Obituary: Constance Carpenter

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The Independent Online
Constance Carpenter, actress, singer, born Bath 19 April 1906, died New York City 26 December 1992.

CONSTANCE CARPENTER appeared in musicals by Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein and George and Ira Gershwin. Two other songwriters who admired her were Ord ('You're Blase') Hamilton and Jimmy ('South of the Border', 'Red Sails in the Sunset') Kennedy; she married both of them - Kennedy, twice.

Constance Carpenter was born in Bath in 1906, and made her stage debut at the age of 10. Five years later she was a chorus girl in The Fun of the Fayre at the London Pavilion. The revue starred Evelyn Laye, the Dolly Sisters and Clifton Webb, and was produced by Charles B. Cochran. In 1924 Cochran's arch rival Andre Charlot took Carpenter to New York to appear in Charlot's Revue which made the American reputations of Beatrice Lillie, Jack Buchanan and Gertrude Lawrence. Gertie and Connie formed a lifelong friendship, and were reunited on-stage in 1926 when Lawrence starred in her first Broadway musical comedy, the PG Wodehouse/Guy Bolton-George and Ira Gershwin hit Oh, Kay]

The following year Rodgers and Hart chose Carpenter for their musical adaptation of Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee. In the modern-day prologue she played the fiery Alice Carter, who sees her fiance Martin (William Gaxton) kissing another girl and knocks him cold with a champagne bottle. Martin dreams he is in King Arthur's Camelot, where he spies Lady Alisande le Carteloise and cries, 'Methinks yon damsel is a lovely broad]' Lady Alisande was of course Carpenter again, and she and Gaxton got to duet such classic numbers as 'My Heart Stood Still' and 'Thou Swell'. In 1929 she repeated her dual role in the London production of the show, retitled A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur.

For the next decade Carpenter divided her time between the United States and England, appearing in films, pantomimes, revues, and such plays as Rattigan's French Without Tears at the Criterion. During the Second World War she toured the Middle East for ENSA.

In 1951 she began understudying Gertrude Lawrence in The King and I. During the show's three-year run, Lawrence developed leukaemia, and often had to be replaced by her friend. A month before her death, Gertie requested: 'See that Connie Carpenter steps in. She has waited so long for the chance.' The understudy took over the role and played it with great success.

(Photograph omitted)