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Margaret Rutherford: Dreadnought With Good Manners

por Andy Merriman

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341571,862 (3.67)1
Biography of much-loved actress Margaret Rutherford, famous for her roles in such classic films as 'Blithe Spirit', 'The Importance of Being Earnest' and the Miss Marple films. Andy Merriman is also the author of a biography of Hattie Jaques.
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This is a very readable biography of this classic comic actress who was almost the quintessence of Englishness, in the best and most inclusive sense. She is most famous for her portrayal of Agatha Christie's sleuth Miss Marple in four films in the early 60s (though these films were disliked by Christie, who apparently regarded them as "incredibly silly" and Rutherford as "totally miscast"), but most critically acclaimed for her film performances as Madame Arcati in Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit in 1945 and as Miss Prism in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest in 1952 (though her only Oscar was for a less famous role in a film The VIPs in 1963). Her background was incredibly tragic. A decade before her birth, her father William Rutherford Benn, suffering from mental breakdown, killed his own father, the Rev. Julius Benn. He was sentenced to Broadmoor, but released seven years later and was reunited with his wife Florence, and they then gave birth to Margaret in 1892. He dropped the Benn surname and moved with his family to begin a new life in India. Tragically, however, Florence committed suicide when Margaret was three and her father, unable to cope, left her with Florence's sister Bessie Nicholson in London. William spent most of the rest of his life in mental institutions; Margaret was told he had died, and was brought up by Bessie as effectively her sole parent. Margaret cared for Bessie when she grew old and died in 1923.

Her stage career only really took off after this, she having supported herself through giving music and elocution lessons. Her first film roles came in the 1930s (when she was already around 40) and she made a very early TV appearance in 1938. Her lack of classical good looks and her quirkiness restricted the parts she was able to land, much to her regret (at various times she rued not having played Shakespeare's Juliet, and Cleopatra, which would have been difficult to picture!). Her devoted late marriage at age 53 to the younger (James) Stringer Davis is lovingly described here, and he was her gofer, dogsbody and carer for the rest of her life (she had a clause in her contract to give him a minor role in her films; otherwise, he landed very few parts, being a rather limited actor). In addition to her acting successes and universally loved personality, she also possessed a broadly based and entirely non-political social conscience, helping young offenders and with tolerant views on issues of race and sexuality, and was incredibly generous with her money (sometimes naively so). She battled all her life with her own mental health issues, and had to rest for long periods during her career. Her deterioration and death in 1972 make a sad ending to this book; her funeral was attended by Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, and Tony Benn, who was the son of her cousin William Wedgewood Benn, and who had supported her financially at times. Her husband only outlived her by a little over a year, but had fallen prey to the wiles of their former housekeeper, Violet Lang-Davis, to whom he proposed shortly after Margaret's death, but who forged his will and stole and sold or otherwise disposed of some of Margaret's most prized possessions, including her Oscar. A sad and sorry ending; a mercy that Stringer and Margaret remained unaware of this sordid deception. A lovely book. ( )
  john257hopper | Sep 9, 2016 |
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Biography of much-loved actress Margaret Rutherford, famous for her roles in such classic films as 'Blithe Spirit', 'The Importance of Being Earnest' and the Miss Marple films. Andy Merriman is also the author of a biography of Hattie Jaques.

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