The Brief But Significant Stardom of Muriel Angelus

March was the birthday of Muriel Angelus (Muriel Findlay, 1912-2004). But a single performance intrigued me enough to begin exploring her background for Travalanche: she plays the wife of the title character in Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty (1940). In the role, she has this amazing combination of moral authority, beauty and grace; it has to have been why Sturges sought her. The quality reminds me a little of Jean Arthur. Ironically, though, it was her last movie, which is even more intriguing.

Of Scottish parentage, Muriel was born in South London and began singing in music halls when she was only 12 years old. She took the stage name f “Angelus” during this period. She danced in a 1927 West End production of The Vagabond King, and this led to films. She met her first husband, actor John Stuart on the set of Sailor Don’t Care (1928). Stuart was in scores of British films over the decades, including the early Hitchcock films The Pleasure Garden (1925), Elstree Calling (1930), and Number 17 (1932); the first talking version of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1932), and several Hammer horror films of the 1950s. With Angelus, he appeared in the films No Exit (1930), Eve’s Fall (1930) and Hindie Wakes (1931). Angelus also appeared in the Monty Banks comedies My Wife’s Family (1931) and So You Won’t Talk (1935)

In 1936, Angelus starred in the hit London musical Balalaika (about the Russian Revolution), which ran through early 1938, and took her career up several notches. She divorced Stuart that year, and moved to New York, where she starred in the musical comedy smash The Boys from Syracuse, which played for a year and a half. Four Hollywood films followed: The Light That Failed (1939), with Ronald Colman; The Way of All Flesh (1940) with Akim Tamiroff and Gladys George; Safari (1940) with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Madeleine Carroll; and The Great McGinty. She then returned to Broadway for the short-lived Sunny River (1941), and the successful Early to Bed (1943-44), which played almost a year.

After this she went on her own NBC radio show Presenting Muriel Angelus. It was there that she met conductor and arranger Paul Lavalle, who became her second husband in 1946. At this stage, she retired to raise their daughter Suzanne, who grew up to be an NBC reporter. In 1959 Richard Rodgers sought Muriel Angelus out to play the Mother Abbess in the original Broadway production of The Sound of Music, but she declined.