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Wynyard, Diana [real name Dorothy Isobel Cox]locked

(1906–1964)
  • W. A. Darlington
  • , revised by K. D. Reynolds

Diana Wynyard (1906–1964)

by Dorothy Wilding, 1937

© Tom Hustler / National Portrait Gallery, London

Wynyard, Diana [real name Dorothy Isobel Cox] (1906–1964), actress, was born at 96 Woolston Road, Forest Hill, London, on 16 January 1906, the daughter of Edward Thomas Cox, master printer, and his wife, Margaret Campbell Thomson. She was educated at Woodford School, Croydon. Gifted by nature with a good voice, she went in turn to two notable teachers to have it trained, and at the age of nineteen she launched herself on the professional stage. Her blonde beauty served to get her a walk-on part at the Globe in 1925 and in the same year she was taken on tour by Hamilton Deane; in just under a year she played nearly thirty parts, mainly in light comedy. Other touring engagements followed which kept her well employed until, in August 1927, she joined the much admired Liverpool repertory company under the direction of William Armstrong. There she remained for two years, playing increasingly important parts in plays of increasing weight and gaining steadily in experience and skill until, in September 1929, she was ready to make her London début and to secure a considerable success. The theatre was the St Martin's, and the play was Sorry You've Been Troubled, one of a series of amusing pieces written by the American dramatist Walter Hackett for his wife, Marion Lorne, a comedienne of a markedly individual personality. Diana Wynyard's part in this piece was of no great importance, but it needed to be played with assurance, charm, and distinction. So well did the young actress rise to the challenge and so exceedingly beautiful did she look while doing so that a startled London first-night audience took her to its heart upon the spot.

Wynyard was soon established as a leading lady in the West End and she was in constant demand. The plays for which she was required were still light in texture, but gradually she showed a certain ambition for more serious work. A visit to America in 1932 resulted in her first Hollywood movies, Rasputin and the Empress (1932) and Cavalcade (1933), for which she was nominated for an Academy award. In 1933, returning to London, she played Charlotte Brontë in Clemence Dane's Wild Decembers, taking over the management for part of the run. In 1934 she scored a notable success and a long run in Sweet Aloes. In 1937, having succeeded the American actress Ann Harding as Candida in the play of the same name by G. B. Shaw, she went with the role to Paris, the production having been chosen to represent the British stage in the Paris Exhibition. This was followed, later in the same year, by another Shaw heroine—Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion at the Old Vic. For the next ten years she maintained her high reputation with appearances in such plays as Noël Coward's Design for Living (1939), No Time for Comedy (1941), Watch on the Rhine (1942), and, on tour for the Entertainments National Service Association, Patrick Hamilton's Gaslight (1943), of which she had made a memorable film in 1940, and Love from a Stranger (1944).

In 1948 Wynyard took a step that was to transform her career and lift her name to a higher plane than any at which she had previously aimed. The governors of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, who were engaged in a campaign to raise the standard of Stratford acting, invited her to join the company. Up to that point, in a stage career of over twenty-six years, she had shown no ambition to become a classical actress, her sole appearance in a Shakespeare part having been at Liverpool as Titania. She had, however, valuable assets for the task—an excellent voice, a good sense of character, and quick intelligence. She accepted the invitation, and very soon showed that the decision was a right one. She served the company for the seasons of 1948 and 1949 and in 1949–50 she went with them to Australia. During that time she excited admiration in a very wide range of parts; the list included Gertrude in Hamlet, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Katherine the shrew, Hermione in The Winter's Tale, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing, Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Queen Katherine in Henry VIII. She repeated her performances of Hermione in London in 1951 and of Beatrice in 1952. She was appointed CBE in 1953: proof of the profound impression that she had made.

Diana Wynyard was married twice: first in 1943 to film director Carol Reed (1906–1976); second in 1951 to Tibor Csato (1906–2003), physician. Both marriages were dissolved. She died in St Paul's Hospital, Endell Street, London, on 13 May 1964.

Sources

  • The Times (14 May 1964)
  • b. cert.
  • personal knowledge (1981)
  • private information (1981)
  • D. Quinlan, Quinlan's film stars, 4th edn (1996)
  • J. Walker, ed., Halliwell's film and video guide, 12th edn (1997)
  • T. C. Kemp and J. C. Trewin, The Stratford festival (1953)

Likenesses

  • photographs, 1930–1952, Hult. Arch.
  • D. Wilding, photograph, 1937, NPG [see illus.]
  • E. Gabain, oils, exh. RA 1938

Wealth at Death

£16,921: probate, 1964

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]