Today is the birthday of Dame Frances Margaret “Judith” Anderson (1897-1992). Australian by birth, she began he acting career in Sydney in 1915, and moved to the U.S. three years later (thus we have the odd phenomenon of a British Dame, almost the entirety of whose career was in America. She was made a Dame in 1960).
After years of struggle and travel with stock companies, she made it to Broadway by 1923, and rapidly established herself as one of its greatest stars, frequently in classics. She had many assets: that low, authoritative voice, and above all that intriguing face, which could be so cold and arch and impassive and inscrutable when she chose. It is a perfect face for a queen and indeed she did play Gertrude, Lady MacBeth and Medea (the latter, several times).
It was that quality that also gained her a foothold in Hollywood and defined the performance she remains best remembered, loved and hated for, that of the manipulative, evil maid Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. In films, she rarely if ever got the leads, but was always memorable in character parts and was cast in many films that have since become classics, such as Kings Row (1942), Laura (1944), And Then There Were None (1944), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), The Furies (1950), The Ten Commandments (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Jerry Lewis’s Cinderfella (1960), and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984). Her last acting job was as a regular on the prime time television drama Santa Barbara (1984-87).
Here she is as one of her many Medeas:
For more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
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