Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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A Partnership Which Brought Success
From: Film Reel magazine
Undated but c1948
How many men would admit that their success could be almost entirely attributed to the help and devotion of their wife? Dennis Price is one. He firmly maintains that his wife is the key to his present place in the realms of screen fame.
In the first place, if well-meant warnings had been taken seriously, Dennis Price would not now be delighting audiences all over Britain with his fascinating screen personality. And, indeed, although he won prizes for elocution and acting at his school, the inevitable family warnings fell thick and fast about his shoulders. A friend of the family, himself an established actor, added his remarks to the rest, saying: "It's a starving job, my boy. If you are lucky you may jump over some of the others to fame and fortune; never imagine that you are there for good."
With these words echoing in his ears, Dennis left school and went to Oxford University to read for the Church. Here he took part in the college amateur dramatic productions and still yearned to step out on "the boartds" as an actor in his own right. During his holidays, while at his home in Berkshire, he again pondered the problem, and finally decided to take the plunge. The lure of the footlights was too much of a temptation.
He abandoned his ecclesiastical studies and left college to put his whims into practise. Things were by no means plain sailing at first. He sought no easy way to quick success and wisely chose to struggle for recognition by way of that hardest of training schools - repertory. For a year he went to the Embassy School of Acting and then, in 1938, at the age of 21, he joined a repertory company and toured the country to gain experience. One of the many young actors who were hoping to work their way to fame, he found that instead of a congregation of attentive listeners, he had an audience of highly critcal play-goers. Somehow his name did not seem to register with these people, who had such short memories.
Pay days came and pay days went and still Dennis persevered. Pay packets were painfully thin and from Friday to Friday was eternity after the week-end had passed. Then suddenly all this changed. As if he had been spotlighted in solitary glory on the stage of one of the comapny's own productions, his life was illuminated by another presence. A slim, attractive and vital young woman joined the unhonoured ranks of the Croydon Rep. Her stage name was Joan Schofield, daughter of Major-General Cecil Temperley.
One morning they both arrived early for a dress rehearsal. Dennis pored over his script with a worried expression? Would he fluff his lines at the crucial moment? So, to mae quite sure, he handed his MS. to Joan and together they went over the words.
After that it became a regular routine with them, and they often met to help and practise with each other. Things began to look up for Dennis and for Joan as well. With someone to remind him how far away was the next pay day, to hear his lines and to offer useful criticism and to soothe his tempers or goad him to even greater efforts - it was the ideal partnership. Together they shaped their stage careers and a year later, in 1939, they were married at St. Paul's Church, Knightsbridge.
Dennis then went back to Oxford and joined the repertory company there. At the Oxford Playhouse the audiences remembered the promise shown by this tall, dark young man with the curly hair. Dennis scored an outstanding success in the play String Quartet, which was booked for a West End showing. But the Blitz intervened and the production was cancelled. The war went on and in 1940 Dennis enlisted in the Army as an A.A. gunner. he served until 1942 when he was invalided out. He took his wife and baby daughter, Susan, to live near Windsor.
Fortunately an interlude in the Forces had done nothing to diminish his acting ability. For a time he joined Nöel Coward and went on a thirty week tour with Present Laughter and This Happy Breed. When Nöel Coward was suddenly taken ill, Dennis played the leading parts at Bournemouth and Exeter. When the plays came to London, Dennis came with them and made his West End debut at the Haymarket Theatre. Then came his big chance.
Producer Michael Powell, of Archers Films Ltd., visited the Arts Theatre where Dennis was appearing in a Festival of English Comedy. He was so impressed by his performance that he immediately offered him the part of the English Sergeant in A Canterbury Tale. As soon as this picture was finished, Dennis was put under contract by the J. Arthur Rank Organisation. Most of the story is known only too well.
A series of pictures for Gainsborough followed, including such box-office favourites as Caravan, A Place of One's Own, Hungry Hill, The Magic Bow, Master of Bankdam, Dear Murdered, Holiday Camp, Jassy and, most recently, The White Unicorn.
Though he has frequently been cast in tragic and even villainous parts, Dennis is remarkable for his versatility and depth of character. His quiet effectiveness has often been compared with that of the late Leslie Howard.
Life is strenuous for a star and Dennis still looks to his wife for settlement of a decision which has to be made.
With a feeling of achievement, Dennis and Joan can now look back on their hard repertory days together and feel that they are safely behind.
At present working hard, Dennis will soon be seen in three more films. Firstly Snowbound, then Good Time Girl with Jean Kent and lastly, but by no means least, as the adventurer-poet in The Bad Lord Byron.
As a person who has certainly "come up the hard way," Dennis Price deserves all the honours as one of the foremost of British screen stars at the age of 33. And Dennis? He hands on the laurels to Joan.
Dennis and Joan had two daughters and stayed married until they divorced in 1950.
Dennis tried to commit suicide in 1954, but carried on working, often in some quite dire films, until his death in 1973. He often succumbed to the temptations of the bottle and it was cirrhosis of the liver that finally did for him.
St. Paul's Church, Knightsbridge has a plaque on the wall to the ladies of F.A.N.Y. (the First aid Nursing Yeomanry) who were killed in the war. Their appointment in "the Fannys" was usually a cover for their real job as agents in S.O.E. One of those commemorated on that plaque is Violette Szabo, which brings us back to the Leo Marks connection.