This week we pay tribute to Geraldine McEwan, who died on January 30th at the age of 82.
McEwan was most recently seen on PBS as Miss Marple, in the Agatha Christie adaptations which ran from 2004-2009. You might also remember her from the quirky sitcom Mulberry in the 1990s, as well as her portrayal of Lucia in E. F. Benson’s Mapp & Lucia in the 1980s.
Born in Old Windsor, McEwan grew up in a working class family. Her father was a printers’ compositor and her mother was Irish. As a child, she was very shy, but found her voice on stage at the Theatre Royal performing at the age of just 14 as an attendant fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Windsor Rep., where one of the theatre’s two directors was a former teacher, Hugh Cruttwell.
Cruttwell was still working at the theatre in 1949, when McEwan left school and got a job there as assistant stage manager. Cruttwell, who was fourteen years older than McEwan, was furious that someone so young without any training had been hired. Two years later, McEwan moved from Windsor to London’s West End, where she was the talk of the town, appearing in a play with film star Dirk Bogarde. Two years after that, the young actress found herself being directed by Cruttwell in a play aptly called Quiet Wedding. Cruttwell asked McEwan out and the couple married in 1953. They had two children, a boy and a girl, Greg and Claudia.
From London, McEwan headed to Stratford where she took over from Joan Plowright, starring opposite Laurence Olivier in The Entertainer. Her Broadway debut was in 1963 in The School for Scandal, which starred John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. In 1965, following her husband’s appointment as Principal of The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, McEwan joined Olivier’s National Theatre Company at the Old Vic.
Cruttwell remained in his position at RADA for 18 years, nurturing the careers of so many of the actors we see daily on Afternoon Tea. McEwan meanwhile continued to work on the stage throughout the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. She also appeared on television and in films, such as the 1991 hit Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner.
In 2002, just a year short of their Golden Wedding Anniversary, after a long illness, Cruttwell died. The couple had known each other for almost 60 years and his death left a huge hole in her life. Helping fill it though were her children and grandchildren and she sold her home and bought two separate ones near each of her children, so she could enjoy being around her grandchildren. The role of Jane Marple came along a year or so later and although the twelve hour days were exhausting - she was 72 at the time - McEwan loved every minute of it.
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