Wendy Hiller Biography

Dame Wendy Hiller was a renowned English actress, equally adept on stage and screen. This biography provides detailed information about her childhood, life, acting career, achievements and timeline.

Wendy Hiller
Quick Facts

Birthday: August 15, 1912

Nationality: British

Famous: Actresses Theater Personalities

Died At Age: 90

Sun Sign: Leo

Also Known As: Dame Wendy Margaret Hiller, Dame Wendy Hiller

Born in: Bramhall, Cheshire, England, UK

Famous as: Actress

Family:

Spouse/Ex-: Ronald Gow (1937–1993)

father: Frank Watkin Hiller

mother: Marie Elizabeth (nee Stone)

children: Ann, Anthony

Died on: May 14, 2003

place of death: Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England, UK

City: Stockport, England

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Dame Wendy Hiller was a renowned English actress, equally adept on stage and screen. She was born in early twentieth century into a family of rich cotton manufacturers in Cheshire. Although her parents sent her to a boarding school in south to correct her Cheshire accent, it remained with her all her life. Interestingly, she got her first big chance for the character of a slum dweller and they needed someone who spoke with an accent. The play was a huge hit and her performance was highly commended. It also caught the attention of Barnard Shaw, who cast her in two of his plays. Later she was chosen to play Miss Eliza Doolittle in the film version of his play ‘Pygmalion’ and excelled in it. Subsequently, she played the lead role in a number of successful films. However, the glamour of the film world never impressed her. She chose to remain primarily a stage actress. Later, she also appeared in several successful television series. However, she was also a great human being and often sacrificed her career to be with her family.

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Wendy Hiller
Childhood & Early Years
  • Wendy Margaret Hiller was born on 15th August 1912 in Bramhall, near Stockport, Cheshire, England. Her father, Frank Watkin Hiller, was a well-to-do cotton spinner and cloth manufacturer. Her mother was Marie Elizabeth (nee Stone). She had three brothers, René, Michael and John.
  • Little Wendy was sent to Bexhill, Sussex to be educated at Winceby House School. Her parents had hoped that this would help her lose her Cheshire accent. However, she was not entirely successful in that.
  • While in school, Wendy decided to become an actress. On completing her course in 1930, she entered the Manchester Repertory Theater, making her professional debut in the same year with a small part in ‘The Ware Case’. Subsequently, she continued playing similar parts in different plays.
  • At the same time, she tried her hand at every other kind of job like sweeping the stage, making tea, prompting, setting the scenery etc. Later, she also worked as an assistant stage manager.
  • Wendy undertook all these jobs quite willingly because they helped her to learn the principles of stage acting and management. Her actual breakthrough came in 1934.
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Career
  • In 1934, Wendy Hiller was chosen to play Sally Hardcastle, a slum dweller, in the stage version of ‘Love on the Dole’. The play was hugely successful and reached the West End Theatre in 1935.
  • In 1936, she travelled to New York with the play. Here, her performance was noticed by George Bernard Shaw, who cast her in many of his productions, including ‘Saint Joan’ and ‘Pygmalion’.
  • Subsequently in July 1936, she appeared in the lead role of the above mentioned plays at Malvern Theatre Festival, England. As her name spread, she began to receive offers to act in films.
  • In 1937, she made her debut in films as Betty Lovejoy in ‘Lancashire Luck’. Her next film, released in 1938, was ‘Pygmalion’, in which she once more enacted the role of Eliza Doolittle at Shaw’s insistence. It was a huge hit and she received an Academy nomination for it.
  • Hiller’s third film ‘Major Barbara’ was also based on George Bernard Shaw’s play of the same name. The film, released on 2 August, 1941, was both a critical and financial success. In spite of that, she decided to concentrate on her stage career.
  • In 1943, she appeared as Viola in Shakespeare's ‘Twelfth Night’. As part of her war effort, she went on extensive factory tour throughout Great Britain with it. Later in 1944, she appeared as Sister Joanna in ‘Cradle Song’ and in 1945 as Princess Charlotte in ‘The First Gentleman’.
  • However, she did not give up films altogether. In 1945, she appeared as Joan Webster in ‘I Know Where I’m Going!’.Made on a budget of £200,000, it has been hailed as one of the greatest films of that era.
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  • In 1946, she returned to stage and joined the Bristol Old Vic for a season. Here, she appeared as Tess in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, adapted for stage by Ronald Gow. Later it moved to the West End and became very successful. Critics praised her performance for its lack of mannerism.
  • From 1947 to 1949, Hiller appeared as Catherine Sloper in ‘The Heiress’, a stage adaptation of Henry James’s Washington Square. It had a year-long run at the Biltmore Theatre in New York and proved to be her greatest triumph on Broadway.
  • On returning to London, Hiller again played the role in the West End production in 1950. Sometime now, she also appeared in the title role of ‘Ann Veronica’.
  • Hiller next appeared in N. C. Hunter's ‘Waters of the Moon’. Starting in 1951, it had a two year run. Some time now, she also returned to films.
  • Her fifth film, ‘Outcast of the Islands’ was released in 1952. In this film, she appeared as Mrs. Almeyer. Shot partlyin Sri Lanka, it earned £149,335 at the box office and was nominated as the best British film.
  • Next in 1953, she appeared as Lucinda Bentley in ‘Single-Handed’ (released in the U.S.A as the ‘Sailor of the King’). It was a war film based on a novel by C. S. Forester. In this film, she played the mother of Signalman Andrew 'Canada' Brown, played by Jeffery Hunter.
  • Subsequently, she once again immersed herself in stage productions. In 1955-56, she was with the Old Vic, producing notable performances, which included her depiction of Portia in ‘Merchant of Venice’. ‘The Night of the Ball’ (1955) was another significant production during this phase.
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  • In 1957, she had her two films released; ‘Something of Value’ (later released as ‘Africa Ablaze’) and ‘How to Murder a Rich Uncle’. However, just as in ‘Sailor of the King’, she appeared in supporting roles in both these films.
  • Her next film ‘Separate Table’ (released in 1958) was another hugely successful venture. Here too, she appeared in a supporting role and received, in addition to quite a few nominations, her only Oscar.
  • Also in 1958- 1959, she appeared in the new Robert Bolt play ‘Flowering Cherry’, first at Haymarket and then at Broadway. The following year she appeared in‘Toys in the Attic’ (Piccadilly, 1960).
  • Her next film, ‘Sons and Lovers’ was also released in May 1960. In it she appeared as domineering and possessive matron Gertrude Morel. The film was another huge success, grossing $1,500,000 at the box office.
  • She also made several films throughout 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Among them, ‘Toys in Attic’ (1963) and ‘A Man for all Seasons’ (1966), earned her several nominations. Her depiction of Princess Dragomiroff in ‘Murder on the orient Express’ (1974) was also highly commended.
  • Subsequently, she made two more films in 1970s and five in 1980s. Her last film, ‘The Countess Alice’, in which she played the title role, was released in 1992.
  • Among her stage work, ‘The Wings of the Dove’ (1963), ‘A Measure of Cruelty’ (1965), ‘A Present for the Past’ (1966), ‘The Sacred Flame’ (1967), ‘The Battle of Shrivings’ (1970) and ‘Lies’ (1975) are most significant. Her last performance at the West End was in the title role in ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ (1988).
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  • From 1969 onwards, Wendy Miller also appeared in a number of television series. Starting in the same year as Mrs. Micawber in ‘David Copperfield’, her last appearance was in 1991, as Laurentia McLachlan in ‘Best of Friends’.
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Major Works
  • Her first major work in films was ’Pygmalion’ (1938). Appearing as Eliza Doolittle, she clearly defined the character, going to the extent of uttering, "Not bloody likely, I'm going in a taxi!". This makes her the first British actress to utter the word in a film. It also earned her the first Oscar nomination.
  • ‘Separate Tables’, done two decades later, was another of her memorable films. In this film, she depicts the role of Pat Cooper, an accommodating hotel owner carrying on a disturbed relationship with an alcoholic guest. The film earned $3.1 million in the US and Canada alone.
  • Onstage, although ‘Love on the Dole’ (1936) introduced her to the viewers, it was ‘Heiress’ (1947), which is said to be her most significant work. Her depiction of the ill-used, painfully shy spinster became well-known for its stubborn acrimony.
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Awards & Achievements
  • In 1958, Wendy Hiller received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in ‘Separate Tables’.
  • In 1974, she received Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actress for her role in ‘Murder on the Orient Express’.
  • For her work in ‘The Growing Summer’ (Television Series) she received Silver medal at the 1969 Venice Film Festival.
  • In 1996, Hiller was honored with the Dilys Powell Award for excellence in British films by the London Film Critics Circle.
  • Hiller was honored with the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1971 and raised to Dame Commander (DBE) in 1975 for her contribution to British drama.
  • In 1984, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Manchester.
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Personal Life & Legacy
  • In 1934, Wendy Hiller met Ronald Gow, who adapted Walter Greenwood’s novel ‘Love and Dole’ for stage. Later they got married in 1937. They had two children, Ann and Anthony Gow. Ronal Grow died in April 1993.
  • Soon after their marriage, they moved to Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, where they set up their home at ‘Spindles’. It was here that Hiller died on 14 May 2003 from natural causes. She was survived by her two children.
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Awards

Academy Awards(Oscars)
1959 Best Actress in a Supporting Role Separate Tables (1958)

See the events in life of Wendy Hiller in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Wendy Hiller Biography
Author
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
Website
- TheFamousPeople.com
URL
https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/wendy-hiller-7644.php
Last Updated
- November 07, 2017

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