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Updated On November 25, 2023
Bramhall, Cheshire
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Bramhall, Cheshire

Wendy Hiller was a well-known English actress who excelled on both theater and television. She was born into a wealthy cotton manufacturing family in Cheshire in the early twentieth century. Despite her parents’ efforts to fix her Cheshire accent by sending her to a boarding school in the south, it remained with her throughout her life. Surprisingly, she was cast in her first major role as a slum dweller, and they need someone with an accent. The show was a big success, and her performance was praised. Barnard Shaw was so taken with her that he cast her in two of his plays. Later, she was cast as Miss Eliza Doolittle in the film adaptation of his play “Pygmalion,” and she performed admirably. She went on to star in a number of popular films after that. The allure of the film industry, on the other hand, never appealed to her. She opted to pursue a career as a theater actor. She went on to star in a number of successful television programs after that. She was, nevertheless, a wonderful human being who frequently put her work aside to be with her family.

Childhood and Adolescence

Wendy Margaret Hiller was born on August 15, 1912, in Bramhall, Cheshire, England, near Stockport. Frank Watkin Hiller, her father, was a wealthy cotton spinner and fabric maker. Marie Elizabeth was her mother’s name (nee Stone). René, Michael, and John were her three brothers.

Wendy was sent to Winceby House School in Bexhill, Sussex, to be schooled. Her parents had anticipated that she would lose her Cheshire accent as a result of this. She was not totally effective in this, though. Wendy decided to pursue a career as an actor while still in high school. She joined the Manchester Repertory Theater after finishing her degree in 1930, making her professional debut in the same year with a tiny role in ‘The Ware Case.’ She went on to portray similar roles in many plays after that.

At the same time, she tried her hand at sweeping the stage, preparing tea, prompting, and establishing the scenery, among other things. She went on to serve as an assistant stage manager later on. Wendy gladly accepted all of these positions since they helped her understand the fundamentals of stage performing and management. In 1934, she made a breakthrough.

Career of Wendy Hiller

Wendy Hiller was hired as Sally Hardcastle, a slum resident, in a theater adaptation of ‘Love on the Dole’ in 1934. The play was a big hit, and it made it to the West End Theatre in 1935. She went to New York with the play in 1936. George Bernard Shaw was impressed by her performance and put her in several of his works, including ‘Saint Joan’ and ‘Pygmalion.’

She then featured in the principal roles of the above-mentioned plays at the Malvern Theatre Festival in England in July 1936. As her name became more well-known, she began to receive invitations to appear in films. She made her film debut as Betty Lovejoy in ‘Lancashire Luck’ in 1937. Her second film, ‘Pygmalion,’ was produced in 1938, and she reprised her part as Eliza Doolittle at Shaw’s request. It was a big success, and she was nominated for an Academy Award for it.

Hiller’s third picture, ‘Major Barbara,’ was similarly based on the same-named play by George Bernard Shaw. The picture was a critical and commercial triumph when it was released on August 2, 1941. Despite this, she chose to focus her efforts on her theater career. She made her stage debut as Viola in Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ in 1943. She embarked on a lengthy factory tour around Great Britain as part of her war effort. She played Sister Joanna in ‘Cradle Song’ in 1944 and Princess Charlotte in ‘The First Gentleman’ in 1945.

She did not, however, completely abandon filmmaking. She played Joan Webster in ‘I Know Where I’m Going!’ in 1945. It has been acclaimed as one of the best films of its age, despite being made on a £200,000 budget. In 1946, she returned to the stage for a season at the Bristol Old Vic. She played Tess in Ronald Gow’s theatrical adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles.’ It then relocated to the West End and became a huge hit. Her performance was lauded by critics for its lack of mannerism.

Hiller played Catherine Sloper in ‘The Heiress,’ a theater rendition of Henry James’ Washington Square, from 1947 to 1949. It ran for a year at the Biltmore Theatre in New York and was her most successful Broadway production. Hiller reprised the role in the West End production in 1950 after returning to London. She has also starred in the title role of ‘Ann Veronica’ at some point. ‘Waters of the Moon,’ by N. C. Hunter, was Hiller’s second appearance. It ran for two years, beginning in 1951. She has also returned to filmmaking at this time.

‘Outcast of the Islands,’ her fifth feature, was released in 1952. Mrs. Almeyer was her character in this film. It made £149,335 at the box office and was nominated for best British picture. It was mainly shot in Sri Lanka. Then, in 1953, she starred as Lucinda Bentley in ‘Single-Handed’ (also known as ‘Sailor of the King’ in the United States). It was a war movie based on a C. S. Forester novel. She portrayed the mother of Jeffery Hunter’s character, Signalman Andrew ‘Canada’ Brown, in this film.

She then involved herself in theatre productions once more. She was at the Old Vic from 1955 to 1956, giving memorable performances, including her portrayal of Portia in ‘Merchant of Venice.’ Another notable production during this period was ‘The Night of the Ball’ (1955). ‘Something of Value’ (later renamed ‘Africa Ablaze’) and ‘How to Murder a Rich Uncle’ were both released in 1957. She did, however, have a supporting part in both of these films, as she did in ‘Sailor of the King.’

Her second picture, ‘Separate Table,’ was a tremendous hit when it was released in 1958. In this film as well, she had a supporting part and won her lone Oscar, in addition to a slew of other nominations. She also starred in the new Robert Bolt drama ‘Flowering Cherry’ in 1958-59, first at Haymarket and later on Broadway. She featured in ‘Toys in the Attic’ the following year (Piccadilly, 1960). ‘Sons and Lovers,’ her second picture, was released in May 1960. In it, she played Gertrude Morel, a bossy and possessive matron. The picture was a great hit at the box office, collecting $1,500,000.

During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, she also directed a number of films. ‘Toys in the Attic’ (1963) and ‘A Man for All Seasons’ (1966) were two of her many nominations. Her portrayal of Princess Dragomiroff in the 1974 film ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ was equally praised. She went on to make two more films in the 1970s and five more in the 1980s. Her most recent picture, ‘The Countess Alice,’ in which she starred, was released in 1992.

The Wings of the Dove (1963), ‘A Measure of Cruelty’ (1965), ‘A Present for the Past’ (1966), ‘The Sacred Flame’ (1967), ‘The Battle of Shrivings’ (1970), and ‘Lies’ (1975) are among her most notable theatrical productions. Her most recent West End appearance was in the title role of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ (1988). Wendy Miller starred in a number of television programs beginning in 1969. She first appeared in ‘David Copperfield’ in the same year as Mrs. Micawber, and her last role was Laurentia McLachlan in ‘Best of Friends’ in 1991.

Major Projects of Wendy Hiller

‘Pygmalion’ was her first significant cinematic role (1938). In her role as Eliza Doolittle, she gave a strong impression of the character, even saying, “Not bloody likely, I’m taking a cab!” She is the first British actress to use the term in a movie. It also got her her first Academy Award nomination.

Another of her noteworthy films was ‘Separate Tables,’ which she made two decades later. She plays Pat Cooper, an accommodating hotel owner who has a tumultuous relationship with an alcoholic visitor in this film. In the United States and Canada alone, the picture grossed $3.1 million. ‘Love on the Dole’ (1936) introduced her to the public, but ‘Heiress’ (1947) is considered her most major work onstage. Her portrayal of the abused, painfully shy spinster became famous for its obstinacy.

Achievements & Awards

Wendy Hiller won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in “Separate Tables” in 1958.
For her work in ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ she won the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actress in 1974. She won a Silver award at the Venice Film Festival in 1969 for her work in the television series “The Growing Summer.”

Hiller received the London Film Critics Circle’s Dilys Powell Award for excellence in British filmmaking in 1996.
For her service to British theater, Hiller was awarded the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1971 and promoted to Dame Commander (DBE) in 1975. The University of Manchester bestowed an honorary doctorate on her in 1984.

Personal History and Legacy

Wendy Hiller met Ronald Gow, the theater adaptation of Walter Greenwood’s novel “Love and Dole,” in 1934. They later married in 1937. Ann and Anthony Gow were their two children. In April 1993, Ronal Grow passed away.
They relocated to Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, shortly after their marriage and established their house called ‘Spindles.’ Hiller died of natural causes on May 14, 2003, at this location. Her two children were her only survivors.

Estimated Net Worth

Wendy is one of the wealthiest movie actresses and one of the most well-known. Wendy Hiller’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.