Monday, October 10, 2011

There is nothing like a Dame.

Jane Asher is the latest Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of being Earnest
It seems only yesterday she was the red-haired girl friend of Sir Paul McCartney (who married this week-end for the third time)
She has never spoken of her time with him
She married the illustrator Gerald Scarfe and they have three children. She has written three novels and has a cake shop business in London.
Jane, now in her sixties is at the Rose Theatre in Kingston playing Lady Bracknell much younger than usual and replacing the battle-axe
persona of Lady B with a cool sarcasm. She isn't yet an official Dame - but give her time.

Dame Sybil Thorndike 1882-1976 was a Dame par excellence. She trained as a classical pianist but hand cramps put paid to that
so she became an actress
In 1908 whilst understudying Candida she was spotted by George Bernard Shaw who wrote the play St Joan for her.
At this time she met her beloved husband Lewis Casson
and eventually they were both knighted. They were active members of the Labour Party, Pacifists and when they toured South Africa strongly anti apartheid. Sybil always insisted on washing her own stage costume. 'It knows exactly what to do and it mustn't be touched!

Their marriage lasted until his death aged 93. When asked if she ever thought of splitting with her husband she replied:
'Divorce never - murder often!'
When she was awarded the Companion of Honour Olivier sent a telegram saying he couldn't imagine a nicer companion for the Queen. She showed great courage on stage well into old age, in spite of crippling arthritis

Dame Edith Evans 1888-1976
She was nominated for three Academy Awards and is best remembered for her haughty aristocratic Lady Bracknell. Her unforgettable 'A Handbaaaaaag?' using half a dozen musical syllables makes a pitfall for actresses to beware of. She started out as an apprentice milliner and didn't act till the age of 24. In spite of her beautifully modulated voice she was a cockney. She married George Booth and they were very happy for ten years when tragically he died of a brain tumour. She never remarried.
Bryan Forbes - actor, director and writer adapted a film The Whisperers for her and also wrote her life story Ned's Girl. They became close friends and I remember her saying in an interview she always liked to be a little bit in love - it made the days so much happier.
After her triumph as Lady B - what Forbes described as her 'great essay in dragon hood,' - she tried to avoid being cast in similar roles.
She said:
'Actresses are such very dull people off stage. We are only delightful and brilliant when we are doing what we are told to do. Off stage we are awful chumps.'

Dame Maggie Smith 1934... Nominated for 6 Oscars and winning 2. she was born in Ilford - an Essex girl.
In 1951 she joine the Oxford Playhouse School and had an all round education in the theatre becoming an Assistant Stage Manager
the next few years she was involved in all kinds of productions including farce, paantomime and revue. Billed as a singing comedienne
she went from the revue The Singing Lettuce to playing Shakespeare at the Old Vic. In 1963 she signed up with Olivier's Royal National Theatre company and I remember seeing her Desdemona with Olivier playing Othello. He was reported as saying he woud never act with her again.
In 1967 she married Robert Stephens and they had two sons. She had a great success in Coward's Hay Fever and her 'this kipper is disgusting' was remembered with glee. She was excellent in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie but whilst playing in Private Lives her marriage foundered
She married an old flame Beverly Cross and they had 23 happy years until his death in 1998.
She had done a lot of revue work with Kenneth Williams and at times could sound eerily like him
There were accusations that she was caricaturing herself so she took herself off to The Stratford Festival in Ontario and played Cleopatra, Three Sisters and Macbeth to great acclaim
Back home she redeemed herself acting in Alan Bennett's Talking Heads and the Lady in the Van
Bennett said 'The boundary between laughter and tears is where Maggie is poised always.'

In spite of a bout with breast cancer Dame Maggie Smith is now at top of her game playing Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham in Julian Fellowes' Downton Abbey on ITV1 making Sunday nights an unmissable delight


OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

None of the pictures are showing up for me..All little Boxes with "X" in the middle...!

I love you writing about all the 'Dames'....And each of these actresses were and are, in Dame Maggie's case, so very talented...!
I love the idea that there is a designation like 'Dame' that gives women a kind of special honor---they deserve it!

LL Cool Joe said...

I can't see any photos either. I'll always connect Jane Asher with cakes now!

tametheshrew2 said...

Now that's a collection of Grand Dames, indeed! Judi Dench would share top billing with Maggie Smith on my own list. They are two of my very favourite actresses of all time, and I'll watch anything that either is in, just because they're in it.

Pat said...

Naomi: I knew these ladies had a mind of their own but I didn't expect them to play hookey the minute my back was turned. I hope you can see them now.

LL Cool Joe: sorry about the photos. I don't know what happened but they were in place before dinner.

tametheshrew2: yes Judi certainly deserves a mention. Perhaps I'll do another set but they are exhausting:)

The Unbearable Banishment said...

I always thought Jane Asher was Paul McCartney's girlfriend in the 60s!

Pat said...

UB: yes - I thought I said that. Don't say my copy is doing a bunk too!

Pat said...

UB: yes I did.
'It seems only yesterday she was the red-haired girl friend of Sir Paul McCartney (who married this week-end for the third time)
She has never spoken of her time with him'

Jan said...

I just saw "The Importance of Being Earnest" for the first time this summer, at a little playhouse in Virginia. Delightful, with Lady Bracknell played by a man in drag. He was the best part of the show. Love the tone of this blog, and glad I happened here.


well, of these great ladies, i'm not surprised at their taking a break here so to speak - such self determined woman as they are!

Pat said...

Jan: welcome Jan and come again.
Lady B must be a joy for men in drag:)

Gypsywoman: yes but please not on my watch:)