Family & Companions
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.
Wynyard made her London stage debut in a small role in "The Grand Duchess" in 1925, and from 1927 to 1930 was a member of William Armstrong's Liverpool-based repertory company. She performed in plays including "The Old Bachelor" and "Sorry You've Been Troubled" before she made her New York debut opposite Basil Rathbone in "The Devil Passes" in 1932. Wynyard scored a hit, and she was promptly signed by MGM to make her film debut supporting John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore in the only film the three famed siblings appeared in together, "Rasputin and the Empress" (1932). The result was surprisingly dull, but Wynyard, with her attractive but approachable looks, well-bred bearing and impassioned acting style, made a good impression. She followed up with her first outright lead and her best-known film, the handsomely detailed "Cavalcade" (1933). Based on Noel Coward's stage pageant following an upper-class British family from the turn of the century, this somewhat staid film rested firmly on Wynyard's gallant shoulders. She copped an Oscar nomination for her fine work, and the film itself, a critical and popular success for its portrait of indomitability during times of crisis, took Best Picture.
Wynyard's success in Hollywood should have been insured, but after five more films she returned to the London stage; her only other Hollywood credit was her last film, the overly tame interracial romance drama, "Island in the Sun" (1957). RKO reteamed Wynyard with "Cavalcade" co-star Clive Brook for "Let's Try Again" and "Where Sinners Meet" (both 1934) but, done in by dull scripts and direction, both bombed at the box office. Wynyard had better luck with her other starring vehicles, but their success was more in terms of quality than in popularity. More's the pity, for "Men Must Fight" (1933) was an interesting anti-war tract, and Wynyard shone in two gems: "Reunion in Vienna" (1933), a sparkling, sophisticated talkfest reteaming her with John Barrymore; and James Whale's superb drama of divorce and frustrated love, "One More River" (1934). Back to the stage it was, though, and over the years Wynyard acted in the London stage productions of such US hits as "No Time for Comedy" and "Watch on the Rhine" and classical productions ranging from "The Seagull" to "Hamlet."
After five years away from the camera, Wynyard enjoyed another spurt of film work beginning with "On the Night of the Fire" (1939). Her role as a working-class barber's wife seemed odd casting, but the film still stands as a striking early example of British film noir. The same goes for her best-known British film, "Gaslight" (1940), long unseen because of the (in some ways lesser) Hollywood remake of 1944, with Wynyard excellent as a Victorian-era wife being driven insane by her psychotic husband (Anton Walbrook). Another fine film was "Kipps" (1941), well directed by future husband (1943-47) Carol Reed, and she also appeared in another patriotic pageant, "The Prime Minister" (1941). Wynyard made a handful of other films, most of them handsome period adaptations ("An Ideal Husband" 1947, "Tom Brown's Schooldays" 1951) but worked primarily onstage until her death from kidney problems in 1964.
Cast (Feature Film)
London stage debut in a small role in "The Grand Duchess"
Was a member of William Armstrong's Company in Liverpool
Made New York stage debut in "The Devil Passes"
Signed by Hollywood; made film debut in "Rasputin and the Empress"
First leading role in features, "Cavalcade"; received Oscar nomination as Best Actress
Last US film for over 20 years, "One More River"
Returned to stage career in England
First film in five years, "On the Night of the Fire"
Last films for six years, "Kipps" and "The Prime Minister"
Last British film, "The Feminine Touch"
Last film, "Island in the Sun", a one-shot return to a US production, shot in the Caribbean
Stricken with kidney ailment while in a theater rehearsing for a production of "The Master Builder"