Perlita Neilson

Perlita Neilson
Perlita Neilson

Perlita Neilson was born in 1933 in Bradford, Yorkshire.   She made her movie debut in 1949 in “Three Bags Full”.   Her other films include “The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan” in 1952 and  “She Did’nt Say No” in 1958.   She has also featured in several television series in the UK.   She died in 2014.

“The Stage” obituary:

After being highly praised for her portrayal of the Jewish heroine in The Diary of Anne Frank (1956-57), Perlita Neilson was invited to star in Hollywood’s film version of the play. But she rejected the offer, saying that a film contract would have kept her away from the theatre for too long.

She was taken aback by her success in the play, which tells the harrowing tale of a Dutch schoolgirl who hid from the Gestapo for two years during the Second World War. She was also surprised to be chosen, as she was not Jewish herself.

But she hugely admired the adaptation from the book and received wise words from Frith Banbury, the director of the production at the Phoenix, who told her: “Never feel sorry for the people you are playing. Otherwise, it will get between you and the acting.”

She made her West End debut at the London Coliseum as one of the children in Irving Berlin’s musical, Annie Get Your Gun (1947-48). The following year, she made the first of two appearances in Peter Pan at the old Scala.

Her talents as an actress did not properly emerge until she appeared in Lace on Her Petticoat (1950-51) at the Ambassadors. The production transferred to Broadway, but Neilson did not enjoy the experience: “I did not think American theatres had the same atmosphere or audience and I missed London.”

From 1954 to 1955, she appeared at the Bristol Old Vic, where she was singled out for special praise for her performance as a servant in the British premiere of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Back in London, she was seen in a new translation of Chekhov’s The Seagull (1956) at the Saville, with Diana Wynyard and Hugh Williams.

She was a devotee of the plays of Shaw and relished her appearances in Heartbreak House (1961) at Wyndham’s and Getting Married (1967) at the Strand. Throughout her life, she was passionate about the theatre and admitted walking out of only one play she saw, Edward Bond’s surreal Early Morning, which alleged a lesbian relationship between Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale – something she found ridiculous.

Perlita Neilson, who was born Margaret Sowden in Bradford on June 11, 1933, died in Hove on April 7, aged 80.

“The Stage” obituary above can also be accessed online here.

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