Estelle Winwood (24 January 1883 – 20 June 1984) was an English stage and film actress who moved to the United States in mid-career and became celebrated for her longevity.
Early life and early career
Born Estelle Ruth Goodwin in Lee, Kent, in 1883, she decided at the age of five that she wanted to be an actress. With her mother's support, but her father's disapproval, she trained with the Lyric Stage Academy in London, before making her professional debut in Johannesburg at the age of 20. During the First World War she joined the Liverpool Repertory Company in Liverpool, Lancashire before moving on to a career in the West End theatre in London.
Broadway and West End career
She moved to the U.S. in 1916 and made her Broadway début in New York City. Until the beginning of the 1930s, she divided her time between New York City and London. Throughout her career, her first love was the theatre; and, as the years passed, she appeared less frequently in London and became a frequent performer on Broadway. Her many successes include A Successful Calamity (1917), A Little Journey (1918), Spring Cleaning(1923), The Distaff Side (1934), The Importance of Being Earnest (which she also directed, 1939), When We Are Married (1939), Ladies in Retirement(1940), The Pirate (1942), Ten Little Indians (1944), Lady Windermere's Fan (1947), and The Madwoman of Chaillot (1948).
A reluctant film and television actress
Like many stage actors of her era, she expressed a distaste for films and resisted the offers she received during the 1920s. Finally, she relented and made her film début in Night Angel (1931), but her scenes were cut before the film's release. Her official film début came in The House of Trent (1933), and Quality Street (1937) was her first role of note. She made no cinematic films during the 1940s but expressed a willingness to participate in the new medium of television, starring in a television production of Blithe Spirit in 1946. During the 1950s, she appeared more frequently in television than she did in film in such series as Robert Montgomery Presents, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Donna Reed Show. She played the character Hortense in the episode "Where's There's a Will" (August 30, 1960) on the ABC sitcom, The Real McCoys, starring Walter Brennan. Her few films from that period include The Glass Slipper (1955), The Swan (1956), and 23 Paces to Baker Street (1956).
Her other film credits include Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959), The Misfits (1961), The Magic Sword (1962), The Notorious Landlady (1962), Dead Ringer (1964), Camelot (1967) and The Producers (1968). She later denigrated the last film, saying she could not imagine why she had done it except for the money.
Her other work for television included guest roles in Dennis the Menace, The Twlight Zone; Thriller; Dr. Kildare; The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; The Name of the Game; Bewitched; Batman; Love, American Style; Cannon; Police Story, and an excellent, showcasing, last episode of Perry Mason, entitled "The Final Fadeout", in which she plays a fading actress who ends up as a second defendant.
Winwood's final film appearance, at age 92 in Murder by Death (1976), was as Elsa Lanchester's character's ancient nursemaid. In this film, she joined other veteran actors spoofing some of the most popular detective characters in murder mysteries on film and television (Dick and Dora Charleston, Jessica Marbles, etc.).
When she made her final television appearance, in a 1979 episode of Quincy, she officially became, at age 96, the oldest actor working in the U.S., beating out fellow British actress Ethel Griffies, who worked until her 90s. Winwood ultimately achieved an eighty-year career on the stage from her début at the age of 16 until her final appearance at age 96. When she died at age 101, she was the oldest member in the history of the Screen Actors Guild.
Winwood was married four times but bore no children. Guthrie McClintic had also been married to actress Katharine Cornell. Arthur Chesney was a brother of the Oscar-winning actor Edmund Gwenn (The Miracle on 34th Street).
She was very good friends with Tallulah Bankhead, who died in 1968. She, Bankhead, and actresses Eva Le Gallienne and Blyth Daly were dubbed "The Four Riders of the Algonquin" in the early silent film days, because of their appearances together at the "Algonquin Round Table".
She appears as a character in Answered Prayers, Truman Capote's final, unfinished, thinly veiled roman à clef. In the novel, which uses her real name, she attends a drunken dinner party with Bankhead, Dorothy Parker, Montgomery Clift, and the novel's narrator, P.B. Jones.
On her 100th birthday, she was asked how it felt to have lived so long. Her response was, "How rude of you to remind me!" Bette Davis, a co-star from Dead Ringer, was photographed at Winwood's side on the occasion in Hollywood, California.
Winwood died in her sleep in Woodland Hills, California, in 1984, at age 101. She was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.