Tribute: Wendy Hiller

By Monica Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
The silver screen lost two of its most striking personalities in May 2003. One burst onto the international scene in 1938 like a rare wildflower in full bloom, winning an Academy Award nomination for her first major role: Eliza Doolittle in "Pygmalion." Her name was Wendy Hiller and her vibrant personality outshone her shifting speech patterns and her many costume changes. It was the strength of Eliza's humanity that registered most strongly with movie audiences, even though her immaculately tailored leading man (Oscar nominee Leslie Howard) was a legendary matinee idol with dozens of film credits.

A long and glorious career seemed to beckon Wendy Hiller, and it did, although not in the way movie moguls anticipated. She was VERY particular about the roles she accepted and if that meant five or six years between film projects, so be it. When she finally collected an Oscar for 1958's “Separate Tables,” she could not have melted many hearts by announcing that the award simply represented the promise of "cold, hard cash" in the future. Still, cash was vitally important to a dedicated actress who'd made her theatrical debut at the age of eight. Some of her memorable films on video include “Major Barbara,” “I Know Where I'm Going,” “Something Of Value,” “Toys In The Attic,” “David Copperfield,” “Murder On The Orient Express,” “Voyage Of The Damned,” “The Cat & The Canary,” The Elephant Man,” “Making Love” & “The Lonely Passion Of Judith Hearne.” She received her third Oscar nomination for her work on “A Man For All Seasons,” but she delivered what may have been an even more vivid performance in “Miss Morison's Ghosts” opposite Hannah Gordon, based on the true story of two headmistresses who documented their encounter with ghosts during a visit to Versailles. As in her youth, Hiller played little old ladies with strength and conviction, and she gave a ferocious intelligence to the part of the elderly headmistress, clinging like a tiger to the independence of her life and the accuracy of her perceptions.
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Wendy Hiller