Traumatised Teens & a Spoilt Spouse – Remembering Heather Sears (1935–1994)

Posted in Remember by - November 02, 2015
Traumatised Teens & a Spoilt Spouse – Remembering Heather Sears (1935–1994)

Petite and pretty with a mass of talent, the quiet and often beguiling Heather Sears had the power to shine on both stage and screen. And although she only appeared in 10 movies in her long (if sporadic) career, she managed to inject her characters with genuine warmth and emotion, leaving a haunting impression on many who saw her.

Sears was born on September 28th 1935, and, after attending drama school in London, won a contract with Romulus Films where she was mentored by director Jack Clayton. After minor bit parts in the 1955 Jack Hawkins comedy ‘Touch and Go’ and the Ronald Shiner cockney farce ‘Dry Rot’ (’56), Heather would land an early juicy role that would bring her to the attention of both the public and critics.

In 1957 Heather was hand-picked to play the title role in Jack Clayton’s production of ‘The Story of Esther Costello’, as a 15 year old girl rendered deaf, dumb and blind after a childhood accident (in a compelling opening scene). Joan Crawford was the caring socialite who takes Esther into her care and, although Sear’s performance was later overshadowed by Patti Duke’s faultless performance in ‘The Miracle Worker’, Heather was still excellent in a difficult role, and convincingly conveyed her character’s initial struggle to communicate. Though at times overly melodramatic, it was a very good movie and earned Sears a BAFTA for Best Actress, and much international praise. After filming, Heather married the movie’s art director Tony Masters, and they would remain together until his death in 1990.

It would be Sears’ next film role though, that she is probably best remembered for, as the loving and naïve Susan Brown, the spoilt daughter of Donald Wolfit’s imposing industrialist, in Jack Clayton’s blistering drama ‘Room at the Top’. Laurence Harvey starred as Joe Lampton, an ambitious young man with big dreams, whose affair with a married woman (played wonderfully by an Oscar-winning Simone Signoret) resulted in tragic consequences. A deserved classic of British cinema, it’s still a powerful and devastating movie, and one that ushered in a new wave of realism. Travelling to Australia, Heather made the very good crime picture ‘The Siege of Pinchgut’ (’59) playing a caretaker’s daughter who’s taken hostage by Aldo Ray’s escaped convict. Largely forgotten in the UK, it remains something of a classic in Australia. Another good role came the following year in Jack Cardiff’s sensitive drama ‘Sons and Lovers’ (’60), as the academic friend of Dean Stockwell’s artistic yet browbeaten teenager. She was abducted again, this time in Hammer’s 1962 remake of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, as the rising opera star Christine Charles, who’s fixated upon by Herbert Lom’s Phantom.

Heather’s last film role of note came in the 1964 gothic horror ‘The Black Torment’, starring as Lady Elizabeth Fordyke, the new bride of John Turner’s Sir Richard Fordyke, a Lord who has been accused of murder by local villagers. Busy raising a family, only periodic TV appearances followed, including the series ‘The Informer’ (’66-7) as disgraced barrister Ian Hendry’s wife. In the 1970’s Sears returned to the theatre, starring in both the Classics as well as plays by Alan Ayckbourn and Harold Pinter. On television, she appeared in a 1974 remake of ‘Great Expectations’, playing the orphan Biddy who befriends young Pip. After a couple of more television guest spots, Heather’s final screen role was in the obscure 1989 movie ‘The Last Day of School’.

Married to Tony Masters for over 30 years, and with 3 sons, Heather Sears sadly died of multiple organ failure, on January 3rd 1994. She was only 58. A genuine talent, Heather managed to leave her mark in some impressive Black & White pictures, and gave outstanding performances in a couple of unforgettable ones.

Favourite Movie: Room at the Top
Favourite Performance: The Story of Esther Costello

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