Dame Margaret Rutherford
(1892 - 1972)

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Margaret Rutherford, the daughter of William Benn and Florence Rutherford, was born on 11th May 1892. Her father was the brother of the politician John Benn. Before her birth, her father had murdered her grandfather, Julius Benn. As a result of this tragedy, Margaret took her mother's name. Margaret's mother then died when she was three years old and she was brought up by her aunt.

At school Rutherford developed an interest in the theatre and her aunt paid for her to have private acting lessons. When her aunt died she left Margaret a small amount of money so she could pursue a career on the stage. Following a number of years spent as a speech and piano teacher, she trained at the Old Vic and debuted onstage in 1925 where she appeared in several small roles.

Her slightly fully shape was unconventional for many female stars at this time and this often lead her to a number of unusual female roles such as spinsters and detectives. She was originally a teacher of elocution, (that’s an English word for speaking with the correct pronunciation of words), which meant that in many ways much of her comedy was derived from her extensive vocal ability.
Some of her finest parts actually originated in the theatre – for example she had played both Madame Arcati and Miss Prism on the stage before she repeated the roles in the screen adaptations of Blithe Spirit (1945) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1952).

Rutherford made her first appearance in London's West End theatres in 1933 but her talent was not recognised by the critics until her performance as Miss Prism in the play ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (1939).

In summer 1941, Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit" opened on the London stage, with Coward himself directing. She played as Madame Arcati, the fake psychic in a role in which Coward had earlier envisaged for her and which he then especially shaped.

It would be as Madame Arcati in David Lean's 'Blithe Spirit’ (1945) that would actually establish her as a big screen success. This would become one of her most memorable performances, with her bicycling about the Kentish countryside, cape fluttering behind her. Interestingly it would also establish the model for portraying that pseudo-soothsayer forever thereafter and there have been about six remakes of the film. As a slight aside - as Noel Coward had Margaret in mind for his Madame Arcati creation, so also did Agatha Christie create Miss Marple for Rutherford a number of years later.

Some of her finest screen work was when she was in fifties. She was superb as Nurse Carey in Miranda (1948) and completely believable in the role of Professor Hatton Jones Passport to Pimlico (1949). More success followed as see starred along Alistir Sim in ‘The Happiest days of your life’ (1950).








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