28 May 2013

Ivy Close

In 1908, English actress Ivy Close (1890-1968) was chosen as 'The Most Beautiful Woman in the World'. She became one of the first stars of the British cinema and started a dynasty of British filmmakers. Ivy Close acted in 44 British, American, French and German films between 1912 and 1929. Most notable is Abel Gance's La roue/The wheel (1923).

Ivy Close
French postcard by G.M.R.-B, Déposé series 4018. The card refers to Close's award as 'The Most Beautiful Woman in the World'.

Ivy Close
British postcard in the PPC Series, no. 1069-4. Photo: Elwyn Neame.

Ivy Close
British postcard in the Philco Series, no. 1032/2. Photo: Elwyn Neame.

Sultry Knowing Look and Porcelain Skin
Ivy Lilian Close was born in Stockton-on-Tees, England in 1890. She was the elder daughter and one of four children of John Robert Close, a jeweller in Stockton, and his wife, Emma née Blackburn. Her proud father, an amateur photographer, believed his daughter was destined for greater things than being a housewife and mother, and in 1908 he sent a photo of his 18-year-old daughter in for the 'The Most Beautiful Woman in the World' contest organized by The Daily Mirror. With her mop of blonde ringlets, sultry knowing look and porcelain skin, she beat 1,500 hopefuls and was shortlisted along with 24 other girls. She was invited to London to sit for a professional portrait by 23-year-old society photographer Elwin Neame. Neame, like the judges after him, fell for Ivy's ‘dreamy, sylph-like brand of loveliness’. She won and her picture graced the front page of the famous newspaper. The first prize consisted of a Rover car, and her portrait was painted by Arthur Hacker and exhibited at the Royal Academy's 1908 summer show. After a long engagement, she married Neame in 1910. They would rear two sons: Ronald Neame (1911), who went on to become a distinguished film producer and director, earning Oscar nominations for writing the screenplays for the classic films Brief Encounter (1945, David Lean) and Great Expectations (1946, David Lean), and Derek Neame (1915 - 1979), an author who scripted three films. Elwin had made a first attempt at a short film, using his home as a set and wife as his star. It led to Ivy's 12- month acting contract with film producer Cecil Hepworth. In 1912 she starred for the Hepworth Company in the short silent comedy Ghosts (1912, Hay Plumb). Her husband directed her with Austin Melford in the silent shorts Dream Paintings (1912, Elwin Neame) in which she appeared as several works of art, and The Lady of Shallot (1912, Elwin Neame). At the end of her contract, she formed Ivy Close Productions, and made silent shorts as The Girl From The Sky (1914, Elwin Neame) in which she played an aviatrix who lands in a misogynist’s garden, The Haunting Of Silas P. Gould (1915, Elwin Neame) and Darkest London (1915, Bert Haldane). Her first feature film was The Lure of London (1914, Bert Haldane). Outside of acting, Ivy's other passions were golf and motorcycling - unusual hobbies for a woman back then. She also sang in music halls and modelled for advertising campaigns. The First World War and a slowdown in British film production forced her to accept a one-year contract from the American Kalem Company. In New York, she appeared in Rival Artists (1916, Robert Ellis) and other short comedies directed by Robert Ellis. The following year, she was back in the UK and co-starred with Matheson Lang and Violet Hopson in the melodramas The Ware Case (1917, Walter West), and The House Opposite (1917, Walter West, Frank Wilson). In the propaganda film Nelson (1918, Maurice Elvey), she co-starred with Donald Calthrop, as Admiral Horatio Nelson and Malvina Longfellow as Lady Hamilton. Elvey also directed her opposite Bransby Williams in Adam Bede (1918, Maurice Elvey), an adaptation of the novel Adam Bede by George Eliot. She also played a lead role in Darby and Joan (1919, Percy Nash), set on the Isle of Man.

Ivy Close
French postcard by GMR-B, Depot serie 4048.

Ivy Close
French postcard by GMR-B, Depot serie 4012, sent by mail from Spain to France in 1909. Caption: 'Preisgekrönte schönheit. English Beauty. Premier Prix de Beauté.'

Ivy Close
French postcard by GMR-B, Depot serie 4012.

An Extraordinarily Risky Venture
Ivy Close’s most famous film is the French production La Roue/The Wheel (1923, Abel Gance), who also directed classics as Napoléon (1927) and J'accuse! (1919). Séverin-Mars stars as a railroad engineer who rescues a small orphan, following a disastrous crash. He raises the little girl (Ivy Close) as his own, along with his son Elie (Gabriel de Gravone), whose mother died during his birth. In time, the little orphan becomes a lively and playful young woman. Both father and son fall in love with her, which ends in a tragedy. James Travers at Films de France: “The film originally ran to eight hours but commercial imperatives resulted in substantial cuts. Even in its more widely distributed three hour version, the film feels slow and drawn out, and it is mainly Gance’s innovative techniques (most notably the rapid cutting in the racing train sequences) which keeps the film interesting. Tragically, the star of the film, Severin-Mars, fell ill during the gruelling sixteen month shoot and died in 1921, a few years before the film was released. The film cost 3 million French francs and took five years to complete, an extraordinarily risky venture at the time, and a major cause of anxiety for the film’s production company, Pathé.” Close earned favourable reviews for her performance as Norma. In 1923 her husband Elwin Neame died in a motorcycle accident, leaving her a 33-year old widow with two young boys and little money. She only made two more films, both in Germany. She had a small part in Die Hölle der Jungfrauen/The hell of the virgins (1928, Robert Dinesen) starring Robert Dinesen, and Der fidele Bauer/The Jolly Peasant (1929, Frans Seitz), both with Werner Krauss. In 2008, The Daily Mail wrote: “The looks that had been Ivy's meal ticket were beginning to fade, but the final blow to her career was the advent of the ‘talkies’. Her British accent was considered unsuitable for American audiences and Ivy's star waned as she played an extra in crowd scenes in her final films.” She retired from the film business, but used her influence to get her son Ronald a job at Elstree Studios. In 1938 Ivy wed the Australian-born make-up artist and former stuntman Curly Batson, who died of lung cancer in 1957. Ivy Close died alone in a nursing home in Goring, England in 1968. With her began a dynasty f four generations of Cinema and Television artists. After her sons Ronald and Derek Neame, her grandson Christopher Neame (1942) became a successful film and television producer who was nominated for a Bafta in 1987, and her great-grandson Gareth Neame (1967) also became a TV producer, who won a Bafta in 1996.

Ivy Close, Ronald Neame
Ivy Close with her sons Ronald and Derek Neame. British postcard in the Philco (PPC) Series, no. 1070-3. Photo: Elwyn Neame.

Ivy Close
British postcard by Philco, no. 1462/2. Photo: Elwin Neame. Caption:
" I have not send a letter,
But think you'll like this better,
'Twill just convey my greeting,
Because we can't be meeting.
A Birthday Greeting.
Ivy Close"

Ivy Close
British postcard in the Philco Series, no. 1073/2. Photo: Elwyn Neame.
" A Birthday Wish
Where happiness and friendship twine
I hope that you may be,
And may you in love's sunshine dwell
From care for ever free."

Sources: Mark Rowland Jones (BritMovie), James Travers (Films de France), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Hans J. Wollstein (AllMovie), The Ivy Close Tribute Page, Huw Nathan (IMDb), Hepworthfilm.org, Wikipedia and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

Love the tinted pics