Florence Marjorie Robertson
20 October 1904
Forest Gate (now in London), England
|Died||3 June 1986 81) (aged|
West Byfleet, Surrey, England
|Resting place||City of London Cemetery, Ilford, London, England|
(m. 1943;died 1977)
|Relatives|| Nicholas Hoult |
Dame Florence Marjorie Wilcox(née Robertson; 20 October 1904 – 3 June 1986), known professionally as Anna Neagle, was an English stage and film actress, singer and dancer.
She was a successful box-office draw in the British cinema for 20 years and was voted the most popular star in Britain in 1949. She was known for providing glamour and sophistication to war-torn London audiences with her lightweight musicals, comedies and historical dramas. Almost all of her films were produced and directed by Herbert Wilcox, whom she married in 1943.
In her historical dramas, Neagle was renowned for her portrayals of British historical figures, including Nell Gwynn (Nell Gwynn, 1934), Queen Victoria (Victoria the Great, 1937 and Sixty Glorious Years, 1938), Edith Cavell (Nurse Edith Cavell, 1939), and Florence Nightingale (The Lady with a Lamp, 1951).
Neagle was born in Forest Gate, Essex, daughter of Florence Neagle and her husband, Herbert William Robertson, a Merchant Navy captain. [ citation needed ] She made her stage debut as a dancer in 1917, and later appeared in the chorus of C.B. Cochran's revues and also André Charlot's revue Bubbly. While with Cochran she understudied Jessie Matthews.Her older brother was the bass-baritone and actor Stuart Robertson (1901–1958). Robertson attended primary school in Glasgow and then St Albans High School for Girls.
In 1931, she starred in the West End musical Stand Up and Sing with actor Jack Buchanan, who encouraged her to take a featured role. For this play she began using the professional name of Anna Neagle (the surname being her mother's maiden name).The play was a success with a total run of 604 performances. Stand Up and Sing provided her big break when film producer and director Herbert Wilcox, who had caught the show purposely to consider Buchanan for an upcoming film, but also took note of her cinematic potential.
Forming a professional alliance with Wilcox, Neagle played her first starring film role in the musical Goodnight, Vienna (1932), again with Jack Buchanan. With this film Neagle became an overnight favourite. Although the film cost a mere £23,000 to produce, it was a hit at the box office, with profits from its Australian release alone being £150,000.
After her starring role in The Flag Lieutenant (also 1932), directed by and co-starring Henry Edwards, she worked exclusively under Wilcox's direction for all but one of her subsequent films,becoming one of Britain's biggest stars.
She continued in the musical genre, co-starring with Fernand Gravey (later known as Fernand Gravet) in Bitter Sweet (1933). This first version of Noël Coward's tale of ill-fated lovers was later obscured by the better known Jeanette MacDonald–Nelson Eddy remake in 1940.
Neagle had her first major success with Nell Gwynn (1934), which Wilcox had previously shot as a silent starring Dorothy Gish in 1926. Neagle's performance as Gwynn, who became the mistress of Charles II (played by Cedric Hardwicke) prompted some censorship in the United States. The Hays Office had Wilcox add a (historically false) scene featuring the two leads getting married and also a "framing" story resulting in an entirely different ending.Graham Greene, then a film critic, said of Nell Gwynn: "I have seen few things more attractive than Miss Neagle in breeches".
Two years after Nell Gwynn she followed up with another real-life figure, portraying Irish actress Peg Woffington in Peg of Old Drury (1936). That same year she appeared in Limelight , a backstage film musical in which she played a chorus girl. Her co-star was Arthur Tracy, who had gained fame in the United States as a radio performer known as 'The Street Singer'. The film also featured Jack Buchanan in an uncredited cameo.performing "Goodnight Vienna".
Neagle and Wilcox followed with a circus trapeze fable Three Maxims (1937), which was released in the United States as The Show Goes On. The film, with a script featuring a contribution from Herman J. Mankiewicz (later to co-write Citizen Kane with Orson Welles), had Neagle performing her own high-wire acrobatics.Although now highly successful in films, Neagle continued acting on stage. In 1934, while working under director Robert Atkins, she performed as Rosalind in As You Like It and Olivia in Twelfth Night . Both productions earned her critical accolades, despite the fact that she had never performed Shakespearean roles before.
In 1937 Neagle gave her most prestigious performance so far – as Queen Victoria in the historical drama Victoria the Great (1937), co-starring Anton Walbrook as Prince Albert. The script by Robert Vansittart and Miles Malleson (from Laurence Housman's play Victoria Regina) alternated between the political and the personal lives of the royal couple.The Diamond Jubilee sequence that climaxed the film was shot in Technicolor. Victoria the Great was such an international success that it resulted in Neagle and Walbrook playing their roles again in an all-Technicolor sequel entitled Sixty Glorious Years (1938), co-starring C. Aubrey Smith as the Duke of Wellington. While the first of these films was in release, Neagle returned to the London stage and entertained audiences with her portrayal of the title role in Peter Pan .
The success of Victoria the Great and Sixty Glorious Years caused Hollywood studios to take notice. Neagle and Wilcox began an association with RKO Radio Pictures. Their first American film was Nurse Edith Cavell (1939), a remake of Dawn , a Wilcox silent that starred Sybil Thorndike. In this, another Neagle role based on an actual British heroine, she played the role of the nurse who was shot by the Germans in World War I for alleged spying. The resulting effort had a significant impact for audiences on the eve of war.
In a turnabout from this serious drama, the couple followed with three musical comedies, all based on once-popular stage plays. The first of these was Irene (1940), co-starring Ray Milland. It included a Technicolor sequence, which featured Neagle singing the play's most famous song, "Alice Blue Gown". She followed this film with No, No, Nanette (1940) with Victor Mature, in which she sang "Tea For Two", and Sunny (1941), with Ray Bolger.
Neagle and Wilcox's final American film was Forever and a Day (1943), a tale of a London family house from 1804 to the 1940 blitz. This film boasts 80 performers (mostly expatriate British), including Ray Milland, C. Aubrey Smith, Claude Rains, Charles Laughton and – among the few North Americans – Buster Keaton. Wilcox directed the sequence featuring Neagle, Milland, Smith and Rains, while other directors who worked on the film included René Clair, Edmund Goulding, Frank Lloyd, Victor Saville and Robert Stevenson. During the war the profits and salaries were given to war relief. After the war, prints were intended to be destroyed, so that no one could profit from them. However, this never occurred.
Returning to the UK, Neagle and Wilcox commenced with They Flew Alone (1942; shot after but released before Forever and a Day). Neagle this time played aviator Amy Johnson, who had recently died in a flying accident. Robert Newton co-starred as Johnson's husband, Jim Mollison. The film inter-cut the action with newsreel footage.
Neagle and Wilcox married in August 1943 at London's Caxton Hall.
They continued with Yellow Canary (1943), co-starring Richard Greene and Margaret Rutherford. In this spy story, Neagle plays a German-sympathiser (or at least that is what she seems to be at first) who is forced to go to Canada for her own safety. In reality, of course, she's working as an undercover agent out to expose a plot to blow up Halifax Harbour in Nova Scotia. Yellow Canary received positive comment for its atmospheric recreation of wartime conditions.
In 1945 Neagle appeared on stage in Emma, a dramatisation of Jane Austen's novel. That same year she was seen in the film I Live in Grosvenor Square , co-starring Rex Harrison. She wanted Harrison for the lead in her next film, Piccadilly Incident (1946). However, he (as well as John Mills) proved to be unavailable at the time, so Wilcox cast Michael Wilding in the lead. Thus was born what film critic Godfrey Winn called "the greatest team in British films". – Cary Grant comedy My Favorite Wife . Piccadilly Incident was chosen as Picturegoer's Best Film of 1947. Despite the fact that Neagle was some 8 years senior to Wilding, they proved to be an extremely bankable romantic pairing at the British box office. By now in her mid-40s, Neagle continued to have success in youthful and romantic lead roles.The story – of a wife, presumed dead, returning to her (remarried) husband – bears a resemblance to the Irene Dunne
Neagle and Wilding were reunited in The Courtneys of Curzon Street (1947), a period drama that became the year's top box-office attraction. The film featured Wilding as an upper-class dandy and Neagle as the maid he marries, only to have the two of them driven apart by Victorian society.
The third pairing of Neagle and Wilding in the "London Films", as the series of films came to be called, was in Spring in Park Lane (1948). A drama, this depicted the romance between a millionaire's niece and a footman (actually a nobleman who has seen better days). The script was written by Nicholas Phipps, who also played Wilding's brother. Although not a musical, it contains a dream sequence featuring the song "The Moment I Saw You". Spring in Park Lane was the 1949 Picturegoer winner for Best Film, Actor and Actress.Neagle and Wilding were together for a fourth time in the Technicolor romance Maytime in Mayfair (1949). The plot is reminiscent of Roberta , as it had Wilding inheriting a dress shop owned by Neagle.
By now, Neagle was at her peak as Britain's top box-office actress, and she made what reputedly became her own favourite film, Odette (1950), co-starring Trevor Howard, Peter Ustinov and Marius Goring. As Odette Sansom, she was the Anglo-French resistance fighter who was pushed to the edge of betrayal by the Nazis.In 1950, Neagle and Wilcox moved to the top floor flat in Aldford House overlooking Park Lane, which would be their home until 1964. She played Florence Nightingale in The Lady with a Lamp (1951), based on the 1929 play by Reginald Berkeley.
Returning to the stage in 1953, she scored a success with The Glorious Days, which had a run of 476 performances. Neagle and Wilcox brought the play to the screen under the title Lilacs in the Spring (1954), co-starring Errol Flynn. In the film she plays an actress knocked out by a bomb, who dreams she is Queen Victoria and Nell Gwyn – as well as her own mother. As she begins dreaming, the film switches from black-and-white to colour. In Britain, where Neagle had top billing, the film was reasonably successful. In the United States, however, where Flynn had top billing, the title was changed to Let's Make Up, and it flopped, with limited bookings.
Neagle and Flynn reteamed for a second film together, King's Rhapsody (1955), based on an Ivor Novello musical and also starring Patrice Wymore (Flynn's wife at the time). Although Neagle performed several musical numbers for the film, most of them were cut from the final release, leaving her with essentially a supporting role. Shot in Eastmancolor and CinemaScope with location work near Barcelona, Spain, King's Rhapsody was a major flop everywhere. Neagle's (and Flynn's) box-office appeal, it seemed, was fading.
Neagle's last box-office hit was My Teenage Daughter (1956), which featured her as a mother trying to prevent her daughter (Sylvia Syms) from lapsing into juvenile delinquency.
Neagle and Syms worked together again on No Time For Tears (1957), also starring Anthony Quayle and Flora Robson. As directed by Cyril Frankel, this was the first film for over 20 years where Neagle was directed by someone other than Herbert Wilcox. Set in a children's hospital, the film features Neagle as a matron dealing with the problems of the patients and the staff, notably a nurse (Syms) infatuated with one of the doctors (George Baker).
With her husband, Neagle began producing films starring Frankie Vaughan, but these were out of touch with changing tastes, and lost money, resulting in Wilcox going heavily into debt. Neagle herself made her final film appearance in The Lady Is a Square (1959), also Wilcox's last film as director.
Neagle was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in February 1958 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre,and in March 1983, when Andrews surprised her at London's Royal National Hotel.
Herbert Wilcox was bankrupt by 1964, but his wife soon revived his fortunes. She returned to the stage the following year and made a comeback in the West End musical Charlie Girl . In it she played the role of a former "Cochran Young Lady" who marries a peer of the realm. Charlie Girl was not a critical success, but it ran for six years and 2,047 performances. It earned Neagle an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for her enduring popularity.
Two years after Charlie Girl – which she also performed in Australia and New Zealand – Neagle was asked to appear in a revival of No, No, Nanette , at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, having appeared in the screen version three decades earlier. Later, in 1975, she replaced Celia Johnson in The Dame of Sark and, in 1978 (the year after her husband's death), she was acting in Most Gracious Lady, which was written for the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
Although affected by Parkinson's disease in her last years, Neagle continued to be active. She appeared in Cameron Mackintosh's revival of My Fair Lady and in 1985 she appeared as the Fairy Godmother in a production of Cinderella at the London Palladium.
Neagle's great-nephew is actor Nicholas Hoult,through Hoult's father's side.
Some sources state that Neagle was suffering from cancer at the time of her death. She was interred alongside her husband in the City of London Cemetery.Their grave was recommemorated by Princess Anne, the Princess Royal on 6 March 2014.
A memorial plaque on her former home at Aldford House, Park Lane was unveiled on 30 May 1996, by Princess Anne and Lana Morris.She also has a memorial plaque in St Paul's Church, the Actors' Church in Covent Garden.
A street named in her honour, Anna Neagle Close,is situated in Forest Gate, east London.
Neagle was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1952 New Year Honoursand, for her contributions to the theatre, a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 1969 Birthday Honours.
The following list contains all of Neagle's acting credits in feature-length films with the exception of Queen Victoria (1942), which is actually a compilation of two earlier films, Victoria the Great and Sixty Glorious Years. All of her films were directed by Herbert Wilcox and produced in the United Kingdom unless otherwise noted.
In addition, Neagle also appeared briefly as herself in a documentary short entitled The Volunteer (1943), and served as narrator for the films The Prams Break Through (1945) and Princess's Wedding Day (1947). Neagle also produced, but did not appear in, three films starring Frankie Vaughan: These Dangerous Years (1957), Wonderful Things (1957) and The Heart of a Man (1959).
|1929||Those Who Love||bit part||directed by H. Manning Haynes|
|1930||The School for Scandal||Flower Seller||directed by Maurice Elvey, filmed in Raycol color process, lost film |
|1930||The Chinese Bungalow||Charlotte||directed by Arthur Barnes and J.B. Williams|
|1930||Should A Doctor Tell?||Muriel Ashton||directed by H. Manning Haynes|
|1932||Goodnight, Vienna||Viki||Neagle's first collaboration with director Herbert Wilcox|
|1932||The Flag Lieutenant||Hermione Wynne||directed by Henry Edwards|
|1933||The Little Damozel||Julie Alardy|
|1933||Bitter Sweet||Sarah Millick and Sari Lind|
|1934||The Queen's Affair||Queen Nadia|
|1934||Nell Gwynn||Nell Gwyn||Neagle's first major hit|
|1935||Peg of Old Drury||Peg Woffington|
|1936||Three Maxims||Pat||Franco-British production|
|1937||Victoria the Great||Queen Victoria||finale filmed in Technicolor|
|1938||Sixty Glorious Years||Queen Victoria||filmed in Technicolor|
|1939||Nurse Edith Cavell||Edith Cavell||Neagle's first American film|
|1940||Irene||Irene O'Dare||features one sequence in Technicolor, produced in the U.S.|
|1940||No, No, Nanette||Nanette||U.S. production|
|1941||Sunny||Sunny O'Sullivan||U.S. production|
|1942||They Flew Alone||Amy Johnson|
|1943||Forever and a Day||Susan Trenchard||U.S. production|
|1943||Yellow Canary||Sally Maitland|
|1944||The Volunteer||herself, leaving Denham Studio|
|1945||I Live in Grosvenor Square||Lady Patricia Fairfax|
|1946||Piccadilly Incident||Diana Fraser|
|1947||The Courtneys of Curzon Street||Katherine O'Halloran|
|1948||Spring in Park Lane||Judy Howard|
|1948||Elizabeth of Ladymead||Elizabeth||filmed in Technicolor|
|1949||Maytime in Mayfair||Eileen Grahame||filmed in Technicolor|
|1951||The Lady with a Lamp||Florence Nightingale|
|1952||Derby Day||Lady Helen Forbes|
|1954||Lilacs in the Spring||Carole Beaumont / Lillian Grey /|
Nell Gwynne / Queen Victoria
|filmed in Eastmancolor with a black-and-white prologue|
|1955||King's Rhapsody||Marta Karillos||filmed in CinemaScope and Eastmancolor|
|1956||My Teenage Daughter||Valerie Carr|
|1957||No Time for Tears||Matron Eleanor Hammond||directed by Cyril Frankel, filmed in Eastmancolor|
|1958||The Man Who Wouldn't Talk||Mary Randall, Q.C.|
|1959||The Lady Is a Square||Frances Baring|
Annual polls of British exhibitors for the Motion Picture Herald consistently listed Neagle as a leading box office star in her home country.
Sir John Mills, was an English actor who appeared in more than 120 films in a career spanning seven decades. He excelled on camera as an appealing British everyman who often portrayed guileless, wounded war heroes. In 1971, he received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Ryan's Daughter.
Michael Charles Gauntlet Wilding was an English stage, television, and film actor. He is best known for a series of films he made with Anna Neagle, for the two films he made with Alfred Hitchcock and for being Elizabeth Taylor's second husband.
Margaret Lockwood, CBE, was an English actress. One of Britain's most popular film stars of the 1930s and 1940s, her film appearances included The Lady Vanishes (1938), Night Train to Munich (1940), The Man in Grey (1943), and The Wicked Lady (1945). She was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best British Actress for the 1955 film Cast a Dark Shadow. She also starred in the television series Justice (1971–74).
Odette is a 1950 British war film based on the true story of Special Operations Executive French agent, Odette Sansom, living in England, who was captured by the Germans in 1943, condemned to death and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp to be executed. However, against all odds she survived the war and testified against the prison guards at the Hamburg Ravensbrück trials. She was awarded the George Cross in 1946; the first woman ever to receive the award, and the only woman who has been awarded it while still alive.
Herbert Sydney Wilcox CBE, was a British film producer and director who was one of the most successful British filmmakers from the 1920s to the 1950s. He is best known for the films he made with his third wife Anna Neagle.
Susan Shaw was an English actress.
The Courtneys of Curzon Street is a 1947 British drama film starring Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding. It is a study of class division and snobbery in Britain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Dawn is a 1928 British silent war film directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Sybil Thorndike, Gordon Craig and Marie Ault. It was produced by Wilcox for his British & Dominions Film Corporation. The film was made at Cricklewood Studios with sets designed by Clifford Pember.
Nell Gwynn is a 1934 British historical drama film directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Anna Neagle, Cedric Hardwicke, Jeanne de Casalis, Miles Malleson and Moore Marriott. The film portrays the historical romance between Charles II of England and the actress Nell Gwynn. In the opening credits, the screenplay is attributed to Miles Malleson, "in collaboration with King Charles II, Samuel Pepys and Nell Gwyn." It was also released as Mistress Nell Gwyn.
Limelight is a 1936 British musical film directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Arthur Tracy, Anna Neagle and Jane Winton. It was released in the U.S. as Backstage.
Piccadilly Incident is a 1946 British drama film directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Anna Neagle, Michael Wilding, Coral Browne, Edward Rigby and Leslie Dwyer. Wilcox teamed his wife Anna Neagle with Michael Wilding for the first time, establishing them as top box-office stars in five more films, ending with The Lady with a Lamp in 1951. Wilding was third choice for leading man after Rex Harrison and John Mills.
Maytime in Mayfair is a 1949 British musical comedy film directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Anna Neagle, Michael Wilding, Nicholas Phipps, and Tom Walls. It was a follow up to Spring in Park Lane.
London Melody is a 1937 British musical film directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Anna Neagle, Tullio Carminati and Robert Douglas. It was made at British and Dominions Imperial Studios, Elstree and Pinewood Studios by Wilcox's independent production company and distributed by J. Arthur Rank's General Film Distributors. It was also released with the alternative title Look Out for Love.
Laughing Anne is a 1953 British adventure film directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Wendell Corey, Margaret Lockwood, Forrest Tucker, and Ronald Shiner. It was adapted from Joseph Conrad's short story, "Because of the Dollars" and from his 1923 two-act play, Laughing Anne.
King's Rhapsody is a 1955 English musical film directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Anna Neagle, Errol Flynn and Patrice Wymore. Wymore was Errol Flynn's wife at the time of filming. It was based on the successful stage musical King's Rhapsody by Ivor Novello.
The Little Damozel is a 1933 British romance film directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Anna Neagle, James Rennie and Benita Hume. It is based on the 1908 play by Monckton Hoffe, previously filmed in 1916. The screenplay concerns a captain who pays one of his sailors to marry a woman who works in a nightclub. Dresses for the film were designed by Doris Zinkeisen.
Peg of Old Drury is a 1935 British historical film directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Anna Neagle, Cedric Hardwicke and Margaretta Scott. The film is a biopic of eighteenth-century Irish actress Peg Woffington. It was based on the play Masks and Faces by Charles Reade and Tom Taylor. It contains passages of eighteenth century Shakespearian performance, from The Merchant of Venice, Richard III and As You Like It.
The Lady with a Lamp is a 1951 British historical film directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Anna Neagle, Michael Wilding and Felix Aylmer. The film depicts the life of Florence Nightingale and her work with wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War.
Nell Gwyn is a 1926 British romance film directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Dorothy Gish, Randle Ayrton and Juliette Compton. It was based on the 1926 novel Mistress Nell Gwyn by Marjorie Bowen and follows the life of Nell Gwynne, the mistress of Charles II. Wilcox later made a second version of the film in 1934, Nell Gwynn which starred Anna Neagle.
Lilacs in the Spring is a 1954 British musical film starring Anna Neagle and Errol Flynn. It was the first of two movies the stars made together, the other being King's Rhapsody. It was released in the US as Let's Make Up. It was the feature film debut of Sean Connery.