Herlie, Eileen (1919—)

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Herlie, Eileen (1919—)

Scottish actress. Born Eileen O'Herlihy in Glasgow, Scotland, on March 8, 1919; daughter of Patrick O'Herlihy and Isobel (Cowden) O'Herlihy; attended Shawland's Academy, Glasgow; married Philip Barrett(a producer), on August 12, 1942 (divorced 1947); married Witold Kuncewicz, in 1950 (divorced 1960).

Selected theater:

made stage debut in Sweet Aloes, with the Scottish National Players (Lyric Theater, Glasgow, 1938); London debut as Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca (Ambassadors' Theater, 1942); Peg in Peg O' My Heart (Scala Theater, 1943); toured as Regina in The Little Foxes (1944); with Old Vic Company, Liverpool (1945–46); Andromache in The Trojan Women (Lyric Theater, Hammersmith, 1945); Mary in The Time of Your Life (Lyric Theater, 1946); the Queen in The Eagle Has Two Heads (Lyric Theater, 1946, and at the Haymarket Theater, 1947); title role in Medea (Edinburgh Festival and the Globe Theater, 1948); Paula in The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (Haymarket Theater, 1950); Mrs. Marwood in The Way of the World (Lyric Theater, Hammersmith, 1953); Belvidera in Venice Preserv'd (Lyric Theater, 1953); Irene Carey in A Sense of Guilt (King's Theater, Glasgow, 1953); Mrs. Molloy in The Matchmaker (Haymarket Theater, London, 1954); Broadway debut as Mrs. Molloy (Royale Theater, New York,

1955); Emilia Marty in The Makropoulos Secret (Phoenix Theater, New York, 1957); Paulina in The Winter's Tale and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, Ontario, 1958); Ruth Gray in Epitaph for George Dillon (John Golden Theater and Henry Miller Theater, New York, 1959); Lily in Take Me Along (Shubert Theater, New York, 1959); Elizabeth Hawkes-Bullock in All American (Winter Garden Theater, New York, 1962); Stella in Photo Finish (Brooks Atkinson Theater, 1963); Gertrude in John Gielgud's production of Hamlet (Lunt-Fontanne Theater, 1964); Lady Fitzbuttress in Halfway Up the Tree (Brooks Atkinson Theater, 1967); Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Clare in Outcry (Ivanhoe Theater, Chicago, 1971); Countess Matilda Spina in Emperor Henry IV (Ethel Barrymore Theater, New York, 1973); Queen Mary in Crown Matrimonial (Helen Hayes Theater, New York, 1973, followed by U.S. tour); Essie Sebastian in The Great Sebastians (Ivanhoe Theater, Chicago, 1975).


Hungry Hill (1946); (as Queen Gertrude) Hamlet (1948); Angel With the Trumpet (1949); The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan (Gilbert and Sullivan, 1953); Isn't Life Wonderful? (1953); For Better for Worse (Cocktails in the Kitchen, 1954); She Didn't Say No (1958); Freud (US, 1962); (film of Broadway stage production) Hamlet (US, 1964); (as Polina) The Sea Gull (US/UK, 1968).

Actress Eileen Herlie was alternately extolled and admonished by critics throughout her career. She was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1919, to an Irish father and a Scottish mother, and overcame strong parental opposition to enter the theater. After her debut in Sweet Aloes in 1938, she toured with the Rutherglen Repertory Company until her marriage in 1942 to Philip Barrett, who had bought the stage rights to Daphne du Maurier 's Rebecca. Herlie toured in the play, portraying the second Mrs. de Winter, and also made her London stage debut in the role. In 1945 and 1946, Herlie was with the Old Vic Company at the Playhouse, in Liverpool, where she was seen in a variety of roles.

It was at the small suburban Lyric Theater, in Hammersmith, in November 1946, that Herlie became an overnight success, dazzling audiences as the Queen in Jean Cocteau's The Eagle Has Two Heads. Critic Hannen Swaffer paid homage to the actress, calling her performance a rare "achievement," and pointing out that the curtain had barely come down "when Noel Coward was in her dressing room almost too moved to pay tribute to her." The play transferred to the Haymarket in February 1947, drawing further raves from the critics, although not all of them were equally enthralled. Audrey Williamson , for example, found Herlie's queen "lacking in depth and flexibility of emotion, yet pictorially she was regal and vivid, with a mask of tragic beauty."

Critics were again divided on Herlie's performance in the title role of Medea, which she played first at the Edinburgh Festival in August 1948 and again at the Globe Theater in London the following month. Harold Hobson complained that she played all the fury of the character, but none of the pathos, while the Times critic, admitting that the actress was hindered by a poor adaptation of the play, still found her performance lackluster. "Miss Herlie is fettered to the leaden-footed dialogue," he wrote, "yet there are passages in which she might break through it…. She remains fettered and we are left wondering if she has yet learned to use her emotional energy, her tragic personality, to awe-inspiring effect." Sidney Carroll, the former dramatic critic for the Sunday Times, wrote a letter to that paper rebuking the critics and calling Herlie's performance "a dramatic exhibition of Asiatic revenge and hatred that terrifies while it enthralls, a classic purity of diction, a maturity of technique, a passion and a pathos no other actress could surpass."

In December 1955, Herlie made her Broadway debut as Mrs. Molloy in The Matchmaker, a play that ran for 488 performance. Remaining in New York, she portrayed Emilia Marty in The Makropoulos Secret. In June 1958, she appeared at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, playing Paulina in The Winter's Tale and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. She returned to New York, where her various roles included Ruth Gray in Epitaph for George Dillon, Lily in Take Me Along (1959), and Elizabeth Hawkes-Bullock in the musical All American (1962). In April 1964, she played Gertrude in John Gielgud's acclaimed production of Hamlet which also starred Richard Burton. (The production would later be filmed.)

In 1973, Herlie appeared as Queen Mary in Crown Matrimonial, a play about the abdication of Edward IV, in which she later toured. In Chicago in October 1975, she played Essie Sebastian in The Great Sebastians. The actress also made a number of films, among them Isn't Life Wonderful? (1953), Freud (1962), and The Sea Gull (1968).

Little is written of Herlie's personal life. She divorced Philip Barrett in 1947 and subsequently married Witold Kuncewicz, whom she divorced in 1960.


Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

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

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Herlie, Eileen (1919—)

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