Obituary: Delia De Leon

Delia De Leon, actress and spiritual seeker, born Colon Panama 10 February 1901, died Kew Surrey 21 January 1993.

THERE was a part of Delia De Leon, the actress and co-founder of the Q Theatre, which preferred to have nothing to do with the crude machinations of this world. She was often delightful, yet infuriatingly hard to pin down to the end of her life.

Born in 1901 in Panama, the eldest of a large family of Sephardic Jews, De Leon was sent at the age of eight to an English boarding school. In 1911 her whole family moved to London, eventually settling in West Hampstead.

She had two burning ambitions. 'The first,' she wrote in her autobiography, The Ocean of Love (1991), 'was to know and understand about God. The second was to be a great actress. Both desires ran parallel and were the pivot of my life.' In her early thirties, alongside her more well-known brother Jack and his redoubtable wife Beatie, she co-founded and put most of the money into the Q Theatre, the fringe theatre of its day. Conveniently situated opposite Kew Bridge station, it attracted a host of talent including Vivien Leigh, Peggy Ashcroft, Anthony Quayle, Flora Robson, Michael Hordern, Margaret Lockwood, Donald Wolfit, Donald Sinden, Mrs Patrick Campbell, Joan Collins, Sean Connery and Roger Moore

Acting under the name Delia Delvina in the late Twenties, De Leon won acclaim for her performance in Walter Hackett's The Barton Mystery, which transferred to the West End. But by the summer of 1931 she and her large family were looking for a meaning they hadn't found in the theatre.

Delia De Leon's first meeting with the Indian God-Man Meher Baba took place in the unlikely setting of a box at the Coliseum before seeing a musical comedy, The White Horse Inn. Up to that point, Baba's main claim to fame had been his difficult relations with Mahatma Gandhi, with whom he had just travelled to England on the same ship, the Rajputana.

Star-struck, De Leon describes the impact Meher Baba, with his clipped moustache, had on her: 'I was stunned. I had seen his face before in my dreams: the eyes were startling in their beauty; the face seemed luminous, framed by a halo of long, dark hair. He seemed to be enjoying the play; there was a funny man in it and I heard Baba chuckling.' It was the first intimation De Leon had of how much Baba enjoyed comedians, including the silent Charlie Chaplin. Baba's own silence, which had began on 10 July 1925, continued to his death on 31 January 1969.

From the early Thirties Delia De Leon, Margaret Craske, the dancer, and Kitty Davy (as well as other well-heeled middle-class women) became increasingly involved with the silent God-Man. They were known as 'The Frivolous Three' or 'Kimco', and their romance was well documented in the tabloids.

I first met Delia De Leon in 1968, at the top of a building in Wardour Street in which Pete Townsend then had a flat. I was with Craig San Roque, a poet later to become famous as the first Jungian psychotherapist to work with the Aborigines in Alice Springs. Delia was positioned at the corner of the room, poised to take on all comers. She plied us with steaming cups of tea, and as many sandwiches and cakes as she could lay her hands on. I remember how thrilled she was when, in 1976, Townsend started the recording studio Meher Baba Oceanic with fanfares of trumpets, and 10 days of music, drama, films, poems and more concentrated sandwich- and cake-eating. Adi K. Irani, Baba's secretary, was flown in to perform the opening ceremony. For one brief moment this seemed the culmination of her and Townsend's dreams. But the studio closed after only five years.

By then De Leon must have grown used to Baba's methods of raising hopes only to dash them. Apart from his film Delia (1974), an hour-long tribute to her and Meher Baba, Pete Townsend leaves the most lasting memorial - commenting on Baba's most famous saying, 'Be Happy, Don't Worry': 'Perhaps there are others who worry as much as she, but I doubt it. Her passion, constancy, meticulousness, and enormous anxiety have all blended to produce an endearing eccentricity that enriched my life.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect