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10 April 2017

Heather Angel

Flower-like British-American actress Heather Angel (1909-1986) was in high demand both in British films and in Hollywood throughout the 1930s. In 1937, she began playing Phyllis Clavering in the popular serial about Bulldog Drummond. After the war she mainly worked for television.

Heather Angel
British postcard by Milton Postcards, no. 72. Photo: Fox Films.

Heather Angel
British postcard by De Reszke Cigarettes, no. 12. Photo: possibly a publicity still for The Hound of the Baskervilles (Gareth Gundrey, 1931).

Hitchcock


Heather Grace Angel was born in Headington, Oxford, England, in 1909. She was brought up on a farm near Banbury, and was the younger of two sisters. Her mother was born Mary Letitia Stock, and her father was Andrea Angel, an Oxford University chemistry lecturer who was killed in the Silvertown explosion in 1917 and posthumously awarded the Edward Medal.

Angel was trained at the London Polytechnic of Dramatic Arts. She made her professional debut at age 17, at the Old Vic in 1926 and later appeared with touring companies. Her Broadway debut came in December 1937, in Love of Women at the Golden Theatre. She also appeared in The Wookey (1941–1942).

Angel appeared in many British films before going to Hollywood. Heather was 20 years old when she landed a bit part for Bulldog Drummond (1929). Although she didn't know it at the time, she would become a staple of that particular series eight years hence. She made her real film debut in City of Song (Carmine Gallone, 1931) with Jan Kiepura.

She had a leading role in Night in Montmartre (Leslie S. Hiscott, 1931), and followed this success with The Hound of the Baskervilles (Gareth Gundrey, 1932), based on the Sherlock Holmes novel by Arthur Conan Doyle.

In 1933, she was signed to a Hollywood contract by Fox Studios, appearing in a handful of quality productions like Berkeley Square (Frank Lloyd, 1933) with Leslie Howard. Over the next few years, she played strong roles in such films as The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Stuart Walker, 1935) starring Claude Rains, The Three Musketeers (Rowland V. Lee, 1935), The Informer (John Ford, 1935) opposite Victor McLaglen, and The Last of the Mohicans (George B. Seitz, 1936).

Paramount's Bulldog Drummond series got off to a start with Bulldog Drummond Escapes (James Hogan, 1937). Up-and-coming Ray Milland stars as soldier-of-fortune Hugh ‘Bulldog’ Drummond, who on this occasion comes to the aid of pretty heiress Phyllis Clavering (Heather Angel).

After the popular series ended, Angel was cast as Kitty Bennett in Pride and Prejudice (Robert Z. Leonard, 1940), starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, and as the maid, Ethel, in Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock, 1941) with Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. Angel was the leading lady in Time to Kill (Herbert I. Leeds, 1942), the first screen version of Raymond Chandler's The High Window. In Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944), she played the near-comatose and half-mad woman with the dead baby, one of the eight passengers of a lifeboat lost at sea after a U-boat attack.

Heather Angel
British postcard in the Film Stars and Their Pets series by Valentine's Postcards, no. 5843L.

Heather Angel
British postcard in the Film Stars and Their Pets series by Valentine's Postcards, no. 7113 L, ca. 1934.

Disney


In 1944, Heather Angel filed a Petition for Naturalization as a citizen of the United States. Her film appearances in the years after the war were few. In fact, she wasn't seen again on the silver screen until The Saxon Charm (Claude Binyon, 1948).

Later she returned to Hollywood to provide voices for the Walt Disney animated films Alice in Wonderland (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, 1951) and Peter Pan (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, 1953).

From 1964 until 1965, she played a continuing role in the television soap opera Peyton Place. After that role, she played Miss Faversham, a nanny and female friend of Sebastian Cabot's character of Giles French in the situation comedy Family Affair (1966-1971).

Her last screen appearance was in the TV mini-series Backstairs at the White House (Michael O'Herlihy, 1979) when she played President Harry Truman's mother-in-law.

In 1934, Heather Angel had married actor Ralph Forbes. After their divorce in 1937, Angel married Robert B. Sinclair, a film and television director in 1944. She lived quietly in her later years, working very occasionally. On 4 January 1970, an intruder broke into their Montecito, California home. When Sinclair attempted to protect Angel, the prowler killed Sinclair in Angel's presence, then fled. The prowler turned out to be a University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) graduate student, Billy McCoy Hunter. He was allegedly found with a knife and pistol when arrested. Wikipedia mentions that the incident is believed to have been a failed burglary.

Some sources mention her former co-star Henry Wilcoxon as her third husband, but according to Wikipedia they were only lifelong friends. In 1986, Heather Angel died from cancer in Santa Barbara, California, and was buried in Santa Barbara Cemetery. She was 77.

Leslie Howard and Heather Angel in Berkeley Square (1933)
British postcard in the Film Partners Series, London, no. P 123. Photo: Fox. Publicity still for Berkeley Square (Frank Lloyd, 1933) with Leslie Howard.

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Denny Jackson (IMDb), TCM, Wikipedia, and IMDb.

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