This may come as news to many of you below a certain age, but some of us had not one, but two Hermiones in our lives prior to the 1997 publication of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and speculate that J.K. Rowling was thinking of these ladies when she named her character that. They were Hermione Gingold (1897-1987) and Hermione Baddeley (Hermione Youlanda Ruby Clinton-Baddeley, 1906-1986). And of course the name was millennia older than them both. Hermione is a feminine derivative of “Hermes”. In Greek mythology, Hermione was a daughter of Menelaus and Helen. Shakespeare later named a character Hermione in The Winters Tale. That’s probably how these two British ladies, born during the Shakespeare-loving Edwardian period, came by their surnames.
But they were both in American pop culture in the older years, which is how someone like me would know them. Baddeley played Mrs. Naugatuck on Maude, and was in movies like Midnight Lace (1960), The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), Mary Poppins (1964), and Harlow (1965). Gingold was in Gigi (1958), Bell Book and Candle (1968), The Music Man (1962), Munster Go Home (1965), and Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon (1966). They’re both in a 1952 version of The Pickwick Papers. And they both did voice-overs in animated family films about cats: Gingold in Gay Purr-ee (1962) and Baddeley in The Aristocats (1970).
Apart from their names, the women were far from identical. When I think of Gingold, I think of a highly affected middle class English woman with lots of costume jewelry and too much make-up, notable for an alarmingly deep voice. When I think of Baddeley, it’s more of a crass, uneducated Cockney woman. But they both played many sorts of characters over the years. And delightfully, they co-starred in numerous West End stage revues from the 1930s through the 1950s, maintaining a sort of mock rivalry that delighted audiences. Just as there were later Two Ronnies, there was a team of Two Hermiones.
There backgrounds were a bit different though. Gingold was Jewish, and had been an actress from the age of 11, when she began appearing with the company of Herbert Beerbohm Tree, in such things as The Merry Wives of Windsor and Pinkie and the Faeries. In 1911 she was in Charles Hawtrey’s production of Where the Rainbow Ends, with Noel Coward, also a child performer at the time. After decades of British stage and screen stardom, in 1953 she made her Broadway debut in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac. A decade later she was in Arthur Kopit’s Oh Dad Poor Dad Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad. And a decade after that she was in the original production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. She reprised her role in the 1977 film version. Her last screen credit was in Garbo Talks (1984), directed by Sidney Lumet.
Hermione Baddeley was born into a wealthy family, and was the younger sister of actress of Angela Baddeley. The two attended dance classes together as children, although Angela became an actress much earlier than Hermione did. Baddeley’s stage and screen credits begin in the 1920s. Some notable credits besides the ones mentioned include the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol in which she plays Mrs Cratchit, the 1959 film Room at the Top (for which she was nominated for an Oscar despite having fewer than three minutes of screen time), the 1963 broadway premiere of Tennessee Williams The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, a voice over in the animated film The Secret of NIMH (1982), and the Broadway premier of Anthony Schaffer’s Whodunnit (1982-83).
Both women did guest shots on silly American TV shows. Gingold was on The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., Ironside, It Takes a Thief, and Love American Style. Baddeley was on Batman, Bewitched, Little House on the Prairie, The Love Boat, Charlie’s Angels, and Fantasy Island.
They both wrote books. Gingold penned four: My Own Unaided Work, The World is Square. Sirens Should Be Seen and Not Heard, and How to Grow Old Disgracefully: An Autobiography. Baddeley’s is The Unsinkable Hermione Baddeley
And they both married well. Gingold’s first husband, from 1918 through 1928 was publisher Michael Joseph. The second, to home she was tied 1926-45 was British actor, entertainer and writer Eric Maschwitz, perhaps best known for co-writing the Oscar nominated screenplay to Goodbye Mr. Chips (1937). As for Baddeley, from 1928 through 1937 she was married to aristocrat and socialite David Tennant (third son of Edward Tennant, 1st Baron Glenconner and founder of the Gargoyle Club. (Their daughter was actress Pauline Tennant). Her second husband, from 1940 through 1946, was Major John Henry (“Dozey”) Willis, of the 12th Lancers, son of Major-General Edward Willis, Lieutenant Governor of Jersey.
For more on performing arts history, including stage revues, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous