Binnie Barnes

Active - 1931 - 1973  |   Born - Mar 25, 1903   |   Died - Jul 27, 1998   |   Genres - Comedy, Romance, Drama, Crime, Adventure

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Actress Binnie Barnes enjoyed a 30-year career on both sides of the Atlantic, and despite appearances in several notable films in her native England, she found her most lasting success in Hollywood, where she was best remembered for her tart-tongued portrayals. She was born Gittel Enoyce Barnes in London to a British father who was Jewish and an Italian mother. She was raised Jewish, although she converted to Catholicism upon her second marriage; later in life, she also took the formal name Gertrude Maude Barnes. It took until her teens before she actually entered performing, as a trick-rope artist in vaudeville (billed as "Texas Binnie Barnes"). Around that career start at 15, she also worked as a nurse, chorus girl, dance hostess, and milkmaid over the next few years. Barnes didn't start formal acting until age 26, working with Charles Laughton on stage. And apart from one appearance in a 1923 silent, she made her proper screen debut in 1931 in a series of short films, cast opposite comedian Stanley Lupino. Barnes was later signed to Alexander Korda's fledgling London Films, through which she was cast in movies such as Counsel's Opinion (1932) and other minor productions, earning the princely sum of 35 pounds (roughly $180) a week, which was actually very good money by ordinary standards, but hardly as star's compensation. She had something of a breakthrough in Korda's 1933 film The Private Life of Henry VIII portraying Catherine Howard, which gave her valuable exposure in England and America (where the movie was extraordinarily popular). Barnes was in the stage version of Cavalcade which, in turn, led to Hollywood to do the movie version and marked the beginning of her American career. Although she was initially uncomfortable in Hollywood, it was there that she spent most of the rest of her screen career. It helped that during the next few years she suppressed her English accent and developed a new, sassier persona as a wise-cracking female character lead, with her tall, imposing beauty and good looks, she was still attractive, but was usually cast as the heroine's best friend or older sister, and frequently with the best lines in those roles. At her best in those years, Barnes was a sort of trans-Atlantic rival to Eve Arden, cast in the same kind of sarcastic, knowing, yet attractive female roles. She still occasionally worked in films in England, including Korda's The Private Life of Don Juan and The Divorce of Lady X (a remake of Counsel's Opinion, in which Merle Oberon played her former role, while Barnes played the wife in the comedy of mistaken identity).

Barnes had a sense of humor about herself that allowed her to work comfortably opposite performers such as the Ritz Brothers (The Three Musketeers), in which she was turned upside down and shaken by the comic trio; Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in The Time of Their Lives, in which she had one of the funniest "in" joke lines in the history of Hollywood (when meeting the intense, taciturn housekeeper played by Gale Sondergaard, Barnes' character remarks, "Didn't I see you in 'Rebecca'?"). She also got to portray a lusty side to her screen persona as the lady pirate Anne Bonney in The Spanish Main (a role originally slated for June Duprez), which afforded her a great death scene as well as some fierce and entertaining interactions with Maureen O'Hara, as the two contended for the affections of Paul Henried.

In 1940, she married her second husband, actor/announcer-turned-film executive Mike Frankovich, and the two eventually moved to Italy following the end of the Second World War. There she produced movies, as well as acting in them, including Decameron Nights (1953) (in which -- shades of Alec Guinness -- she played eight different roles). Barnes retired in 1955 to devote herself to her home life, but in the mid-'60s, at her husband's insistence, she started to work again, on television and in feature films. She resumed acting on The Donna Reed Show, in two episodes three seasons apart, and played Sister Celestine in The Trouble With Angels (1967) and its sequel, Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows (1968). Barnes' last screen appearance was in 40 Carats (1973), and during that same year she was a guest on The Tonight Show. She enjoyed a long and happy retirement, and passed away in 1998 at the age of 95, six years after her husband passed away.

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