- Eleanor Summerfield
- It was always nice when Eleanor Summerfield popped
up. There was something very pleasing and undemanding about the
moment when she came into view - either on stage or in one of
the forty films in which she featured. Age gave a patina to her
adopted gaucheness. She never bothered with anything as silly
- She was born in London on 7 March 1921, studied at the Royal
Academy of Dramatic Art and was awarded the Gold Medal for her
efforts. She had already begun to establish herself as a capable
film actress (usually in support) when she was cast as Mary Cresset
in Her Excellency at the London Hippodrome in 1949. Summerfield
had to battle with an overpowering leading lady, Cicely Courtneidge,
and the appearance of both actresses on stage must have made
audiences aware that Summerfield had some of Courtneidge's aptitude
for the zany. Her Excellency was a big duff.
- There can be little doubt that Summerfield would much rather
have been remembered for her important part in Golden City, a
lumbering, heavily spectacular Rhodesian musical by John Tore,
seen at the Adelphi Theatre in October 1950. It had a mild run
of 140 performances; even the seriously over-populated cast list
(audiences needed to be on their toes to differentiate the characters)
couldn't save it. As the louche Cape Town saloon owner Mabel
Page, Summerfield attracted attention by singing 'What more is
there to say?' and 'Gold digging digger', but Golden City was
a gargantuan dinosaur that slipped easily into oblivion.
- Oblivion was probably the best place for When in Rome, an
Italian musical by the untiring team of Garinei and Giovannini
(their other musicals, Beyond the Rainbow and Enrico, also inexplicably
reached London). It played at the Adelphi Theatre from Christmas
1959, with Summerfield cast as the older, secondary, female lead,
billed below June Laverick. No one was ever going to be seriously
concerned with When in Rome, one of those shows that seemed perfect
for punters who didn't know anything about musicals, but the
'common touch' casting of variety performer Dickie Henderson
Jnr. ensured a very modest success. Playing the glamorous (but
singularly badly turned-out) widow Yvonne Rinaldi, Summerfield
seemed quite incidental. Her opening number, a duet with Frank
Leighton entitled 'Call it Primavera' sounded like an advertisement
for triangular cheese.
- It was her last West End musical. In 1974 she played Maud,
Countess of Littlehampton in a musical by David Wood and Iwan
Williams based on the cartoon character of Osbert Lancaster.
Maudie played out its brief tenure at the Thorndike Theatre,
Leatherhead, but didn't find an afterlife; a pity, as it seemed
an ideal role for someone of Summerfield's qualities and age.
If musicals didn't come up with the goods, she was sometimes
rewarded by good parts in films and on radio. For a time she
also played her part in the Late Joys Victorian music hall programmes
at the Players Theatre in Villiers Street, and it was here that
she met Leonard Sachs, marrying him in 1947.
- Eleanor Summerfield died in London on 13 July 2001, having
eluded stardom but won a sure fondness with the British public.
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