Dame Wendy Hiller, DBE
Dame Wendy Margaret Hiller (15 August 1912 - 14 May 2003) was an Academy Award-winning English film and stage actress, who enjoyed a varied acting career that spanned nearly sixty years. Despite many notable film performances, she chose to remain primarily a stage actress. She was appointed OBE in 1971 and created dame in 1975.
Born at Bramhall, Cheshire on August 15th 1912, she was apparently destined for a theatrical career from an early age; she was christened Wendy after the female heroine in J.M.Barrie's Peter Pan! She joined the Manchester Repertory Company straight from school in 1930 and made a successful London debut in 1935 in Ronald Gow's Love on the Dole. She later married Ronald (1937) and it was her performance in his play, the story of unemployed cotton spinners in Lancashire, that inspired George Bernard Shaw to cast her in the title role of St Joan the following year. This marked the beginning of a long professional association with Shaw, and established her as a great English actress. As one of Shaw's favourite performers, she took leading roles in Pygmalion and Major Barbara, both onstage and on screen. She was a versatile actress, equally at home with the works of Shakespeare or O'Neill. She also won distinction in several film roles, most notably in Sons and Lovers (1960). A Man for All Seasons (1966) and Separate Tables (1958) for which she won an Acadamy Award. American audiences were neither amused or impressed when, asked what the award meant to her, she cooly replied, “Cold, hard cash. that's what it means to me”.
She was remarkable in that she was extremely untheatrical until the houselights went down, and then she would give a performance of breathtaking reality and expertise. Nevertheless her brilliantly poised performance as Queen Mary in Crown Matrimonial (1972) surprised many of her admirers who did not suppose that she was capable of such majestic hautiness and regality.
In 1994, she reprised her association with Shaw, starring as one of his correspondents, Laurentia McLachlan, in a television play, The Best of Friends, adapted from correspondence between Shaw (Patrick McGoohan), McLachlan, and Sydney Cockerell (played by Sir John Gielgud)
She lived in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire and in 1970 she was invited by Aviva Wiseman to become a Patron of The Young Theatre - and she visited the Beaconsfield group on several occasions. Ronald Gow died in 1993, and Wendy died, aged ninety, on May 14th 2003.
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