American-born actress Constance Cummings, a Hollywood star of the early 1930s who then became one of the leading figures on the British stage, has died. She was 95.
Cummings died Nov. 23, according to obituaries published in London. The cause of death was not announced.
Born in Seattle, Cummings was only in her early 20s when she became a leading actress in Hollywood, where her intelligence, charming manner and tumbling golden curls made her a favorite.
In just two years, she made more than a dozen films, working for such top directors as Howard Hawks in the 1931 prison drama “The Criminal Code,” and Frank Capra in his 1932 Depression drama, “American Madness.”
She also was in the 1932 Harold Lloyd comedy “Movie Crazy,” and “Broadway Through a Keyhole,” a 1933 nightclub drama that was cowritten by columnist Walter Winchell and featured singers Russ Columbo and Blossom Seeley.
While in Hollywood, she met her future husband, the British playwright Benn Levy.
They married in 1933, and it was under his guidance that she developed into a fine stage actress, initially in comic roles in her husband’s plays and adaptations, then increasingly in more serious portrayals, including “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” opposite Laurence Olivier.
In 1938, she played Katherine, the woman who wins the schoolmaster’s heart in “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” and the critic James Agate wrote that she had “some of the fragrance and pathos, sensitiveness and radiance of the great actresses of our youth.”
Cummings later won plaudits for her portrayals of Miss Richland in Oliver Goldsmith’s “Good-Natured Man” and the lead in George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan.” She also impressed with her portrayal of Juliet in Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy.
By the 1960s, she was tackling darker roles, including the cruel lesbian Inez in Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Huis Clos (No Exit)” (She admitted: “I found bits of that woman in myself”); a combative alcoholic in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”; and Gertrude in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
For three years she worked under Olivier at the National Theatre in London, winning plaudits for her Mary Tyrone in Michael Blakemore’s acclaimed production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in 1971.
Notable later roles included Ranevksy in Blakemore’s revival of Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” and Agave in Wole Soyinka’s version of “The Bacchae.”
Her other film roles included David Lean’s “Blithe Spirit” with Rex Harrison in 1945.
Cummings was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, or CBE, in 1974.
Her husband died in 1973 and she is survived by a son and a daughter.