On this day in history : 14th June 1991 – The death of legendary Academy award winning actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft, who appeared in both classic and modern stage plays – as well as in films….

Peggy Ashcroft in 1936 – Public domain

Peggy was born in Croydon on the 22nd of December 1907 – she was still a child when her father was killed during World War One…. At school she was encouraged in her love of Shakespeare however, was not encouraged, either by her teachers or her mother, in her desire to become an actress…. Nevertheless, at the age of 16, showing strong will and determination she joined the Central School of Speech and Drama…. A fellow pupil was Laurence Olivier….

She graduated from the Central School in 1927 with a Diploma of Dramatic Art from London University – having already made her stage debut at Birmingham’s Repertory Theatre opposite Ralph Richardson in J.M.Barrie’s ‘Dear Brutus’…. Her first main West End role was as Naemi in the play ‘Jew Suss’ in 1929….

It was also in 1929 that she married Rupert Hart-Davis….it was to be a short-lived marriage and ended in 1933…. They were to always remain close friends – he was later to blame the failure of their marriage on their young age – although it was he who filed for divorce on the grounds of her adultery with theatrical director Theodore Komisarjevsky…. She had also had other brief affairs with J.B.Priestly and American actor Paul Robeson….

In 1930 Peggy was cast as Desdemona in ‘Othello’ at the Savoy Theatre…. It was a production that was not generally well received but she gained excellent reviews…. She came to the attention of John Gielgud, who at the time was a newly established star in the West End…. On being invited by the Oxford University Dramatic Society to direct a production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ he cast Peggy as Juliet – a performance that won her golden notices…. She went on to join the Old Vic Company for its 1932-33 season – a company known for its productions of the classics, especially Shakespeare….

In 1933 Peggy made her first film – ‘The Wandering Jew’…. However, she was not keen on this form of acting and so over the next 25 years she only made four more films, perhaps the most notable being Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The 39 Steps’ in 1935…. She married Komisarjevsky in 1934 – but again it was to be short-lived, they parted in 1936….

Peggy Ashcroft, 1936 – Public domain

She went on to marry lawyer Jeremy Hutchinson in 1940 and gave birth to a daughter in 1941…. Her acting career took a back seat for a while, resuming briefly before her second child, a son, was born in 1946…. She returned to the stage in 1947 and had a run of successes, in classical, Shakespeare and modern productions…. By the mid 1960s her marriage was failing and Peggy threw herself more and more into her work….

Peggy Ashcroft, 1962 – Dutch National Archives – CC BY-SA 3.0nl

During the 1980s she appeared on television in a few productions…. She won a BAFTA in 1984 as Best Actress in ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ – and another for ‘A Passage to India’ – for which she also received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress….

Peggy died of a stroke in London, at the age of 83….

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