Nova Pilbeam, Young Star of Alfred Hitchcock Films, Dies at 95
She stood out in 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' and 'The Girl Was Young' (and missed a chance at 'Rebecca') before going into seculsion in the early 1950s.
Nova Pilbeam, the young British actress who starred in the early Alfred Hitchcock films The Man Who Knew Too Much and The Girl Was Young before disappearing from show business, has died. She was 95.
Pilbeam died July 16, the Independent newspaper reported. No other details of her death were immediately available.
In 1939, she married Pen Tennyson, Hitchcock’s assistant on The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). The great-grandson of poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, he was killed in a plane crash in Scotland in 1941.
At age 14 and a star of the stage, Pilbeam was cast as a youngster caught in the middle of her parents' scandalous divorce in the Gaumont-British production Little Friend (1934). She then signed a seven-year contract with the studio.
In Hitchcock’s first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much — he would remake the film with stars James Stewart and Doris Day for Paramount in 1956 — the Wimbledon native portrayed Betty Lawrence. The daughter of a couple who learn that an assassination of a foreign dignitary at Albert Hall is being planned, she’s kidnapped by Abbott (Peter Lorre) to keep her folks quiet.
After starring as English monarch Lady Jane Grey in Nine Days a Queen (1936), Pilbeam played Erica, the daughter of a police chief who goes on the run with a man (Derrick De Marney) who has been falsely accused of murder, in 1937’s The Girl Was Young (also known as Young and Innocent),
“I think it was quite the sunniest film I was involved with,” she said in 1990 in a rare interview. “We didn't use doubles. I did that scene in the mine myself, and it was my husband-to-be, Pen's, hand holding me up as I dangled there. I was terrified! But Hitch had this quirky sense of humor and made that scene go on and on so I thought my arm would come out of its socket."
Hitchcock reportedly wanted her to star in Rebecca (1940), but Joan Fontaine was given the top female role, and her next film was Cheer Boys Cheer (1939), a Romeo & Juliet-like story.
She followed by starring in such films as Pastor Hall (1940), Three Wise Brides (1941), The Next of Kin (1942), Yellow Canary (1943), This Man Is Mine (1946), Green Fingers (1947), The Three Weird Sisters (1948) and her last film, Devil’s Plot (1948).
Her final screen appearance came in the 1951 television movie The Shining Hour, and she portrayed Tracy Lord, the role Katharine Hepburn made famous, in a touring production of The Philadelphia Story that year.
“What I really wanted to do in the '40s was the theater, and I did do quite a bit,” she said in 1990. “The films I made were not mostly very good, and I didn't particularly like the business of filming. My first husband was in the profession and, had he not been killed, I might have stayed in it.”
She married BBC journalist Alexander Whyte in 1950 and lived in obscurity in north London, the Independent noted.