Gracie Fields

Gracie Fields, originally uploaded by Truus, Bob & Jan too!.

Gracie Fields (1898-1979), born Grace Stansfield, was a British singer, comedienne and stage and film actress. In the 1930s she was a top box office draw and the best paid actress in Britain.

Born over a chip shop in Rochdale, Lancashire, Gracie Fields started as child actor in 1905. Her two sisters and brother went to stage too, but Gracie proved to be more successful. In 1910 she had her professional debut in variety in Rochdale. Fields met comedian Archie Pitt and joined forces. Pitt became her manager, and the two married in 1923. Between 1915 and 1924 they toured the UK with their revues; with the last revue Mr Tower of London Fields reached West End, started a dramatic career and the recording of her songs too. Fields became a wildly popular music-hall singer with her particular style of “a mixture of self-deprecating jokes, comic songs and monologues, as well as cheerful "depression-era" songs all presented in a "no-airs-and-graces" Northern, working class style”, as Wikipedia writes. Because of her strong interaction with her audiences, Fields caused sold out theatres all over Britain and became one of the highest paid performers.

In the 1930s Fields reached the peak of her career and was awarded various honours. After her marriage with Pitt fell down, she donated her London house to a maternal hospital. When she fell ill with cancer in 1939 and retired to her villa in Capri, she was covered in goodwill messages, and after recovery recorded the song ‘Gracie’s Thanks’ to thank all her fans for sending al the mail. In 1940 she married Italian-born film director Monty Banks, and would have been interned in Britain because of the war, so she left for the US and entertained the Allied troops all over the world, but thus disappointed her British fans. After the war she returned to Britain in 1948 to perform, returning to her old popularity though never regaining the heights of the 1930s. Though Fields stopped playing in films, she continued making records. She had lost her British nationality after her marriage but regained it at the end of her life when made a DBE, becoming Dame Gracie Fields.

Fields’ most famous song was ‘Sally’, the title song of her first sound film, the First World War drama Sally in Our Alley (Maurice Elvey 1931), which was an enormous success. Fields continued to make various films in the UK and the US, though she always preferred to perform in front of a live audience. After Sally in Our Alley, she continued to make films for the Ealing studios directed by Elvey such as This Week of Grace (1933) but also comedies and musicals directed by Basil Dean, such as Look Up and Laugh (1935), and by Monty Banks (Queen of Hearts, 1936). In 1938 she played in Monty Banks’ musical comedy set in Australia in the 1880s: We’re Going to Be Rich, with Victor McLaglen as Fields’ partner. Next came to other Banks films, the first still made in the UK and the second in the US: Keep Smiling (1938) and Shipyard Sally (1939). During the war Fields played in two American musical comedies with Monty Woolley (Holy Matrimony, 1943; Molly and Me, 1945) and one war drama with Constance Bennett (Paris Underground, 1945). After the war she played in television, between 1956 and 1963, including a role of Miss Marple in the Agatha Christie tv-film A Murder is Announced (1956), part of the Goodyear Playhouse Television series. Fields was also a regular guest in tv shows, including the religiously themed variety show Stars on Sunday (1971).

See and hear 'Sally':

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