Cathleen Nesbitt

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Cathleen Nesbitt

Cathleen Mary Nesbitt 1913.jpg
Nesbitt in 1913
Kathleen Mary Nesbitt

(1888-11-24)24 November 1888
Birkenhead, Cheshire, England
Died2 August 1982(1982-08-02) (aged 93)
London, England
Years active1910–1981

Cathleen Nesbitt CBE (born Kathleen Mary Nesbitt; 24 November 1888 2 August 1982) was an English actress.



Born in Birkenhead, Cheshire, [1] England to Thomas and Mary Catherine (née Parry) Nesbitt as Kathleen Mary Nesbitt in 1888 of Welsh and Irish descent, she was educated in Lisieux, France, and at the Queen's University of Belfast and the Sorbonne. Her younger brother, Thomas Nesbitt, Jr., acted in one film in 1925, before his death in South Africa in 1927 from an apparent heart attack.

She made her debut in London in the stage revival of Arthur Wing Pinero's The Cabinet Minister (1910). She acted in many plays after that. In 1911, she joined the Irish Players, went to the United States and debuted on Broadway in The Well of the Saints. She also was in the cast of John Millington Synge's The Playboy of the Western World with the Irish Players when the whole cast was pelted with fruits and vegetables by the offended Irish American Catholic audience.

Nesbitt returned to the US and appeared on Broadway in Quinneys (1915) and John Galsworthy's Justice (1916) as John Barrymore's leading lady in his first dramatic stage role. After five other plays there, she returned to England. For the rest of the decade she performed in London; her roles included the title role in a revival of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi . Her film debut was in the silent A Star Over Night (1919). She then performed in The Faithful Heart (1922). She did not appear in a film again until 1930, when she played the role of Anne Lymes in Canaries Sometimes Sing , which was an early talkie. In 1932, she appeared in The Frightened Lady . She appeared in the 1938 film version of Pygmalion as "a lady" who attends the Embassy ball. In the opening credits her first name was spelled as "Kathleen", but as "Cathleen" at the end of the film. She played the part of Mother in the 1949 BBC TV remake of the drama film Elizabeth of Ladymead .

Nesbitt's first Hollywood film was Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), in which she played the character role of La Principessa. This was followed that same year by Black Widow , in which she played Lucia Colletti. She was Cary Grant's Grandmother Janou in 1957's An Affair to Remember (though she was, in fact, only 16 years older than Grant) and, the following year, was part of the ensemble cast of Separate Tables . She also appeared in The Parent Trap (1961), and Promise Her Anything (1965).

Nesbitt as Aunt Alicia in Gigi in 1952 Cathleen Nesbitt.jpg
Nesbitt as Aunt Alicia in Gigi in 1952

Other Broadway appearances included Aunt Alicia in the original Anita Loos adaptation of Gigi (1951), Sabrina Fair (1953), and Anastasia (1954). In 1956, she played Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady starring Rex Harrison. Nesbitt reprised the role in 1981, in her 90s, in a Broadway revival, opposite Harrison, who was in his 70s.

She played Agatha Morley, the mother of a Congressman (played by William Windom) and mother-in-law to his former governess (played by Inger Stevens), on the TV series The Farmer's Daughter from 1963 to 1966. She guest starred on such shows as The United States Steel Hour ; Wagon Train ; Naked City , Dr. Kildare and Upstairs, Downstairs (as Rachel Gurney's mother, Mabel, Countess of Southwold).

In 1969 she played Richard Burton's mother in the film Staircase and again in Villain two years later. She had a small but memorable role as an elderly drug addict in French Connection II (1975) alongside Gene Hackman. Her next film was Hitchcock's Family Plot (1976), in which she played Julia Rainbird. She then appeared as the grandmother in Julia (1977). Her final film was Never Never Land (1980) as Edith Forbes.

Personal life

Nesbitt in The Parent Trap (1961 film) Cathleen Nesbitt in The Farmer's Daughter.JPG
Nesbitt in The Parent Trap (1961 film)

Nesbitt became the love of English poet Rupert Brooke in 1912, who wrote love sonnets to her. They were engaged to be married, but he died in 1915 at age 27 of blood poisoning, the result of a bite from an infected mosquito while he served in the Royal Navy during World War I. [2]

Nesbitt lived for many years in the United States, but returned to the United Kingdom where she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1978. [3] Her autobiography, A Little Love and Good Company, was published in 1973. After a career spanning over 80 years, Nesbitt died of natural causes at age 93 in London on 2 August 1982.[ citation needed ]

Partial filmography

1919A Star Over NightShort film
1922 The Faithful Heart Diana Oughterson
Mary Queen of Scots Mary, Queen of Scots Short film
1930 Canaries Sometimes Sing Anne Lymes
1932 The Frightened Lady Lady Lebanon
1934 Falling in Love Mother
1935 The Passing of the Third Floor Back Mrs. Tomkin
1936 Well Done, Henry Mrs. McNab
The Beloved Vagabond Mme. Boin
Hearts of Humanity Mrs. Bamford
1937 Knights for a Day Lady Agatha
Against the Tide Margaret Leigh
1938 Pygmalion Old Lady
A Dream of LoveBaroness St. CricqShort film; Uncredited
1940 Law and Disorder Miss. Sampson
The Door with Seven Locks Ann Cody
1943 The Lamp Still Burns The Matron
1944 Fanny by Gaslight Kate Somerford
1945 The Agitator Mrs. Montrose
Caesar and Cleopatra Egyptian LadyUncredited
1946 Men of Two Worlds Mrs. Upjohn
1947 The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Miss Knag
Jassy Elizabeth Twisdale
1949 Madness of the Heart Mother Superior
1950 So Long at the Fair Madame Hervé
1954 Three Coins in the Fountain Principessa
Black Widow Lucia Colletti
Désirée Mme. Bonaparte
1957 An Affair to Remember Grandmother Janou
Trooper Hook
1958 Separate Tables Lady Matheson
1961 The Parent Trap Louise McKendrick
1966 Promise Her Anything Mrs. Brock
The Trygon Factor Livia Embarday
1969 Staircase Harry's Mother
1971 Villain Mrs. Dakin
1975 French Connection II 'The Old Lady' / The Old Lady
1976 Family Plot Julia Rainbird
1977 Full Circle Heather Rudge
Julia Grandmother
1980 Never Never Land Edith ForbesLast film role

Selected stage credits

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  1. Before 1 April 1974 Birkenhead was in Cheshire
  2. Hastings, Chris (14 October 2007). "Letters reveal Rupert Brooke's doomed love". The Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  3. London Gazette notice of Nesbitt's CBE