PROFILE
Name:
Glynis Johns
Birth Date:
October 5, 1923
Birth Place:
Pretoria, South Africa
Nationality:
South African
BIOGRAPHY
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The Sundowners

Background:

South African-born British actress Glynis Johns is well-remembered for her roles in such films as “Miranda” (1948), “The Sundowners” (1960), from which she picked up an Academy Award nomination, “The Chapman Report” (1962), which gave her a Golden Globe nomination, and “Mary Poppins” (1964), where she took home a Golden Laurel Award for her fine acting as the nutty suffragette wife. Starting out on the stage when she was still a child, Johns gained wide acclaim with her Tony Award winning portrayal of Desiree Armfeldt in the original Broadway production of  Stephen Sondheim's musical, “A Little Night Music” (1973). The actress, who is best known for her light comedy roles and often playful flirtation, also appeared on Broadway in “Gertie” (1952), “Major Barbara”(1956), “Too True to Be Good” (1963) and “The Circle” (1990).          

Johns has been married and divorced four times. She had one son, actor Gareth Forwood (died in 2007), with Anthony Forwood.     


The Girl with the Upside-Down Eyes

Childhood and Family:

The daughter of actor Mervyn Johns (1989-1992) and concert pianist Alys Maude (née Steele-Payne, died in 1971), Glynis Johns was born on October 5, 1923, in Pretoria, South Africa, while her parents were on tour there. She enrolled Clifton High School in Bristol for a short time.

Glynis has been married four times. Her first marriage to British actor Anthony Forwood lasted from August 29, 1942 until June 1948. The bond produced one child, son Gareth Forwood (born in 1945). She then married David Ramsey Foster, a WWII hero who became the chairman of Colgate Palmolive International, on February 1, 1952, but they later divorced. She was married to  third husband Cecil Peter L. Henderson from 1960 to 1962. Two years later, on October 4, 1964, she married writer and essayist Elliot Arnold, but the union also ended in divorce. Glynis is known with the nickname The Girl with the Upside-Down Eyes.  

A Little Night Music

Career:

Glynis Johns made her London stage debut at age 12 by playing Ursula, a child ballerina, in “Buckie's Bears” (1935) at the Garrick Theatre. Three years later, she broke into the big screen as Midge Carne in the film adaptation of Winifred Holtby's novel, “South Riding,” directed by Victor Saville. Johns continued to appear in several film and stage productions, including a London stage production of  “Peter Pan,” where she played the title role, and “The Halfway House,” a 1944 drama/fantasy movie which she starred in alongside her father.

After giving strong performance as Judy, the attractive widow of Robert's brother on the film adaptation of the play “Frieda” (1947), Johns enjoyed a success with her portrayal as mermaid Miranda in the British comedy film “Miranda” (1948), about a beautiful and playful mermaid and her effect on Griffith Jones. She later reprised her role in a sequel of the film called “Man about Men” (1954). Commenting about playing a mermaid in “Miranda,” she stated, “I was quite an athlete, my muscles were strong from dancing, so the tail was just fine. I swam like a porpoise.”     

Johns reunited with her father on the John Boulting directed biopic “The Magic Box” (1951), based on the life of William Friese-Greene, who first designed and patented a working cinematic camera. She portrayed Ruth Earp in “The Promoter” (1952), a film adaptation of Arnold Bennett's short comedy novel, “The Card.” It was directed by Ronald Neame and scripted by Eric Ambler. Also in that same year, she had the title role on her Broadway debut, “Gertie.”   

Eventually, Johns made the successful leap to Hollywood, thanks to her performances in Anthony Pelissier's “Personal Affair” (1953, opposite Gene Tierney and Leo Genn) and “The Court Jester” (1956), where she was cast as the love interest of Danny Kaye. She next starred with Cameron Mitchell, and Rex Thompson in the peculiarly sad Christmas film “All Mine to Give” (1957), helmed by Allen Reisner. After four years, Johns revisited Broadway in a revival of George Bernard Shaw's “Major Barbara” at the Martin Beck Theatre in 1956. The production was directed by co-star Charles Laughton.

Following a starring role opposite John Justin in “The Spider's Web” (1960), adapted from the  Agatha Christie play of the same name, Johns enjoyed massive success with her scene stealing turn as Mrs. Firth,  a hotel keeper who sets her sights on a matrimonially-evasive Rupert Venneker (played by Peter Ustinov) on the movie version of Jon Cleary's novel, “The Sundowners” (1960), helmed by Fred Zinnemann. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Film, Best Achievement in Directing, Nomination for Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Performance by an Actress, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Johns. The Australian set film, however, was a commercial failure in the United States, though it reached the top 10 at the UK box office and was the third highest grossing film of 1961 in Australia. Johns gained additional recognition as a trendy older woman infatuated with athletic young beach boy Ty Hardin on the George Culor directed “The Chapman Report” (1962), for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama in 1963.

Johns appeared in various television shows in the early 1960s, including NBC's adventure pilot “Safari” (1962), based on “The African Queen,” which cast her alongside James Coburn, “Naked City,” “ Dr. Kildare” and “The Lloyd Bridges Show,” before starring as a mystery writer in her own sitcom on CBS called “Glynis.” Created by Jess Oppenheimer, the show unfortunately was canceled after 13 episodes. The show later reached the top 10 when it was brought back by the network in reruns during the summer of 1965.

In 1964, Johns delivered one of her best performances, as the nutty suffragette wife of David Tomlinson on the Disney tour de force “Mary Poppins,” starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The role brought her a Golden Laurel for Supporting Performance, Female in 1965. The film received general acclaim from film critics and also was a box office success. She followed it up with a standout turn as James Stewart's practical spouse in the comedy/family movie “Dear Brigette” (1965), directed by Henry Koster, and a brief bit as screwball author in Ron Winston's comedy, “Don't Just Stand There” (1968), opposite Robert Wagner and Mary Tyler Moore. Meanwhile, in 1967, she played  villainess Lady Penelope Peasoup on several episodes of the ABC hit series “Batman,” which starred Adam West as the title character.     

Johns did not take many screen projects during the 1970s, though she maintained fine acting on the film version of Dylan Thomas' “Under Milkwood” (1972), where she appeared along with Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole. In 1973, the husky voiced actress scored success on the stage with her starring role of Desiree Armfeldt in the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's musical, “A Little Night Music,” opposite Len Cariou (as Fredrik Egerman) and Hermione Gingold (as Madame Armfeldt). Under the direction of Harold Prince, she took home a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.

Johns made her American television miniseries debut in “Little Gloria... Happy at Last” (1982), directed by Waris Hussein and starring Angela Lansbury, Christopher Plummer and Maureen Stapleton. In the following year, she appeared as Shelley Long's mother on an episode of NBC's “Cheers” called “Someone Single, Someone Blue.” In 1988, she returned to series television as a regular in “Coming of Age” (CBS, 1989-1990), where she played  Trudie Pepper, a senior citizen living in an Arizona retirement community. Co-stars in the series included Alan Young, Phyllis Newman and Paul Dooley. 1988 also saw roles in the films “Zelly and Me,” “Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School” (TV) and “Nukie.”      

In 1990, Johns was cast opposite Rex Harrison in a Broadway revival of W. Somerset Maugham's play “The Circle,” but the death of Harrison in his New York apartment from cancer subsequently ended the show's run. In the next year, she took the role of Madame Armfeldt, the mother of the character she created in the original, in a Los Angeles revival of “A Little Night Music.” Lee Remick was set to play Desiree but withdrew because of illness and was replaced by Lois Nettleton.  

“I've been doing songs from the show off and on through the years. So I've never really been away. Even a few months ago, I was singing “Send in the Clowns” for a charity performance. But my doctors were advising that I not work for a couple of months--that I needed to relax, take it easy, do physiotherapy for my dental problems. More specifically, I had to make the decision about whether I wanted to come back playing another role: to hear somebody else eight performances a week, doing something that I was used to doing. You know, “Clowns” was written for me.” Glynis Johns (on her return to “A Little Night Music”).

On the silver screen, Johns played the role of Rose Chasseur in Ted Demme's “The Ref” (1994), starring udy Davis, Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary, and then appeared as the grandmother of Peter Gallagher in “While You Were Sleeping” (1995), starring Sandra Bullock. She again appeared as an eccentric grandmother in “Superstar” (1999), a comedy starring Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell, Harland Williams and Elaine Hendrix.        

In 1998, Johns starred as Myrtle Bledsoe in the premiere of Horton Foote's “A Coffin in Egypt” at the Bay Street Theatre. The same year, she was named a Disney Legend.


Awards:

Tony:  Best Actress in a Musical, “A Little Night Music,” 1973
Laurel: Golden Laurel, Supporting Performance, Female, “Mary Poppins,” 1965 Show Less
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