Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

People We Like: Mrs Railton-Bell

I mean of course Dame Gladys Cooper - writing about NOW VOYAGER reminded me of how brilliant she is in SEPERATE TABLES, that quintessential '50s drama that we lapped up back in 1958. It seems quite phoney now with its faded granduer - even for '58 - but Gladys' Mrs Railton-Bell positively glitters with menace and malice as she learns of the bogus major's crimes in the local cinema, as she seems to be looking directly at us, the audience. Mrs R-B is in her element bossing around the other residents and her crony, that other Edwardian beauty Cathleen Nesbitt, and keeping her dowdy daughter Sybil (Deborah Kerr) firmly under her thumb, as she tries to get the major ousted from the hotel.

Rattigan's play of course is a splendid warhorse for actors and is usually staged as 2 separate acts with the lead actor and actress playing both sets of lead roles - the major and downtrodden Sybil, and the Lancaster and Hayworth roles, in the two separate plays. I saw a version in the '70s staged that way with John Mills and Jill Bennett - and John Schlesinger's 1983 BBC version did the same with Alan Bates and Julie Christie (along with Irene Worth as Mrs R-B, and Claire Bloom as Miss Cooper - the Wendy Hiller role). The movie version is prime ham actually: Niven and Kerr are actually much better for Preminger in the same year's BONJOUR TRISTESSE where they play steely variations on their usual personas - here they are acting by numbers, still it got Niven his best actor award...

But back to Dame Gladys [1888-1971]: she had a long distinguished career, from being a famous beauty in Edwardian times, a member of the Hollywood Raj in Hollywood in the '40s in lots of roles (in REBECCA, that nasty nun in THE SONG OF BERNADETTE, with Garland in THE PIRATE, etc) as well as Bette's monstrous mother in NOW VOYAGER, she also ran her own theatre at one stage, and became mother-in-law to Robert Morley and Robert Hardy.

Back in the UK she did a play with Kay Kendall "THE BRIGHT ONE" in 1958 as she was a friend of Kay's - in fact when Kay went to Hollywood to make LES GIRLS in 1957 Gladys lent Kay her corgi dog June, as company. There are some nice pictures of Kay and June together (as below) and June also appears in the film. Gladys was also Rex's imperious mother in MY FAIR LADY.

I saw her on stage in 1971 (the year she died) in a revival of THE CHALK GARDEN with another favourite, Joan Greenwood; (pictured below), it was a low-key production as I recall but both ladies were splendid. Here is their programme page: (click to enlarge text) [Gladys had originated the role of Mrs St Maugham in the original production, though Edith Evans later took it over and made the film in '64] There is another photograph from this production in my Joan Greenwood post, further back.

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