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The Black Country blonde bombshell who went on to be box office dynamite; But 'world's most beautiful woman' and Hitchcock muse turned back on Hollywood.

Byline: Mike Lockley Staff Reporter mike.lockley@trinitymirror.com

THE name Madeleine Carroll will mean little to today's fans of the silver screen.

But in her day - an era when cinema brightened the landscape for a British public faced with the storm clouds of war, Edith Madeleine Carroll was the planet's highest paid actress.

In one year alone, she earned 250,000 dollars. - and that year was 78 years ago.

She was the stunning local lass who conquered Hollywood. In fact, Carroll was dubbed the world's most beautiful woman.

Made a global star by Alfred Hitchcock, she sizzled in such classics as The 39 Steps, alongside Robert Donat, The Prisoner of Zenda and The General Died At Dawn with Gary Cooper. Yet she slipped from the limelight at the peak of her fame, abandoning her glittering acting career following the death of sister Marguerite in The Blitz.

It is difficult to comprehend how bright Carroll's star shone in an era littered with legends.

She straddled silent and talking pictures and, with her smouldering looks and ash-blonde hair, laid down the ice maiden template that became a trademark of Hitchcock's leading ladies. But she paid a high price for the heady status Hitchcock - a man know for controlling, even bullying, his female stars - bestowed on her.

During filming, he referred to Carroll as "the Birmingham tart" and after finishing The 39 Steps gloated: "Nothing pleases me more than to knock the ladylikeness out of them."

During the filming of the 1935 classic, Hitchcock left Carroll and co-star Robert Donat handcuffed together for hours. He claimed he'd forgotten the key.

In reality, it was a ruse intended to build chemistry between the two stars.

Married four times, Carroll died of pancreatic cancer in her adopted home of Marbella, Spain on October 2, 1987. She was 81 years old.

Her time at the very top may have been relatively brief, but she made enough of a mark to gain a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The blonde bombshell's tireless work to help the war effort also earned her America's Medal of Freedom and the Legion d'Honneur from France.

It's very heady stuff for a girl-nextdoor, born at 32 Herbert Street, West Bromwich, on February 26, 1906.

Her father John, from Co. Limerick, was a professor of languages, and French-born mum Helene honed the almost uneventful, for the megastar in the making. In 1912, the family moved to 7 Jesson Street and, bolstered by her father's home tuition, Carroll soon developed into something of a scholastic phenomenon. By the summer of 1926, she had gained a BA with honours in French from Birmingham University and was ready to become a French teacher.

She later recalled: "Everything indicated that I would spend the rest of my days teaching. I was shy, nervous all through college. My father had set his heart on my getting an MA and all would have gone well if I had not joined a drama society in my senior year."

Carroll's looks earned her a lead part in Birmingham University's annual production, Selma.

"Somehow I did it as if I had been acting all my life," said the actress. "I understood then how people get 'a call'."

Legendary Birmingham Rep director Sir Barry Jackson spotted Carroll in the play and immediately realised he had a star on his hands. He offered a contract, but the budding actress' father, who strongly disapproved of a showbiz career, put his foot down.

He packed his daughter off to Paris to continue her education, but she soon returned, even more determined to tread the boards. Carroll's father was so furious that he kicked her out and the young woman was forced to provide private tuition to pay the bills.

Father and daughter only patched it up after Carroll's first film.

By 1927, Carroll was ready for the bright lights of London. She relocated and gained a small part in a touring production of The Lash. The role proved invaluable grounding and helped Carroll gain her first big screen role, the lead in The Guns of Loos a year later.

"My role was a nice English girl with a cultivated background," she said. "Emotionally, it was a part I could cope with, for it dealt with the kind of life I had known. The picture was a success and overnight I had won a reputation."

Such was her reputation that the April 1928, issue of Theatre World featured Carroll's picture on the front page above the caption: "A new portrait of a beautiful young actress who, it is rumoured, will shortly make her re-appearance on the legitimate stage."

A raft of silent films followed before Carroll made her talking debut in The American Prisoner (1929). The West Bromwich star's rise was rapid. In the early 1930s she was regarded as box office dynamite, thanks to the popularity of such films as Atlantic, The School for Scandal and I Was A Spy.

Even greater, international success was to follow. In 1935, Carroll gained the plum role in The 39 Steps, a film that proved a cash-making recordbreaker. It's hard to imagine now, but one scene in the film - Carroll attempting to remove her silk stockings while handcuffed to Donat - sparked a censorship storm.

It was the 1930s equivalent of Sharon Stone's Basic Instinct controversy. Hitchcock attempted to replicate the Donat-Carroll success with spy thriller Secret Agent, but Donat was forced to turn down the film because of illhealth. John Gielgud took his place, but failed to create the kind of chemistry that existed between Carroll and Donat.

The film fared reasonably, but it was no 39 Steps.

Hollywood seemed the next logical step. In 1936, Paramount dubbed Carroll "the most beautiful woman in the world" to publicise The Case Against Mrs Ames. In the same year she was partnered with Gary Cooper for The General Died At Dawn, generally regarded as her greatest big screen performance.

The offers flooded in. Costume drama Lloyds of London made a star out of Tyrone Power. The 1937 blockbuster The Prisoner of Zenda saw Carroll do what she did best - be beautiful, regal and distant.

By 1940, Carroll was the silver screen's biggest female star, but she was becoming restless. She wanted "important" parts promoting world peace. The studios simply wanted a bombshell.

But when younger sister Marguerite was killed during a German air raid, a devastated Carroll threw herself into the war effort.

She took on fewer acting jobs, although 1942's My Favourite Blonde, a comedy co-starring Bob Hope, gave Carroll her greatest success. In reality, it was a final hurrah. She turned her back on stardom to work full-time for the Red Cross. Carroll had become political.

There were still cinema, TV and radio appearances, but she felt much more fulfilled as an ambassador for world peace. She was tireless in her work to help children, scarred both mentally and physically, by the war.

On June 13, 1949, the actress told New York's Rotary International Convention: "I have constituted myself a one-woman Children's Crusade."

She urged the audience: "Just for the next few minutes I want you to forget you ever saw me in any movie and that I ever was Bob Hope's favourite blonde, although there's nothing wrong with that, I may say.

"But now, will you allow me to be very simply the woman who, with millions of others, was involved in that rather disconcerting business of war that went on in Europe between 1939 and 1945, and who stayed on to work with the unhappy child victims of the war?" In quiet retirement, spent with maid Anita and Yorkshire terriers Tricky and Dicky, Carroll showed no regrets about stepping from the limelight at her peak.

"Movies?" she sniffed to a reporter. "Just say I got out when the going was good."

In February, 2007, a 10-foot granite statue to Carroll, dubbed "the white flower of The Black Country", was unveiled in West Bromwich town centre. It's a lasting reminder of a glorious time when stars really were stars.

A movie poster for Hitchcock's classic The 39 Steps, released in 1935, and, above, Carroll in her heyday

Movies? Just say I got out when the going was good... Madeleine Carroll

CAPTION(S):

<B Madeleine Carroll with Ronald Coleman in The Prisoner of Zenda. Right, a Picturegoer magazine featuring the Black Country star

aloofness that was to be Carroll's trademark. Madeleine Carroll and Robert Donat in The 39 Steps
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 1, 2016
Words:1413
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