29 January 2018

Lilian Braithwaite

Beautiful English actress Lilian Braithwaite (1873-1948) worked primarily on the stage, but she also appeared in films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Downhill (1927).

Lilian Braithwaite
British postcard by Davidson Bros. in the Glossyphoto Series, no. 1159. Photo: R.W. Thomas.

Lilian Braithwaite
British postcard in the Glossyphoto series by Davidson Bros, London, Series 1469.

Lilian Braithwaite
German postcard by AL 259. Photo: Histed. Sent by mail in the Netherlands in 1906.

The second most beautiful woman in London

Dame Florence Lilian Braithwaite DBE was born in Ramsgate, Kent in 1873. She was the daughter of Rev. John M. Braithwaite (vicar of St. Michaels, Maidstone) and his wife Elizabeth (née Powell). Lilian was educated at Croydon High School.

She first acted with amateur companies. Her first professional London appearance was in As You Like It in 1900. Lilian Braithwaite responded to the assertion of critic James Agate that she was "the second most beautiful woman in London", by replying, "I shall long cherish that, coming from our second-best theatre critic."

Braithwaite appeared also in several silent films. She started in productions like the drama The World's Desire (Sidney Morgan, 1915). In the crime film Justice (Maurice Elvey, 1917), she co-starred with Gerald du Maurier, and in the Charles Dickens adaptation Dombey and Son (Maurice Elvey, 1917) with Mary Odette.

The drama Because (Sidney Morgan, 1918) is about a father who locks his daughter up when she refuses to marry the man he has chosen as her husband. She then co-starred with C. Aubrey Smith in Castles in Spain (Horace Lisle Lucoque, 1920). She also worked with Betty Balfour on the drama Mary Find the Gold (George Pearson, 1921).

However, Lilian Braithwaite's best known film role was as schoolboy Ivor Novello’s mother in Downhill (Alfred Hitchcock, 1927). The film is based on the play, Down Hill, written by Novello and Constance Collier under the combined alias David L'Estrange. Hitchcock's emerging style is well demonstrated in this film. He experimented with dream sequences by shooting them in super impositions and blurred images. He also played with shadow and light in much the same way as directors of German expressionist films of the time.

Lilian Braithwaite
British postcard in the Rotary Photographic series, no. 218 O.

Lilian Braithwaite
British postcard by J. Beagles & Co., London, no. 27 B.

Comedy was her greatest asset

During the 1930s, Lilian Braithwaite played supporting parts in sound films such as the musical comedy A Man of Mayfair (Louis Mercanton, 1931) starring Jack Buchanan, the crime film The Chinese Puzzle (Guy Newall, 1932) with Elizabeth Allan, and the drama Moscow Nights (Anthony Asquith, 1935) starring Laurence Olivier and Harry Baur.

Her greatest triumph was on stage as the alcoholic mother in Noël Coward's groundbreaking drama The Vortex. The play depicts the sexual vanity of a rich, ageing beauty, her troubled relationship with her adult son, and drug abuse in British society circles after the First World War. The son's cocaine habit is seen by many critics as a metaphor for homosexuality, then taboo in Britain. Despite, or because of, its controversial content for the time, the play was Coward's first great commercial success.

Braithwaite proved that comedy was her greatest asset in a long succession of drawing-room dramas and light comedies, culminating in the long running stage hit Arsenic and Old Lace (1942-1946), a a farcical black comedy by the American playwright Joseph Kesselring.

During the Second World War she served as chairman and chief organiser of the hospital division of the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). She was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE), for services to the stage, on 1 January 1943.

After the war she appeared in her final film, the melodrama A Man About the House (Leslie Arliss, 1947), starring Dulcie Gray and Kieran Moore.

Braithwaite was married to actor-manager Gerald Lawrence. The couple divorced in 1905. She and Lawrence had a daughter, Joyce Carey, who later became a film and television actress. Lilian Braitwaite died in 1948 in London at the age of 75.

Lilian Braithwaite
British postcard in the Yes or No series.

Lilian Braithwaite
British postcard in the "Yes or No?" series. Photo: R.W. Thomas (see above).

Sources: Stage Beauty, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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