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      Born 1919                            Actress




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N o v a   P i l b e a m

pilbeam
Tudor Rose (1936)


    b. Wimbledon, London, UK, 1919

        Nova Pilbeam's name echoes through British cinema history with an insistence at odds with her comparatively few films. During the 1930s she was undoubtedly Britain's most celebrated child and teenage star. If her nine feature films of the '40s saw her popularity slip somewhat, she was never less than charming and intelligent. And then in 1948 she vanished from British films. However, her name, her beauty and her talent remain in the annals and the memory.

      After making her screen debut in Little Friend in 1934, Gaumont-British placed her under a long-term contract (six or seven years). Alfred Hitchcock saw her performance in this and cast herr as the kidnapped daughter in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) made by Gaumont. Although alot of the film was set in Switzerland, her part was all made at Gaumont-British studio. She was just 15.

      She played Lady Jane Grey in the 1936 Robert Stevenson directed movie Tudor Rose with Cedric Hardwicke, Sybil Thorndike, the eccentric Martita Hunt who played her mother, and a young John Mills.

      She was now a star, but not by Hollywood standards. Incredibly, after Tudor Rose she did nothing for over a year.

      In 1937, she worked with Hitch again on the movie Young and Innocent. Alot of the movie was shot in the country. Her first husband, Penrose Tennyson, was Hitch's assistant director. No doubles were used in the making in the film so she had to do the famous scene in the mine and relied on the help of her future husband to get through it!

      The great tracking shot at the end was done like a military manoeuvre. It went on and on and everyone had to know exactly when to move.

      She then appeared in Pastor Hall. Though released in 1940, it was made before the war but not released until then because of its anti-German sentiments. Directed by Ray Boulting, it remains a prophetic film.

      In 1941, she made two films for the director Walter Mycroft, Spring Meeting (also starring Michael Wilding) and Banana Ridge. Spring Meeting had been a famous play while Spring Meeting starred the comedians Alfred Drayton and Robertson Hare, and the wonderfully chic Isabel Jeans.

      The following year she made the Ealing film, Next of Kin, shot in the south-west of England. Intended as a propaganda film, it was directed by Thorold Dickinson. He was under contract to Ealing and Michael Balcon as was Pilbeam's then husband, Pen. They had planned to work together in the future but he was killed in the war two years after they were married.

      She had a small part in the risible Yellow Canary directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring his wife Anna Neagle. She played Neagle's younger sister (though Neagle was 15 years her senior) with Marjorie Fielding as their mother. Again intended as a propaganda movie it was just plain awful and is best forgotten about. If it has any curiousity value today (and that is highly debatable) it is of the appearance of a young Cyril Fletcher, made famous in the 70s and 80s for his part in the BBC TV show, That's Life.

      Green Fingers came in 1947 and was a departure from her normal roles. She played a bitch, coming between Robert Beatty and Carol Raye.

      In 1948 she made Three Weird Sisters, a sort of Gothic horror job, which had a script by Dylan Thomas. It also starred Nancy Price and Mary Clare, and was directed by Daniel Birt. Some of it was filmed in a Welsh mining district.

      Counterblast followed with Robert Beatty, Mervyn Johns and Margaretta Scott.

      That was her last film. In the '40s she had concentrated more on theatre and didn't particularly like the business of filming or most of the films she appeared in. But the main reason behind her retirement was the death of her first husband. He had been in the profession and had he not been killed, she would have stayed in the business.


      The Mystery of Nova Pilbeam

    • Has anyone out there any recent info on Nova that I can put here? She is one of the last links to the great age of British Cinema and yet since she retired there has just been no news for her fans. The last known news was that she was living around Highgate, north London but there is nothing else.

      Any info would be gratefully received. You can e-mail me here.


    • Young & Innocent UK Dvd
      (Shipped from UK)


    • Man Who Knew Too Much Photo Gallery


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