Queenie Leonard: And Then There Were None

A few syllables about British-American character actress Queenie Leonard (Pearl Walker, 1905-2002). She’s Travalanche’s third Queenie, by my count, following on the heels of Queenie Vassar and Queenie Smith.

In films, Leonard was a minor character actress, known for playing maids, cooks and other serving women, and occasionally mothers. One of her best known roles is probably that of the cook Mrs. Rogers in Rene Clair’s 1945 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery And Then There Were None (I’m pretty sure this performance is what made me curious about her.) Her parts were usually about that size or smaller, but she was in some pretty major films, including the 1944 remake of The Lodger, the 1944 ghost classic The Uninvited, Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown (1946), Life with Father (1947), Lorna Doone (1951) and the 1952 version of Les Misérables among others.

Leonard was originally from Manchester, where she first sang with her father in music hall at age 14. By the ’20s, she was in Charlot and Cole Porter shows in the West End with the likes of Gertrude Lawrence, Beatrice Lillie, et al, and also sang in night clubs, hotel ballrooms, and on radio in her own right. She began appearing in British films in 1931; movies from this period include Skylarks (1936) with Nervo and Knox, The Show Goes On (1937) with Gracie Fields, and Limelight (1937) with Arthur Tracy.

In 1939 she came to Hollywood with her first husband, set designer Lawrence P. “Bill” Williams, who’d been hired to help creating settings for Tom Brown’s School Days (1940). With war looming, Williams returned to Britain almost immediately, but Leonard remained behind. The separation put paid to their marriage; they divorced in 1947. Leonard began getting cast in American films in 1941. A notable one from her early period was Forever and a Day (1943), an all-star wartime morale film featuring nearly all of Hollywood’s British ex-pats. In 1944 she was a dialogue coach on Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (I’m going to guess she worked mostly with Hume Cronyn, a Yank playing a Cockney in that film).

Leonard is also associated with Walt Disney films: she did voice-overs in Alice in Wonderland (1951) and 101 Dalmations (1961), and had a walk-on in Mary Poppins (1964). (Some sources say she also worked on Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1971). From 1958 to 1963 she was married to B movie actor Tom Conway (George Sanders‘ brother); the pair appeared together as Lord and Lady Kensington in the all-star 1964 comedy What a Way to Go. Other late films in which Leonard had roles include The Prize (1963), My Fair Lady (1964), and Doctor Doolittle (1967). I find much magic in the fact that her last film was Star! (1968), not just because it reunites her with Julie Andrews, but because she had begun her career in live theatre with the real Gertrude Lawrence four decades earlier.

During the ’50s and ’60s, Leonard had several high profile singing engagements in venues in LA and NYC, such as Cirro’s and the Blue Angel. By the 1970s, macular degeneration had attacked her vision to such a degree that she was forced into an early retirement. At the time of her death in 2002, she had been the last surviving member of And Then There Were None. And then there truly were none.

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To learn more about entertainment history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.