Celia Johnson Biography

Celia Johnson was an English actress who bewitched the audience with her performance on both stage and the screen during 1920s-1970s. This biography profiles her childhood, life, acting career, achievements and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: December 18, 1908

Nationality: American

Famous: Actresses American Women

Died At Age: 73

Sun Sign: Sagittarius

Also Known As: Dame Celia

Born in: Richmond, Surrey, England

Famous as: Actress

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Spouse/Ex-: Peter Fleming

father: Robert Johnson

mother: Ethel Griffiths

Died on: April 26, 1982

place of death: Nettlebed, Oxfordshire, England

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Celia Johnson was an English actress who bewitched the audience with her performance on both stage and the screen from 1920s to 1970s. No other English stage actress could reach the zenith which she did during her acting career spanning more than sixty years. She came from a well-educated, respected and prosperous English middle class family and performed more on the stage than the screen. A typical characteristic of this actress was that she would pronounce some vowels by adding a y-noise to it which would make her speech highly distinctive from others. She became famous on the stage within a very short period for her natural, fresh, sensitive and interesting performance which did not have any false note or sentimentality or trickery. She was not suited to do heroic roles because her voice lacked the power at low levels which was a drawback. While others got all classical roles, she got only roles in mainstream plays. She became a part of the new generation of natural actors who were good at acting supervised by directors rather than actor-managers. She gained her fame and popularity from both West End and Broadway stages in London and New York respectively.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Celia Johnson was born Celia Elizabeth Johnson at Ellerker Gate, Richmond, Surrey, England, on December 18, 1908. Her father, Robert Johnson was a doctor from Cambridge, Essex. He was also the physician of the Duke AND Duchess of York. Her mother was Ethel Griffiths.
  • Celia was the second of the three Johnson children. Her elder sister was Pam.
  • She was interested in acting from a very early age and used to organize plays with other children. Celia and Pam made it into the local newspapers when they raised funds for the Red Cross camp at the Richmond Park by organizing a show titled ‘King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid’ during the First World War.
  • Celia received private tuition along with her sister and enrolled at the ‘St. Paul’s Girls’ School’ in April 1919 after passing the admission test in the second attempt. She learnt to play the oboe, studied music under Gustav Holst, excelled at gym and appeared in four French plays during her days at this school till 1926.
  • In 1926 she applied to the ‘Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’. She passed the test and was given a chance to learn acting at this institute. She showed a talent in acting in French plays there.
  • She enrolled at the ‘Comedie Francaise’ in Paris to study acting under Pierre Fresnay.
  • Celia Johnson came back to England and appointed Aubrey Blackburn as her agent to get roles on the stage. He got her a role for which she was paid 3 pounds per week.
  • She debuted as ‘Sarah Undershaft’ in 1928 in Bernard Shaw’s play ‘Major Barbara’ being staged at the ‘Theater Royal’ in Huddersfield.
  • She acted in some more plays including A. A. Milne’s ‘To Have the Honor’ and others.
  • In 1929 she went to London when she got a chance to star in Sir Nigel Playfair’s ‘A Hundred Years Old’ held at ‘Lyric Theater’ in Hammersmith.
  • With her career getting stalled, she acted in some French plays and experimental plays at the ‘Arts Theater Club’.
  • She got a break by playing the role of a French Artist’s model who spoke broken English in ‘The Artist and the Shadow’. She received rave reviews for her realistic acting but the show flopped.
  • She next appeared in ‘Cynara’ opposite Sir Gerald du Maurier’ in 1930.
  • She went to the United States for the first time in 1931 to act as ‘Ophelia’ in ‘Hamlet’ held at the ‘Broadhurst Theater in New York.
  • After returning to London she appeared in some minor plays before doing a two year run from 1933 to 1935 with ‘The Wind and the Rain’.
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  • In 1940 her career on the stage flourished with her portrayal of ‘Elizabeth Bennet’ in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and of ‘Mrs. De Winter’ in ‘Rebecca’.
  • She debuted in the feature film ‘In Which We Serve’ in 1942 with Noel Coward in which both Juliet Mills and Richard Attenborough appeared for the first time in films.
  • In 1944 she also appeared in ‘This Happy Breed’ which was written by Noel coward and directed by David Lean.
  • Her next films were ‘This Happy Breed’ in 1947 and ‘Captain’s Paradise’ opposite Alec Guiness in 1953.
  • In 1945 she appeared opposite Trevor Howard in the film ‘Brief Encounter’ made by Noel Coward and David Lean. The film was released in 1946 and she received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress’ in 1947.
  • During the Second World War she concentrated more on her family than the stage as her daughters were very young at that time.
  • In 1952 she acted in ‘The Grass is Greener’ and in 1957 in ‘The Flowering Cherry’ opposite Ralph Richardson. She also acted in ‘Ten Minute Alibi’, ‘Sometimes Even Now’, ‘Journey’s End’, ‘As It Was In The Beginning’, ‘The Reluctant Debutante’ and ‘Kingfisher’.
  • She appeared in the play ‘The Master Builder’ in 1964 for the ‘National Theater Company’ along with Maggie Smith and Michael Redgrave, and in the play ‘Hay Fever’ in 1965.
  • In 1969 she acted in the film ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ for which she won a ‘BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role’.
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  • Though she spent most of her life acting on the stage she also appeared in television programs.
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Awards & Achievements
  • Celia Johnson won a ‘Academy Award for Best Actress’ nomination in 1945.
  • She won the ‘New York Critics Award’ in 1946 for ‘Brief Encounter’.
  • She was honored with the ‘Commander of the Order of the British Empire’ in 1958 for her services to the theater.
  • She was nominated five times for the ‘BAFTA Awards’ and won it in 1969 and 1973.
  • She won the award for ‘Best Supporting Actress’ from the ‘Society of Film and TV Arts’ in 1970.
  • She was made a ‘Dame of the British Empire’ in 1981 which was the equivalent of a knighthood.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • She married Peter Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming and a travel writer, on December 10, 1935.
  • She had three children from this marriage, a son named Nicholas and two daughters named Kate and Lucy.
  • She suffered from measles at a very young age which caused problems with her eyesight for the rest of her life.
  • Celia Johnson died of a stroke on April 26, 1982 at Nettlebed, Oxfordshire, England.
  • A blue plaque was unveiled in her honor at her childhood home in Richmond on December 18, 2008.
  • Celia Johnson refused to write her autobiography as she thought that once the play was over it was the end of it.


BAFTA Awards
1974 Best Actress Play for Today (1970)
1970 Best Supporting Actress The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

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How To Cite

Article Title
- Celia Johnson Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- November 20, 2016
Celia Johnson

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