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Submitted by Roger Mellor
The Telegraph; June 21st 2003
Belle Chrystall, who has died aged 93, made her name as an early British film star playing Jenny Hawthorne in Hindle Wakes and Vicky Hobson in Hobson's Choice, both in 1931; she was later the face of Lux soap.
The actress said she was born on April 25 1910 at Fleetwood, Lancashire. (Unsurprisingly, it has been suggested that Belle Chrystall was not her given name, but this has never been proved, as she destroyed her birth certificate.) Following her education at Preston School for Girls, Westbourne High School and Cheltenham Ladies' College, she studied Law at King's College London. But her heart was not in it. "I never intended to be a lawyer," she said. "In my heart I always knew it was an acting life for me."
After some initial conflict with her parents, in 1927 Belle Chrystall went on to RADA, where she studied with Charles Laughton - who was later to appear in the remake of Hobson's Choice. She made her stage debut in Crime in 1928, and after some two dozen further engagements set her sights on a film career. She took a small part in the film A Warm Corner (1930), for the Gainsborough Studios at Shepherd's Bush, and in 1931 she struck lucky after writing to the director Victor Saville, begging for an interview. After a successful screen test opposite John Stuart, she was signed up for Hindle Wakes.
The solid manner in which she played the Lancashire mill girl who is found out after spending the weekend with the mill owner's son seemed to presage a splendid career. "I was a sensation," was Belle Chrystall's own estimation of her performance. "Great things were prophesied for me." The Daily Telegraph, although admiring her skills, was less effusive: "With more experience," wrote E A Baughan, "she will be less self-conscious in the use of her eyes."
Belle Chrystall went on to play Vicky Hobson in Hobson's Choice (1931); Aisla Crane in The Frightened Lady (1933); and appeared opposite George Curzon and Della Lind in The Scotland Yard Mystery (1933), a thriller which Picturegoer magazine described as having "more twists and turns than a rollercoaster". This was followed by a showy role as Mary Summers in Friday the Thirteenth (1934), opposite Jessie Matthews and Sonnie Hale, and a part in The Girl in the Flat (1934).
Her most notable film during the mid-1930s was Edge of the World (1937); filmed on Foula in Shetland, it was directed by Michael Powell. Film Pictorial called Belle Chrystall's performance "breathtaking", and the magazine received a number of letters praising her fine work. At last it seemed that Belle Chrystall had been given a break.
More than 60 years after its release, Edge of the World opened the 2000 New York film festival. Audiences once again applauded her performance under Powell's direction; the actor John Travolta described the film as "beautiful, thrilling and profoundly moving".
Towards the end of 1937 Belle Chrystall appeared in the religious short Follow Your Star, alongside Arthur Tracy. But she failed to achieve longevity as a major star, with many producers appearing to prefer to import faded Americans. Walter Mycroft, however, was an exception: when the leading lady, Diana Churchill, pulled out of Yellow Sands (1938), due to exhaustion (she was honeymooning in the South of France with Barry K Barnes), Mycroft called for Belle Chrystall. She followed it with the lead in Anything to Declare? (1938); Breakers Ahead (1938); and Poison Pen (1939), with Flora Robson and Robert Newton.
Following a number of supporting roles in plays for BBC Radio, in 1940 Belle Chrystall made her final appearance on screen in Castle of Crime, directed by Harold French. She then took to modelling, and for a brief spell was the face of Lux toilet soap. In 1946, after her marriage, she announced her retirement; the following year she gave birth to a daughter, Chrystal.
"I was never as hungry as many contemporaries," Belle Chrystall once remarked. 'I adored my career on screen and the adulation it brought me, but it was no subsitute for marriage and a family."
Belle Chrystall, who died on June 7, married Roy Proctor in 1946. He died in 1990. Their daughter died in 1999.
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