Born Laura Constance Hardie, in Windsor, Berkshire to Cheetham Agaste Hardie and Eliza Collier, Constance Collier made her stage debut at the age of 3, when she played Fairy Peasblossom in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. In 1893, at the age of 15, she joined the Gaiety Girls, the famous dance troupe based at the Gaiety Theatre in London. She was a very beautiful woman and soon became so tall that she towered over all the other dancers. In addition, she had an enormous personality and considerable determination. On 27 December 1906, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s extravagant revival of Antony and Cleopatra opened at His Majesty’s Theatre, with Tree as Mark Antony and Constance Collier as Cleopatra, a performance for which she received much critical praise. Famed for his realistic productions, Tree and his designer, Percy Macquoid, dressed Collier in a range of spectacular costumes. Later, Constance Collier commented: “There is only a mention in the play of Cleopatra appearing as the goddess Isis. Tree elaborated this into a great tableau… Cleopatra, robed in silver, crowned in silver, carrying a golden scepter and the symbol of the sacred golden calf in her hand, went in procession through the streets of Alexandria, the ragged, screaming populace acclaiming the Queen, half in hate, half in superstitious fear and joy as she made her sacrilegious ascent to her high throne in the market-place.” Constance Collier was now established as a popular and distinguished actress. In January 1908, she starred with Beerbohm Tree at His Majesty’s Theatre in J. Comyn’s new play The Mystery of Edwin Drood, based on Charles Dickens’s unfinished novel of the same name. Later that year, she made the first of several tours of the United States. During the second, made with Beerbohm Tree in 1916, she made four silent films, including an uncredited appearance in D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance(she can be seen being carried through the entrance to the city in the Babylonian part of the film) and as Lady Macbeth in Tree’s first and disastrous film interpretation of Shakespeare’s MacBeth.
In 1905, Collier married handsome Irish actor Julian Boyles (stage name Julian L’Estrange), a sort of Clark Gable before Clark Gable. They performed together for many years until his death in 1918 in New York from influenza. No children were born from the marriage. In the early 1920s, she established a close friendship with Ivor Novello, who was then a young, handsome actor. His first play, The Rat, was written in collaboration with her in 1924. She also appeared in several plays with him, including the British version of the American success, The Firebrand by Edwin Justus Mayer. Her writing career is notable for her collaboration with Deems Taylor on the libretto of the opera “Peter Ibbetson” which was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in February 1931 and which received mixed reviews. In 1935, upon her arrival in Hollywood, Luise Rainer hired Collier to improve Rainer’s theatre acting and English, and to learn the basics of film acting. In the late 1920s Constance Collier relocated to Hollywood where she became a voice coach and teacher in diction. This was during the tumultuous changeover from silent films to sound and many silent actors with no theater training were scrambling for lessons. Her most famous pupil was arguably Colleen Moore. Film historian Kevin Brownlow interviewed Moore for series Hollywood (1980) about the silent film era. Moore recounted that upon taking voice lessons from a “very famous lady” the teacher asked “is it true that you make 10,000 dollars a week?” Moore replied, “no ma’am, I make 12,500 a week”. The teacher Moore was referring to was Constance Collier. Collier nevertheless maintained ties to Broadway and would appear in several plays in the 1930s.
In 1932 Constance Collier starred as Carlotta Vance in the original production of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s comedy Dinner at Eight. The role was played in the 1933 film version by Marie Dressler. She appeared in the films Stage Door (1937), Mitchell Leisen’s Kitty (1945, a comedic performance as Lady Susan, the drunken aunt of Ray Milland), Perils of Pauline with Betty Hutton, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) and Otto Preminger’s Whirlpool (1949). During the making of the film version of Stage Door, she became great friends with Katharine Hepburn, a friendship that lasted the rest of Collier’s life. Constance Collier was presented with the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre Award for distinguished service in training and guiding actors in Shakespearean roles. Collier was a drama coach for many famous actors, including Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh and Marilyn Monroe. She also coached Katharine Hepburn during Hepburn’s world tour performing Shakespeare in the ’50s. Upon Collier’s death in 1955, Hepburn “inherited” Collier’s secretary Phyllis Wilbourn, who remained with Hepburn as her secretary for 40 years. Collier has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She died of natural causes in Manhattan on 25 April 1955 at age of 77. The marriage to L’Estrange produced no children and she never remarried.
- January, 22, 1878
- United Kingdom
- Windsor, Berkshire, England
- April, 25, 1955
- Manhattan, New York, New York
Cause of Death
- natural causes