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Constance Collier

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)

Constance Collier

Filmography

1916      

The Tongues of Men

The Code of Marcia Gray 

Macbeth 

Intolerance 

 

1919      

The Impossible Woman 

 

1920      

Bleak House 

 

1922      

The Bohemian Girl 

 

1935      

Shadow of Doubt 

Anna Karenina 

Professional Soldier 

 

1936      

Little Lord Fauntleroy 

Girls’ Dormitory

 

1937      

Thunder in the City 

Wee Willie Winkie 

Clothes and the Woman 

Stage Door

A Damsel in Distress 

 

1939      

Zaza 

 

1940      

Half a Sinner 

Susan and God 

 

1945      

Kitty 

 

1946      

The Dark Corner

Monsieur Beaucaire 

 

1947      

The Perils of Pauline 

An Ideal Husband 

 

1948      

Rope

The Girl from Manhattan

 

1949      

Whirlpool 

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).

During the making of the film version of Stage Door, she became great friends with Katharine Hepburn, a friendship that lasted the rest of Collier’s life.

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.

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