Brenda de Banzie

The daughter of a musical conductor, fair-haired, matronly Brenda de Banzie appeared in around 40 films. As the result of two outstanding performances she became an unexpected star when well into her middle age. Brenda first came to public notice as a sixteen year old chorine on the London stage in “Du Barry Was a Lady” in 1942. By that time, she had already been treading the boards in repertory for some seven years. The theatre was, first and foremost, her preferred medium. In the early 1950s, she had an excellent run of top-billed performances at the West End which included “Venus Observed” with Laurence Olivier, and “Murder Mistaken”, in which she played a wealthy hotel owner whose husband is plotting to bump her off for her money. For this, she won the coveted Clarence Derwent Award as Best Supporting Actress.

Critical plaudits tempted her to try her luck on screen, so Brenda eventually made her celluloid debut in Anthony Bushell’s murder mystery The Long Dark Hall (1951). Her performance — as a rather vulgar and dowdy boarding house landlady — drew good notices, including one from Bosley Crowther of The New York Times. In 1954, director David Lean cast Brenda in her defining role as Maggie Hobson, an ambitious spinster, opposite Charles Laughton and John Mills in Hobson’s Choice (1954). As it turned out, she pretty much stole every scene from her illustrious co-stars. Rather surprisingly, a BAFTA eluded her. In 1958, Brenda landed the prize role of Phoebe Rice, the bitter, alcoholic wife of a second-rate music hall performer (played superbly by Olivier) in John Osborne’s The Entertainer (1960). She recreated her performance for Broadway and for the film version in 1960 and received a Tony Award nomination. Sadly, despite such promise her stock did not improve thereafter and she was relegated for the remainder of her career to matronly character roles. Brenda passed away on the operating table during surgery for a non-malignant brain tumor in March 1981.

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