The name Margaret Rutherford is quite popular among the connoisseurs of old movies, particularly vintage British movies. Her characterisation of Miss Marple in such films as Murder, She Said, Murder at the Gallop, Murder Most Foul and Murder Ahoy!, based on famous Agatha Christie novels is admired even today. She started appearing on the big screen at an advanced age. Not being a conventional beauty also did not help her causes; in fact, she was derided by many for her looks who confidently preferred overlooking her superb acting prowess. But, thanks to her inimitable style of acting, she already created a firm footing for herself on stage.
In last two years or so, while watching many of the old black and white films with my brother, I stumbled upon I Happiest Days of Your Life and consequently learn about the formidable acting skills of Margaret Rutherford. In the following months, we managed to watch The Importance of being Earnest (based on an Oscar Wilde story), Passport to Pimlico, I’m All Right Jack and Curtain Up among others. Our search also yielded a rare gem – an interview with Margaret Rutherford and her actor husband Stringer Davis conducted Down Under. The web world, despite the hype around the process of digitisation, is not exactly swathed with interviews of famous personalities of the yore. So you will understand why I call this a ‘rare gem’. The interview is also devoid of any clichés associated with such interactions with film stars. I am sure you will enjoy listening to this during an afternoon recess this weekend.
Margaret Rutherford’s role in The V.I.P.s earned her both Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. She was also bestowed with Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and Dame Commander (DBE) in 1961 and 1967 respectively.
Unfortunately, her glorious success on stage or screen and a stable relationship with her devoted husband could not prevent her frequent lapses into depression and melancholia. Nearly all through her life, she was haunted by the fear of becoming mentally incapacitated. This fear primarily stemmed from her father’s violent insane spells that drenched the family into bloodbath. Though Margaret Rutherford (May 11, 1892 – May 22, 1972) was sent to stay with her aunt, Bessie Nicholson, since an early age the ghosts of the maladies existing in her family never really eluded her. As she started suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in the late sixties, these nervous breakdowns became even more frequent and acute. She was nursed by her beloved husband till her very last day. What she said about her work also applies for her life. That,
You never have a comedian who hasn’t got a very deep strain of sadness within him or her. Every great clown has been very near to tragedy … is quite apparent from the Margaret Rutherford story.