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Mary Ellis

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b. 15 June 1900, New York City, New York, USA, d. 30 January 2003, London, England. The date of birth given is the ‘official’ one, although Ellis is reported to have claimed in 1997 that she was born 100 years ago. A unique and enduring actress and singer, Ellis was an art student for three years and studied singing with the Belgian contralto Madame Freda Ashforth. From 1918-22 she was with the Metropolitan Opera, during which time she shared a stage with the legendary Caruso. She then turned to the dramatic theatre before creating the title role, opposite Dennis King, in the musical Rose Marie in 1924. After barely a year she left the cast on less than amicable terms, and the Hammersteins took out an injunction to prevent her singing in America for any other management. After settling in London, in the early 30s, Ellis played Frieda Hatzfeld in Music In The Air, which opened in 1933. Ivor Novello was so enchanted by her performance in the piece, that he wrote two of his most celebrated shows, Glamorous Night (1933) and The Dancing Years (1939), especially for her. When the latter show was forced to close owing to the outbreak of World War II, Ellis became involved in hospital welfare, and spent much of the war years giving concerts for the troops. She and Novello were reunited in 1943 for Arc De Triomphe, but for the rest of the decade, and through to the early 50s, Ellis devoted most of her time to the straight theatre, including a notable role in Terence Ratigan’s The Browning Version. Her association with Noël Coward’s After The Ball (1954) was, by all accounts, an unhappy one, and proved to be her last London stage musical. After watching her performance in that piece, the Master is said to have raged: ‘Mary Ellis couldn’t get a laugh if she pulled a kipper out of her drawers.’ Ellis continued to work in theatre, although her last West End part came in the 1962 production of Look Homeward Angel. She also appeared in several films, both in Hollywood and Britain, and many television plays. Amongst her later television appearances, was one with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in the early 90s. Mary Ellis married four times, her third husband being the actor Basil Sydney. Her witty autobiography was published in 1982.

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15 June 1900 in New York, NY

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