Wendy Hiller

Active - 1933 - 1991  |   Born - Aug 15, 1912 in Hazel Grove and Bramhall Urban District, Cheshire, England  |   Died - May 14, 2003   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Mystery

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Educated at Winceby House, a girl's school in Sussex, British actress Wendy Hiller made her stage debut at age 18 with the Manchester Repertory troupe. Her stardom came as a result of her performance in the popular London "everyday folks" drama Love on the Dole in 1935 (written by her future husband Ronald Gow), later repeating this triumph on Broadway. Wendy's stage performance in George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan prompted Shaw to recommend her for the role of Eliza Doollittle in the film version of Pygmalion (1938). The actress was nominated for an Oscar (well deserved, since the film was actually made twice, one version "sanitized" for American audiences), but for many years thereafter her performance was unseen due to legal tangles arising from the musical remake of Pygmalion, My Fair Lady. Wendy later starred in another filmization of a Shaw play, Major Barbara (1941). Though she preferred the stage, Wendy would return to films sporadically if the part offered was worthwhile; she finally won an Oscar for her supporting role in Separate Tables (1958), and would rack up a future nomination for A Man For All Seasons (1966). She received the Order of the British Empire in 1966 and was made a Dame of the Empire in 1975, all the while plying her acting trade in a brilliantly workmanlike fashion. Most of her 1970s roles weren't up to her earlier appearances, but she gave her all to such parts as the foredoomed Lawyer Crosbie (a role originally written for a man!) in the 1978 remake of Cat and the Canary. Dame Wendy Hiller also did a great deal of television both in England and America; she was starred in a 1964 episode of Profiles in Courage, played a pivotal role in the 1982 TV movie Witness for the Prosecution, and headlined "All Passion Spent," a three-part 1989 offering of PBS' Masterpiece Theatre.

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  • Started her professional career in the early 1930's acting in repertory theatre in Manchester.
  • Attracted the attention of playwright George Bernard Shaw after receiving acclaim for her performance in the stage version of Love On The Dole in 1934.
  • George Bernard Shaw cast her in the roles of some of his greatest characters, such as Joan of Arc and Eliza Doolitle.
  • Won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her work in the 1958 drama Separate Tables.
  • Was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for her services to drama in the 1971 Queen's Birthday Honours List and the Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1975.