Wendy Hiller: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wendy Hiller
Born Wendy Margaret Hiller
15 August 1912(1912-08-15)
Bramhall, Stockport, England
Died 14 May 2003 (aged 90)
Beaconsfield, England
Spouse(s) Ronald Gow (1937-1993)

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. Despite many notable film performances, she chose to remain primarily a stage actress.


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).



from the movie I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)

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.

In the course of her stage career, Hiller won popular and critical acclaim in both London and New York. She excelled at rather plain but strong willed characters. After touring England as Viola in Twelfth Night (1943) she returned to the West End to be directed by John Gielgud as Sister Joanna in The Cradle Song (Apollo, 1944). The string of notable successes continued with The First Gentleman (Savoy, 1945) with Robert Morley, Playboy of the Western World (Bristol Old Vic, 1946) and Tess of the d'Urbervilles (Bristol Old Vic, 1946, transferring to the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End in 1947), which was adapted for the stage by her husband.

In 1947, Hiller originated the role of Catherine Sloper, the painfully shy, vulnerable spinster in The Heiress on Broadway. The play, based on the Henry James novel Washington Square, also featured Basil Rathbone as her emotionally abusive father. The production enjoyed a year-long run at the Biltmore Theater in New York and would prove to be her greatest triumph on Broadway. Olivia de Havilland would later win the Oscar for the role in the film version in 1949. Upon returning to London, Hiller again played the role in the West End production in 1950.

Her stage work remained a priority and continued with Ann Veronica (Piccadilly, 1949), which was another collaboration with Gow, who wrote the play with his wife as leading lady. She did a two year run in N.C. Hunter's Waters of the Moon (Haymarket, 1951-52), alongside Sybil Thorndike and Edith Evans. A season at the Old Vic in 1955-56 produced a notable performance as Portia in Julius Caesar among others. Other stage work at this time included The Night of the Ball (New Theatre, 1955), the new Robert Bolt play Flowering Cherry (Haymarket, 1958, 1959 Broadway), Toys in the Attic (Piccadilly, 1960), The Wings of the Dove (Lyric, 1963), A Measure of Cruelty (Birmingham Repertory, 1965), A Present for the Past (Edinburgh, 1966), The Sacred Flame (Duke of York's Theatre, 1967) with Gladys Cooper, The Battle of Shrivings (Lyric, 1970) with John Gielgud and Lies (Albery, 1975).

In 1957, Hiller returned to New York to star as Josie Hogan in Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten , a performance which garnered her a nomination for Broadway's Tony Award as Best Dramatic Actress. The production also featured Cyril Cusack and Franchot Tone. Her final appearance on Broadway was as Miss Tina in the 1962 production of Michael Redgrave's new play The Aspern Papers, adapted from the Henry James novella.

As she matured, she demonstrated a strong affinity for the plays of Henrik Ibsen, as Irene in When We Dead Awaken (Cambridge, 1968), as Mrs. Alving in Ghosts (Edinburgh, 1972), Aase in Peer Gynt (BBC, 1972) and as Gunhild in John Gabriel Borkman (Old Vic, 1975), in which she appeared with Ralph Richardson and Peggy Ashcroft. Later West End triumphs such as Queen Mary in Crown Matrimonial (Haymarket, 1972) proved she was not limited to playing dejected, emotionally deprived women. She later revisited some earlier plays playing older characters, as in West End revivals of Waters of the Moon (1977 Chichester Festival, Haymarket, 1978) with Ingrid Bergman and The Aspern Papers (Haymarket, 1984) with Vanessa Redgrave. She was scheduled to return to the American stage in a 1982 revival of Anastasia with Natalie Wood, until Wood's untimely death just weeks before rehearsals. Hiller made her final West End performance in the title role in Driving Miss Daisy (Apollo, 1988).

Film career

At Shaw's insistence, she starred as Eliza Doolittle in the film Pygmalion (1938) with Leslie Howard as Professor Higgins. This performance earned her her first Oscar nomination and became one of her most famous film roles. Her 1939 nomination marked the first time a British actress in a British film had been nominated for an Academy Award. She was also the first actress to utter the word "bloody" in a British film, when Eliza utters the line "Not bloody likely, I'm going in a taxi!".

Wendy Hiller in Pygmalion (1938)

She followed up this success with another Shaw adaptation, Major Barbara with Rex Harrison and Robert Morley, in 1941. The ground-breaking film team of Powell and Pressburger signed her for their 1943 film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, but she was forced to back out due to pregnancy. The role eventually went to Deborah Kerr. Determined to work with Hiller, the pair eventually teamed her with Colonel Blimp star Roger Livesey in the 1945 I Know Where I'm Going!, which became a classic of British cinema.

Despite her early film success and offers from Hollywood, she returned to the stage full-time after 1945 and only occasionally accepted film roles. With her return to film in the 1950s, she portrayed an abused colonial wife in Carol Reed's Outcast of the Islands (1952), but had already transitioned into mature, supporting roles with Sailor of the King (1953) and a memorable victim of the Mau Mau uprising in Something of Value (1957). She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1959 for the film Separate Tables (1958), as a lonely hotel manageress and mistress of Burt Lancaster. She remained uncompromising in her indifference to film stardom, as evidenced by her surprising reaction to her Oscar win "never mind the honour, cold hard cash is what it means to me."[1] She received a third Oscar nomination for her performance as the simple, unrefined, but dignified Lady Alice More, opposite Paul Scofield as Thomas More, in A Man for All Seasons (1966). She reprised her London stage role in the southern gothic Toys in the Attic (1963), which earned her a Golden Globe nomination as the elder spinster sister of Dean Martin and Geraldine Page.

Her portrayal of the domineering, possessive mother in Sons and Lovers (1960) earned her a BAFTA nomination as Best Supporting Actress. Her role as the grand Russian princess in a huge commercial success, Murder on the Orient Express (1974), won her international acclaim and the Evening Standard British Film Award as Best Actress. Other notable roles included a Jewish refugee fleeing Nazi Germany with her dying husband in Voyage of the Damned (1976) and the formidable London Hospital matron in The Elephant Man (1980).

Television career

Hiller made numerous television appearances, in both Britain and in the United States. In the 1950s and 1960s, she performed in episodes of American drama series such as Studio One and Alfred Hitchcock Presents among others. In 1965, she starred in an episode of the acclaimed dramatic series Profiles in Courage, in which she played Anne Hutchinson, a free-thinking woman charged with heresy in Colonial America. In Britain, in the 1960s, she appeared in the drama series Play of the Month, Play for Today as well as on the children's TV programme Jackanory, reading the stories of Alison Uttley.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, she appeared in many television films including a memorable Duchess of York in the BBC Television Shakespeare production of Richard II (1978), the irascible Edwardian Oxford academic in Miss Morrison's Ghosts (1981) and the BBC dramatizations of Julian Gloag's Only Yesterday (1986) and the Vita Sackville-West novel All Passion Spent (1986), in which she was the quietly defiant Lady Slane. This performance earned her a BAFTA nomination as Best Actress. Her last appearance, before retiring from acting, was the title role in The Countess Alice (1992) with Zoe Wanamaker.

Personal life

In the early 1940s Hiller and husband Ronald Gow moved to Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, where they had two children, Ann (1939–2006) and Anthony (b. 1942), and lived together in the house called "Spindles" until Gow's death in 1993. When not performing on stage or screen, she lived a completely private domestic life, often insisting on being referred to as Mrs. Ronald Gow, rather than by her stage name.

Despite a busy professional career, throughout her life she continually took an active interest in aspiring young actors by supporting local amateur drama societies,[2] as well as being the president of the Chiltern Shakespeare Company until her death. Chronic ill health necessitated her eventual retirement from acting in 1992. She spent the last decade of her life in quiet retirement at her home in Beaconsfield, where she died of natural causes at the age of 90.[3]

Regarded as one of Britain's great dramatic talents, she was created an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 1971 and raised to Dame Commander (DBE) in 1975. Her style was disciplined and unpretentious, and she disliked personal publicity. The writer Sheridan Morley described Hiller as being remarkable in her "extreme untheatricality until the house lights went down, whereupon she would deliver a performance of breathtaking reality and expertise."[4]

In 1996, Hiller was honoured by the London Film Critics Circle with the Dilys Powell Award for excellence in British film.



Year Film Role Notes
1937 Lancashire Luck Betty Lovejoy
1938 Pygmalion Eliza Doolittle Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
1941 Major Barbara Major Barbara
1945 I Know Where I'm Going! Joan Webster
1952 Outcast of the Islands Mrs. Almayer
1953 Sailor of the King, also known as Single-Handed Lucinda Bentley
1957 Something of Value Elizabeth McKenzie Newton
How to Murder a Rich Uncle Edith Clitterburn
1958 Separate Tables Pat Cooper Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
1960 Sons and Lovers Gertrude Morel Nominated - BAFTA Award
1963 Toys in the Attic Anna Berniers Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
1966 A Man for All Seasons Alice More Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1974 Murder on the Orient Express Princess Dragomiroff
1976 Voyage of the Damned Rebecca Weiler
1979 The Cat and the Canary Allison Crosby
1980 The Elephant Man Mothershead
1981 Miss Morrison's Ghosts Miss Elizabeth Morrison
1982 Making Love Winnie Bates
1983 Attracta Attracta
1987 The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Aunt D'Arcy
1992 The Countess Alice Countess Alice von Holzendorf


Year Title Role Notes
1969 David Copperfield Mrs. Micawber
1972 Clochemerle Justine Putet
1980 The Curse of King Tut's Tomb Princess Vilma
1981 Play for Today Lady Carlion "Country"
1982 The Kingfisher Evelyn
Witness for the Prosecution Janet Mackenzie
1985 The Importance of Being Earnest Lady Bracknell
The Death of the Heart Matchett
1986 Lord Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy Princess Victoria
Only Yesterday May Darley from the novel by Julian Gloag
All Passion Spent Lady Slane Nominated - BAFTA Award
1987 Anne of Avonlea Mrs. Harris as Dame Wendy Hiller
1988 A Taste for Death Lady Ursula Berowne
1989 Ending Up Adela
1991 The Best Of Friends Laurentia McLachlan


  1. ^ That Honor, That Cash. Time magazine. 20 April 1959.
  2. ^ The Young Theatre Archive : The Patrons of The Young Theatre.
  3. ^ "Wendy Hiller". Find A Grave. 2008. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7448202. Retrieved 2008-10-21.  
  4. ^ Dame Wendy Hiller.Telegraph.co.uk. 16 May 2003.

External links

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address