Edith Mary Evans (Edith Mary Evans)

Edith Mary Evans

Actress. She is best remembered for her work on the British stage, but also appeared in films in the beginning and end of her career. She was widely known for portraying haughty aristocratic women. Her stage career spanned six decades during which she played more than 100 roles, in classics by William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Richard Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, William Congreve, as well as plays by such contemporary writers as Noel Coward, George Bernard Shaw, Christopher Fry, and others. She was born in Pimlico, London, England, the daughter of a English civil servant. She was educated at St Michael’s Church of England School in Pimlico, before being apprenticed in 1903 as a milliner. She started attending drama classes in Victoria, London, which developed into an amateur performing group, the Streatham Shakespeare Players, with whom she made her first stage appearance in October 1910, as ‘Viola’ in “Twelfth Night.” In 1912, while playing ‘Beatrice’ in “Much Ado About Nothing,” she was spotted by the producer William Poel and in August 1912 made her first professional appearance for him in Cambridge, England, playing ‘Gautami’ in a 6th-century Hindu classic, “Sakuntala” and in January 1914 she made her professional Shakespearian debut as ‘Gertrude’ in “Hamlet.” She was then given a year’s contract by the Royalty Theatre in Soho, Westminster, London. Over the next ten years she played in a silent film called “A Welsh Singer” (1915), directed by and featuring Henry Edwards, and for the same director she appeared in “East is East” (1917, her last film for 30 years), toured in Shakespeare with Ellen Terry’s company in 1918, appeared in light comedy alongside the young Noel Coward (“Polly With a Past,” 1921) and played five new Shavian roles, ‘Lady Utterword’ in “Heartbreak House” (1921) and the ‘Serpent’, in the “Oracle,” the ‘She-Ancient’ and the ghost of the ‘Serpent’ in “Back to Methuselah” (1923). In 1922 she made what drama critic J.T. Grein called “a personal triumph” in Alfred Sutro’s comedy “The Laughing Lady.” In 1924 she achieved wide public fame for the first time with her performance as ‘Millamant’ in “The Way of the World” and in the same year she was cast by Nigel Playfair as the strong-willed and witty heroine in his revival of Congreve’s “Restoration” comedy at the Lyric Hammersmith. In the 1925-1926 season, she joined the company of the Old Vic, playing ‘Portia’ in “The Merchant of Venice,” ‘Cleopatra’ in “Antony and Cleopatra,” ‘Katherina’ in “The Taming of the Shrew,” ‘Rosalind’ in “As You Like It,” ‘Mistress Page’ in “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” ‘Beatrice” in “Much Ado About Nothing,” and the ‘Nurse’ in “Romeo and Juliet,” which was one of her most celebrated roles. In 1925, on the only free day from rehearsal, she married George (Guy) Booth, an engineer whom she had known for more than twenty years. She continued with her performances in theatrical productions of “The Beaux’ Stratagem” (1927), “The Lady with a Lamp” (1929), and “The Apple Cart” (1929) in which she played Orinthia, the king’s mistress, a role written for her by George Bernard Shaw. Her notable roles of the 1930s included ‘Irela’ in “Evensong” (1932), ‘Gwenny’ in “The Late Christopher Bean” (1933), four Shakespeare parts, and in 1939 ‘Lady Bracknell’ in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” the latter of which she played on and off for seven years, on tour and in London, and by 1947, when a Broadway run was offered, she declined to act in the piece on stage again. In 1935, while she was in New York City, New York playing the ‘Nurse’ in “Romeo and Juliet,” her husband died suddenly in London. In 1940 she created the role of ‘Epifania’ in Shaw’s play “The Millionairess.” During World War II, she joined an Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) company travelling to Gibraltar to entertain Allied troops. The following year she played ‘Hesione Hushabye” in a West End revival of “Heartbreak House.” In 1944 and 1945 she toured for ENSA in England, Europe and India. Returning to London at the end of the war, she played ‘Mrs. Malaprop’ in “The Rivals.” From 1946 to 1947 she played in “Cleopatra” for the last time. In 1948 she returned to the theater in “The Way of the World,” exchanging the role of ‘Millamant’ for that of the formidable old ‘Lady Wishfort’. In the same year, she also returned to the film studios after an absence of more than thirty years to appear in “The Last Days of Dolwyn,” released in 1949. She went on to appear in 18 more films over the next 30 years, most notably “Look Back in Anger” (1959), “The Nun’s Story” (1959), “Tom Jones” (1963), “The Chalk Garden” (1964) and “The Whisperers” (1966), the latter three for which she was nominated for an Oscar. In 1960 she played ‘Judith Bliss’ in a television production of Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever” and continued to appear in stage productions in that decade. Her last stage roles were ‘Mrs. Forrest’ in “The Chinese Prime Minister” at the Globe (1965), the ‘Narrator’ in “The Black Girl in Search of God at the Mermaid” (1968) and ‘Carlotta’ in “Dear Antoine,” at the Chichester Festival (1971). After she found learning new roles too much, she presented an anthology of prose, poetry and music under the title “Edith Evans and Friends,” both in the West End and elsewhere, making her final performance on the West End stage on October 5, 1974. Her last public appearance was in August 1976 for a British Broadcasting Corporation radio program “With Great Pleasure,” a selection of her favorite works, that given before an invited audience. She died at her home in Klindown, Kent, England at the age of 88. In 1946 she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Additionally, she received honorary degrees from the British Universities of London (1950), Cambridge (1951), Oxford (1954) and Hull (1968). (bio by: William Bjornstad)


  • February, 08, 1888
  • England


  • October, 10, 1976
  • England


  • St Paul Churchyard
  • England

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