Better known as an acting coach however she did appear in the films that included Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) and Otto Preminger’s Whirlpool (1949)
The Tongues of Men
The Code of Marcia Gray
The Impossible Woman
The Bohemian Girl
Thunder in the City
Wee Willie Winkie
Clothes and the Woman
A Damsel in Distress
Half a Sinner
Susan and God
The Dark Corner
The Perils of Pauline
An Ideal Husband
The Girl from Manhattan
Constance Collier was born Laura Constance Hardie on January 1878, in Windsor, Berkshire to Cheetham Agaste Hardie and Eliza Collier. Constance made her stage debut at the age of 3, when she played Fairy Peasblossom in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. In 1893, at the age of 15, she joined the Gaiety Girls, the famous dance troupe based at the Gaiety Theatre in London. On December 27, 1906, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s extravagant revival of Antony and Cleopatra opened at His Majesty’s Theatre, with Tree as Mark Antony and Constance Collier as Cleopatra, a performance for which she received much critical praise.
Constance Collier was now established as a popular and distinguished actress. In January 1908, she starred with Beerbohm Tree at His Majesty’s Theatre in J. Comyn’s new play The Mystery of Edwin Drood, based on Charles Dickens’s unfinished novel of the same name. Later that year, she made the first of several tours of the United States. During the second, made with Beerbohm Tree in 1916, she made four silent films, including an uncredited appearance in D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance (she can be seen being carried through the entrance to the city in the Babylonian part of the film) and as Lady Macbeth in Tree’s first and disastrous film interpretation of Shakespeare’s MacBeth.
In 1905, Collier married handsome English actor Julian Boyle (stage name Julian L’Estrange), a sort of Clark Gable before Clark Gable. They performed together for many years until his death in 1918 in New York from influenza. No children were born from the marriage.
In the early 1920s, she established a close friendship with Ivor Novello. His first play, The Rat, was written in collaboration with her in 1924. She also appeared in several plays with him, including the British version of the American success, The Firebrand by Edwin Justus Mayer. Her writing career is notable for her collaboration with Deems Taylor on the libretto of the opera Peter Ibbetson which was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in February 1931 and which received mixed reviews. In 1935, upon her arrival in Hollywood, Collier was hired to improve Luise Rainer‘s theatre acting and English, and to learn the basics of film acting.
In the late 1920s Collier relocated to Hollywood where she became a voice coach and teacher in diction. This was during the tumultuous changeover from silent films to sound and many silent actors with no theatre training were scrambling for lessons.
Her most famous pupil was Colleen Moore. Film historian Kevin Brownlow interviewed Moore for the series Hollywood (1980) about the silent film era. Moore recounted that upon taking voice lessons from a “very famous lady” the teacher asked, “is it true that you make 10,000 dollars a week?” Moore replied, “no ma’am, I make 12,500 a week”. The teacher Moore was referring to was Constance Collier. Collier nevertheless maintained ties to Broadway and would appear in several plays in the 1930s.
In 1932 Collier starred as Carlotta Vance in the original production of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s comedy Dinner at Eight. The role was played in the 1933 film version by Marie Dressler.
She appeared in the films Stage Door (1937), Mitchell Leisen’s Kitty (1945, a comedic performance as Lady Susan, the drunken aunt of Ray Milland), Perils of Pauline with Betty Hutton, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) and Otto Preminger’s Whirlpool (1949).
Constance Collier was presented with the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre Award for distinguished service in training and guiding actors in Shakespearean roles. She was a drama coach for many famous actors, including Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh and Marilyn Monroe. She also coached Katharine Hepburn during Hepburn’s world tour performing Shakespeare in the ’50s. Upon Collier’s death in 1955, Hepburn “inherited” Collier’s secretary Phyllis Wilbourn, who remained with Hepburn as her secretary for 40 years.
She died of natural causes in Manhattan on April 25, 1955 at the age of 77.