Constance Cummings


Actor

About

Also Known As
Constance Halverstadt
Birth Place
Seattle, Washington, USA
Born
May 15, 1910
Died
November 23, 2005

Biography

This highly talented blonde actress made 20 Hollywood films in four years before moving to England where her sophistication and abilities were better served in both motion pictures and on the stage. Constance Cummings was born in Seattle and began her career in stock companies at age 16. Within two years, she had made it to Broadway as a chorine in "Treasure Girl," subsequently playing i...

Photos & Videos

The Guilty Generation - Movie Posters
The Criminal Code - Movie Posters
The Criminal Code - Publicity Stills

Family & Companions

Benn Wolf Levy
Husband
Playwright, stage producer. Married from 1933 until his death in 1973.

Bibliography

"For All Seasons: The Story of Stage and Screen Star Constance Cummings"
Michael Roy Gartside (1999)

Notes

Awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1974

Biography

This highly talented blonde actress made 20 Hollywood films in four years before moving to England where her sophistication and abilities were better served in both motion pictures and on the stage. Constance Cummings was born in Seattle and began her career in stock companies at age 16. Within two years, she had made it to Broadway as a chorine in "Treasure Girl," subsequently playing in "The Little Show" (1929) before scoring a success as the leading lady of "This Man's Town" in 1930. Inevitably, Hollywood beckoned and Cummings lent her talents to a string of films at several studios. She debuted as the daughter of a prison warden (Walter Huston) who falls in love with an ex-con (Phillips Holmes) in the creaky melodrama "Criminal Code" (1931). Often, though, Cummings was superior to the material in which she was cast (e.g., "Lover Come Back" 1931). She was too classy a rival to Mae West for George Raft in "Night After Night" (1932) but offered strong support to Walter Huston in Frank Capra's early study of an idealist fighting what's right in "American Madness" (1932). "Movie Crazy" (also 1932) cast her as leading lady to Harold Lloyd in this semi-autobiographical behind-the-scenes look at filmmaking. Cummings made a suitable rival to Irene Dunne in "This Man Is Mine" (1934) and was fine as the socialite wife of Robert Young in James Whale's comedy whodunit "Remember Last Night?" (1935).

After marrying playwright Benn Wolf Levy in 1933, Cummings more or less abandoned her Hollywood career for the stage and England. Her film appearance became infrequent, although she shone as Robert Montgomery's mystery writer spouse in "Busman's Honeymoon/Haunted Honeymoon" (1940) and had perhaps her best screen role as Rex Harrison's second wife Ruth in the delightful screen version of Noel Coward's frothy "Blithe Spirit" (1945). Her later screen roles found her cast as a demanding prima donna in "The Intimate Stranger/Finger of Guilt" (1956), the aunt of a boy trekking through Africa in "Sammy Going South/The Boy Ten Feet Tall" (1963) and second lead to Angela Lansbury in "In the Cool of the Day" (1963), her last films made directly for the big screen.

Cummings, instead, concentrated on her family and a celebrated stage career that saw her in London and in NYC in such memorable roles as Emma Bovary in "Madame Bovary" (1937), the nagging wife in "The Shrike" (1953), Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1964) and Gertrude to Nicol Williamson's "Hamlet" (1969, although Judy Parfitt replaced her in the film). Joining Laurence Olivier's National Theatre in the 70s, Cummings triumphed as Mary Tyrone in "Long Day's Journey Into Night" (1971, filmed for TV by ABC). But the crowning achievement in her long career came with her effective and moving portrayal of a former daredevil aviatrix who suffers a stroke in Arthur Kopit's "Wings" (1979), for which she received a Best Actress Tony Award (in a tie with Carole Shelley). After repeating that role for a 1983 PBS version, she starred in the Off-Broadway revival of "The Chalk Garden" (1982), starred as Amanda Wingfield in a Florida production of "The Glass Menagerie" (1984), toured the UK in a one-woman show about actress "Fanny Kemble" and made her last TV appearance in the elegiac British drama "Love Song" (aired in the USA on PBS in 1987).

Life Events

1926

Made stage debut in stock productions

1928

Reached Broadway in chorus of "Treasure Girl"

1931

Went to Hollywood; made screen debut in "The Criminal Code" opposite Walter Huston and Boris Karloff

1932

Appeared opposite Harold Lloyd in "Movie Crazy"

1932

Worked with Karloff in "Behind the Mask"

1934

Fought with Irene Dunne for the affections of Ralph Bellamy in "This Man Is Mine"

1934

Moved to England

1934

London stage debut in "Sour Grapes"

1935

Featured with Robert Young in James Whale's comedy-whodunit "Remember Last Night?"

1936

First British film, "Seven Sinners"

1936

Played Regina Conti in the London and Broadway stagings of "Young Madame Conti"

1937

Had title role in the Broadway play "Madame Bovary"

1938

Appeared in experimental TV version of "Cyrano de Bergerac"

1938

Began radio work with "Showmen of England"

1939

Played Juliet and Saint Joan with the Old Vic

1940

Played the mystery writer wife of Robert Montgomery's Peter Whimsey in "Busman's Honeymoon/Haunted Honeymoon"

1945

Co-starred as Ruth in film version of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit"

1953

Co-starred in the London production of "The Shrike"

1956

Appeared in Joseph Losey's look at British filmmaking "Finger of Guilt"

1957

Played title role in TV version of "The Trial of Mary Dugan"

1961

Played Sarah in the London production of "JB"

1963

Final feature film appearances, "In the Cool of the Day" and "Sammy Going South/A Boy Ten Feet Tall"

1964

Played Martha in the West End production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

1969

Played Gertrude to Nicol Williamson's "Hamlet"; played in both London and NYC

1971

Co-starred opposite Laurence Olivier in the National Theatre staging of "Long Day's Journey Into Night"

1973

Portrayed Mme. Ranyevskaya in "The Cherry Orchard"

1973

Reprised role as Mary Tyrone in the ABC presentation of "Long Day's Journey Into Night"

1976

Toured the UK playing the wife in Edward Albee's "All Over"

1979

Triumped on New York stage in "Wings"; won Best Actress Tony Award as a stroke victim

1983

Reprised her stage role in the small screen version of "Wings" (aired on PBS' "American Playhouse")

1984

Played Amanda Wingfield in "The Glass Menagerie" at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami. FL

1986

Toured UK in one-woman show, "Fanny Kemble"

1987

Was featured in an English production of "Crown Matrimonial"

1987

Final acting role on American TV, the "Masterpiece Theatre" presentation of "Love Song" (PBS)

Photo Collections

The Guilty Generation - Movie Posters
The Guilty Generation - Movie Posters
The Criminal Code - Movie Posters
The Criminal Code - Movie Posters
The Criminal Code - Publicity Stills
The Criminal Code - Publicity Stills
The Criminal Code - Scene Stills
The Criminal Code - Scene Stills

Videos

Movie Clip

Haunted Honeymoon (1940) - Rather Like Getting Off Dope Opening the feature made at MGM-British studios, Americans Robert Montgomery and Constance Cummings as about-to-be-wed Lord Peter Wimsey and novelist Harriet Vane, who played the same roles on Broadway (in the only play by the novelist Dorothy L. Sayers), swearing off amateur sleuthing, in Haunted Honeymoon, 1940.
Haunted Honeymoon (1940) - We're Not Quite Joyous Enough At choir practice in the town where the leads (Robert Montgomery and Constance Cummings) will soon arrive, organist Aggie (Joan Kemp-Welch) rages as her fiancé Frank (Robert Newton) kanoodles with Polly (Googie Withers), as the reverend (Aubrey Mallalieu) conducts Puffett (Frank Pettingell) et al, in the Lord Peter Wimsey yarn Haunted Honeymoon, 1940.
Haunted Honeymoon (1940) - A Trifle Uncharitable Headed back to London to escape the brewing murder mystery in the village where they’re honeymooning, Lord Peter and Harriet (Robert Montgomery, Constance Cummings), trying to break their amateur crime-solving habit, get entangled with London friend Inspector Kirk (Leslie Banks) and loyal butler Bunter (Sir Seymour Hicks), in Haunted Honeymoon, 1940.
Haunted Honeymoon (1940) - Been Up To London? Introducing several characters, Eliot Makeham as estate agent Simpson, back from London, greeted by Frank Pettingwell as Puffett, then Robert Newton and Joan Kemp-Welch as fiancés Frank and Aggie, then Roy Emerton as her uncle Noakes (soon the murder victim!), in MGM’s Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, with Robert Montgomery and Constance Cummings, Haunted Honeymoon, 1940.
Criminal Code, The (1931) - Between Me And The Boys New warden Brady (Walter Huston) being awesome stepping into the yard,facing down inmate Tex (an un-credited actor), in Howard Hawks' The Criminal Code, 1931.
Movie Crazy (1932) - I Won't See A Thing! Harold (Lloyd) has stepped off the train in Hollywood, where he's come to make his name, and finds himself immediately on a movie set, where Bill (Eddie Fetherstone) employs him as an extra, who makes trouble for the director (Sydney Jarvis), early in Movie Crazy, 1932.
Blithe Spirit (1945) - As You're Not In The Navy Author Noel Coward’s own narration then a typical dazzling introduction of all but one of his chief characters, Constance Cummings and Rex Harrison as Ruth and Charles Condomine, Jacqueline Clark the maid, Margaret Rutherford cycling and Hugh Wakefield and Joyce Carey the guests, David Lean directing, in Blithe Spirit, 1945.
Blithe Spirit (1945) - Ventriloquism! Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford), using her spiritual interlocutor “Daphne,” running the sèance arranged by skeptical author Charles (Rex Harrison), who’s doing research for a novel, with his wife (Constance Cummings) and their guests (Hugh Wakefield, Joyce Carey), in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, 1945, directed by David Lean.
Blithe Spirit (1945) - I Don't Happen To Be An African Native Author Charles (Rex Harrison) has just seen off the nutty medium he invited for a demonstration, seeing off his guests while his wife Ruth (Constance Cummings) confirms she can’t see his accidentally summoned deceased (greenish) first wife Elvira (Kay Hammond), David Lean directing Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, 1945.
Attorney For The Defense (1932) - The People Had No Case From the opening in which Wallace (Dwight Frye) is convicted of murder, he lets loose on suave D-A Burton (leading man Edmund Lowe) who is unmoved, even by his assistant “Barrty” (Constance Cummings) when she raises her own objections, in Columbia’s Attorney For The Defense, 1932.
Attorney For The Defense (1932) - That's Not Like Being There About ten years after the story began, D-A turned defense lawyer Bill (Edmund Lowe) is pleased at the success of the boy he’s sponsored since causing his father’s wrongful execution, with loyal assistant Barry (Constance Cummings) and unexpected old girlfriend Val (Evelyn Brent), in Attorney For The Defense, 1932.
Finger Of Guilt (1956) - The Big Producer Act Actress Kay (Constance Cummings), confirming that she’s the woman with whom he had the affair that caused him to leave Hollywood for England, tangles with producer Reggie (Richard Basehart), who’s now being blackmailed by somebody in Newcastle, in Finger Of Guilt, 1956.

Trailer

Family

Dallas Vernon Halverstadt
Father
Attorney.
Kate Logan Cummings
Mother
Concert soprano.
Jonathan Levy
Son
Jemina Levy
Daughter

Companions

Benn Wolf Levy
Husband
Playwright, stage producer. Married from 1933 until his death in 1973.

Bibliography

"For All Seasons: The Story of Stage and Screen Star Constance Cummings"
Michael Roy Gartside (1999)

Notes

Awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1974