Anna Neagle

Anna Neagle

Anna Neagle, c. 1932
Born Florence Marjorie Robertson
20 October 1904(1904-10-20)
Forest Gate, Essex, England, UK
Died 3 June 1986(1986-06-03) (aged 81)
(complications of renal disease and cancer)
West Byfleet, Surrey, England, UK
Resting place City of London Cemetery, Ilford, London, England
Occupation Actress, singer
Years active 1917–1986
Spouse Herbert Wilcox (9 August 1943 – 15 May 1977)

Dame Anna Neagle, DBE (20 October 1904 – 3 June 1986), born Florence Marjorie Robertson, was a popular British stage and motion picture actress and singer.

Neagle proved to be a box-office sensation in British films for over 25 years. She was noted for providing glamour and sophistication to war-torn London audiences with her lightweight musicals, comedies and historical dramas. She won several awards as Britain's favourite actress and biggest female box-office draw. Almost all of her films were produced and directed by Herbert Wilcox, whom she married in 1943.

In her historical dramas, Neagle was renowned for her portrayals of real-life British heroines, including Nell Gwynn (Nell Gwynn, 1934), Queen Victoria (Victoria the Great, 1937, and Sixty Glorious Years, 1938) and Edith Cavell (Nurse Edith Cavell, 1939).



Early life

Neagle was born in Forest Gate, Essex (now Greater London), daughter to Herbert Robertson, a merchant navy captain, and his wife, the former Florence Neagle.[1] Robertson attended primary school in Glasgow and then St. Albans High School for Girls.[citation needed] She made her stage debut as a dancer in 1917, and later appeared in the chorus of C.B. Cochran's revues and also André Charlot's revue Bubbly. While with Cochran she understudied Jessie Matthews.[2]

Anna Neagle in a 1931 portrait.

In 1931 she starred in the West End musical Stand Up and Sing (1931), with actor Jack Buchanan, who encouraged her to take a featured role. For this play she began using the professional name of Anna Neagle (the surname being her mother's maiden name).[3] The play was a huge success with a total run of 604 performances.[3] Stand Up and Sing provided her big break when film producer and director Herbert Wilcox, who had caught the show purposely to consider Buchanan for an upcoming film, but also took note of her cinematic potential.[4]

Cinematic beginnings

"Naturally enough when I was a young dancer, I was terribly anxious to get ahead, and to get ahead quickly. I was impatient with all those older people who talked of the long grind to the top, who turned me down for jobs I knew I could do."

Anna Neagle[5]

Forming a professional alliance with Wilcox, Neagle played her first starring film role in the musical Goodnight Vienna (1932), again with Jack Buchanan. With this film Neagle became an overnight favourite. Although the film cost a mere £23,000 to a produce, it was a huge hit at the box office, profits from its Australian release alone being £150,000.[6]

After her starring role in The Flag Lieutenant that same year, directed by and co-starring Henry Edwards, she worked exclusively under Wilcox's direction for all but one of her subsequent films,[3] becoming one of Britain's biggest stars.

She continued in the musical genre, co-starring with Fernand Graavey (later known as Fernand Gravet) in Bitter Sweet (1933). This first version of Noel Coward's tale of ill-fated lovers was later obscured by the more famous Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy remake from 1940.[3]

Neagle had her first major film success in the title role of Nell Gwynn (1934).

Neagle had her first major success with in Nell Gwyn (1934), which Wilcox had also shot in 1926 as a silent starring Dorothy Gish. Neagle's performance as the woman who became the mistress of Charles II (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) prompted some censorship in the United States. The Hays Office had Wilcox add a (historically false) scene featuring the two leads getting married and also a "framing" story resulting in an entirely different ending.[7] Noted writer Graham Greene said of Nell Gwynn: "I have seen few things more attractive than Miss Neagle in breeches".[6]

Two years after Nell Gwynn, she followed up with another true-life figure, portraying Irish actress Peg Woffington in Peg of Old Drury (1936). That same year she appeared in Limelight, a backstage musical in which she played a chorus girl. Her co-star was Arthur Tracy, who had gained fame in the United States as a radio performer known as 'The Street Singer'. The film also featured Jack Buchanan in an unbilled cameo.[8] performing "Goodnight Vienna".[4]

Neagle and Wilcox followed with a circus trapeze fable The Three Maxims (1937), which was released in the United States as The Show Goes On. The film, with a script featuring a contribution from Herman J. Mankiewicz (who later co-wrote Citizen Kane with Orson Welles), had Neagle performing her own high-wire acrobatics.[6] Although now highly successful in films, Neagle continued acting on stage. In 1934, while working under director Robert Atkins, she performed as Rosalind in As You Like It and Olivia in Twelfth Night. Both productions earned her critical accolades, despite the fact that she had never performed Shakespearean roles before.[3]

Neagle portrayed Queen Victoria in the highly successful Victoria the Great (1937).

In 1937 Neagle gave her most prestigious performance so far – as Queen Victoria in the successful historical drama Victoria the Great (1937), co-starring Anton Walbrook as Prince Albert. The script by Robert Vansittart and Miles Malleson (from Laurence Housman’s play Victoria Regina) alternated between the political and the personal lives of the royal couple.[6] The Diamond Jubilee sequence that climaxed the film was shot in Technicolor. Victoria the Great was such an international success that it resulted in Neagle and Walbrook essaying their roles again in an all-Technicolor sequel entitled Sixty Glorious Years (1938), co-starring C. Aubrey Smith as the Duke of Wellington. While the first of these films was in release, Neagle returned to the London stage and entertained audiences with her portrayal of the title role in Peter Pan.[3]

An American excursion

The success of Victoria the Great and Sixty Glorious Years caused Hollywood studios to take notice. Neagle and Wilcox began an association with RKO Radio Pictures. Their first American film was Nurse Edith Cavell (1939), a remake of Dawn, a Wilcox silent that starred Sybil Thorndike. In this, still another Neagle performance of a true-life British heroine, she essayed the role of the nurse who was shot by the Germans in World War I for alleged spying. The resulting effort had a significant impact for audiences on the eve of war.[6]

Neagle co-starred with Ray Bolger (right) in Sunny (1941), one of a handful of films that she made in the United States.

In a turnabout from this serious drama, they followed with three musical comedies, all based on once-popular stage plays. The first of these was Irene (1940), co-starring Ray Milland. RKO probably gave the film bigger production values than England could have afforded. It included a Technicolor sequence, which featured Neagle singing the play's most famous song, "Alice Blue Gown". She followed this film with No, No, Nanette (1940) with Victor Mature, in which she sang "Tea For Two". She then made Sunny (1941) with Ray Bolger.

Neagle and Wilcox's final American film was Forever and a Day (1943), a tale of a London family house from 1804 to the 1940 blitz. This film boasts 80 performers (mostly British), including Ray Milland, C. Aubrey Smith, Claude Rains, Charles Laughton, and – among the few North Americans – Canadian Buster Keaton. Wilcox directed the sequence featuring Neagle, Milland, Smith, and Rains, while other directors who worked on the film included René Clair, Edmund Goulding, Frank Lloyd, Victor Saville and Robert Stevenson. During the war the profits and salaries were given to war relief. After the war, prints were slated to be destroyed, so that no one could profit from them. However, this never occurred.[6]

Back to Britain

Returning to Britain, Neagle and Wilcox commenced with They Flew Alone (1942; shot after but released before Forever and a Day). Neagle added another real-life British heroines to her gallery, this time as aviatrix Amy Johnson. Robert Newton’s co-starred as Johnson's husband, Jim Mollison. The film, which was released a year after the aviatrix’s death, was noted for inter-cutting the action with newsreel footage.[6]

Neagle with Richard Greene for the war-time espionage thriller The Yellow Canary (1943).

After making this film, Neagle and Wilcox made their professional relationship a personal one as well when they married on 9 August 1943.[9]

They returned to filmmaking with The Yellow Canary (1943), co-starring Richard Greene and Margaret Rutherford. In this spy story, Neagle plays a German-sympathiser (or at least that is what she seems to be at first) who is forced to go to Canada for her own safety. In reality, of course, she's working as an undercover agent out to expose a plot to blow up Halifax harbour. The Yellow Canary was noted for its atmospheric recreation of wartime conditions.[4]

In 1945 Neagle appeared on stage in Emma, a dramatization of Jane Austen's novel. That same year she was seen in the film I Live in Grosvenor Square, co-starring Rex Harrison. She wanted Harrison for the lead in her next film, Piccadilly Incident (1946). However, he (as well as John Mills) proved to be unavailable at the time, so Wilcox cast Michael Wilding in the lead. Thus was born what film critic Godfrey Winn called "the greatest team in British films".[6] The story – of a wife, presumed dead, returning to her (remarried) husband – bears a resemblance to the Irene Dunne-Cary Grant comedy My Favorite Wife and its remake, Move Over Darling with Doris Day. Piccadilly Incident was chosen as Picturegoer’s Best Film of 1947.

Neagle and Wilding were reunited in The Courtneys of Curzon Street (1947), a period drama that became the year's top box-office attraction. The film featured Wilding as an upper-class dandy and Neagle as the maid he marries, only to have the two of them driven apart by Victorian society.[4]

The third pairing of Neagle and Wilding in the "London films", as the series of films came to be called, was in Spring in Park Lane (1948). A drama, this depicted the romance between a millionaire’s niece and a footman (rather than valet, originally claimed here. He is frequently referred to as a footman in the photoplay) valet (actually a nobleman who has seen better days). The script was written by Nicholas Phipps, who also played Wilding’s brother. Although not a musical, it contains a dream sequence featuring the song "The Moment I Saw You". The song's orchestrator was Robert Farnon, who would later work with Frank Sinatra. Spring in Park Lane was the 1949 Picturegoer winner for Best Film, Actor and Actress.[6] Neagle and Wilding were together for a fourth time in the Technicolor romance Maytime in Mayfair (1949). The plot is reminiscent of Roberta, as it had Wilding inheriting a dress shop owned by Neagle.[4]

By 1950, Neagle was at her zenith as Britain’s top box-office actress, and in that year she made what reputedly became her own favorite film, Odette, co-starring Trevor Howard, Peter Ustinov, and Marius Goring. As Odette Sansom, she was the Anglo-French resistance fighter who was pushed to the edge of betrayal by the Nazis.[6]

Going from this real-life British heroine, she went straight on to playing Florence Nightingale in The Lady with the Lamp (1951); Kay Francis had previously portrayed Nightingale in a 1936 American film, The White Angel).

Neagle appeared with Errol Flynn in Lilacs in the Spring (1954), the film adaptation of her stage success The Glorious Days.

Returning to the stage in 1953, she scored a major success with The Glorious Days, which had a run of 476 performances. Neagle and Wilcox brought the play to the screen under the title Lilacs in the Spring (1954), co-starring Errol Flynn. In the film she plays an actress knocked out by a bomb, who dreams she is Queen Victoria and Nell Gwyn – as well as her own mother. As she begins dreaming, the film switches from black and white to color. In England, where Neagle had top billing, the film was reasonably successful. In the United States, however, where Flynn had top billing, the title was changed to Let's Make Up, and it flopped, with limited bookings.[6][10]

On the wane

Neagle and Flynn reteamed for a second flm together, King's Rhapsody (1955), based on an Ivor Novello musical and also starring Patrice Wymore (Flynn's wife at the time). Although Neagle performed several musical numbers for the film, most of them were cut from the final release, leaving her with essentially a supporting role. Shot in Eastmancolor and CinemaScope with location work near Barcelona, Spain, King's Rhapsody was a major flop everywhere. Neagle's (and Flynn's) box-office appeal, it seemed, was beginning to fade.[11]

Neagle's last box-office hit was My Teenage Daughter (1956), which featured her as a mother trying to prevent her daughter (Sylvia Syms) from lapsing into juvenile delinquency.[4]

Neagle and Syms worked together again on No Time For Tears (1957), also starring Anthony Quayle and Flora Robson. As directed by Cyril Frankel, this was the first film for over 20 years where Neagle was directed by someone other than Herbert Wilcox. Set in a children's hospital, the film features Neagle as a Matron dealing with the problems of the patients and the staff, notably a nurse (Syms) infatuated with one of the doctors (George Baker).[4]

With her husband, Neagle began producing films starring Frankie Vaughan, but these were out of touch with changing tastes, and lost money, resulting in Wilcox going heavily into debt. Neagle herself made her final film appearance in The Lady is a Square (1957).

Final years

Herbert Wilcox was bankrupt by 1964, but his wife soon revived his fortunes. She returned to the stage the following year and made a spectacular comeback in the West End musical Charlie Girl. In it she played the role of a former "Cochran Young Lady" who marries a peer of the realm. Charlie Girl was a phenomenal success that ran for a staggering six years and 2,047 performances. It earned Neagle an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for her enduring popularity.[3]

Two years after Charlie Girl – which she also performed in Australia and New Zealand – Neagle was asked to appear in a revival of No, No, Nanette, which she had done onscreen three decades earlier. Later, in 1975, she replaced Celia Johnson in The Dame of Sark and, in 1978 (the year after her husband's death), she was acting in Most Gracious Lady, which was written for the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.[12]

Although plagued by Parkinson's disease in her later years, Neagle continued to be active. In 1985 she appeared as the Fairy Godmother in a production of Cinderella at the London Palladium.[13]

Neagle died in 1986, aged 81. (Some sources state that Neagle was suffering from cancer at the time of her death). She was interred alongside her husband in the City of London Cemetery.[9]


Neagle was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1952 and, for her contributions to the theatre, a Dame of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1969.


The following list contains all of Neagle's acting credits in feature-length motion pictures with the exception of Queen Victoria (1942), which is actually a compilation of two earlier films, Victoria the Great and Sixty Glorious Years. All of her films were directed by Herbert Wilcox and produced in the United Kingdom unless otherwise noted.

In addition, Neagle also appeared briefly as herself in a documentary short entitled The Volunteer (1943), and served as narrator for the films The Prams Break Through (1945) and Princess's Wedding Day (1947). Neagle also produced, but did not appear in, three films starring Frankie Vaughan: These Dangerous Years (1957), Wonderful Things (1957), and The Heart of a Man (1959).

Year Title Role Notes
1929 Those Who Love Bit part (uncredited) Directed by H. Manning Haynes
1930 The Chinese Bungalow Charlotte Directed by Arthur Barnes and J.B. Williams
School For Scandal Flower Seller (uncredited) Directed by Thorold Dickinson and Maurice Elvey; Filmed in Raycolor
Should A Doctor Tell? Muriel Ashton Directed by H. Manning Haynes
1932 Good Night, Vienna Viki Neagle's first collaboration with director Herbert Wilcox
The Flag Lieutenant Hermione Wynne Directed by Henry Edwards.
1933 Bitter Sweet Sarah Millick and Sari Lind
The Little Damozel Julie Alardy
1934 Nell Gwyn Nell Gwyn Neagle's first major hit
The Queen's Affair Queen Nadia
1935 Peg of Old Drury Peg Woffington
1936 Limelight Marjorie Kaye
The Three Maxims Pat French British production.
1937 Victoria the Great Queen Victoria Finale filmed in Technicolor
London Melody Jacqueline
1938 Sixty Glorious Years Queen Victoria Filmed in Technicolor
1939 Nurse Edith Cavell Edith Cavell Neagle's first American film
1940 Irene Irene O'Dare Features one sequence in Technicolor; Produced in the U.S.
No, No, Nanette Nanette U.S. production
1941 Sunny Sunny O'Sullivan U.S. production
1942 They Flew Alone Amy Johnson
1943 The Yellow Canary Sally Maitland
Forever and a Day Susan Trenchard U.S. production
1945 I Live in Grosvenor Square Lady Patricia Fairfax
1946 Piccadilly Incident Diana Fraser
1947 The Courtneys of Curzon Street Katherine O'Halloran
1948 Elizabeth of Ladymead Elizabeth Filmed in Technicolor
Spring in Park Lane Judy Howard
1949 Maytime in Mayfair Eileen Grahame Filmed in Technicolor
1950 Odette Odette Sansom
1950 The Lady With the Lamp Florence Nightingale
1952 Derby Day Lady Helen Forbes
1954 Lilacs in the Spring Carole Beaumont / Lillian Grey /
Nell Gwynne / Queen Victoria
Filmed in Eastmancolor (aside from a black and white prologue)
1955 King's Rhapsody Marta Karillos Filmed in CinemaScope and Eastmancolor
1956 My Teenage Daughter Valerie Carr
1957 The Man Who Wouldn't Talk Mary Randall, Q.C.
No Time for Tears Matron Eleanor Hammond Directed by Cyril Frankel; Filmed in Eastmancolor
1958 The Lady is a Square Frances Baring


Recordings by Anna Neagle

HMV B 4365 (matrix: 0B 4586-3)
Recorded London 4 January 1933
  • The Dream Is Over, with orchestra conducted by Ray Noble
HMV B 4365 (matrix: 4587-4)
Recorded London 4 January 1933
  • Tonight, duet with Trefor Jones with Geraldo and his Orchestra
Columbia(England) DB 1316 (matrix: CA 14314-1)
Recorded London 30 January 1934
  • Kiss Me Goodnight
Decca(England) F 5649 (matrix: TB 1869)
Recorded London 9 August 1935
  • A Little Dash Of Dublin
Decca(England) F 5649 (matrix: TB 1870)
Recorded London 9 August 1935



  1. ^ Springer, John, and Jack Hamilton. They Had Faces Then. Castle Books. p. 319.
  2. ^ Vermilye, Jerry. The Great British Films. Secuacus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1978. p. 21.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Fandango Biography.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g British Pictures Profile and Reviews.
  5. ^ Anna Neagle Quote.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k BFI Film Reviews: (PDF file).
  7. ^ Vermilye, p. 23
  8. ^ IMDb listing for Limelight
  9. ^ a b IMDb Biography.
  10. ^ Thomas, Tony, Rudy Behlmer, and Clifford McCarthy. The Films of Errol Flynn. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel, 1969. p. 201.
  11. ^ Thomas, Behlmer, and McCarthy. p. 206
  12. ^ Lenin Imports Biography.
  13. ^ The Gallery Playbill for Cinderella (1985).
  14. ^ Screenonline Film Credits.

External links

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  • Anna Neagle — Anna Neagle. Anna Neagle; eigentlich Florence Marjorie Robertson (* 20. Oktober 1904 in Forrest Gate, Essex; † 3. Juni 1986 in West Byfleet, Surrey) war eine britische Schauspielerin. Leben Von ihrer ehrgeizigen Mu …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Anna Neagle — En 1931 Données clés Naissance 20 octobre&# …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Neagle — ist der Name von: Anna Neagle (1904–1986), britische Schauspielerin John Neagle (1796–1865), US amerikanischer Maler Diese Seite ist eine Begriffsklärung zur Unterscheidung mehrerer mit demselben Wort bezeichneter Begriffe …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Neagle, Dame Anna — ▪ British actress original name  Marjorie Robertson , married name  Marjorie Wilcox  born Oct. 20, 1904, London, Eng. died June 3, 1986, near London       British actress and dancer, known for her work in stage plays, musicals, and films. Her… …   Universalium

  • Neagle — /ˈnigəl/ (say neeguhl) noun Dame Anna (Marjorie Robertson), 1904–86, British actor …   Australian English dictionary

  • Florence Marjorie Robertson — Anna Neagle. Anna Neagle (* 20. Oktober 1904 in Forrest Gate, Essex; † 3. Juni 1986 in West Byfleet, Surrey; eigentlich Florence Marjorie Robertson) war eine britische Schauspielerin. Karriere Von ihrer ehrgeizigen Mutter schon als Kind für die… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • No, No, Nanette (1940 film) — No, No, Nanette Directed by Herbert Wilcox Produced by Merrill G. White (associate producer) Herbert Wilcox (producer) Written by Frank Mandel (musical) Otto A. Harbach (musical) Vincent Youmans (musica …   Wikipedia

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