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York, Susannah (1939-2011)

Actor, Writer

Main image of York, Susannah (1939-2011)

Luminous leading lady of the '60s, fair-haired with dreamy blue eyes, she started in conventional ingénue roles, but hinted at inner depths and an independent spirit, and she played several offbeat, psychologically complex characters.

Born Susannah Fletcher in London on 9 January 1939 (which she later "adjusted" to 1941), she was raised in rural Scotland and trained at RADA, followed by rep and TV plays. She made her film debut in Tunes of Glory (d. Ronald Neame, 1960), the first of three films from James Kennaway screenplays (the others: Battle of Britain, d. Guy Hamilton, and Country Dance, d. J.Lee Thompson, both 1969). She co-starred in Norman Wisdom's best (and least seen) comedy There Was a Crooked Man (d. Stuart Burge, 1960), but The Greengage Summer (d. Lewis Gilbert, 1961) provided her first substantial role as Jos, a schoolgirl gradually realizing the power that her radiant sexuality gives her over men.

With peaches-and-cream complexion, she was a cameraman's dream as the object of Albert Finney's affections in the mega-hit Tom Jones (d. Tony Richardson, 1963), which made her an international star. She was a profoundly disturbed patient in Freud (US, d. John Huston, 1962), and touching as Thomas More's daughter in A Man For All Seasons (d. Fred Zinnemann, 1966). There were also '60s 'dolly bird' roles in Swinging London capers - as a trendy Hampstead boutique owner in Kaleidoscope (d. Jack Smight, 1966) and a cute code breaker in Sebastian (d. David Greene, 1967). In the bitchy The Killing of Sister George (US, d. Robert Aldrick, 1968) she played neurotic nymphet Alice 'Childie' McNaught, the immature doll-clutching lover of Beryl Reid.

A favourite film of the actress, perhaps because of its Scottishness (though mostly filmed in Eire) is the neglected Country Dance (1969) starring Peter O'Toole as a mentally disturbed Scottish landowner who harbours incestuous yearnings for York. She was a flapper in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (US, d. Sydney Pollack, 1969) (a BAFTA as supporting actress and an Oscar nomination), and gave a superb performance as Cathryn, a possibly schizophrenic author of children's books, in the enigmatic thriller Images (Ireland/US, d. Robert Altman, 1972).

Since the 1960s she has divided her time between art-house - The Maids (d. Christopher Miles, 1974), The Shout (d. Jerzy Skolimowski, 1978) and Melancholia (UK/Germany, d. Andi Engel, 1989) - and more commercial fare, such as playing the Kryptonian mother of Superman (UK/US, d. Richard Donner, 1978). Also active in theatre and TV, she wrote the screenplay for Falling in Love Again (US, d. Steven Paul, 1980), and several popular children's books. She married and divorced (1960-76) actor Michael Wells.

Roger Philip Mellor, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Thumbnail image of Gigolos, The (2006)Gigolos, The (2006)

Offbeat comedy about a gigolo and his valet

Thumbnail image of Man for All Seasons, A (1966)Man for All Seasons, A (1966)

Oscar-laden story of Sir Thomas More's defiance of Henry VIII

Thumbnail image of After the War (1989)After the War (1989)

Drama series spanning 25 years after the end of World War II

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