Obituary: Elizabeth Montgomery

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The Independent Online
IN 1929, when I was playing in Shakespeare at the Old Vic, a shy, handsome young woman brought some charming drawings she had made of me from memory, writes Sir John Gielgud (further to the obituary by Harriet Devine, 20 May). When I came to know Elizabeth Montgomery better she introduced me to two sisters, Sophie and Margaret Harris, both art students, with whom she shared a flat in Kensington.

In 1932, when I was making my debut as a director for the OUDS at Oxford, I asked the three girls to design the costumes for Romeo and Juliet, and their success in this field led them to assume the official name of 'Motley', under which they became extremely well-known. Their imaginative and practical gifts, economical budgets, and admirably decorative inventions, were enormously appreciated by the public, and they were able to open a boutique and establish themselves in a big studio just off St Martin's Lane, which became a hospitable centre of attraction to a number of actors, directors and writers, notably George Devine, Michel St Denis and Glen Byam Shaw and his wife Angela Baddeley.

Their first big success was with their decor for Richard of Bordeaux in 1933, and I was then able to use their invaluable contributions in many successful productions, Noah and The Old Ladies in particular, as well as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Also working with Devine and St Denis at his Old Vic School, they taught and lectured brilliantly.

Later, Laurence Olivier sent for them to design his American production of Romeo, but unfortunately it was not a success. While there Elizabeth married an American and did not return to England for many years. Sophie Harris died, and Margaret (Percy) Harris was left alone as the trio was sadly broken up. However, she continued working with unflagging dedication (as she still does today) and nursed Elizabeth, sadly dogged by increasingly bad health, with infinite devotion.

I have so many unforgettable memories of Elizabeth, not only in the theatre, but in long talks and delightful travels, especially of a short holiday just before the war, when Percy and Liz came with me to Venice, which we saw together for the first time, and another at a villa I had leased in the South of France, with Elizabeth bathing with us looking like a portrait by Gauguin, her beautiful long black hair glistening in the sunshine. Shy and reserved, she was tremendously talented and a very dear friend.

(Photograph omitted)