Ann Todd (1909 - 1993)

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About Ann Todd

<The Times, May 7, 1993>

<ANN TODD>

Ann Todd, British film star, died yesterday aged 84. She was born in Cheshire on January 24, 1909.

AN ACTRESS of modest range but undeniable presence, with her blonde hair, high cheekbones and deep-set blue eyes, Ann Todd had been playing small parts in films for several years before becoming an international star after her performance as the tormented concert pianist in "The Seventh Veil".

This was a low-budget British film which unexpectedly became the box-office success of 1945. The plot was pure melodrama: a concert pianist, Francesca Cunningham, (Todd) finds herself romantically torn between her psychiatrist, her guardian, and two other men. One scene in particular - when the tyrannical James Mason brings his walking-stick down across the frail hands of Todd as she plays the piano - caused a minor uproar at the time. Audiences all over the world winced.

The film set the seal of approval on psychiatry. One critic described it as "a rich, portentous mixture of Beethoven, Chopin, Kitsch and Freud." It was Todd's misfortune that she never again achieved this sort of popular success, and was for ever afterwards associated with the one film.

Ann Todd was born of Scottish parents. She came from a family of artists: her great, great uncle was William Hogarth and her brother was the playwright Harold Brooke (who took their mother's maiden name). She was educated at boarding school in Eastbourne and went on to study at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art with the intention of becoming a drama teacher. But after making her stage debut (as a fairy in "The Land of Heart's Desire" at the Arts Theatre Club) she decided to become an actress instead.

In the 1930s she began to land walk-on parts in British films: "Keepers of Youth" (1931) "Things to Come" (1936) and "South Riding" (1937). Even then, her five minutes on screen as the love interest in "Perfect Strangers" (1945) was applauded by the critics. Todd concentrated on the theatre during the Second World War putting in a memorable performance in Enid Bagnold's psychological thriller "Lottie Dundass" at the Vaudeville in 1943.

It was partly on the strength of the latter that she was chosen to play the pianist in "The Seventh Veil". Having become an "overnight" success, Todd was suddenly in great demand, and could afford to be discriminating about her scripts and choice of directors.

She eventually agreed to a £250,000 contract with Rank - then the biggest ever offered to a British actress- and was promised 14 starring roles in films over the next seven years. But what promised to be a long and successful Hollywood career for England's brightest export, spectacularly failed to materialise. Having starred opposite Ray Milland in "So Evil My Love" (1946) and in Hitchcock's "The Paradine Case" (1947), Todd disappeared from view. Distribution problems, which included heavy new import taxes on Hollywood films into Britain, were partly to blame. By the time "The Paradine Case" reached British screens in 1949, audiences here had not seen her face for over two years.

Somewhat disheartened, Todd returned to Britain with a new husband (her third), the director, David Lean, whom she had married in 1949. He directed her in three films - "The Passionate Friends" opposite Claude Rains (1948); "Madeleine" (1949) and "The Sound Barrier" (1952) - in which she gave some powerful studies of women under stress. None of them, however, was a huge commercial success and her films from then on became less frequent. Among the latter ones are "Time Without Pity" (1957), "Taste of Fear" (1961) and Otto Preminger's "The Human Factor" (1979).

Todd began to take her new obscurity philosophically. She loved recalling one taxi driver's observation as he pocketed his tip: "Blimey, I thought you were dead, Missus." She was, in any case, beginning to blossom as a stage actress.

Long experienced in lighter stage roles, in the 1950s she joined the Old Vic and tackled Shakespeare -"Macbeth", "The Taming of the Shrew" and "Love's Labours Lost", before accepting the part of Jennifer Dubedat in a revival of "The Doctor's Dilema" at the Saville Theatre in 1956. "Duel of Angels" (1958) found her playing opposite Vivien Leigh, (an experience which she found trying) but her last stage appearance was in one of her favourite plays, Noel Coward's "The Vortex" at Guildford in 1965.

It was about this point that Todd gave up acting for several years. She had been through three marriages, her children had left home, and she decided it was time to embark on a new career - as a documentary film-maker.

She won several awards for her films, the best known of which is "Free in the Sun", which she filmed in Australia and which, as with all her films, she produced, directed and narrated. A series of travelogues, or "diary documentaries" as she preferred to call them, were set in exotic locations: Nepal ("Thunder in Heaven"), Jordan ("Thunder of Silence"), Egypt ("Thunder of the Kings") and Greece ("Thunder of the Gods").

Todd travelled lightly, with tent and backpack, and produced the films on a shoestring. On her first trip to Nepal she had learnt to appreciate the shock value of a single woman travelling alone: "I was shown straight to the king, while other people who had been waiting months were ignored."

Her autobiography, "The Eighth Veil" (1980), was written in two months, mostly while lying in bed which acted as her unofficial office. It was an intelligent account of a varied, if not always happy, life.

Todd had a son by her first husband, Victor Malcolm and a daughter by her second, Nigel Tangye. Her third marriage to David Lean was dissolved in 1957.

END.