Childhood & Early Life
Glynis Johns was born on October 5, 1923, in Pretoria, South Africa. Her mother, Alice Maude Steele, was an Australian pianist, and her father, Mervyn Johns, was a Welsh theater and cinema actor. Even though Glynis Johns was from Wales, she was born away from home, because her parents were on a tour of Africa at the time of her birth.
At age 5, Johns joined the ‘London Ballet School’ and was considered a dancing wonder in Britain. She studied ballet for 11 years and earned a degree to teach. At age 12, she was scheduled to join ‘Sadler’s Wells Ballet.’ However, fate had other plans.
Johns attended ‘Clifton High School,’ but it is not clear whether or not she graduated. She joined ‘Cone School of Dancing’ and trained rigorously for 2 hours every day. Throughout her dance career, Johns earned 20 medals and six certificates.
Continue Reading Below
Though Johns’s first stage performance was as a ballerina in ‘Buckie’s Bears’ in 1935, at the ‘Garrick Theatre,’ her first prominent role was in the ‘Old Vic’ production of ‘St. Helena,’ as Napoleon's daughter, in 1936, a role she earned upon the insistence of actor Leo Getm.
Actor Ursula Jeans approached Johns for the role of an aggressive schoolgirl in ‘The Children’s Hour,’ performed at the ‘Gate Theatre,’ in 1936. She also appeared in ‘The Melody That Got Lost’ the same year. In 1937, Johns appeared in ‘The Judgment Day’ and ‘A Kiss for Cinderella’ at ‘Embassy’ and ‘Phoenix,’ respectively. She returned to ‘Phoenix’ for the second run of the production in 1939.
She made her film debut in 1938, at the tender age of 13, in the film adaptation of Winifred Holby’s novel ‘South Riding.’ In the years that followed, Johns earned many small roles in movies, including a contract with director Alexander Korda. This was all due to a scene from the movie ‘South Riding,’ where she plunged into a fight and performed brilliantly. She appeared in ‘Murder in the Family’ (1938), ‘Prison Without Bars’ (1939), ‘On the Night of the Fire’ (1940), ‘Under the Hat’ (1940), and ‘The Briggs Family’ (1940).
Till the mid-1940s, Johns tried to balance her screen and stage careers. Some of her notable stage projects from this time were the role of ‘Miranda’ in ‘Quiet Wedding’ (1939), the character ‘Miranda Bute’ in ‘Quient Weekend’ (1941), the title role in ‘Peter Pan’ (1943), and the role of ‘Pam’ in ‘Fools Rush In’ (1946).
Though her first love was the stage, whether as a ballerina or a theater actor, Johns had already deep-dived into the world of cinema. She appeared in the British war drama ‘49th Parallel’ (1941), ‘MGM’s ‘Adventures of Tartu’ (1943), and ‘The Halfway House’ (1944), in which she worked with her father for the first time. Her cinema career took a leap with Alexander Korda’s ‘Perfect Strangers’ in 1945. Her association with Korda continued with ‘An Ideal Husband,’ which was released in 1947.
Her first major movie title role came soon after, in Ken Annakin’s ‘Miranda’ (1948), where she played a mermaid. She continued being the leading lady in many movies of the next decade, such as ‘Third Time Lucky’ (1949), ‘Appointment with Venus’ (1951), ‘Personal Affair’ (1953), ‘The Weak and the Wicked (1954), ‘Disney’s ‘The Sword and the Rose’ (1953), ‘The Seekers’ (1954), and ‘Josephine and Men’ (1955).
In 1956, she played Danny Kaye’s love interest in ‘The Court Jester.’ The same year, Johns worked with Annakin in ‘Loser Takes All’ and made a cameo in ‘Around the World in 80 Days,’ alongside many famous artists of the time.
Though her first New York theater experience, in Enid Bagnold’s ‘Gertie’ (1952), was not flattering, she fared tremendously well in the 1956 ‘Broadway’ production of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Major Barbara,’ which featured her in the lead role.
In 1958, Johns returned home to make a British drama named ‘Another Time, Another Place.’ She then appeared in Michael Anderson’s ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’ (1959), which was filmed in Dublin. Johns starred in Godfrey Grayson’s British mystery ‘The Spider’s Web’ (1960). She received her only ‘Academy Award’ nomination for her supporting role in Fred Zinnemann’s ‘Technicolor’ film ‘The Sundowners’ in 1960.
Throughout the 1960s and the 1970s, Johns kept going back to theater, both in the US and the UK. However, her most revered performance was in the hit musical ‘A Little Night Music’ in 1973. Stephen Sodheim’s creation ‘Send in the Clowns’ in Johns’s voice is still considered a masterpiece, for which she rightfully earned a ‘Tony Award.’ Such success from an almost missed opportunity is unimaginable. A few days before the show’s opening night at ‘Shubert Theatre,’ New York, Johns was rushed to hospital due to an intestinal infection. The production declared a week’s postponement. However, to her doctor’s horror, Johns was back on stage on the scheduled opening night, stacking up accolades from reviewers.
Among her other stage appearances were ‘Too Good To Be True’ in New York (1963), ‘The King’s Mare’ in London (1966), ‘Come As You Are!’ in London (1970), ‘The Marquise’ in Washington, DC (1972), ‘Ring ‘round The Moon’ in Los Angeles (1975), ‘13 Rue de I’Amour’ in London (1976), and ‘Cause Celebre’ in London (1978).
In the 1960s, Johns delivered another immortal piece, this time on the silver screen, in 1964’s ‘Disney’ musical ‘Mary Poppins.’ The Sherman brothers’ feminist anthem, ‘Sister Suffragette,’ was especially written and composed for Johns’s voice.
Johns returned to stage one last time, for ‘The Boyfriend’ in Toronto, Canada, in 1984. However, she made a couple of movies with the same comedic fervor in the 1990s, the last of which was ‘Superstar’ in 1999.
She was the voice of ‘Grimwood’ in the 1988 TV movie ‘Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School’ and the voice of ‘Swallow’ in the 1974 short ‘The Happy Prince.’
Personal & Family Life
Glynis Johns met her first husband, Captain Anthony Forwood, in 1941, while rehearsing for ‘Quiet Wedding.’ After a year of knowing each other, Forwood asked Johns out on a date, and within a month, they were married. After being together for 6 years, Johns and Forwood parted ways in 1948. They had a son, Gareth Forwood, who later became an actor.
Following her first divorce, Johns married thrice. Her second husband was David Foster, a ‘Royal Navy’ officer who later became the president of ‘Colgate-Palmolive.’ She was married to Cecil Henderson from 1960 to 1962. She married Elliot Arnold, a writer, in 1964.