Educated at London's Central School of Speech and Drama, British actress Peggy Ashcroft made her West End theatrical debut in 1927. Within three years, she achieved fame with her performance of Desdemona opposite African American actor Paul Robeson's Othello. Thereafter, she appeared in the company of London's theatrical elite, most often costarring with Sir John Gielgud. Ashcroft made her film bow in 1933's The Wandering Jew, four years before her first Broadway appearance. In honor of her innumerable Shakespearean performances, Ashcroft was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1956. Appearing very infrequently in films throughout most of her career, Ashcroft is best remembered for her movie roles in Hitchcock's The Thirty Nine Steps (1935) and the Audrey Hepburn vehicle The Nun's Story (1959). In 1984, the 77-year-old actress received the Academy Award for her portrayal of Mrs. Moore in David Lean's A Passage to India. When she did not appear at the Oscar ceremony, rumors began circulating that Ashcroft was terminally ill. In fact, Dame Peggy Ashcroft had six more years' worth of performances in her, culminating with her magnificent portrayal of a lifelong mental institution resident in the made-for-TV She's Been Away (1990).
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Made West End theatrical debut in 1927.
- Achieved fame with her performance of Desdemona to Paul Robeson's Othello, and went on to become one of the most acclaimed Shakespearean actors, often playing opposite Sir John Gielgud.
- After beginning a limited film career with 1933's The Wandering Jew, most visible motion-picture role was in the Alfred Hitchcock classic The 39 Steps (1935); later won an Oscar for A Passage to India (1984).
- Became a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1956, and became the only living British actor to have a playhouse, the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon, England, named in her honor.
- Last role was in the 1990 TV-movie She's Been Away.