Gingold, Hermione (1897–1987)

views updated

Gingold, Hermione (1897–1987)

British-born actress of stage and screen . Born Hermione Ferdinanda Gingold on December 9, 1897, in London, England; died on May 24, 1987, in New York, New York; daughter of James (a stockbroker) and Kate (Walter) Gingold; educated privately; attended Rosina Filippi School of the Theatre, London; married Michael Joseph, a publisher (divorced); married Eric Maschwitz, a program director with the BBC (divorced); children: (first marriage) two sons.

Selected films:

Someone at the Door (1936); The Butler's Dilemma (1943); The Pickwick Papers (1952); Around the World in 80 Days (1956); Gigi (1958); Bell Book and Candle (1958); The Naked Edge (1961); The Music Man (1962); I'd Rather Be Rich (1964); Harvey Middleman-Fireman Rocket to the Moon (Those Fantastic Flying Fools, 1967); A Little Night Music (1977); Garbo Talks (1984).

Selected theater:

Herald in Pinkie and the Fairies (professional debut, His Majesty's Theatre, 1908); Jessica in The Merchant of Venice (Old Vic Theatre, 1914); Liza in If (Ambassadors' Theatre, 1921); Old Woman in The Dippers (Criterion Theatre, 1922); second daughter in From Morn to Midnight, Lavinia in One More River, Lily Malone in Hotel Universe, and Vidette in I Hate Men (Gate Theatre, 1931–33); Camille in Mountebanks ("Q" Theatre, 1934); May in Laura Garrett (Arts Theatre, 1936); Leading Lady in In Theatre Street (Mercury Theatre, 1937); The Gate Revue (Ambassadors' Theatre, 1939); Sweet and Low (Revue, Ambassadors' Theatre, 1943); Slings and Arrows (Revue, Comedy Theatre, 1948); Mrs. Rocket in Fumed Oak (Ambassadors' Theatre, 1949); Jane Banbury in Fallen Angels (Ambassadors' Theatre, 1949); It's About Time (Revue, Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1951); John Murray Anderson's Almanac (Revue, New York debut, Imperial Theatre, 1953); Mrs. Bennet in First Impressions (Alvin Theatre, New York, 1959); From A to Z (Revue, Plymouth Theatre, New York, 1960); Clara Weiss in Milk and Honey (Martin Beck Theatre, New York, 1962); Madame Rosepettle in Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad (Phoenix Theatre, 1963); Celeste in Dumas and Son (Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, California, 1967); Agnes Deringdo in Highly Confidential (Cambridge Theatre, London, 1969); Madame Armfeldt in A Little Night Music (Shubert Theatre, New York, 1973, and Adelphi Theatre, London, 1975).

Hermione Gingold was born Hermione Gingold—"Would I have chosen such a name?" she once asked—on December 9, 1897, in London, the daughter of James, a stockbroker, and Kate Gingold . She made her stage debut at age 11 and spent her early career in serious roles, until finding her niche as a comedian in The Gate Revue (1939). It was followed in 1943 by Sweet and Low, which in continually updated versions (Sweeter and Lower, Sweetest and Lowest) occupied London's Ambassadors' Theater for almost six years. During the run of the revue, critic T.C. Worsley commented on Gingold's quirky portrayal of a theater gossip: "To watch Miss Gingold's tongue roll around a familiar name and then quietly drop it off with all the mud sticking on is to watch art raising a foible to the stature of a Humour." Captivated by her in Slings and Arrows (1948), Harold Hobson noted: "Miss Gingold blossoms into gargoyles as if she were Notre Dame itself."

In 1951, the wild-maned, bass-voiced, and notably eccentric Gingold made her American debut at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the revue It's About Time, which was followed in 1953 by her first New York appearance in John Murray Anderson's Almanac. In 1959, she delighted Broadway audiences in the role of Mrs. Bennet in Abe Burrows' First Impressions, a musical adaptation of Jane Austen 's Pride and Prejudice. "Mrs. Bennet is no longer the vague, fussy provincial matchmaker of Jane Austen's imagination," reported Kenneth Tynan, "but a burbling dragoness fully capable (as she never is in the novel) of withering her husband with a single fire-darting glare.… No actress commands a more purposeful leer; and in nobody's mouth do vowels more acidly curdle."

Gingold, who called herself "very chintzy" with her money, was selective about her roles, working only when she wanted. From the 1950s on, she traveled back and forth between the London and New York stage, and also made a few memorable appearances in films, notably Gigi, Bell Book and Candle (both in 1958), and A Little Night Music (1977), the Stephen Sondheim musical in which she recreated her stage portrayal of the indomitable matriarch, Madame Armfeldt. She made numerous television appearances, often in the role of raconteur on talk shows with Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Garry Moore, and Merv Griffin. She also published two books: her autobiography, The World is Square (1945), and Sirens Should Be Seen and Not Heard (1963).

The actress was married and divorced twice. Her first marriage to publisher Michael Joseph, produced two sons, one of whom is the founder and director of a theater in England. Her second husband, Eric Maschwitz, was a program director for the BBC. Hermione Gingold died in New York in 1987.


McGill, Raymond D., ed. Notable Names in the American Theatre. Clifton, NJ: James T. White, 1976.

Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography 1987. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1987.

Morley, Sheridan. The Great Stage Stars. London: Angus and Robertson, 1986.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts