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Wendy Hiller

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Also Known As: Dame Wendy Hiller Died: May 14, 2003
Born: August 15, 1912 Cause of Death: undisclosed causes
Birth Place: Cheshire, England, GB Profession: actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Academy Award-winning Dame Wendy Hiller began her career with the Manchester Repertory Theatre at the age of 18 and, after leaving to tour the provinces for awhile, returned there to act in "Love on the Dole", adapted from the Walter Greenwood novel by her future husband Ronald Gow. A seven-month tour of Lancashire and Yorkshire preceded its successful 1935 London run, which brought her to the attention of playwright George Bernard Shaw who, noting something special in the actress, became her mentor and friend. Following her 1936 Broadway debut in "Love on the Dole" and with only six rehearsals for each show, Hiller portrayed both "Saint Joan" and Eliza Doolittle in "Pygmalion" at that year's Malvern Theatre Festival honoring Shaw's 80th birthday. Though a proposed movie version with her as "Saint Joan" never materialized, she did play (at Shaw's insistence) both Eliza in "Pygmalion" (1938) and the title role of "Major Barbara" (1941), delivering two unforgettable film performances forever linked to her name. Possessing a beautiful speaking voice and a uniquely crisp brand of charm, Hiller showed an early preference for appearing plainly, forsaking make-up and fancy costumes to specialize in...

Academy Award-winning Dame Wendy Hiller began her career with the Manchester Repertory Theatre at the age of 18 and, after leaving to tour the provinces for awhile, returned there to act in "Love on the Dole", adapted from the Walter Greenwood novel by her future husband Ronald Gow. A seven-month tour of Lancashire and Yorkshire preceded its successful 1935 London run, which brought her to the attention of playwright George Bernard Shaw who, noting something special in the actress, became her mentor and friend. Following her 1936 Broadway debut in "Love on the Dole" and with only six rehearsals for each show, Hiller portrayed both "Saint Joan" and Eliza Doolittle in "Pygmalion" at that year's Malvern Theatre Festival honoring Shaw's 80th birthday. Though a proposed movie version with her as "Saint Joan" never materialized, she did play (at Shaw's insistence) both Eliza in "Pygmalion" (1938) and the title role of "Major Barbara" (1941), delivering two unforgettable film performances forever linked to her name. Possessing a beautiful speaking voice and a uniquely crisp brand of charm, Hiller showed an early preference for appearing plainly, forsaking make-up and fancy costumes to specialize in characters withered by frustration and emotional deprivation. She played "The Heiress" on Broadway in 1947, the dowdy role that would win Olivia de Havilland an Oscar two years later. Her own Oscar-winning supporting turn as a dejected, lonely woman in "Separate Tables" (1958) and an Oscar-nominated part as Sir Thomas More's alienated wife in "A Man For All Seasons" (1966) were also in this vein, as was her Gunhild Borkman in Ibsen's "John Gabriel Borkman" on the London boards in 1975. Unlike her fellow 'dames' of the English stage, Hiller has essayed relatively few Shakespearean roles: the 1955-56 season with London's Old Vic Company under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie, a tour of UK factory centers as Viola in "Twelfth Night" (1943), Portia in "The Merchant of Venice" (1946) and the Duchess of York in a TV presentation of "Richard II" (PBS, 1979). At a glance there is very little to connect the young Hiller of "Love on the Dole" and the Shaw plays with the grande dame familiar to spectators of later years. She made an early transition to age and dignity, playing Queen Mary in Royce Ryton's "Crown Matrimonial" on the London stage in 1972, and has appeared frequently on the small screen, portraying such characters as Janet Mackenzie in "Witness for the Prosecution" (CBS, 1982), Lady Bracknell in "The Importance of Being Earnest" (PBS, 1985) and Princess Victoria in "Lord Mountbatten: The Last Victory" (PBS, 1986). She was back on the London stage in 1988 in the title role of "Driving Miss Daisy" and several years later returned to Shaw, this time as Dame Laurentia McLachlan, his long-time friend and spiritual advisor, in "The Best of Friends" (PBS, 1992), co-starring John Gielgud (as Sir Sydney Cockerell) and Patrick McGoohan (as Shaw). For the young actress who had gone onstage at Malvern as Saint Joan after only six days' rehearsal in a vacant swimming bath under the author's watchful eye, the world had come full circle. The following year, she acted in "The Countess Alice" and "Ending Up", both airing on PBS.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Anne of Avonlea (1987) Mrs Harris
2.
3.
 Death of the Heart, The (1986) Matchett
4.
 Attracta (1983) The Teacher
5.
 Making Love (1982) Winnie Bates
6.
 Witness For The Prosecution (1982) Janet Mackenzie
7.
 Country (1981) Daisy
8.
 The Elephant Man (1980) Mothershead
9.
 Cat and the Canary, The (1979) Allison Crosby
10.
 Voyage Of The Damned (1976) Rebecca Weiler
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1930:
First appeared on stage at age 18, playing the Maid in Manchester Repertory Theatre production of "The Ware Case"
1935:
London stage debut as Sally Hardcastle in "Love on the Dole"
1936:
Broadway debut, "Love on the Dole"
1936:
Portrayed "Saint Joan" and Eliza Doolittle in "Pygmalion" at the Malvern Theatre Festival, honoring George Bernard Shaw's 80th birthday
1937:
Film acting debut in "Lancashire Lad"
1938:
Reprised Eliza Doolittle opposite Leslie Howard for film version of "Pygmalion", earning a Best Actress Oscar nomination
1941:
Played title role in film adaptation of Shaw's "Major Barbara"
1944:
Portrayed Sister Joanna in "The Cradle Song"
1945:
Starred in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger's charming film, "I Know Where I'm Going"
1946:
Acted the parts of Portia in "The Merchant of Venice", Pegeen Mike in "Playboy of the Western World" and the title role of "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre
1947:
Starred on Broadway in "The Heiress", adapted from a Henry James novel
1950:
Reprised "The Heiress" in London
1951:
Starred opposite Dames Edith Evans and Sybil Thorndike in N C Hunter's "Waters of the Moon"
:
Performed a season of Shakespeare under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie at London's Old Vic, playing Portia in "Julius Caesar", Mistress Page in "The Merry Wives of Windsor", Hermione in "The Winter's Tale", Emilia in "Othello" and Helen in "Troilus and Cressida";
1957:
Acted role of Josie Hogan in Broadway premiere of Eugene O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten"
1958:
Won Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her delicate portrayal of a dejected, lonely woman in "Separate Tables"
1958:
Portrayed Isabel Cherry in "Flowering Cherry" on London stage, repeating the role for Broadway the following year
1960:
Played Trevor Howard's wife and Dean Stockwell's mother in "Sons and Lovers", adapted from the D H Lawrence novel
1963:
Portrayed Anna Berniers, one of Dean Martin's overprotective sisters (along with Geraldine Page) in "Toys in the Attic", film adaptation of Lillian Helman's play
1966:
Earned Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role as Alice More in "A Man for All Seasons"; last film for eight years
1970:
Acted the part of Mrs Micawber in "David Copperfield", an NBC movie adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel
1972:
Made an early transition to age and dignity, playing Queen Mary in London production of Royce Ryton's "Crown Matrimonial"
1974:
Returned to features as part of the star-studded cast of Sidney Lumet's "Murder on the Orient Express"
1975:
Created a dame by Queen Elizabeth II
1975:
Portrayed Gunhild Borkman in "John Gabriel Borkman" at London's Old Vic
1976:
Played Luther Adler's wife in Stuart Rosenberg's "Voyage of the Damned"
1979:
Portrayed the Duchess of York in "Richard II" for PBS' "The Shakespeare Plays"
1980:
Acted in David Lynch's "The Elephant Man"
1982:
Played Janet Mackenzie in CBS "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation of Agatha Christie's "Witness for the Prosecution"
1985:
Portrayed Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" for "Great Performances" (PBS)
1986:
Played Princess Victoria in six-part "Masterpiece Theatre" (PBS) series, "Lord Mountbatten: The Last Victory"
1987:
Last feature to date, "The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne"
1987:
Appeared in "Anne of Avonlea: The Continuing Story of Anne of Green Gables" (Disney Channel)
1988:
Starred in the London stage production of "Driving Miss Daisy"
1990:
Portrayed Lady Ursula Berowne in "A Taste of Death", a six-part presentation of "Mystery!" (PBS)
1992:
Co-starred with John Gielgud and Patrick McGoohan in "The Best of Friends"; a "Masterpiece Theatre" (PBS) presentation depicting the true story of the long-lasting friendship among Dame Laurentia MacLachlan, Sir Sydney Cockerell (Gielgud) and Shaw (McGoohan)
1993:
Played "The Countess Alice" for "Masterpiece Theatre" and also acted in "Ending Up" (PBS), a comedy about a group of elderly men and women who live together in a country house
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Winceby House School: -

Notes

"George Bernard Shaw wasn't like an old man. He was very upright: very elegant, beautifully groomed, very fresh-looking. He had sparkling blue eyes with a very wicked look in them. He flirted with me disgracefully. I fell deeply in love with him. Looking back, if only I'd been a little less diffident . . . He really did hold out the hand of friendship. He insisted I play Eliza. I didn't know."

"At that age, you take things so much for granted. It was just as though every girl had an offer from GBS. Thinking back, I don't know how I had the courage. That's one of the unkindest things nature does; it takes away your courage." --Wendy Hiller quoted in the London Times, June 29, 1992

She once sent Shaw some socks and gloves while she was on stage in the United States. He acknowledged the gift with a postcard, writing: "The postman knocks/with gloves and socks/from Wendy Hiller/what a thriller."

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Ronald Gow. Playwright. Married from 1937 until his death on April 26, 1993 in London at age 95; author of the play "Love on the Dole" (adapted from Walter Greenwood's novel), which brought Hiller fame and the attention of George Bernard Shaw.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Frank Watkin Hiller.
mother:
Marie Elizabeth Hiller.

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