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Dame Margaret Rutherford, DBE (11 May 1892 – 22 May 1972) was an Englishmarker character actress, who first came to prominence following World War II in the film adaptations of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. She is best-known for her 1960s performances as Miss Marple in several films loosely based on Agatha Christie's novels.

Early life

Born in the (then) Surrey town of Balhammarker, she was the only child of Mr and Mrs William Rutherford Benn (William Rutherford). Her father suffered from mental illness for many years, and on 4 March 1883, he battered his father to death.

As an infant, Rutherford was taken to India, but was returned to Britain when she was three to live with her aunt, Bessie Nicholson, when her mother died. She was educated at the independent Wimbledon High Schoolmarker and at RADA.


Having worked as a teacher of elocution, she went into acting later in life - making her stage debut at the Old Vicmarker in 1925 at the age of thirty-three. Her physical appearance was such that romantic heroines were almost out of the question, and she soon established her name in comedy, appearing in many of the most successful British films of the mid-20th century. "I never intended to play for laughs. I am always surprised that the audience thinks me funny at all," Rutherford wrote in her autobiography. In most of these films, she had originally played the role on stage. She married the actor Stringer Davis in 1945. They often appeared together in films.

In the 1950s, Rutherford and Davis adopted the writer Gordon Langley Hall, then in his twenties. Hall later had gender reassignment surgery and became Dawn Langley Simmons, under which name she wrote a biography of Rutherford in 1983.

In 1957, Rutherford appeared as Cynthia Gordon in the episode "The Kissing Bandit" of the Americanmarker sitcom filmed in England, Dick and the Duchess, starring Patrick O'Neal and Hazel Court. In 1961, Rutherford first played the film role with which she was most often associated in later life, that of Miss Marple in a series of four films loosely based on the novels of Agatha Christie. Rutherford, then 70 years old, insisted on wearing her own clothes for the part and having her husband appear alongside her.

In 1964, George Harrison, when asked who his favourite girl film star was by Cathy McGowan on Ready Steady Go!, replied, "Margaret Rutherford".

Rutherford won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Globe for The V.I.P.s (1963), as the absent-minded Duchess of Brighton, opposite Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. She also played Mistress Quickly in Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight in 1966.

She was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1961, and raised to Dame Commander (DBE) in 1967.

Later life and death

She suffered from Alzheimer's disease at the end of her life. Sir John Gielgud wrote: "Her last appearance at the Haymarket Theatremarker with Sir Ralph Richardson in The Rivals, an engagement which she was finally obliged to give up after a few weeks, was a most poignant struggle against her obviously failing powers."

Dame Margaret Rutherford is buried along with her husband, Stringer Davis, who died in August 1973, in the graveyard of St. James Church, Gerrards Crossmarker, Buckinghamshire, England.

Rutherford was a cousin of the left-wing Labour politician Tony Benn.

Selected stage performances


Year Film Role Notes
1936 Talk of the Devil Housekeeper
Dusty Ermine Evelyn Summers aka Miss Butterby, old gang moll
Troubled Waters Bit role uncredited
1937 Missing, Believed Married Lady Parke
Catch As Catch Can Maggie Carberry
Big Fella Nanny uncredited
Beauty and the Barge Mrs. Baldwin
1941 Spring Meeting Aunt Bijou
Quiet Wedding Magistrate
1943 Yellow Canary Mrs. Towcester
The Demi-Paradise Rowena Ventnor
1944 English Without Tears Lady Christabel Beauclerk
1945 Blithe Spirit Madame Arcati
1947 While the Sun Shines Dr. Winifred Frye
Meet Me at Dawn Madame Vernore
1948 Miranda Nurse Carey
1949 Passport to Pimlico Professor Hatton-Jones
1950 The Happiest Days of Your Life Muriel Whitchurch
Quel bandito sono io
(UK title: Her Favorite Husband)
Mrs. Dotherington
1951 The Magic Box Lady Pond
1952 Curtain Up Catherine Beckwith/Jeremy St. Claire
Miss Robin Hood Miss Honey
The Importance of Being Earnest Miss Letitia Prism
Castle in the Air Miss Nicholson
1953 Innocents in Paris Gwladys Inglott
Trouble in Store Miss Bacon
1954 The Runaway Bus Miss Cynthia Beeston
Mad About Men Nurse Carey
Aunt Clara Clara Hilton
1955 An Alligator Named Daisy Prudence Croquet
1957 The Smallest Show on Earth Mrs. Fazackalee
Just My Luck Mrs. Dooley
1959 I'm All Right Jack Aunt Dolly
1961 On the Double Lady Vivian
Murder, She Said Miss Jane Marple
1963 Murder at the Gallop Miss Jane Marple
The Mouse on the Moon Grand Duchess Gloriana XIII
The V.I.P.s The Duchess of Brighton Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Golden Globe
1964 Murder Most Foul Miss Jane Marple
Murder Ahoy! Miss Jane Marple
1965 Chimes at Midnight Mistress Quickly
The Alphabet Murders Miss Jane Marple uncredited cameo
1967 A Countess from Hong Kong Miss Gaulswallow
Arabella Princess Ilaria
The Wacky World of Mother Goose Mother Goose voice


Further reading

  • Rutherford, Margaret, as told to Gwen Robyns. Margaret Rutherford: An Autobiography. W. H. Allen, London. 1972.
  • Simmons, Dawn Langley. Margaret Rutherford. A Blithe Spirit. London, 1983.

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