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Sybil Thorndike Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (1) | Trivia (17) | Personal Quotes (2)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 24 October 1882Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, England, UK
Date of Death 9 June 1976Chelsea, London, England, UK  (heart attack)
Birth NameAgnes Sybil Thorndike
Height 5' 4¾" (1.65 m)

Mini Bio (1)

This distinguished theatrical tragedienne will be remembered forever if only for the fact George Bernard Shaw wrote his classic "Saint Joan" work specifically for her. Her over six-decade career allowed for a gallery of sterling, masterful portrayals, both classic and contemporary, performing all over the world including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and both Western and Eastern Europe. She was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1931, when her career was not quite half over, and in 1970 was made Companion of Honor to Queen Elizabeth.

Born Agnes Sybil Thorndike on October 24, 1882 in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, she was the daughter of a minor canon of Rochester Cathedral. She was the eldest of four children. One younger brother, Frank, was killed in WWI action, a tragedy that left her father inconsolable. He himself would die a few months later. Sybil first became a concert pianist until nerve injuries in her hands quickly altered her destiny. She, at brother Russell Thorndike's suggestion, decided upon acting. Russell would later become a novelist and his sister's biographer.

Not a classic beauty by any stretch, Dame Sybil had sharp features, prominent cheek bones and a pronounced chin that gave her a rather severe look. At age 21 she and her brother began professionally in a touring company guided by actor-manager Ben Greet. She performed as Portia in a production of The Merchant of Venice in 1907 while touring in New York. The following year she met playwright George Bernard Shaw while understudying the role of Candida in a tour which was being directed by the writer himself. It was also during this tour that Sybil met and married actor Sir Lewis Casson and solidified one of the most respected personal and professional relationships the acting realm has known. She stayed with The Old Vic for five years (1914-1919) and in 1924 earned stardom as Shaw's Joan of Arc.

Sybil's film career, unlike that of her esteemed contemporary Edith Evans, fell far short of expectations. Silent films recreated some of her finest theatrical experiences, including Lady Macbeth and, of course, Joan of Arc, but she would not evolve into a film star. She was sporadically utilized in later years as a flavorful character support and played a number of queens, dowagers and old crones with equal finesse. Such classic costumed fare would include Major Barbara (1941), The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1947), Stage Fright (1950), Gone to Earth (1950), The Lady with a Lamp (1951), Melba (1953), as Queen Victoria, and The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) in which she managed to grab focus during her scenes with Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. In 1969, Sybil lent her name to the new theatre in Leatherhead, Surrey, which became The Thorndike. Despite her 87 years, she performed in the new play There Was An Old Woman in its first season. It was to be her final theatrical performance. Always a healthy, vigorous woman, she died of a heart attack on June 9, 1976 at the ripe young age of 93. She was survived by four children and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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

Spouse (1)

Lewis Casson (22 December 1908 - 16 May 1969) (his death) (4 children)

Trivia (17)

Mother with Sir Lewis Casson of Ann Casson, Christopher Casson, John Casson and Mary Casson.
Sister of actor Russell Thorndike and actress Eileen Thorndike. A fourth sibling Francis Herbert Thorndike (1894-1917) died as a pilot in the war.
1931: Appointed a DBE, and a Companion of Honour in 1970.
1966: Created an honorary DLitt of the University of Oxford.
First British actress to appear on a postage stamp
Was nominated for Broadway's 1957 Tony Award as Best Actress (Dramatic) for "The Potting Shed."
Considered by many critics to be one of the greatest actresses of the 20th century.
George Bernard Shaw wrote his play "Saint Joan" specifically for her, and she performed it in its original production.
In 1940, during WWII, her son John, who was in the military, was reported missing and presumed dead. She and her husband had no further news about him until the war ended in 1945 and they found out he had been captured and was still alive. He was home within a few weeks.
Sybil and husband Sir Lewis Casson were involved in the early days of British Equity, The Arts Council, The Old Vic, the National Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre and, of course, the Thorndike Theatre in Leatherhead, which has since closed. Both Dame Sybil and Sir Lewis died at the ages of 93. Lewis died in May of 1969, a few months before the opening of The Thorndike Theatre in September.
Both she and husband Sir Lewis Casson took a keen interest in politics and were supporters of the Popular Front government in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, which was fighting against the Nazi-supported forces of Francisco Franco. She joined Emma Goldman, Rebecca West, Fenner Brockway and C.E.M. Joad in establishing the Committee to Aid Homeless Spanish Women and Children. Both she and Lewis held strong politically leftist beliefs and were active members of the Labour Party, to the extent that when the 1926 general strike cut short the run of "Saint Joan", they remained strongly on the side of the strikers. On a trip to South Africa in 1928, she and Lewis aggressively fought segregation so black theatergoers could experience their presentations.
She severely damaged her voice on a tour of the US presenting Shakespeare plays in 1905. Vocal problems would continue to plague her for the rest of her career.
She was superstitious about washing her stage costumes, and would not allow anyone else to touch them.
She was portrayed by Sian Thomas in the original production of the play "Fram", by Tony Harrison , which premiered at the National Theatre, London, UK in April 2008.
Grandmother of Glynis Casson.
Dame Sybil's ashes are buried in Westminster Abbey. Plot - The Nave (South Choir Aisle).
A cousin of actress Brenda Dunrich, whose mother Hilda (1881-?) was a Thorndike.

Personal Quotes (2)

It's only people who are hysterical who can play hysterical parts.
[on her husband] Divorce, never! Murder, often!

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