-white bedroom scene with the bath shaped like a great white swan), and the production by Max Reinhardt, the most admired director in Europe. Reinhardt’s telegram to her read: “You are that rare and holy trinity of the stage, a great singer, a great actress, and a great beauty. If I have added to your splendour at all, I could not have given you anything that was not already in you.”

After Helen! she made several British films, among them Evensong (1935), based on Beverley Nichols’s bitchy novel about the supposed rivalry between the opera-singers Nellie Melba and Toti dal Monte, in which she played Melba to Conchita Supervia’s Dal Monte. By this time, she had become romantically attached to the charming actor Frank Lawton, and, after a protracted courtship, they were married in 1934 in Hollywood, where he was playing David in MGM’s all-star production of David Copperfield. She made her second Hollywood film there, The Night is Young (1936), with Ramon Navarro, and the score by Sigmund Romberg included one of the many songs which will always be associated with her, “When I grow too old to dream”. Eventually they stayed in the United States for three years, while Lawton completed his contract, and she played on Broadway and in Los Angeles. Their marriage, though childless, was a famously happy one.

On her return, Cochran mounted a lavish production of Lehar’s Paganini (Lyceum, 1937), in which she played opposite the great Austrian tenor Richard Tauber. When, early in the rehearsals, she confessed that she was terrified of ruining their duets by singing flat, he immediately reassured her by saying that, when it came to her top notes, he would slip his arm round her waist and support her diaphragm, and this he did at every performance that they gave. Unexpectedly, the production was not a success and, for the first time for years, she found herself out of work and with no offers coming in. Since she couldn’t abide idleness, she launched a new career in variety and pantomime, where she improved on the family tradition by becoming the most sought-after Principal Boy of her time, as well as being top-of- the-bill at all the best variety theatres.

On the outbreak of war, she immediately volunteered to sing for the troops, and, on the formation of Ensa, she was put in command of all entertainments for the Navy. She also did her last Cochran show, Lights Up, at the Savoy, as well as three musicals, all of which were adversely affected by the wartime bombing. When the war finished, she made a success, even if it was not a smash hit, of the Yvonne Printemps roles in Oscar Straus’s Three Waltzes (Prince’s 1945), and, for the next nine years, developed her acting skills, largely in a series of touring versions of West End successes.

In 1954 she accepted a smallish role in a new musical starring Anton Walbrook, Wedding in Paris. During rehearsals, however, her part was constantly being built up, so that when the production opened at the Hippodrome in April, she was co-starred, and found herself once again the toast of London. She stayed with the show for almost two years, just as she later did in 1959 when she had another smash hit with the comedy The Amorous Prawn at the Saville, and for the first two years of the long-running No Sex Please – We’re British at the Strand (1971). By this time she had become a highly accomplished comedienne. In 1973 she was appointed CBE for her services to the theatre. Astonishingly, and surely most unfairly, this was the only honour she was to receive.

In 1969, Frank Lawton died. Though never a star of her magnitude, he was a respected and much-liked actor whose love and support throughout their marriage was matched by her devoted nursing of him during the numerous illnesses he endured at the end of his life.

As Laye’s career gradually slowed down, she still responded to any challenge that came her way. She continued to work on the stage, in radio, films and television. Retirement was anathema to her and as recently as 1992 she had been appearing to sold-out houses on Sunday nights at theatres all over the country. Though her singing voice was by now little more than a husky croak, the authority, the charm, the projection and the star quality were still intact, and audiences responded to it with standing ovations at the final curtain. This culminated in a memorable Sunday night performance at the London Palladium (26 July 1992) given in aid of the Theatrical Ladies Guild, of which she was President. The packed house included many hundreds of her fellow actors, and they seized the opportunity to show their affection and admiration for her superb professionalism and courage.

The genres of musical and light comedy to which she devoted her life may be thought of as essentially lightweight and frivolous. The secret of Evelyn Laye’s triumphant career was the total dedication she gave to honing her talents to as near perfection as it was in her to achieve. She was adored by every company she ever led, but beneath the beauty, the charm and the glamour was an artist of deep seriousness and absolute commitment. She was indeed a very bright, particular star, and one of the great glories of the English stage has finally left the scene.

Elsie Evelyn Lay (Evelyn Laye), actress and singer: born London 10 July 1900; married 1926 Sonnie Hale (marriage dissolved 1931), 1934 Frank Lawton (died 1969), died London 17 February 1996

The “Independent” obituary above can also be accessed online here.

Aside

Mona Washbourne

Mona Washbourne
Mona Washbourne

Mona Washbourne was a terrific character actress who had acted on the stage since the 1920’s.   She only hit her stride in the 1960’s when she herself was in her sixties.   She was born in 1903 in Birmingham.   She went to Hollywood to play the housekeeper Mrs Pearce in “My Fair Lady”.   Other successes she had included the lion aunt to Glenda Jackson in “Stevie” about the poet Stevie Smith and the nanny to Anthony Andrews on TV’s “Brideshead Revisited”.   She died in 1988.

Gary Brumburgh’s entry:

Beloved round and roly-poly British character player Mona Washbourne was a natural symbol for the working-class as much of her early career was in playing midwives, barmaids, nannies, landladies and factory workers. Born November 27, 1903, in Birmingham, England, the daughter of Arthur Edmund Washbourne and his wife Kate (Robinson), the piano was to be her early passion and she initially trained at the Birmingham School of Music. Following concerting on the stage and broadcast playing on radio, she made her professional stage debut in 1924 with the “Modern Follies” concert party, as both pianist and soubrette. From this point, she delved herself completely into acting and went on tour with the “Fol-De-Rols” revue for three seasons, developing a special flair for bawdy, eccentric comedy. She performed in various repertory companies and earned her first major dramatic success on the London stage in 1937 with “Mourning Becomes Electra”. On the quirkier side, she won kudos for her “Madame Arcati” in “Blithe Spirit” (1945) and for her doting journalist in “The Winslow Boy” (1946). She went on to transfer her role in The Winslow Boy (1948) to film in the postwar years and saw a new avenue for her talents open up.

While most of Mona’s early film roles tended toward the small and dowdy, they were also quite colorful and seldom failed to make some sort of impression. They also grew in size as years passed. She played a midwife in Doctor in the House (1954); the older, ill-fated first wife to Bluebeard-like charmer Dirk Bogarde in Cast a Dark Shadow (1955); the protagonist’s mum in Billy Liar (1963) (another role she originated on stage in 1960); the no-nonsense “Higgins” housekeeper in My Fair Lady (1964); an aristocratic old shrew who employs psycho Albert Finney in the remake of Night Must Fall (1964); and a doddering aunt to another psychopath, Terence Stamp, in The Collector (1965).

Continuing to impress on the stage with roles in Noel Coward‘s “Nude with Violin” (1957) and “Present Laughter” (1958), she also appeared to great effect in “Misalliance” (1967) and was a natural for her perplexed aunt role in a madcap production of “Harvey” (1975). Here in the States, she earned a Tony nomination for her contribution in “Home” (1970). Mona crowned her career remarkably alongside Glenda Jackson as the dithery maiden aunt who lives with her eccentric niece, the poet “Stevie Smith”, in the play “Stevie”. A two-person show, she and Jackson won additional acclaim when they took Stevie (1978) to film. Mona won the top critics supporting awards, including New York, Boston and Los Angeles, but was surprisingly snubbed by the Academy at Oscar time. Her final career years (in the early 1980s) were spent on TV with roles as “Mrs. Higgins” in a version ofGeorge Bernard Shaw‘s Pygmalion (1981) starring Twiggy and Robert Powell; “Nanny Hawkins” in the epic miniseries, Brideshead Revisited (1981) and the “Queen Mum” inCharles & Diana: A Royal Love Story (1982). Long married to actor Basil Dignam, he died in 1979. Mona passed on slightly less than a decade later, in 1988, at age 84.

– IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

“Los Angeles Times” obituary:

Mona Washbourne, the self-described “silly and rather charming” character actress best known for her stage and film representations of bosomy old biddies, has died at the age of 84.

Robert Enders, the producer-director who directed her in “Stevie,” in which she played poet Stevie Smith’s loving maiden aunt, said Monday that he had just learned that she died in a London nursing home on Nov. 15.

One of the last of the “Dear Old Things” who once abounded in English stage productions, Miss Washbourne typically garnered second, third or fourth billing but often as not came to be the character audiences remembered most fondly and best.

The Daily Telegraph of London, in writing of her death, remembered her as a performer who “came to symbolize in post-war British films and plays all that is decent and decorous in middle- or lower-class aunts and mothers.”

Although cast often in lower socioeconomic roles, she brought to them “domestic security and concern,” the Telegraph said.

Enders said of her Monday that “of all the actors I have known she left a lasting impression.”

Not all of that impression was on stage or in front of a camera. Enders remembered the time she came to New York to accept awards from the New York Critics and the National Board of Review for her work in “Stevie,” opposite Glenda Jackson, and that “she cashed in a first-class ticket so she could afford to bring a companion.”

Or the mink coat she refused to take off during interviews because “I worked hard enough to get it.”

Or the call Enders made about a year ago to the nursing home where she died only to find that she couldn’t come to the phone because, an attendant said, “I believe she’s having her gin now.”

Over the years Miss Washbourne worked with such giants of the theater as John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Albert Finney and director George Cukor.

She clucked her way through dozens of roles, always seemingly unaware of how funny she actually was.

In “Stevie,” for instance, she exits into the kitchen to see how a roast of lamb is progressing, saying to no one in particular, “I must go and prod the joint.”

In a 1978 interview with The Times, a writer called her a “truly dear old thing, like her characters, but a bit cleverer than her scripts allow her to be.”

‘Nymphomaniac With Bad Feet’

In “Home,” opposite Gielgud and Richardson, she played a woman she described as “a nymphomaniac with bad feet.” She was Tom Courtenay’s mother in “Billy Liar” and Rex Harrison’s housekeeper in “My Fair Lady.”

She played four roles in one film, “O Lucky Man” in 1973, and spouted Shakespeare in Disney’s “The London Affair,” made originally for television.

Born in Birmingham, she trained as a pianist at the School of Music there and came to support herself by accompanying silent pictures. Later she worked with small orchestras, playing what she called “cheeky songs.”

She joined a repertory company and made her stage debut in 1924. For the rest of her career she moved back and forth between theater and film.