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Wendy Hiller Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (2) | Spouse (1) | Trivia (11) | Personal Quotes (6) | Salary (1)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 15 August 1912Bramhall, Cheshire, England, UK
Date of Death 14 May 2003Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England, UK  (natural causes)
Birth NameWendy Margaret Hiller
Height 5' 7" (1.7 m)

Mini Bio (2)

Wendy Hiller, daughter of Frank and Marie Hiller, was born on 15th August 1912 in Bramhall, near Stockport, Cheshire, England. She was educated at Winceby House School, Bexhill then moved on to Manchester Repertory Theatre. She appeared on stage in Sir John Barry's tour of Evensong, then as Sally Hardcastle in Love on the Dole. She toured extensively, playing in London and New York. She took leading parts in Pygmalion and Saint Joan at the Malvern Festival in 1936.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Steve Crook <steve@brainstorm.co.uk>

Cheshire-born actress Wendy Hiller soared to Cinderella-like stardom in her West End theatre debut of "Love on the Dole" (1934). The critical applause she received for this stellar performance led to an expressed introduction to legendary playwright George Bernard Shaw. She went on to give life to a number of his greatest creations (Joan of Arc, Eliza Dolittle, Major Barbara Undershaft) with an incomparable charm and refreshing frankness. A fine interpreter of Ibsen, Shakespeare and O'Neill as well as her beloved Shaw, Ms. Hiller stayed close to the theatre for nearly six decades, yet also managed a long and fruitful, if somewhat erratic, career on screen and TV. Entering her twilight years, she evolved from the headstrong, independent Shavian heroine that had so impacted her early career into a delightfully spiky and wry-mannered dowager.

Born Wendy Margaret Hiller in 1912, she was the daughter of prosperous cotton spinner and manufacturer Frank Hiller and his wife Marie Stone. In a situation similar to her Doolittle character, Wendy's parents enrolled her in speech and refinement at the Winceby House School in Sussex in the hopes of disguising her humble Lancashire roots and receiving upperscale marriage proposals for her. Such hopes were vanquished when the highly determined Hiller set her career sights on the theatre. Following high school, the 18-year-old apprenticed at the Manchester Repertory Theatre where she worked as an assistant stage manager and earned minor roles. Making her professional debut in 1930 in "The Ware Case," she gained valuable experience in such plays as "Evensong" (1932) before being handed her breakthrough part with "Love on the Dole" as slum-dwelling heroine Sally Hardcastle, who is willing to marry for money in order to save her impoverished family. Wendy toured with the play, then made her London debut at the Garrick Theatre a year later. The toast of the West End that year, she went on to earn Broadway acclaim during its American tour.

In the audience during one of Wendy's London performances was a thoroughly captivated George Bernard Shaw who invited her to star in two of his plays, "Saint Joan" and "Pygmalion," at the Malvern Festival in 1936. Shaw and his wife, who were childless, took a pronounced and parental liking to the budding, youthful star. During this time Wendy also must have bewitched writer Ronald Gow, a former schoolmaster who adapted "Love on the Dole" for the stage, for the couple married in 1937.

Films soon beckoned for Wendy and her initial warm-up was in a modest, likable comedic effort written by her husband. In Lancashire Luck (1937), Wendy portrayed the daughter of a carpenter who gambles on football pools and earns a small fortune. The following year she recreated her Cockney pupil magically on the screen opposite Leslie Howard's Henry Higgins in Pygmalion (1938). The performance confirmed all the initial buzz about Wendy and, at age 27, she received her first Oscar nomination.

A screen version of Shaw's "Saint Joan," with Wendy already on board, fell through, but the actress was thoroughly compensated by Shaw's insistence that she star in the film adaptation of his comedy Major Barbara (1941). As Barbara Undershaft, a wealthy young débutante who decides to join the Salvation Army, Wendy again entranced filmgoers. Surprisingly then, she made only one more film in the 1940s, 'I Know Where I'm Going!' (1945), with the actress ideal as a young lass stranded in a Scottish town whose mindset to marry into money is undermined when she meets one of the town's handsome local lads (Roger Livesey).

Instead Wendy refocused on the stage where she earned applause as Viola in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" in 1943, Sister Joanna in a John Gielgud directed revival of the Spanish play "Cradle Song" in 1944, and as Princess Charlotte in "The First Gentleman" in 1945. In the post-war years she showcased at the Bristol Old Vic as Portia in "The Merchant of Venice," Pegeen Mike in "The Playboy of the Western World" and as "Tess of the D'Urbervilles." In 1947 she made a triumphant Broadway return in "The Heiress" as a lonely and highly plaintive Victorian woman of means who is won over by a suspicious suitor over the objections of her domineering father (Basil Rathbone). She portrayed yet another feminist-styled heroine on stage in the form of "Ann Veronica," in an adaptation by her writer/husband. From there Wendy enjoyed a two-year run in "Waters of the Moon" (1951-1953) and returned to Shakespeare in repertory at the Old Vic with "Julius Caesar," "The Merry Wives of Windsor," "Othello" and "The Winter's Tale." In addition, Wendy earned a Tony nomination as Josie Hogan in O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten" and followed it with successes in "Flowering Cherry," "Toys in the Attic" and "The Aspern Papers."

Film appearances were sporadic in the years following WWII, but they never failed to impress. After fine work in Carol Reed's Outcast of the Islands (1951) and How to Murder a Rich Uncle (1957), she topped her 1950s film accomplishments with a superb turn in Terence Rattigan's drama Separate Tables (1958). As the melancholy hotel proprietress carrying on with a very married Burt Lancaster, Wendy won the supporting Oscar trophy. After another rich film roles as a coalminer's wife and mother in Sons and Lovers (1960), she scored her third Oscar nomination for her portrayal of alienated wife Alice More opposite Paul Scofield's Sir Thomas in A Man for All Seasons (1966). The only major filming misfire during this time was when she repeated her Broadway stage success in an uninspired, watered-down version of Toys in the Attic (1963), in which she and Geraldine Page played overprotective maiden sisters to ne'er-do-well Dean Martin. The film fatally softened the play's tawdrier aspects and the roles were left with little bite. Still, Page and Hiller are, as always, quite watchable.

By the late 1960s and 1970s Wendy had settled comfortably into grande dame roles, her plain but striking features having grown stern and frowning. Her voice too took on an intriguingly wobbly and dour, distinctive tone. Geared towards playing imperious aristocrats that complimented her rather detached demeanor, she starred in theatrical productions of "Ghosts" in 1972, "Crown Matrimonial" in 1974 and "John Gabriel Borkman" in 1975, while making a formidable Lady Bracknell in "The Importance of Being Earnest" in 1981. In her final stage role, she was simply perfection as the genteel but prickly elderly Jewish Southerner in the West End version of "Driving Miss Daisy" in 1988.

On camera Wendy managed to stand out grandly in the whodunnit star ensemble of Murder on the Orient Express (1974) as an aged, impervious Russian princess, and recreated her Lady Bracknell in a delightful 1985 TV appearance. She ended her film career as brilliantly as it began as Screenplay: The Countess Alice (1992).

Queen Elizabeth II appointed Ms. Hiller to the Order of the British Empire in 1971. She then became Dame Wendy Hiller four years later. Husband Ronald Gow died in 1993 at age 96; Wendy died a decade later at her Beaconsfield, England residence on May 14, 2003 at age 90. She was survived by her two children, a son and a daughter.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (1)

Ronald Gow (25 February 1937 - 27 April 1993) (his death) (2 children)

Trivia (11)

She was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in 1971 for her services to drama.
She was awarded the Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1975 for her services to drama.
She was awarded an honorary LLD by Manchester University in 1984.
She & husband Ronald Gow had one daughter and one son.
She was personally chosen by George Bernard Shaw to play the lead roles in 1930s productions of his plays Saint Joan and Pygmalion. She was reputedly his favorite actress of the time.
She was nominated for Broadway's 1958 Tony Award as Actress in a Leading Role in a Drama for Eugene O'Neill's play, "A Moon for the Misbegotten.".
In 1967, she accepted the Oscar for best actor in a leading role on behalf of Paul Scofield (her co-star in A Man for All Seasons (1966)), who wasn't present at the awards ceremony.
She was Sidney Lumet 's second choice to play Princess Dragonmiroff in Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Lumet's first choice was vetoed by the producers. 'Ingrid Bergman' was then offered the role and declined, instead choosing the role of Greta Ohlsson, and then the role was offered to Hiller.
She played Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion (1938) opposite Leslie Howard as Professor Henry Higgins. Rex Harrison, who also appeared in Major Barbara (1941) with Hiller, played Professor Henry Higgins in the Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady on Broadway, followed by the West End London production (both opposite Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle) and in the My Fair Lady (1964) opposite Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle. He continued to appear in the role on and off in smaller productions for decades.
She was buried next to her husband in the churchyard at St Mary's, Radnage, Buckinghamshire. The same church was used in the film A Month in the Country (1987).
Was the 48th actress to receive an Academy Award; she won the Best Supporting Actress Ocar for Separate Tables (1958) at The 31st Annual Academy Awards (1959) on April 6, 1959.

Personal Quotes (6)

"I thought Shaw [George Bernard Shaw] asked all young actresses to do those parts. It never occurred to me that he thought I was something special. He was a real charmer. Once, he wrote that I was playing "Saint Joan" as though I was cataleptic".
The first Oscar I ever saw was on Mr. Shaw's mantelshelf in his home at Ayot St. Lawrence. My first thought on hearing that I had got one was that if the great G.B.S. thought it was respectable then who was I to worry?
[on Separate Tables (1958)] "We were all English except Burt [Burt Lancaster] and dear Rita Hayworth. She made a jolly good stab at the film, and she was a lovely creature; I have never been large but Rita was so delicately boned she made me feel like a camel! It was a bizarre idea to transport all that was so English to Hollywood, but it was a very good film. I know I won an Oscar for it, but it was always the best part in the play".
It's amazing what they give these awards for. All I seemed to do was walk in and out of doors and look over my shoulder at Burt Lancaster. They cut out my two best scenes, you know. I was frightfully cross. - regarding her Oscar-winning work in Separate Tables (1958).
[on winning Best Actrss Award, 1958, for 'Separate Tables'] Unless they give some award for acting with one's back to the camera, I don't see how I could have won. Never mind the honor, though I'm sure it's very nice of them. I hope this award means cash. Hard cash.
I think a little posterity must always be nice. After I'm dead I'll probably be a cult and they'll have entire seasons of me at the National Film Theatre. Thank God I won't have to watch them all.

Salary (1)

'I Know Where I'm Going!' (1945) £17,000

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