Family & Companions
Awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1974
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).
Cast (Feature Film)
Made stage debut in stock productions
Reached Broadway in chorus of "Treasure Girl"
Went to Hollywood; made screen debut in "The Criminal Code" opposite Walter Huston and Boris Karloff
Appeared opposite Harold Lloyd in "Movie Crazy"
Worked with Karloff in "Behind the Mask"
Fought with Irene Dunne for the affections of Ralph Bellamy in "This Man Is Mine"
Moved to England
London stage debut in "Sour Grapes"
Featured with Robert Young in James Whale's comedy-whodunit "Remember Last Night?"
First British film, "Seven Sinners"
Played Regina Conti in the London and Broadway stagings of "Young Madame Conti"
Had title role in the Broadway play "Madame Bovary"
Appeared in experimental TV version of "Cyrano de Bergerac"
Began radio work with "Showmen of England"
Played Juliet and Saint Joan with the Old Vic
Played the mystery writer wife of Robert Montgomery's Peter Whimsey in "Busman's Honeymoon/Haunted Honeymoon"
Co-starred as Ruth in film version of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit"
Co-starred in the London production of "The Shrike"
Appeared in Joseph Losey's look at British filmmaking "Finger of Guilt"
Played title role in TV version of "The Trial of Mary Dugan"
Played Sarah in the London production of "JB"
Final feature film appearances, "In the Cool of the Day" and "Sammy Going South/A Boy Ten Feet Tall"
Played Martha in the West End production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Played Gertrude to Nicol Williamson's "Hamlet"; played in both London and NYC
Co-starred opposite Laurence Olivier in the National Theatre staging of "Long Day's Journey Into Night"
Portrayed Mme. Ranyevskaya in "The Cherry Orchard"
Reprised role as Mary Tyrone in the ABC presentation of "Long Day's Journey Into Night"
Toured the UK playing the wife in Edward Albee's "All Over"
Triumped on New York stage in "Wings"; won Best Actress Tony Award as a stroke victim
Reprised her stage role in the small screen version of "Wings" (aired on PBS' "American Playhouse")
Played Amanda Wingfield in "The Glass Menagerie" at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami. FL
Toured UK in one-woman show, "Fanny Kemble"
Was featured in an English production of "Crown Matrimonial"
Final acting role on American TV, the "Masterpiece Theatre" presentation of "Love Song" (PBS)
Awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1974