Nosy Neighbours & Busy Busybodies – Estelle Winwood (1883–1984)

Posted in Rewind by - April 08, 2015
Nosy Neighbours & Busy Busybodies – Estelle Winwood (1883–1984)

A wonderful stage actress and later character performer who specialized in dotty busybodies, Estelle Winwood’s first love was the stage, where she would spend the first twenty years of her career before gaining her first movie appearance.

Born in Kent, England, on January 24th 1883, Estelle was acting in London’s West End before moving to New York in 1916 where she made her Broadway debut. The next two decades were spent commuting between London and New York where Estelle excelled in theatre, appearing in many popular productions including ‘Moliere’ (1919), ‘The Tyranny of Love’ (1921), ‘ The Taming of the Shrew’ (1925), ‘Fallen Angels’ (1927), and ‘The Admirable Crighton’ (1931).

After a handful of minor roles, Winwood’s first part of note was in the George Stevens romancer ‘Quality Street’ (’37) starring Katherine Hepburn and Franchot Tone. Estelle was very good as a suspicious neighbour and helped liven up this rather dull production. After a few television roles (which included playing the medium Madame Arcati in a 1946 version of ‘Blithe Spirit’) Winwood’s next movie would not be until 1955, when she played Leslie Caron’s Fairy Godmother in the Cinderella story ‘The Glass Slipper’. The following year she was a jovial barmaid in the terrific suspenser ‘23 Paces to Baker Street’ (’56), and then had a wonderfully eccentric role as Grace Kelly’s great-aunt Symphorosa in Charles Vidor’s lush romantic comedy ‘The Swan’ (’56).

One of Winwood’s most memorable roles came a couple of years later when she played Curd Jürgens’ alcoholic housekeeper in the charming Blake Edwards romp ‘This Happy Feeling’ (’58), which also starred Debbie Reynolds and a young John Saxon. Estelle was great fun and stole the show as a cocktail loving lush. Estelle was then a sort of Disney villain in the early Sean Connery adventure ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ (‘59), playing the interfering mother to Kieron Moore’s local bully. Her best role at this time though was in the enjoyable retirement-home comedy ‘Alive and Kicking’ (’59), playing a bored resident seeking adventure in old-age, alongside the excellent Kathleen Harrison and Sybil Thorndike.

Winwood’s next movie role was in the bar scene in John Huston’s ‘The Misfits’ (’61), playing a kindly old lady collecting money for the church. After playing Kim Novak’s neighbour in the Jack Lemmon caper ‘The Notorious Landlady’, Winwood had a fun part as a witch in Bert I. Gordon’s enjoyable spoof ‘The Magic Sword’ (both ’62). Back among the A-list, Estelle was then Bette Davis’s aunt in the exciting evil-twin thriller ‘Dead Ringer’ (’64), directed by Davis’ ‘Now, Voyager’ co-star Paul Henreid.

After guest spots on ‘Perry Mason’ and ‘Bewitched’, Estelle found 1967 to be a very diverse year. First she was Vanessa Redgrave’s lady-in-waiting in Joshua Logan’s overlong but lavish musical ‘Camelot’, and then a neighbour with a missing cat, in Curtis Harrington’s watchable thriller ‘Games’. Finally she was memorable in Mel Brooks’ cult comedy ‘The Producers’, playing an amorous old lady backing Zero Mostel’s certain-to-flop musical. After more television work Winwood’s final movie was the very funny spoof ‘Murder by Death’ (’76), playing the aged nurse to Elsa Lanchester’s Miss Marbles. She was a joy to watch and once again stole the show from a fantastic cast that included Oscar winners Alec Guinness, Maggie Smith and David Niven. Estelle’s final screen appearance was in a 1980 episode of ‘Quincy’ which, at 96 years of age, made her the oldest actor working in America.

Married four times, Estelle Winwood died in her sleep in California, on June 20th 1984, aged 101. In an acting career of over 80 years, she was the oldest member of the Screen Actors Guild at the time of her death. A wonderful scene-stealer and vastly talented actress, the shrewd Estelle Winwood was a perfectionist who didn’t suffer fools and always called the shots on her career path. And what a diverse career it was!

Favourite Movie: 23 Paces to Baker Street
Favourite Performance: Alive and Kicking

This post was written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *