Sunday, 7 June 2015

Patricia Roc's 100th Birthday

While most Americans and probably many Brits would not recognise her name today, Patricia Roc was one of the most popular British film stars of the Forties. She appeared in many Gainsborough melodramas, including Love Story (1944),  Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945), and The Wicked Lady (1945).  She regularly ranked in the Daily Mail's annual polls of the most popular British movie stars for several years in the Forties. In 1946 she was the third most popular actress in the Daily Mail poll, surpassed only by Margaret Lockwood and Phyllis Calvert. She dropped to sixth place in the 1947 poll, but returned to third place in 1948. Despite such success Miss Roc would largely be forgotten in the following decades, which is particularly sad. Not only was she a strikingly beautiful actress (Arthur Rank himself called her "the "the archetypal British beauty"), but she was extraordinarily talented as well.

Patricia Roc was born Felicia Miriam Ursula Herold in Hampstead 100 years ago today. Her father was Felix Herold, a paper merchant, and her mother was Muriel Angell, who came from St Helier, Jersey. They were not married. She was adopted by wealthy Dutch-Belgian stockbroker André Riese and his wife while she was still an infant. In fact, she would not learn she was adopted until 1949.  She studied at private schools in both London and Paris. In 1937 she enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Patricia Roc made her London stage debut in 1937 in a production of  Nuts in May. Her screen debut would occur the following year, in an uncredited bit part in the film The Divorce of Lady X. She appeared the same year as a Polish princess in the film The Rebel Son. By 1940 Miss Roc had graduated to much more substantial roles in such films as Pack Up Your Troubles and Dr. O'Dowd. Her breakthrough role would come with the film Millions Like Us in 1943.  Cast as Celia, a girl working in an aircraft factory, Patricia Roc made such an impression that she was signed to a seven year contract with Gainsborough Pictures.

Patricia Roc's years with Gainsborough would mark the height of her career. She appeared in Two Thousand Women (1944) with Phyllis Calvert, Love Story (1944) with Margaret Lockwood, and Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945) with Phyllis Calvert again. Her most popular film would once more be opposite Margaret Lockwood. The Wicked Lady (1945) would not only be one of the top British films of the Forties, but to this day remains one of the highest grosseing British films in the United Kingdom. American movie producer Walter Wanger was so impressed with Patricia Roc's performance in Millions Like Us that he persuaded J. Arthur Rank to loan her to him for the Canyon Passage (1946). Sadly, Canyon Passage would be a failure at the box office, losing $63,784. It was the only film she ever made in Hollywood

While Patricia Roc did not find success in Hollywood, she returned to Britain to find continued success there. She was the female lead in The Brothers (1947) and that same year appeared with Margaret Lockwood in Jassy. She played the lead role in such films as When the Bough Breaks (1947), One Night with You (1948), and The Perfect Woman (1949). Unfortunately Patricia Roc's career would begin a decline in the late Forties that would continue into the early Fifties. While she was very prolific in the Forties, Patricia Roc would only make eight films in the Fifties, her last film being Bluebeards Ten Honeymoons in 1960.

Patricia Roc did make a few appearances on television. Her television debut was in an episode of The Errol Flynn Theatre in 1956. She guest starred on such TV shows as No Hiding Place, Skyport, and Dixon of Dock Green. Her final appearance on screen was in the debut episode of The Saint, "The Talented Husband". She retired and moved to Locarno, Switzerland in 1962. It was at Locarno, Switzerland that she died at age 88 of kidney failure.

In her heyday Patricia Roc was not only a popular actress, but one who was respected as well. J. Arthur Rank referred to her as  "the Goddess of Odeons". Noel Coward referred to her as both "a phenomenon" and "an unspoiled film star who can act." While Margaret Lockwood and Patricia Roc played bitter rivals in some of their most popular films, it is notable that the two great actresses always remained the best of friends. It should be little wonder that Patricia Roc should be so well respected. While she may be best known for her "good girl" roles in the Gainsborough melodramas, she had quite a bit of range. In When the Bough Breaks Miss Roc played an English girl who gives up her baby for adoption only to fight the adopted parents for custody of the child.   In one of her last films, The Widow (1955), she played the rather self-centred Countess Diana Gaston, a far cry from the good girls of her Gainsborough days. Patricia Roc was much more than the archetypal English rose or the good girls she so often played. She was an actress with a good deal of talent and a quite a bit of range.

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