Sybil Thorndike

Sybil Thorndike

Gainsborough, West Lindsey District, Lincolnshire, England
Death 9 Jun 1976 (aged 93)
Chelsea, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Greater London, England
Burial Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England
Plot The Nave (South Choir Aisle)
Memorial ID 3197 · View Source
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British Actress. She is remembered for her international tours of Shakespearean productions, often appearing with her husband Lewis Casson. Her acting career spanned more than six decades. Born Agnes Sybil Thorndike in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, England, her father was a Canon of Rochester Cathedral in Rochester, Medway, England. She received her education at the Rochester Grammar School for Girls, and first trained as a classical pianist, making weekly visits to London, England for music lessons at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. At age 11 she gave her first public performance as a pianist but in 1899 was forced to give up playing due to piano cramp. At the instigation of her brother, the author Russell Thorndike, she then trained as an actress. At age 21 she was offered her first professional contract, a tour of the US with the actor-manager Ben Greet's company. She made her first stage appearance in Greet's 1904 production of Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and went on to tour the US in Shakespearean repertory for four years, playing some 112 roles. In 1908 she was spotted by the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw when she understudied the leading role of "Candida" in a tour directed by Shaw himself. There she also met her future husband, Lewis Casson and were married later that year. She joined Annie Horniman's company in Manchester (1908 to 1909 and 1911 to 1913), went to Broadway in 1910, and then joined the Old Vic Company in London (1914 to 1918), playing leading roles in Shakespeare and in other classic plays. After World War I, she played 'Hecuba' in "Euripides The Trojan Women" (1919 to 1920), then from 1920 to 1922, she and her husband starred in a British version of France's "Grand Guignol" directed by Jose Levy. In 1924 she returned to the stage in the title role of George Bernard Shaw's "Saint Joan," which had been written with her specifically in mind. The production was a huge success, and was revived repeatedly until her final performance in the role in 1941. In 1931 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. A pacifist, she was a member of the Peace Pledge Union and gave readings for its benefit. During World War II, she and her husband toured in Shakespearean productions on behalf of the Council For the Encouragement of the Arts, before joining Sir Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson in the Old Vic season at the New Theatre in 1944. She continued to have success in such plays as N.C. Hunter's "Waters of the Moon" at the Haymarket Theatre in Westminster, England from 1951 to 1952. She also undertook tours of Australia and South Africa, before playing again with Olivier in "Uncle Vanya" at Chichester Theatre in Chichester, England in 1962. In 1966 she made her farewell appearance with her husband in a London revival of "Arsenic and Old Lace" at the Vaudeville Theatre in Westminster in 1966. Her last stage performance was at the Thorndike Theatre in Leatherhead, Surrey, England in "There Was an Old Woman" in 1969, the year that her husband died. She appeared in eight films during her career, including "MacBeth" (1922), "The Merchant of Venice" (1922), "Dawn" (1928), ""Hindle Wakes" (1931), "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby" (1947), "Melba" (1953), "The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957), and "Alive and Kicking" (1959). She also appeared in the 1965 television production "A Passage to India." Her final acting appearance was in a television drama "The Great Inimitable Mr. Dickens," with Anthony Hopkins in 1970. The same year. She was made a Companion of Honour. She and her husband (who was knighted in 1945) were one of the few couples who both held titles in their own right. She was also awarded an honorary degree from the University of Manchester, Manchester, England in 1922, and an honorary Doctor of Letters from Oxford University, Oxford, England in 1966. She died in London, England at the age of 93.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 16 Jul 1998
  • Find a Grave Memorial 3197
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Sybil Thorndike (24 Oct 1882–9 Jun 1976), Find a Grave Memorial no. 3197, citing Westminster Abbey, Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .