Obituary: Hillary Brooke

TALL, BLONDE and beautiful, Hillary Brooke holds an affectionate place in the memories of all aficionados of the Hollywood "B" movie. A consummate actress who gave excellent supporting performances in such films as Jane Eyre and The Enchanted Cottage, it is for her sterling work as "the other woman" or menace to such screen sleuths as Sherlock Holmes that she will be best remembered.

With her upswept hair, regal poise (she was once a successful model) and sophisticated attire - she seems to have spent most of her career wearing full-length, form-fitting evening gowns of the kind that epitomised the Forties - she was not only one of the screen's most formidable villainesses, but proved an excellent foil to such comics as Abbott and Costello and Bob Hope.

Born Beatrice Peterson in New York in 1914, she was attending Columbia University when she met Johnny Powers, who ran the biggest modelling agency in America, and he offered her work posing for mail-order catalogues. In the mid-Thirties she spent a year in England, where she acted in a play and acquired an English accent that was to give her diction a distinctively clipped tone.

In 1936, on her way to Australia, she was stranded in Hollywood by a boat strike and recalled later: "I didn't want to just sit out there. So I went over to RKO one day and said I would like to do a picture. A very nice casting director said, `We're doing New Faces of 1937.' I said, `I would like to be in it', and that's how I started! Everybody works so hard, and I didn't even have an agent!"

Among the films in which the actress played minor roles as society ladies were The Philadelphia Story (1940) and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1941), but her first important parts came in 1943, when she received excellent reviews for her portrayal of Blanche, Rochester's fiancee in Jane Eyre, and also made an impact as the heroine of Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, one of the best of Universal's Holmes series, and displayed for the first time her excellent flair for villainy as a Nazi agent in Fritz Lang's gripping film noir set in London, Ministry of Fear, though she did not have kind words for her director. "I hated him," she said later.

If he didn't like you, he was the nastiest person. Dan Duryea was in the film too, and we became great friends, and Fritz Lang didn't like either of us! If I were sitting in Dan's dressing room, chatting with him, Lang would pull the door open, look in, and just walk away. I know that he was supposed to be a great director, but he wasn't very popular. He didn't seem to like anybody who had any fun.

Brooke's favourite of her films was John Cromwell's The Enchanted Cottage (1945), the story of two plain people who are beautiful in each other's eyes. "I thought that was a very nice film. I played Robert Young's fiancee, the girl who couldn't bear him after he was disfigured during the war. I was a society dame." The same year Brooke was a splendid, villainous foil to Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in Road to Utopia, and in the Sherlock Holmes adventure Woman in Green played the title role, another wicked schemer who uses hypnotic powers in an attempt to outwit the sleuth.

Brooke later talked with great affection of her films with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson:

They were so wonderful to me. Basil Rathbone was a nice man. He looked very haughty, very elegant, but he was a very real person. And Willie (Nigel Bruce) was always joking. During the string of Holmes pictures, we really had a wonderful time together. And our director, Roy William Neill, was so easy to work with - it was such a happy company. The picture business today has changed a great deal. It's not the family it used to be.

Brooke was less enthusiastic about the Moriarty of The Woman in Green, the past-master of cool malevolence Henry Daniell:

He was a very heartless man. He kept complaining about working late. He was cold, and he was very distant and removed, very much what we saw on screen.

Brooke's sense of humour and skill as "straight-woman" made her a valuable foil for the screen's top comics, and in the 1946 Bob Hope vehicle Monsieur Beaucaire she figured in one of the film's most surreally humorous sequences in which, as Madame Pompadour, she is concealed from her jealous lover, the King, by having her face smothered with shaving lather by the barber Hope.

In 1949 she worked for the first time with Abbott and Costello, in Africa Screams, and she was later to team with them in Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (1952) and their hit television series (1951-52) in which she played Costello's girlfriend. Brooke later recalled,

Africa Screams was one of those pictures where there was more fun off the set than there was on film! Lou was a great ad-libber, funny lines and situations just poured out of him. Bud was one of the great straight men of all time. Lou was the worst one about not giving you your cue. When I first started to work with him, I called my agent and said, "I just can't do this - I never get a cue." He said, "Just stay with him", and, sure enough, it just worked out beautifully. I just used my instinct for when it was time to talk. I'd better talk now, or else the whole scene's going to go.

When we did Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd, poor Charles Laughton found it difficult. He came to me one day and said, "I'm not getting any cues from Lou." I said, "Just go alongwith it and enjoy yourself. Just talk when you think you should." And the first thing you know, he loved it!

Recently, Brooke stated,

Between the Sherlock Holmes pictures and the Abbott and Costello pictures - really, that's what keeps me in front of the audience today. I get a lot of fan mail and either a Sherlock Holmes or an Abbott and Costello picture is usually responsible!

From 1952 to 1955 Brooke played a regular role in the hit television series My Little Margie, as the predatory girlfriend of a widower (Charles Farrell) whose daughter Margie (Gale Storm) is constantly scheming to keep her playboy father in check. In 1953 she played a warmly maternal role as the mother of a small boy who sees a flying saucer land in his back-yard during the night in the science-fiction movie Invaders from Mars, directed by William Cameron Menzies, and in 1956 had a role in Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much:

I loved Hitchcock. We had one great thing in common, which was cooking. Hitch loved to cook, so we'd talk about recipes. He didn't mean that famous remark about treating actors like cattle. He was a very nice director - at least to girl actors he was. I don't know about boy actors!

After the western Spoilers of the Forest (1957), Brooke retired, having married the vice-president and general manager of MGM, Raymond A. Klune. "I didn't really miss the movie business too much," she said in 1996. "It had become a rough and tough business with the emphasis on money. In spite of what they might say about Mayer and the Warner Brothers, they were the people who really made great pictures." The Klunes lived in a seaside community south of Los Angeles and travelled a lot until Raymond Klune's death in 1988.

"I never thought I was a great actress," Brooke confessed. "Maybe I would have been better if I'd worked harder at it. But I really enjoyed my career and what I was doing. I played a lot of villainesses and rather enjoyed it. It got to the stage where if they wanted a villainess, or someone to play `the other woman', casting directors would say, `Let's get somebody like Hillary Brooke.' "

Tom Vallance

Beatrice Peterson (Hillary Brooke), actress: born New York 8 September 1914; married Jack Voglin (one son; marriage dissolved), 1960 Raymond Klune (died 1988); died Bonsall, California 25 May 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life