Obituary: Vanda Greville
Thursday 08 January 1998
In Rene Clair's classic film- musical comedy Le Million (1931), Vanda Greville was Vanda, the American vamp flirting with Rene Lefevre's garret artist. This slender blonde opportunist is none too pleased to discover he is penniless but eagerly joins the search for his stolen jacket which carries a winning lottery ticket.
This early role would remain the highlight of Greville's career. It had been preceded by her other proudest achievement, playing a leading role in Abel Gance's multilingual La Fin du Monde (1930).
Born Vanda MacEwan to a Scottish father and Norwegian mother, she had wanted to be an actress from childhood and skipped school in Fulham to work as an extra on an Alfred Hitchcock film. While in Paris at a finishing school, she was spotted by Gance and screen-tested.
Speaking no French, she auditioned by reciting "He Fell Among Thieves" with such emotion that Gance (who understood no English) was reduced to tears. He barred his prim young discovery from taking part in the orgy scenes of La Fin du Monde when mankind, threatened with destruction by a comet, has a last wild fling. She was billed as Vanda Vangen, taking her mother's maiden name, and played in the English- and German-speaking versions of the film.
While seeking a career in British films (and impersonating Greta Garbo in a promotional short) she fell wildly in love with and married a half- English avant-garde film- maker called Edmond Greville. He had acted in Rene Clair's Sous les Toits de Paris (1930) and introduced his new wife to Clair when he was casting Le Million.
Greville himself started writing and directing feature films, and starred his wife in Le Train des Suicides (1931) as a singer who has suddenly lost her voice. In Britain she co-starred as a French woman opposite Arthur Wontner in the drama A Gentleman of Paris (1931) but gained only a small role as a barmaid in Ebb Tide (1932). She found better opportunities in France, often playing English characters as in L'Or dans la Rue (1934) and Le Train d'Amour (1935), and became a society figure with a circle of friends that included Mrs Wallis Simpson.
Vanda Greville's last film appearance was in 1939, in her husband's highly topical drama Menaces. She played an American, one of several foreigners living in a hotel in the Latin Quarter of Paris as the Second World War erupts.
Vanda herself caught one of the last trains to England before the fall of France, clutching only a Utrillo painting and a vast supply of her favourite face cream, while Edmond spent the war hiding in Cannes. In London, she did propaganda work for General de Gaulle, broadcasting to France and working on schemes to bring out prominent Frenchmen left behind. She would have liked to parachute into France as a special agent, but her English accent and well-known looks ruled this out.
Returning to France after the war, she worked for Unesco and as a journalist, never resuming her acting career. She came back to England when her parents' health failed and, divorced from her husband, lived quietly in Kent from the mid-1960s.
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