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Thread: Sheila Gish Rip

  1. #1
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    I remember Sheila Gish in the TV version of That Uncertain Feeling (Kingsley Amis) in the 1980s, and as the highly strung Welsh opera diva Gwladys Probert in the Morse episode Twilight of the Gods with John Gielgud and Robert Hardy.



    Obituary from The Daily Telegraph



    Sheila Gish, who died on Wednesday 9th March 2005, aged 62, epitomised the Tennessee Williams heroines she played on stage: a frail, delicate beauty with a spine of steel.



    Sheila Gish never went for the obvious or the easy. A pocket Venus - tiny, blonde, and voluptuously, felinely beautiful - she could easily have coasted along from light comedy to sitcom. Instead, after a successful 15 years as a semi-permanent ingenue, she abruptly changed tack, and her career broke into two very separate parts: more than a decade of lovely comic timing and razor-sharp farce; and a triumphant second half, filled with classical tragic heroines, women on the verge of breakdown - and women long past the verge, women ravaged, women in a frenzy, tortured and torturing.



    In both periods her talents were recognised - she received a Clarence Derwent Award for her brilliant comic creations in Alan Ayckbourn's Confusions (Apollo, 1975), and an Olivier Award for Joanne, a darkly despairing, wittily drowning alcoholic in Stephen Sondheim's Company, directed by Sam Mendes (Donmar, 1994).



    Sheila Gish was born Sheila Gash in Lincoln on St George's Day, 1942. An Army brat, she spent her earliest years in the Sudan and Egypt before being sent to the Royal School for Daughters of Officers of the Army in Bath. But with a name change (which led to inevitable questions about her more famous "relatives", Dorothy and Lillian) she set out to create the Sheila Gish she became.



    After Rada she did a stint in repertory at Pitlochry, where she met Roland Curram, her first husband, and the father of her two daughters. But by the age of 22 she was appearing in the West End, as Bella in Robert and Elizabeth (Lyric, 1964), a bizarre musical version of the already old-hat melodrama The Barretts of Wimpole Street. She also made her first film appearance, with Curram, in Darling (1965), a paean to the Swinging Sixties directed by John Schlesinger.



    Other comedies followed, but it was the melodrama of Tennessee Williams's Vieux Carré (1977) that led her in a new direction. She was cast as the doomed southern belle, apparently a tailor-made role. Late (and unfortunate) cuts to the text made Sheila Gish feel that she could not perform her part with integrity, and she withdrew. She could easily have continued to play attractive - or despairing - belles for many years, but instead, when offered yet another West End plum, in Michael Frayn's Noises Off, she rejected it in favour of a low-budget production at the Lyric Hammersmith's smaller stage, where she played Racine's tragedy queen Bérénice (1982). Rarely performed, demanding of its lead, Bérénice requires an enormous central presence, which Sheila Gish produced with apparent ease. Her classical verse-speaking and depth of passion were revelations. She was recognised as a major actress, springing fully formed from the froth of old comedies.



    The next major challenge was A Streetcar Named Desire, and Blanche du Bois. However, Tennessee Williams had recently died, and Maria St Just, his wilfully eccentric literary executor, decided that she knew better than Williams, who shortly before his death had written to Sheila Gish to say how much he looked forward to her performance. Maria St Just announced that Sheila Gish was all wrong, and tried to prevent the production. It was only after a lengthy battle that the play was staged (directed by Alan Strachan, Greenwich, 1983, Mermaid, 1984), and Sheila Gish was acclaimed as the definitive Blanche of her generation. Unlike so many Blanches, Sheila Gish's character had grit, tenderness and the same will of iron that Sheila Gish herself possessed.



    Throughout her career, she worked with many notable theatre directors, from Ronald Eyre to Declan Donnellan, Deborah Warner and Lindsay Posner. Sean Mathias directed her in Les Parents Terribles, one of her greatest parts, where she was the monstrous, all-devouring mother Yvonne to Jude Law's incestuously sickly son (National Theatre, 1993).



    All of this work was interspersed with regular television appearances - she made many guest appearances, as well as featuring in two Kingsley Amis adaptations, That Uncertain Feeling (1985, where she met her second husband, the actor Denis Lawson) and Stanley and the Women (1991), and - one of her many monster mothers - as Lady Montdore in Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate (2001). Her work on film was less successful. The preposterous Highlander series of films made her face familiar to many who had never seen her on stage, although she was wasted as an actress. The Merchant Ivory version of Jean Rhys's novel Quartet (1981) gave her a chance to shine on screen with Alan Bates, Maggie Smith and Isabelle Adjani, which was more than her last outing on film, Patricia Rozema's woefully misconceived Mansfield Park (1999), could do.



    In 2002 a cancerous growth appeared, and surgery required that Sheila Gish's right eye be removed. Yet there was time for one last performance, as a glorious, blazingly triumphant Arkadina in The Seagull, directed by Stephen Pimlott (Chichester, 2003). The eye-patch was embraced as a reason for Arkadina's otherwise inexplicable provincial tour, and Sheila Gish was the centre around which all the other performers circled, much as Arkadina was the focus of attention on her estate. One added attraction of the part was the appearance of her daughter, Kay Curram, as Masha in the same production, the only time they were to work together.



    Sheila Gish was an actress of the old school: serious, dedicated to bringing the text to life on stage, undeviatingly true to the playwrights' intentions.



    But she was also a wonderfully sly comic, and a luminescent personality, with a very dirty laugh. What most struck people on meeting her was that the vibrancy that shone onstage was not diminished in real life. She commanded affection for herself as easily as she did respect for her work.



    She is survived by her second husband, and her daughters Kay Curram and Lou Gish, all of whom are actors.

  2. #2
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    I remember seeing Sheila Gish in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.



    I've only just found out she died.



    I'm amazed she was born in 1942. Joe Egg was shot in 1970 which means she would have been 28 at the time.



    No disrespect but I thought she was in her late 30s when I saw it.

  3. #3
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    Shocked to read about her death - 62 is no age. Her second husband was Denis Lawson - Wedge in Star Wars and uncle to Ewen MacGregor.

    Ta Ta

    Marky B

  4. #4
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    Sheila was one sexy actress,

    she was middle aged, yet still so

    sexy and voluptuous, you just could nt keep

    your eyes off her,

    whether in Tales of the Unexpected

    or in the ill fated Brighton Belles

    she was THE one to watch.

    In her career she obviously did tons

    of stage and theatre work,

    I can imagine her in so many roles, restoration plays,

    Edwardian plays, situation comedies. etc



    For most of us , we ve only seen her on

    TV and she was always unforgettable



    thanks Sam for that great biog,

    she was an amazing pro of the theatre,

    she was a star



    62 ... was far too young.



    clip from 'Brighton Belles' (15 meg)



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  5. #5
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    Did you also know that her daughter, Lou Gish, died just under a year after her mother in February 2006?

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