Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Margaret Lockwood and Googie Withers: Two Great British Actresses

 It was today in 1990 that the great British leading lady Margaret Lockwood
died. It was also today in 2011 that the great British actress Googie Withers died. Beyond having both died on 15 July and both having been well known British actresses of the mid-20th Century, Margaret Lockwood  and Googie Withers actually shared a good deal in common.

Indeed, as most film buffs probably already know, Margaret Lockwood and Googie Withers both appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's classic The Lady Vanishes (1938). Margaret Lockwood was the star of the film, playing Iris Henderson, the young English tourist who stumbles upon an insidious plot aboard a train. Googie Withers appeared in a supporting role, playing Iris's friend Blanche. Although both Margaret Lockwood and Googie Withers would go on to make many more films, they never appeared in a film together again. That is not to say that there were not some parallels between their careers. Both ladies appeared in several films made by Gainsborough Pictures. Of course, Margaret Lockwood was under contract to the studio and was its biggest star. Her two best known films were made at Gainsborough, The Lady Vanishes (1938) and The Wicked Lady (1945). Other well known films Miss Lockwood made at Gainsborough were The Man in Grey (1943), Love Story (1944), A Place of One's Own (1945), and Jassy (1947). Googie Withers' association with Gainsborough was not nearly as close as that of Margaret Lockwood, but she did make a few films at the studio. Besides The Lady Vanishes she made Strange Boarders (1938), Convict 99 (1938), Back-Room Boy (1942), and Traveller's Joy (1949) at Gainsborough.

Not only were there a few parallels between Margaret Lockwood and Googie Withers' film careers, but there were also a few parallels between their lives. Indeed, both were born in Karachi, British India. Margaret Lockwood was born there on 15 September 1916. Miss Lockwood spent the first three and a half years of her life in British India before her family moved to England. Googie Withers was born in Karachi, British India on 12 March 1917. In fact, her nickname Googie ("Little Pigeon") was given to her by her Indian ayah (a position that combines the jobs of a nanny and a maid) and she even learned Urdu as a child. Like Margaret Lockwood's family, Googie Withers' family would also return to England while she was very young. Of course, Margaret Lockwood and Googie Withers were not the only famous British actresses born in British India. Vivien Leigh was born in Darjeeling, Bengal Presidency, British India. Merle Oberon (who was actually part Indian) was born in Bombay, Bombay Presidency, British India.

Beyond both being born in British India, there were a few other ways in which Margaret Lockwood and Googie Withers' lives were similar. Both studied at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts while very young. What is more, both made their stage debuts when they were only twelve. Both Margaret Lockwood and Googie Withers had promising stage careers before starting their film careers. It must also be pointed out that both Margaret Lockwood and Googie Withers had daughters who followed them into acting. Margaret's daughter Julia appeared in such films as My Teenage Daughter (1956) and Please Turn Over (1960), as well as the TV series The Flying Swan with her mother. Googie Withers' daughter Joanna McCallum has had a fairly extensive career, appearing in such films as Hopscotch (1980) and Tom & Viv (1994), as well as such TV shows as Couples, Trainer, and Law & Order: UK.

Of course, despite the similarities between Margaret Lockwood and Googie Withers' careers and lives, there were some substantial differences as well. Margaret Lockwood may be best known for her Gainsborough melodramas. Googie Withers may be best known for her comedies and her films noirs. While Margaret Lockwood was best known for her roles as a leading lady, Googie Withers may be better known for her supporting roles. There were substantial differences in their personal lives. Margaret Lockwood's only marriage ended in divorce after around twelve years, while Googie Withers married fellow actor John McCallum in 1948 and remained married to him until his death in 2010. Margaret Lockwood only had one child, Julia, while Googie Withers and John McCallum had three children (Joanna, Nicholas, and Amanda McCallum).

Whatever the similarities and differences between Margaret Lockwood and Googie Withers' lives, the one respect in which they were most similar is that they were both remarkable actresses. Each of them left behind a legacy of performances on film that is only matched by a very few actresses. Most actresses work all their lives and never get roles as great as Margaret did with The Lady Vanishes or The Wicked Lady, or Googie Withers did with One of Our Aircraft Is Missing or Night and the City. For many lovers of British cinema, then, 15 July must be a very sad day.

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