Today is the birthday of Constance Collier (Laura Constance Hardie, 1878-1955). Most of us know her strictly from her late career Hollywood roles in films like Stage Door (1937), Wee Willie Winkie (1937), Monsieur Beaucaire (1946), An Ideal Husband (1947), The Perils of Pauline (1947) and Rope (1948). Nothing existed in the apparatus of 20th century cinema to tell you that you were looking at one of the most distinguished stage actresses of the century.
A second generation stage professional, she had her first stage experience at age three as Peasblossom in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As a young lady she was part of a famous dancing chorus known as The Gaiety Girls. In 1901 she was made of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s company, acting alongside Tree in major productions including Antony and Cleopatra and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. She was married to (and frequently acted with) Julian Estrange from 1905 through his death in the influenza epidemic in 1918. In the 1920s she appeared in several plays with Ivor Novello, co-writing his first play The Rat. She appeared in numerous silent films and was as much a star of Broadway as she was of the West End. She created the role of Carlotta Vance for example, in the original 1933 stage production of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s Dinner at Eight. By that time, she had also well established herself also as dramatic and vocal teacher in Hollywood. Her famous pupils included Colleen Moore, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn. Vivien Leigh and Marilyn Monroe.
To find out more about the history of show business, 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