A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... MADELEINE CARROLL (February 26, 1906 – October 2, 1987)

Madeleine Carroll Collage.jpg

Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a regular, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT??"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships"......I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think??? Well, don’t think too long, because the lady coming through the door was once the epitome of class and glamour in both London and Hollywood! And technically, she's not a "character" actor, but more of a fascinating leading lady! Please welcome Madeleine Carroll!! (February 26, 1906 – October 2, 1987).

Born in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England, she started her acting career onstage in touring theatre companies. But because of her tremendous beauty, she quickly caught the attention of filmmakers in the late 20s Carroll's aristocratic blonde allure and sophisticated style were first glimpsed by film audiences in THE GUNS OF LOOS in 1928. Rapidly rising to stardom in Britain, she graced such popular films of the early 1930s as YOUNG WOODLY, ATLANTIC, THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL, and I WAS A SPY. Alternating in film and theatre she played the title role in the play LITTLE CATHERINE. Carroll always seemed to be detached from her career and abruptly, she announced plans to retire from films to devote herself to a private life with her husband, the first of four. Eventually however, Carroll attracted the attention of Alfred Hitchcock and, in 1935, starred as one of the director's earliest prototypical cool, glib, intelligent blondes in the immortal THE 39 STEPS with Robert Donat. Based on the espionage novel by John Buchan, the film became a sensation and with it, so did Carroll. Cited by the New York Times for a performance that was "charming and skillful", Carroll became very much in demand thanks, in part, to director Hitchcock, who later admitted that he worked very hard with her to bring out the vivacious and sexy qualities she possessed off-screen, but which sometimes vanished when cameras rolled. Of Hitchcock's heroines, as exemplified by Carroll, film critic Roger Ebert once wrote that they "reflected the same qualities over and over again: They were blonde. They were icy and remote. They were imprisoned in costumes that subtly combined fashion with fetishism. They mesmerized the men, who often had physical or psychological handicaps”. The following year Hitchcock paired Carroll with John Gielgud in the film SECRET AGENT.

Poised for international stardom, Carroll was the first British beauty to be offered a major American film contract; she accepted a lucrative deal with Paramount Pictures. She starred opposite Gary Cooper in the 1936 adventure THE GENERAL DIED AT DAWN, and with Ronald Colman in the 1937 box-office success THE PRISONER OF ZENDA. She tried a big musical, ON THE AVENUE (1937) opposite Dick Powell, and in 1938, her salary was reported to be over $250,000, making her the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. During this time she also made many appearances on radio with the biggest stars of the day, and did films like MY SON, MY SON!, and LLOYD’S OF LONDON. But others of her films, including ONE NIGHT IN LISBON (1941), and MY FAVORITE BLONDE (1942) with Bob Hope, were less prestigious.

In 1942 she was married to actor Sterling Hayden, but it ended in divorce in 1946. After her only sister Marguerite was killed in the Blitz, she stepped away from her career and radically shifted her priorities from acting to working in field hospitals as a Red Cross nurse during World War II. She served in the 61st Station Hospital, Foggia, Italy in 1944, where many wounded American airmen flying out of air bases around Foggia were hospitalized. During the war, Madeleine Carroll donated her chateau outside Paris to more than 150 "adopted" orphans. She became a naturalised citizen of the United States. She made her final film for director Otto Preminger, THE FAN, adapted from Oscar Wilde's LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN in 1949. Madeleine Carroll died on October 2, 1987 from pancreatic cancer in Marbella, Spain aged 81, exactly one week after her THE PRISONER OF ZENDA co-star Mary Astor died. She was initially interred in Fuengirola, Málaga, Spain but in 1998 was reburied in the cemetery of Sant Antoni de Calonge in Catalonia, Spain.

For her contribution to the film industry, Madeleine Carroll has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6707 Hollywood Blvd. A commemorative monument and plaques were unveiled in her birthplace, West Bromwich, to mark the centenary of her birth. Her story is also of her rare courage and dedication when at the height of her career, she “gave it all up” during World War II to work in the line of fire on troop trains for the Red Cross in Italy – for which she was awarded the American Medal of Freedom. She was also awarded the Legion of Honor by France, for her tireless work in fostering relations after the war between France and the USA.

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