“The British cinema has nurtured so few talents of Joan Greenwood’s order that she was hugely missed during the latter part of her career. ‘That formidable enchantress’, Frank Marcus once called her. She was not, of course, of the stuff of which British stars were made . She had sex appeal, style and a striking individuality. She had a husky voice that liked to pounce on certain vowels, speaking her lines. as Karl Reisz said once,’as if she dily suspected some hidden menace in them which she can’t quite identify’ – ‘Variety’ ocne described it ‘as one of the wonders on the modern world’. She was of diminutive stature and moved like a cat – to watch her sit down is like watching a cat settle itself, as she wittily poses hands, feet and elbows. Obviously, she was mannered but her range was by no means narrow. With all the fasidousness, the strange enquiring stare, the voice and the exquisite postures this was an actress who played many parts, all of them beautifully”. – David Shipman in “The Great Movie Stars – The International Years” (1972)
Joan Greenwood was a delightful actress with her own distinct individuality. She had a feline quality with a voice that was like a cat’s purr. She did not have a profilic film career but many of her films are very special indeed. She was born in 1921 in Chelsea, London. She trained at RADA and then toured with Sir Donald Wolfits theatre company during World War Two. Her first film “The Gentle Sex” was released in 1943. Her films of note include “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, “Whiskey Galore”, “The Man in he White Suit” and “The Importance of Being Ernest” where she was a delicious Gwendolyne. Joan Greenwood made two films in Hollywood, “Moonfleet” in 1955 which is a great period romp about pirates in Cornwall with Stewart Granger and Jon Whiteley and “Stagestruck” where she supported Henry Fonda and Susan Strasberg. She seemd to concentrate on the stage from the mid 1960’s on. She was married to the character actor Andre Morell. She died of a heart attack at the age of 65. Please watch out for her movies, you will not be disappointed.
Philip French’s “Screen Legend’s” in “The Guardian”:
Born in London, daughter of the painter Sydney Earnshaw Greenwood, she was trained at Rada and became one of the most enchanting stage, screen and TV actresses of her time. There were the quizzical eyes, the neat face with its provocative nose and the slight, firm body which looked good in off-the-shoulder dresses in such period movies as the elegant Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948), the dire The Bad Lord Byron (1949) and Tony Richardson’s Oscar-winning Tom Jones (1963). Above all, there was that voice – husky, seductive, felinely purring.
Leslie Howard gave Greenwood her first significant film role in The Gentle Sex (1943), his Second World War, morale-boosting tribute to the gutsy ATS girls. Her first major performance, however, was in The October Man (1947), produced and written by Eric Ambler, where she protects amnesiac John Mills when he’s framed for murder.
Immediately after, she became a vital presence in three classic Ealing comedies that guarantee her immortality, playing provocative, teasing, manipulative women: the Scots girl mocking resident Brit Basil Radford in Alexander Mackendrick’s Whisky Galore! (1949), the minx blackmailing Dennis Price in Robert Hamer’s Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), and above all the cool, intelligent realist standing between her rich, industrialist father and the idealistic inventor Alec Guinness in Mackendrick’s The Man in the White Suit (1951).
She worked again with Hamer and Guinness as a kindly aristocrat in Father Brown (1954) and went to Hollywood to play the 18th-century femme fatale in Fritz Lang’s Moonfleet (1955), cast, according to the producer John Houseman, to give the movie a little style. She was also rather good as a diva in the drama of New York theatrical life, Stage Struck (1958), a remake of the 1933 Katharine Hepburn picture Morning Glory. But after Ealing, she only appeared in two movies of the first rank – as an utterly beguiling Gwendolen in Anthony Asquith’s perfectly cast The Importance of Being Earnest (1952) and as one of the English women who falls victim to the French visitor Gérard Philipe in René Clément’s downbeat, rarely revived tragicomedy of Anglo-French manners, Knave of Hearts (aka Monsieur Ripois, 1954).
Her best work thereafter was in the theatre. She was appearing at the Oxford Playhouse as Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler in 1960 when she fell in love with André Morell, who was playing Judge Brack. They eloped to marry in the West Indies. She was 39, he was 51, it was the first marriage for both, and they were together until his death in 1978. They had a son, the actor Jason Morell. Her final film, Christine Edzard’s Little Dorrit, opened in 1987; she died the same year.
Posthumous fameIn a 1995 Empire poll she was voted 63rd sexiest star in film history.
Two Greenwood firsts She starred in Ealing’s first colour movie, Saraband for Dead Lovers, and in Fritz Lang’s first widescreen film.
Essential DVDS Whisky Galore!, Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Man in the White Suit, The Importance of Being Earnest, The October Man
“The Times” obituary from 1987:
Miss Joan Greenwood: The voice that intrigued generations
Miss Joan Greenwood, the actress, died on February 27. She was 65. A strikingly attractive woman – diminutive and with blinding blond
hair -her portrayals were both bewitching and provocative. Her voice, likened to the sound of someone gargling with champagne, was intoxicating, although it led, to her occasional chagrin, to her being typecast in the role of dotty duchess.
Miss Greenwood was born in Chelsea on March 4, 1921, an artist’s daughter. She was educated at St Catherine’s, Bramley, Surrey, and studied for the stage at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. She made her first appearance on the stage – in November, 1938, at the age of 17 – at the Apollo as Louisa in “The Robust Invalid”. Next year she was at the Strand in “Little Ladyship” and, two months later, at the Lyric as Little Mary in “The Women”, taking the same part when it
was revived at the Strand in 1940. She played Wendy in “Peter Pan” at the Adelphi in December 1941, and toured in the same part during 1942. A decade later she played the title role at the Scala – one of the smallest Peters at just over 5
feet tall. “I got my pilot’s licence before we started rehearsals,” she explained.
Earlier, in 1941, she braved the Blitz to go to the now defunct Q Theatre to appear in the revue “Rise Above It”, with Hermione Baddeley and Henry Kendall. When it went to the West End, however, she was dropped from the cast. Hurt though she was, she persevered and, two years later, succeeded Deborah Kerr as Ellie Dunn in “Heartbreak House”, followed by a spell of touring with ENSA. She also toured with Donald Wolfit’s Company, playing Ophelia in “Hamlet” and Celia in “Volpone”.
Joan Greenwood made her first appearance on the New York stage at the Morosco in 1954 as Lucasta Angel in T.S. Eliot’s “The Confidential Clerk”, which was later televised. Back in this country she took the title part, in 1957, in “Lysistrata” at the Royal Court, transferring with the production to the Duke of York’s the next year. And in 1959, her magnetism undiminished, she attracted pack houses to St Martin’s as Hattie in the comedy “The Grass is Greener”. At the Oxford
Playhouse in 1960, in the title part in “Hedda Gabler”, she played alongside Andre Morell, with whom she had previously worked. That summer they secretly took themselves off to Jamaica where, to everyone’s surprise (except their own), they married.
Four years later she was at the Lyric in another comedy – “Oblomov”. She left the cast, however, after seven months, announcing that enough is enough”. In “The Chalk Garden” at the Haymarket in 1971 she excelled as a tight-lipped governess, tiny and ruthless; and, in 1982she took over Celia Johnson’s role in “The Understanding” at the Strand following Dame Celia’s death.
Joan Greenwood made her film debut in the early years of the Second World War, and was at her peak in this medium from 1948 to 1955. She attracted a discriminating following with her witty and intelligent performances in such films as “Girl in a Million” (1946) and “Whisky Galore” (1949). That same year, in “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, with Alec Guinness, she played a thoroughly unpleasant young woman. This remained her favourite film. She enjoyed travel and went to New York several times to do work.
In 1955 she made her first visit to Hollywood to play in “Moonfleet”, and spent four months on a part that lasted about five minutes on the screen. But she had no time for the Hollywood lifestyle or for American men. “I couldn’t put up with the endless make-up sessions”, she later reflected. “All that palaver of keeping out of the sun, dyeing one’s hair and worrying about the size of one’s bossom. She found the sanity of Ealing much more to her taste. There “we used to wash our hair in buckets, and we survived on toasted sandwiches, chocolate and soup.” Later films included “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1952), in which she played Gwendoline, “Tom Jones” (1963), and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1978).
Her most recent television appearances were in a comedy series called “Girls on Top”, as a romantic novelist just this side of certifiable; and in a BBC “Miss Marple” adventure, as an endearing, all-knowing society lady. “Now I’m an old hag I get to may much more interesting characters.” Her husband died in 1978. She is survived by their son.
The above “Times” obituary can also be accessed online here.