The Hall of Hams #12: Dame Maggie Smith
The Hall of Hams is my series on some of my favorite actors who have brought the art of melodramatic acting into the modern era.
Today is Dame Maggie’s birthday (b. 1934). For someone of my age or younger it’s impossible to imagine she was ever not an old, crusty, imperious dowager. Only in retrospect does one realize that her dignity and reserve (and one might add her hauteur) made it natural for her to be cast in such roles when she was only in her 40s (even younger, in fact, considering the Fascistic old maid she played in 1969’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie). Yet, only 4 years before that, she had played Desdemona to Olivier’s Othello…in the 50s and 60s, she was downright beautiful. Ah, but later she was just the RIGHT person to interpret rich-women-wearing-pearls in Agatha Christie, Henry James, etc etc…and more recently Julian Fellowes and J.K. Rowling. One suspects it must be a bit like falling off a log now. She was already doing self-parody by the time of Neil Simon’s Murder by Death (1976); she won an Oscar for doing the same in his California Suite (1978).
But just to remind ourselves that she could so something else, here is a glimpse of the young beauty playing opposite Sir Larry in blackface in Othello:
For more on show biz history past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc