Cast & Crew
Wendy Hiller, 1912-2003
Wendy Hiller was born on August 15, 1912, in Bramhall, and raised in Manchester, where her father was a cotton-cloth manufacturer. Educated at Winceby House, a girl's school in Sussex, Hiller found herself drawn to the theater, and after completing secondary school, Wendy joined the Manchester Repertory Theater, where she was a bit player and later an assistant stage manager. In 1934, she earned critical acclaim and stardom when Manchester Rep cast her as the lead in the popular drama, Love on the Dole, written by her future husband, Ronald Gow. The play was such a hit, that Hiller would repeat her role in London and triumphed on Broadway.
Back on the London stage, she was playing the lead in George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan, when she caught the eye of the playwright himself. He cast her as the beloved cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion (contemporary audiences will no doubt be aware of the musical version - My Fair Lady) on stage in 1936 and in Anthony Asquith's screen adaptation two years later co-starring Leslie Howard. The film was a smash, and Hiller earned an Academy Award nomination for her striking and original Eliza. Shaw would cast her again as an heiress turned Salvation Army worker in the classic Major Barbara for both stage and the 1941 film version.
The ensuing years could very well have been Hiller's time for screen stardom, yet despite her blazing acting ability, regal presence and distinctive voice, her film forays were too few, as she concentrated on the stage and spending time with her husband Gow and two children. Still, when she did make a film appearance, it was often memorable: a materialist turned romantic in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's glorious, I Know Where I'm Going! (1945); a lonely hotelkeeper in Delbert Mann's Separate Tables (1958), which earned her an Academy Award as best supporting actress; an obsessive mother in Jack Cardiff's Sons and Lovers (1960); a unfaltering wife to Sir Thomas More in Fred Zinneman's brilliant A Man for All Seasons (1966); and as a compassionate nurse who cares for the deformed David Merrick in David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980).
Ill health became an issue for Hiller in her later years, but she made one elegant return to the camera when she was cast as a former society beauty who is interviewed 50 years after her fame in Moira Armstrong's The Countess Alice (1992). In a performance that was touching, but never maudlin, Wendy Hiller proved that few could match her for presence, integrity and dignity. Her contribution to her craft did not go unnoticed, as she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1975. She is survived by her son, Anthony, and daughter, Ann.
by Michael T. Toole
Wendy Hiller, 1912-2003
Shown at Venice Film Festival September 8, 1986.