30 January 2017

Glynis Johns

Husky voiced Glynis Johns (1923) is a retired Welsh stage and film actress, dancer, pianist and singer. She is best known for her film roles as a mermaid in the British comedy Miranda (1948) and as suffragette mother Winifred Banks in Walt Disney's Mary Poppins (1964). On Broadway, she created the role of Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music, for which she won a Tony Award.

Glynis Johns in An Ideal Husband (1947)
British autograph card. Publicity still for An Ideal Husband (Alexander Korda, 1947).

Glynis Johns in Rob Roy, The Highland Rogue (1953)
Vintage card. Photo: publicity still for Rob Roy, The Highland Rogue (Harold French, 1953).

A playful mermaid

Glynis Margaret P. Johns was born in 1923 in Pretoria, South Africa. She was the daughter of pianist Alys Maude (née Steele-Payne), and the British stage and film actor Mervyn Johns. Her parents were performing on tour in Pretoria when Glynis was born.

Glynis attended Clifton High School in Bristol for a short time. In 1935, she made her first stage appearance in Buckie's Bears as a child ballerina.

She made her film debut in the Alexander Korda production South Riding (Victor Saville, 1938) with Edna Best. She had a supporting part in the British war drama 49th Parallel/The Invaders (1941), the third film made by the writer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

In 1944, she appeared with her father in the drama Halfway House (Basil Dearden, 1944) about ten people who are drawn to stay in an old hotel in a remote Welsh village. In 1948 she starred as a beautiful and playful mermaid in the comedy Miranda (Ken Annakin, 1948) and later reprised the role in the sequel, Mad About Men (Ralph Thomas, 1954).

In the aviation drama No Highway in the Sky/No Highway (Henry Koster, 1951) she co-starred with James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. She then co-starred with David Niven in the comedy Appointment with Venus (Ralph Thomas, 1951), and with Alec Guinness in the film version of Arnold Bennett's novel The Card (Ronald Neame, 1952). She was voted by British exhibitors the tenth most popular local star at the box office in 1951 and 1952.

Johns then made a successful transition to Hollywood, appearing in Personal Affair (Anthony Pelissier, 1953), starring Gene Tierney, and in The Court Jester (Melvin Frank, Norman Panama, 1956) as Danny Kaye's love interest. The following year, she starred in the Christmas film All Mine to Give (Allen Reisner, 1957). Johns received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for The Sundowners (Fred Zinnemann, 1960), starring Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum.

Glynis Johns
British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. W 420. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation LTD.

Glynis Johns in Personal Affair (1953)
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 1351, 1960. Photo: publicity still for Personal Affair (Anthony Pelissier, 1953).

Mary Poppins

During the 1960s, Glynis Johns often appeared on American television. She portrayed Kitty O'Moyne, an Irish immigrant in the TV crime drama The Roaring 20s (1961). In the 1962–1963 television season, Johns guest starred in the anthology series The Lloyd Bridges Show. She and Keith Andes then starred as a married couple in her eponymous television series Glynis (1963), in which she played a mystery writer and Andes a criminal defence attorney. The program was cancelled after thirteen episodes.

Her feature films include The Cabinet of Caligari (Roger Kay, 1962) and The Chapman Report (George Cukor, 1962). One of Glynis Johns’ best-known roles is Winifred Banks in Walt Disney’s fantasy Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964), starring Julie Andrews. Winifred Banks is the easily distracted mother of the Banks family and is depicted as a member the suffragette movement.

On TV she was the villainess Lady Penelope Peasoup in the TV Series Batman (1967). She played with Richard Burton in the British film Under Milk Wood (Andrew Sinclair, 1972) based on the radio play of the same name by the Welsh writer Dylan Thomas.

Johns also appeared on stage, most memorably in the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's musical A Little Night Music (1973). Stephen Sondheim wrote the song Send in the Clowns with shorter phrasing to accommodate her husky voice. Johns won a Tony award for her role in the musical.

At the West End in London, she appeared in the play Cause Célèbre (1978), by Terence Rattigan. During the first season of the hit TV sitcom Cheers (1983), Johns guest starred as the mother of Diane (Shelley Long), Helen Chambers. Due to a stipulation in Diane's late father's will, Helen, a rich eccentric, will lose all her money unless Diane is married by the next day.

From 1988-1989, Johns played Trudie Pepper, a senior citizen living in an Arizona retirement community, in the television sitcom Coming of Age. She also played opposite Rex Harrison in his final acting role in a Broadway revival of W. Somerset Maugham's play The Circle (1989-1990). Harrison's death from cancer ended the show's run.

In 1998, Johns starred as Myrtle Bledsoe in the premiere of Horton Foote's A Coffin in Egypt at the Bay Street Theatre. Her last film appearance to date was as Molly Shannon's grandmother in the comedy Superstar (Bruce McCulloch, 1999).

Glynis Johns has been married four times. Her first husband was Anthony Forwood (1942–1948), with whom she had her only child, Gareth Forwood (1945–2007), an actor, who predeceased his mother. Later, Anthony Forwood was Sir Dirk Bogarde's longtime partner and manager until Forwood's death in 1988. Johns’ other husbands were David Ramsey Foster (1952-1956), a chairman of Colgate Palmolive International, Cecil Peter L. Henderson (1960-1962) and the writer Elliot Arnold (1964-1973). Now a naturalised United States citizen, Johns currently resides in a quiet retirement complex in Los Angeles, California.

Glynis Johns in The Seekers (1954)
British postcard in the Film Star Autograph Portrait series by L.D. LTD., London, no. 66. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation. Publicity still for The Seekers (Ken Annakin, 1954).

Glynis Johns
British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. D 36. Photo: 20th Century Fox.

Glynis Johns
Yugoslavian postcard by Sedmo Silo / IOM, Beograd.

Sources: Steve Crook (IMDb), Film Reference, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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