November 27, 2011
I can almost hear people saying “Who?” and a month ago I would have been saying the same, but then my Dad emailed me with the loveliest story detailing a wonderfully sentimental family link to this lovely lady, that just caught my imagination.
When my Nan was a young lady, in the late 1920s early 1930s, she was in service to a family called the Bailwards at a Manor house in Somerset, in a small village called Horsington (I imagine life there being a lot like Downton Abbey) As was the fashion at the time, the family often travelled to their home in London for the season, and on one of those occasions my Nan was asked to look after a special guest – an up and coming star.
I am sure, for someone like my Nan, a young girl from the country, this would have felt both a daunting request and an exciting privilege – dressing someone so glamorous. My Nan must have done a good job though as after a few days, before the young star left, she called my Nan to her room, thanked her in person and opened her wardrobe for my Nan to choose any dress she wanted!
My Nan treasured that dress for many years, and of course the young star was none other than Anna Neagle, who went on to become one of Britains favourite actresses and one of the biggest female box office draws of the 1940s, as well as a bonafide Dame!
I can only imagine my Nan’s awe at such a generous gesture from someone so beautiful!
Dame Anna Neagle was born Florence Marjorie Robertson in 1904. She made her stage debut as a dancer at the tender age of 13 but her big film break came in 1932 in the musical Goodnight Vienna, after she was spotted in the West End by her future husband, producer and director Herbert Wilcox. The film made Anna an overnight favourite and was itself a huge success - costing a mere £23,000 to make, profits from its Australian release alone was £150,000.
Renowned for her portrayals of real-life British heroines Anna had her first major success in Nell Gwyn (1934), about which noted writer Graham Greene “I have seen few things more attractive than Miss Neagle in breeches”.
Two years after Nell Gwynn, she followed up with another true-life figure, portraying Irish actress Peg Woffington in Peg of Old Drury (1936).
The success of Victoria the Great in 1937 and Sixty Glorious Years in 1938 caused Hollywood studios to take notice, but despite a 3 year successful teaming with RKO Studios, releasing musicals Irene, No No Nanette and Sunny, the pair returned to Britain.
Through the 1950s, as box office attendance began to decline, Anna’s star began to wane and sadly by 1964 her and her husband were bankrupt. Anna made a triumphant return to stage in the West End in Charlie Girl, which she performed in Australia and New Zealand, not only re-igniting her career but earning her a place in the Guiness Book of Records.
Anna proved to be a box-office sensation in British films for over 25 years. She was loved for providing glamour and sophistication to war-torn London audiences, winning several awards as Britain’s favourite actress and biggest female box-office draw.
I love this gorgeous photograph of Anna wearing a lovely Floral Crown - such a stylish and graceful lady!
I know my Nan always remembered her time with her fondly and with such pride!