Another year has flown by and with it some of our favorite icons of the arts and entertainment world have gone as well. Please join me in honoring the memory of many of the British actors, musicians and authors who have shared their talents with us over the years.
Maureen O’Hara (1920-2015) Born Maureen FitzSimons, this Irish movie star began learning her craft in amateur theatre companies in Dublin as a pre-teen before moving on to the Ireland’s national theatre, the Abbey at age fourteen. Her film career got a kick start when she was discovered by English actor Charles Laughton who mentored her through several pictures including Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn and her first Hollywood film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She went on to appear in many Westerns and other adventure films, including five appearances with John Wayne.
Here’s a montage of images of Ms. O’Hara from many of her most acclaimed performances.
Roger Rees (1944-2015) This Welsh-born actor transitioned effortlessly from stage to film and television. His original claim to fame was his Olivier and Tony award-winning title role in the epic The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. In addition, he spent two decades as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. His film credits included The Prestige, Robin Hood: Men in Tights and The Pink Panther. American TV audiences enjoyed his frequent work in series such as Cheers, Warehouse 13 and as the delightfully eccentric Lord John Marbury from The West Wing.
Mr. Rees’ final role was opposite Chita Rivera in the Broadway musical The Visit. He left the show in May of this year and died on July 10. He was 71.
Christopher Lee (1922- 2015) After leaving the Royal Air Force at the end of WWII, a relative suggested Lee try his hand at acting and it ended up being his profession for life. Most people are well acquainted with of his monster film personas, the most famous and frequent being Count Dracula. Even though most of his films were not actually in the horror genre, he was still usually cast as intimidating characters. He has appeared as villains in some of the most successful movie franchises of all time including Star Wars (Count Dooku) and Lord of the Rings (Saruman).
Reportedly his role as Lord Summerisle in 1973’s The Wicker Man was one of Mr. Lee’s favorites.
Patrick Macnee (1922-2015) Even before he took up the lethal umbrella and donned the debonair bowler hat, Macnee had quite a colorful life. His mother divorced his father to be with another woman and he was raised by the couple. He performed in school plays opposite the aforementioned Sir Christopher Lee and he was expelled from Eton for running a sports bookmaking syndicate among other scandalous activities.
In his professional life he’s played both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and one of James Bond’s cohorts in A View to a Kill. However, it’s his role as secret agent John Steed in The Avengers for which Mr. Macnee will always be remembered.
Geraldine McEwan (1932-2015) Ms. McEwan’s first love was the theatre and she got her feet wet as a fourteen year old assistant stage manager in Windsor. She spent the first two decades of her career mainly on the British stage in Stratford and the West End. She was nominated five times for an Olivier Award and once for a Tony.
Her TV and film credits included Mapp & Lucia, Mulberry, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Magdalene Sisters. Of course, US viewers will be most familiar with her turn as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.
Nicholas Smith (1934-2015) This multi-talented actor and musician trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Besides appearing in various stage productions including The Mousetrap and The Mikado, one of Mr. Smith’s first TV roles was as a Dalek mine slave in a string of 1964 Doctor Who episodes. In the mid-2000’s he provided the voice of the vicar in the Wallace & Gromit feature, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
His claim to fame, of course, is as the ineffectual store manager, Mr. Rumbold, from the wildly popular Britcom, Are You Being Served?
Cilla Black (1943- 2015) Liverpool songbird Cilla Black was a contemporary of The Beatles and was even signed by their manager Brian Epstein. Her biggest hits of the 60’s include Anyone Who Had a Heart, You’re My World and Alfie. Later in her career, Ms. Black became more of a television personality with her own musical variety program on the BBC (Cilla) and as a host/presenter on game shows such as Blind Date.
Jackie Collins (1937- 2015) English-born Collins (older sister of actress Joan) got some screen time of her own in the 50’s and 60’s. However from the 70’s on she was almost exclusively a writer of slightly scandalous romance fiction. Ms. Collins was able to bring several of her books to the small screen. Two of her most famous series, Lucky Chances and Hollywood Wives, were adapted for TV and one includes the surprising appearance of soon-to-be Oscar winner Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Terry Pratchett (1948- 2015) This beloved humorous fantasy author penned dozens of works of fiction (with forty-one titles in his popular Discworld series alone). Mr. Pratchett adapted a number of his novels into stage or radio plays. Others have been made into television movies or mini-series including the Discworld novel, Going Postal.
As we remember these gifted individuals who enriched our lives or even just made us laugh, please share your thoughts about them in the comments section below. May they all rest in peace.