RUTHERFORD, (Dame) Margaret
Nationality: British. Born: London, 11 May 1892. Education: Attended Wimbledon Hill School; Ravenscroft. Family: Married Stringer Davis, 1945. Career: Taught speech and piano; then studied acting at the Old Vic, London; 1925—stage debut; then in repertory in Oxford, Croydon, and London; 1936—film debut in Dusty Ermine ; 1939—first appearance as Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest , London; repeated the role in film version, 1952; 1940—stage role of Mme. Arcati in Blithe Spirit ; repeated in film, 1945; 1948—stage role of Miss Whitchurch in The Happiest Days of Your Life ; repeated in film, 1950. Awards: Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for The V.I.P.s , 1963. Dame Commander, Order of the British Empire, 1967. Died: 22 May 1972.
Films as Actress:
Dusty Ermine ( Hideout in the Alps ) (Vorhaus) (as Miss Butterby); Talk of the Devil (Reed) (as housekeeper); Troubled Waters (Parker)
Beauty and the Barge (Edwards) (as Mrs. Baldwin); Big Fella (Wills); Catch as Catch Can ( Atlantic Episode ) (Kellino) (as Maggie Carberry); Missing, Believed Married (Carstairs) (as Lady Parke)
Spring Meeting (Mycroft) (as Aunt Bijou); Quiet Wedding (Asquith) (as Magistrate)
The Yellow Canary (Wilcox) (as Mrs. Towcester); The Demi-Paradise ( Adventure for Two ) (Asquith) (as Rowena Ventnor)
English without Tears ( Her Man Gilbey ) (French) (as Lady Christobel Beauclerk)
Blithe Spirit (Lean) (as Mme. Arcati)
While the Sun Shines (Asquith) (as Dr. Winifred Frye); Meet Me at Dawn ( The Gay Duellist ) (Freeland) (as Mme. Vernorel)
Miranda (Annakin) (as Nurse Cary); Passport to Pimlico (Cornelius) (as Prof. Hatton-Jones)
The Happiest Days of Your Life (Launder) (as Miss Whitchurch); Her Favourite Husband ( The Taming of Dorothy ) (Soldati) (as Mrs. Dotherington)
The Magic Box (Boulting) (as Lady Pond)
Curtain Up (Smart) (as Jeremy St. Clare); The Importance of Being Earnest (Asquith) (as Miss Prism); Castle in the Air (Cass) (as Miss Nicholson); Miss Robin Hood (Guillermin) (as Miss Honey)
Innocents in Paris (Parry) (as Gwladwys Inglott); Trouble in Store (Carstairs) (as Miss Bacon)
The Runaway Bus (Guest) (as Cynthia Beeston); Aunt Clara (Kimmins) (as Clara Hilton); Mad about Men (Thomas) (as Nurse Carey)
An Alligator Named Daisy (Thompson) (as Prudence Croquet)
The Smallest Show on Earth (Dearden) (as Mrs. Fazackerlee); Just My Luck (Carstairs) (as Mrs. Dooley)
I'm All Right Jack (Boulting) (as Aunt Dolly)
Murder She Said (Pollock) (as Jane Marple); On the Double (Shavelson)
The Mouse on the Moon (Lester) (as Grand Duchess Gloriana); Murder at the Gallop (Pollock) (as Miss Marple); The V.I.P.s (Asquith) (as Duchess of Brighton)
Murder Most Foul (Pollock) (as Miss Marple); Murder Ahoy (Pollock) (as Miss Marple)
The Alphabet Murders (Pollock) (as Miss Marple)
A Countess from Hong Kong (Chaplin) (as Mrs. Gaulswallow); Chimes at Midnight ( Campanadas a medianoche ; Falstaff ) (Welles) (as Hostess Quickly)
The Wacky World of Mother Goose (Bass) (as voice); Arabella (Bolognini) (as Princess Ilaria)
By RUTHERFORD: book—
Margaret Rutherford: An Autobiography , as told to Gwen Robyns, London, 1972.
On RUTHERFORD: books—
Keown, Eric, Margaret Rutherford , New York, 1955.
Simmons, Dawn Langley, Margaret Rutherford: A Blithe Spirit , London, 1983.
On RUTHERFORD: articles—
Current Biography 1964 , New York, 1964.
Obituary in New York Times , 23 May 1972.
Vermilye, Jerry, "Margaret Rutherford," in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1990.
Hummer, G.B., in Films in Review (New York), March-April 1991.
Roberts, John, "Margaret Rutherford: Beloved Character Actress," in Classic Images (Muscatine), August 1993.
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James Mason, asked to name his favorite leading lady, said that he tried rating them all by stars and that the only five-star lady was Margaret Rutherford. She was an exceptional and well-loved comedienne, who began her working life as a teacher of piano and elocution before a small legacy enabled her to attend the Old Vic school to study drama. She had various successful stage roles before making her first film in 1936, Dusty Ermine . She had a highly unorthodox appearance—the demeanor of a startled turkey-cock, the jaws of a bloodhound and a highly unwieldy frame. All of this marked her out to be a character actress, a term applied to women not considered attractive enough to be the love interest in films. Margaret Rutherford's screen career depended on her playing variations on the theme of delightfully dotty "spinster," either intense, gushing, and absentminded or tweedy and austere.
She played all her roles with aplomb and perspicacity and had a superb sense of timing. She was the irrepressible and flamboyant Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit , the enthusiastic Medieval expert in Ealing Studio's Passport to Pimlico , and the unforgettably fluttering and forgetful Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest . In The Happiest Days of Your Life she starred with Alastair Sim, who played the headmaster of the school upon which Rutherford and her truculent "gels" are billeted with uproarious consequences (shades of St. Trinian's). He was her male counterpart in the realms of the British Eccentric—realms that they ruled with equal gusto and gladiatorial insouciance. Raymond Durgnat writing in A Mirror for England noted that "British qualms about the grinding effect of puritanical submission to the system are often expressed in two ways: their veneration for eccentrics and their much touted sense of humour . . . (they) are usually 'upperclass' in origin and either of independent means or firmly ensconced in authority . . . they are usually variations on old-fashioned father and aunt figures and the eccentricity is not eccentricity at all, but the old upperclass way of speaking out boldly and rudely."
Several other eccentric roles followed for Margaret Rutherford for she played Miss Marple in several MGM Agatha Christie films, where once again her unlikely and sexually "unappealing" exterior hid a true and marvelous ingenuity and a remarkable and scrupulous intelligence. Her elegant comic touch and her warmth were triumphant in every role she played—a glorious galleon in full sail firing salvos at all who crossed her bow.