“The two headline films of the Canberra International Film Festival, Rebecca (1940) and Pursued (1947) are electrified by the presence on screen by the presence of one of Australia’s most formidable actresses of the period, Dame Judith Anderson. … Desley Deacon’s biography of Anderson skilfully explores the actor’s personal and professional life. … a nuanced description of Anderson … makes compelling reading.” - Shane Breynard, The Canberra Times, August 2022.
Everyone knows Mrs Danvers as a byword for menace in Hitchcock’s Rebecca and as an iconic figure for lesbians in the movies. But only dedicated fans know her brilliant creator.
The book tells Judith Anderson’s life story for the first time. It recovers her career as one of the great stars of stage and television and an important character actress in the cinema.
Born In Adelaide, Australia, in 1897, brought up by a determined single mother, she parlayed her rich, velvety voice and ability to give reality to strong emotional roles into stardom on Broadway in the 1920s.
Not a conventional beauty, she was alluring, with her beautiful body, perfect dress sense, and striking, volatile personality.
After playing glamorous roles, she was recognised as a Leading Lady of the American stage under the direction of Guthrie McClintic in Hamlet and co-starring with Laurence Olivier and Maurice Evans in Macbeth. Her reputation as a great actress was confirmed by her landmark performance in 1947 in the ancient Greek Medea, adapted for her by her friend, poet Robinson Jeffers.
In 1955, she played Medea again for an Australian tour supported by the newly formed Elizabethan Theatre Trust. And in 1982, at the age of 83, she appeared in Medea again, playing the Nurse to fellow Australian Zoe Caldwell’s Medea.
Ambitious and driven, Anderson toured extensively, made numerous highly praised appearances on television, and, after her unforgettable role as Mrs Danvers, was a sought-after character actress in film, playing her last role as the Vulcan High Priestess in Star Trek III at the age of 87.
She won many awards and was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1960 and Companion of the Order of Australia just before her death in 1992.
She had a stormy private life and two short marriages, which, she remarked, were “much too long”.
The author, Desley Deacon, is Professor Emeritus at the Australian National University after a stellar career as an academic cultural historian, researcher and writer in Australia and USA. At ANU, she was professor of gender history, and served as head of the Department of History for two terms, overseeing the foundation of both the Australian Centre for Indigenous Studies and the National Centre of Biography. Her biography of Judith Anderson was shortlisted for a distinguished literary award in the USA in 2019.
Paperback, 461 pages plus detailed list of stage and screen performances, bibliography and index. Kerr Publishing, Melbourne, 2019.
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