Margaret Leighton (1922-1976) b. Barnt Green, Worcestershire, England.
Margaret Leighton was born on 26 February 1922 in Barnt Green, Worcestershire and was diagnosed as suffering from claustrophobia from a young age. She made her stage debut as Dorothy in Laugh with Me in 1938 at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre when she was studying at Sir Barry Jackson’s theatre school in Birmingham. She also performed the role again later the same that year for BBC television. In the early 40s, she joined the Old Vic, where she was tutored by both Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson.
She made her Broadway debut during a trip to the US by the Old Vic Company in 1946, playing The Queen in Henry IV, in which she performed alongside her two mentors. They went on to perform a total of five critically acclaimed plays before returning to London.
Ralph Richardson was to become her frequent co-star on both stage and screen and she notably played Roxane to his Cyrano in the 1946 London stage version of Cyrano de Bergerac, widely held to be one of one of Richardson’s finest hours on stage. Margaret went on to win two Tony Awards for Broadway performances as Best Actress, in 1957 for Separate Tables and again in 1962 for The Night of the Iguana, opposite Bette Davis. She was also nominated on two other occasions in the same category, firstly in 1960 for Much Ado About Nothing opposite John Gielgud and again in 1963 for Tchin-Tchin opposite Anthony Quinn.
In the late 40s, she appeared in two British films, the first being the starring role of Flora MacDonald opposite David Niven in Bonnie Prince Charlie followed by playing the second female lead in Hitchcock’s Hollywood film Under Capricorn, starring future husband Michael Wilding. Although she had forged a reputation as a fine stage actress in both London and on Broadway, she continued to shine on the big screen too, including some of her finest performances in The Winslow Boy (1948) and The Astonished Heart (1949) after which she then filmed the MGM crime thriller Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951) with Walter Pidgeon. Her other notable big screen successes include The Holly & The Ivy (1952), The Constant Husband (1955), Waltz of the Toreadors (1962) and The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969).
She had married publisher Max Rheinhardt in 1947. In 1952, Margaret met and fell in love with Laurence Harvey whilst appearing in Rosalind and Orlando at Stratford where she was Rosalind. They married in 1957 in Gilbraltar where Harvey was filming The Silent Enemy, and were shortly divorced in 1961. She married Michael Wilding in 1964, a partnership that lasted until her untimely death.
Margaret can also boast an impressive list of TV appearances, including appearances in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Ben Casey and Burke’s Law. In 1970, She won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Drama for Hamlet and was nominated for another Emmy in 1966 for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Drama in Dr. Kildare. It was for her portrayal of Mrs. Maudsley in The Go-Between in 1970 that she won the BAFTA Film Award for Best Supporting Actress. She also received a BAFTA nomination for Best British Actress for her role as Valerie Carrington in Carrington V.C. (1955) starring opposite David Niven and also received a Hollywood Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for The Go-Between.
In 1971, Margaret was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis but vowed not to let it affect her and she continued her stage work, appearing at both the Stratford-upon-Avon and Chichester Festivals.
Eventually, her debilitating illness left her unable to walk and she finally made her last stage appearance in 1975, with Alec Guinness, in As You Like It in London.
Margaret Leighton finally succumbed to complications brought on by her multiple sclerosis. She died on 13th January 1976 in Chichester, West Sussex. She was just 53.
Compiled by Clive Saunders.