Monday, November 30, 2009

The Lady in Question


And we do mean "lady": our latest Mystery Guest, who fooled everyone, was one of our favorite character actresses, the always-elegant Cathleen Nesbitt, whose 121st birthday it would have been on the day we posted her photo. A highly respected stage actress on both the London and New York stages, Nesbitt is perhaps best known for her supporting roles roles in a series splashy, frothy American film productions.


Besides inflicting its irritating, ubiquitous, yet ultimately irresistible title song upon an unsuspecting public, Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) also marked Nesbitt's American screen debut. The role of "La Principessa" set the tone for Nesbitt's persona for the rest of her career: aristocratic, vaguely Continental, often imposing. The 1950's also found Nesbitt performing before her largest Broadway audiences, again in haughty character roles, in such hits as Gigi (1951), Sabrina Fair (1953), Anastasia (1954) and My Fair Lady (1956).

L-R: SCOTT MCKAY, CATHLEEN NESBITT, ROBERT DUKE, JOSEPH COTTEN AND MARGARET SULLAVAN IN SABRINA FAIR

Drawing upon her French education at Sorbonne, Nesbitt also displayed a rare and touching tenderness in what may be her most widely-seen performance, as Cary Grant's grand-mère Janou in An Affair to Remember (1957).


Strangely, the hugely successful Affair marked the end of Nesbitt's association with 20th Century Fox after four critically- and popularly-acclaimed appearances. At the very least, she gained a wider reputation from her time there, and managed to go to a few swell parties.

CATHLEEN NESBITT AT A 20TH CENTURY FOX EVENT WITH GEORGE CUKOR, DARYL ZANUCK, JR. AND DARYL ZANUCK, SR.

Nesbitt's next major film was Separate Tables (1958), which bore the distinction of not only Oscar-winning turns by David Niven and Wendy Hiller, but also the meeting of two of Britain's greatest actresses: Cathleen Nesbitt and Gladys Cooper.



There were a few more film roles (including a memorable turn as Hayley Mills's staunchy Bostonian grandmother in The Parent Trap, 1961); an Emmy for the television film The Mask of Love (1974); and a reprisal of her role as Henry Higgins' mother in the 1981 Broadway revival of My Fair Lady, once again opposite Rex Harrison, and performed when Nesbitt was into her nineties! Indeed, Cathleen Nesbitt had one of the longest careers of any actress, spanning eight decades. She passed away at age 93 in 1982.

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