On this day in history : 30th October 2014 – The death of English actress Renee Asherson – with a career spanning 65 years she was known for her versatility and grace….
Born Dorothy Renee Ascherson in Kensington, London, on the 19th of May 1915, she was to drop the ‘c’ from her name early in her acting career…. Renee’s father was a German-Jewish businessman and she was brought up in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire – before attending finishing schools in Switzerland and Anjou…. As a teenager her health suffered as she battled with anorexia…. When she announced that she had decided on an acting career her mother was greatly alarmed – it was not what she wanted for her daughter…. However, she enrolled at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London and completed her training….
Renee’s first stage performance was a walk-on part in October 1935, in John Gielgud’s production of Romeo and Juliet…. Her stage career was to focus on Shakespeare at the Birmingham Rep, Old Vic and other leading theatres…. Her first major film role was as Katherine in the 1944 film adaption of Henry V – in which she starred opposite Laurence Olivier…. Rumours were, at the time, that he had chosen her over Vivien Leigh, as he did not want his own performance to be overshadowed….
Renee was to work with actor Robert Donat – who became enchanted with her…. He was then to cast her in the 1945 comedy A Cure for Love…. In 1946 she returned to the stage playing Juliet at St. James’s Theatre – and completely won the hearts of the audience with her charm, poise and elegance…. Olivier tried to persuade her to join him at the Old Vic but she opted to work with Donat – whom she married in 1953….
Donat was suffering from ill-health and Renee put her own career on hold so that she could nurse him…. However, his illness put too much strain on their relationship and the marriage broke down…. Ironically they were on the verge of a reconciliation when Donat died of a brain tumour in June 1958….
Having been left nothing in Donat’s will Renee threw herself back into her work – more out of financial necessity rather than love of her trade…. She never remarried and had no children….
Over the next half a century she proved her versatility as an actress in a large variety of roles…. from Shakespeare to Agatha Christie, to comedy…. Her television work included series such as Clayhanger and Tenko…. Her last film appearance was in 2001, in the haunting story with an incredible twist at the end – The Others – also starring Nicole Kidman….
Renee died in Primrose Hill, London, at the age of 99….