The passing away of the beautiful British actress Susannah York is the latest loss of film personalities since the beginning of the new year. York died from bone marrow cancer in London on January 15, six days after her 72nd birthday.
York was a lovely, blue-eyed blonde with a sweet and innocent-looking face and, possessing a purposeful, intriguing, enigmatic and noticeably uninhibited talent, she developed into a leading lady in British and American films of the 1960s and 1970s.
York was born Susannah Yolande Fletcher on January 9, 1939. Her father Simon was a merchant banker and her mother was Joan Bowring, the daughter of a diplomat. York’s parents divorced when she was five and after her mother remarried (her second husband was a Scottish businessman), the family moved to a remote village in Scotland where she was raised.
York received her education at Marr College in Troon, Ayrshire. Since her childhood, she showed an interest in drama and was sent to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London. While there she performed classical repertory and pantomime and had the occasion to appear in television shows.
York’s film career began with a small part in the Norman Wisdom film There Was a Crooked Man and then played the daughter of an army official in Tunes of Glory (both 1960). She emerged as a versatile actress as she handledsensitivity in the role of a teenager who was coming of age and finds love for the first time in The Greengage Summer (1961).
Freud (1962, released in Malta as The Secret Passion) was a box-office failure but in it York gave an indication of her unusual enterprise. She was more than alluring in Tom Jones (1963) and battled the Malayan jungle in The 7th Dawn (1964).
York then played a potential rape victim in Sands of theKalahari (1965) and showed her funny side in Kaleidoscope (1966). But she was wasted as Thomas More’s daughter in A Man for All Seasons (1967), while Sebastian (1968) was fun but a bit complicated and the least said about Duffy (1968) and Lock Up Your Daughters (1969) the better.
York’s most controversial role of her career was, undoubtedly, that of the unfaithful lesbian girlfriend in The Killing of Sister George (1968). Her performance was touchingly candid and her part was the one human element in the film as her blonde good looks made her seem all the more treacherous.
As the 1960s were coming to a close, York had small parts in two films that are set in two different world wars. Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) is the story of World War I set to music and The Battle of Britain (1969) is a narration of the aerial onslaught over England during World War II.
Finally, Hollywood came calling and in her first American film York received her only Oscar nomination of her career for her role as an English girl who undergoes a sad deterioration during a dance marathon in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969). Her hysterical shower scene is particularly gripping and is one of the many highlights of the film.
York started the 1970s in the title role in Jane Eyre (1971), which was made for television but was released in cinemas. She tried to pursue challenging offbeat roles in films like Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1977), Zee & Co, Images (both 1972) and The Maids (1974), but these roles made her lose some of her popularity.
Back in mainstream cinema, York was just a pretty face in films like Gold (1974), That Lucky Touch (1975), both with Roger Moore, Conduct Unbecoming (1975), Sky Riders (1976) andThe Shout (1978). And in Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980), she had literally nothing to do as the title hero’s birth mother.
Few of York’s remaining films were of any consequence and she turned to television in a vain attempt to recapture the glow of her earlier performances. Wisely, she extended her talents outside the realms of the cinema and began writing children books and the screenplay of one of her films, Falling in Love Again (1980).
York was also appearing on stage in one-woman shows and took part in stage productions of Peter Pan, Hamlet, The Merry Wives of Windsor and A Street Car Named Desire. Her last feature film appearance was in TheCalling (2009).
York was married to Michael Wells between 1960 and 1980, when they divorced. The couple had two children, Orlando and Sasha.
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