Edna Best (1900 - 1974)

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Birthplace: Hove, The City of Brighton and Hove, England, United Kingdom
Death: Died in Geneva, Genève, Geneva, Switzerland
Managed by: Michael Rhodes
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About Edna Best

<The Times, September 19, 1974>

<MISS EDNA BEST>

<The original Tessa of "The Constant Nymph">

Miss Edna Best, for many years a popular actress on the London stage, died yesterday in a Geneva clinic. She was 74.

A player who had proved there was much more in her than audiences suspected in the days of her first success was lost to London when, after a number of appearances in America, Edna Best decided to settle there in 1939. Her rise had been so sudden, that a quick fall might have been predicted, but she held her position long enough to show that it had been earned. She was there on the spot when the part of her lifetime came along, that of Tessa in the dramatized version of Margaret Kennedy's "The Constant Nymph", produced by Mr Basil Dean at the New Theatre in 1926 with, first, Noel Coward and later Sir John Gielgud as the musician, Lewis Dodd.

Born at Hove, on March 3, 1900, the daughter of Leonard William Best, she was trained by Kate Rorke at the Guildhall School of Music, appeared in "Charley's Aunt" at the St James's Theatre, London at Christmas 1917 and then toured in an American farce, "Fair and Warmer", taking the part played in London by Fay Compton. In 1919 she followed Miss Compton in this part at the Prince of Wales, and later in the year, deputized for her as the heroine of Somerset Maugham's "Caesar's Wife". In 1920 she had her first success in her own right, appearing in two short lived plays at the Little Theatre, and it what was known as the "flapper" part at the St James's during Henry Ainley's brief actor-management. One more popular comedy - "Brown Sugar" - and Edna Best, aged 21, had arrived.

She lost no ground with her Peter Pan; but "Polly with a Past" tested her too highly in 1921, and on this occasion the applause of her supporters proved embarrassing. "We hope injudicious admirers are not going to spoil Miss Edna Best" wrote the critic of The Times at the beginning of his notice.

With "The Lilies of the Field" she seemed to get started again and she certainly made the most of her opportunities in Lonsdale's "Spring Cleaning", wearing a monacle and an "Eton Crop", and in Mr. Noel Coward's "Fallen Angels", with Miss Tallullah Bankhead as her fellow angel.

But the quality of her as Tessa in "The Constant Nymph" must have surprised all but the initiated, such as Coward himself who had already had occasion to notice her "orderly course of accurate timing and almost contemptuous restraint."

There was something contemptuous about her restraint as Margaret Kennedy's heroine, too. She gave the impression that Tessa could have said of she had wanted to, much more than she did; and Edna Best's achievement was in convincing the audience that the girl had the heart and mind of an adult though her speech and bearing were those of an adolescent.

In her next play, "Come With Me" (also by Margaret Kennedy), she was partnered by Herbert Marshall, who became her husband after her marriage to Mr. Seymour Beard, the actor, had been dissolved. She and Marshall appeared in New York in Lonsdale's "The High Road" and in London, in Milne's "Michael and Mary" and Molnar's "The Swan" (1930). Their association in the theatre continued for two more years, but the marrriage was then dissolved and during the remainder of the 1930s she had no regular stage partner in her work in England, which included appearances in Ivor Novello's "Murder in Mayfair" (1934), the Drury Lane pantomime (herself as Cinderella) of 1936, and Mr. J.B. Priestley's "Johnson over Jordan" (1939). Her performance as Sir Ralph Richardson's stage-struck wife was the last she gave in England before crossing that Atlantic.

In America during the 1940s and 1950s several of the parts she took were in New York productions of plays well known in London: Mr. Terence Rattigan's "The Browning Version" and "Harlequinade"; "Captain Brassbound's Conversion"; M. Anouilh's "Colombe"; Noel Coward's "Quadrille". One of her appearances there on television was with Coward as the wife in his less spectacular "Cavalcade", "This Happy Breed".

Edna Best was first seen on the screen in 1923 in "A Couple of Down and Outs" and among the other films in which she appeared were "Tilly of Bloomsbury"; "Michael and Mary" with her husband Herbert Marshall; Alfred Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much"; "South Riding", with Ralph Richardson and Glynis Johns, the film based on Winifred Holtby's novel; "Intermezzo" ("Escape to Happiness"), with Ingrid Bergman and Leslie Howard.

By her marriage to Seymour Beard Edna Best had twin sons, and by her marriage to Herbert Marshall a daughter, the actress Miss Sarah Marshall. Edna Best's third husband, Nat Wolff, was associated with films and television in the United States. They were married there in 1940, and Mr. Wolff predeceased her.

END

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Edna Best's Timeline

1900
March 3, 1900
Hove, The City of Brighton and Hove, England, United Kingdom
1974
September 18, 1974
Age 74
Geneva, Genève, Geneva, Switzerland
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