Wendy Hiller

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Dame Wendy Margaret Hiller DBE (15 August 1912 – 14 May 2003) was an English film and stage actress, who enjoyed a varied acting career that spanned nearly sixty years. The writer Joel Hirschorn, in his 1984 compilation Rating the Movie Stars, described Wendy Hiller as "a no-nonsense actress who literally took command of the screen whenever she appeared on film". Despite many notable film performances however, she chose to remain primarily a stage actress.

Contents

Early years

Born in Bramhall, Stockport, in Cheshire, the daughter of Frank Watkin Hiller, a Manchester cotton manufacturer, and Marie Stone, Hiller began her professional career as an actress in repertory at Manchester in the early 1930s. She first found success as slum dweller Sally Hardcastle in the stage version of Love on the Dole in 1934. The play was an enormous success and toured the regional stages of England. This play saw her West End debut in 1935 at the Garrick Theatre. She married the play's author Ronald Gow, fifteen years her senior, in 1937 (the same year as she made her film debut in Lancashire Luck, scripted by Gow).

Career

Stage

The huge popularity of Love on the Dole took the production to New York in 1936, where her performance attracted the attention of George Bernard Shaw. Shaw recognized a spirited radiance in the young actress, which was ideally suited for playing his heroines. Shaw cast her in several of his plays, including Saint Joan, Pygmalion and Major Barbara and his influence on her early career is clearly apparent. She was reputed to be Shaw's favorite actress of the time. Unlike other stage actresses of her generation, she did relatively little Shakespeare, preferring the more modern dramatists such as Henrik Ibsen and new plays adapted from the novels of Henry James and Thomas Hardy among others.

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