You’ve heard of Alfred Hitchcock and you’ve heard of the 39 Steps by John Buchan, but have you heard of the blond bombshell that was Madeleine Carroll who starred in the 1935 Hollywood film, 39 Steps? Reading up on her I realise my education in Hollywood movie actresses of the 30s and 40s is sadly lacking as she was very famous in her day.
She was an incredibly interesting, clever and altruistic lady who epitomises Hollywood glamour but had so much depth to her character and led such a fascinating life, I thought I would share some of her life’s highlights.
But why write a Brinsop Court blog about her – because her first husband was Captain Philip Astley of Brinsop Court. Madeleine and Philip were married for 9 years during the 1930s and the Astleys were a high society couple. Philip was an old Etonian and a captain in the Household Cavalry with an estate in Kenya and one-time owner of Brinsop Court. There are lots of photos of her in the Games Room.
Madeleine was born Edith Madeleine Carroll in West Bromwich in February 26, 1906, the elder of two children to an Irish professor of languages and his French wife. According to her niece who has created a memorial website to her, Madeleine proved a very bright student with a future mapped out as a French teacher. However, after joining the drama society at university Madeleine embarked on a busy theatrical and film career.
By the end of 1931 she was considered the top female star in British film industry and it was a surprise when she announced her retirement from the screen, due to her recent marriage to Philip Astley.
But, much to his chagrin, the lure of the screen was too much and Madeleine was soon back in the industry and working as hard as before.
The Second World War had a profound effect on Madeleine’s life and after her sister Guigette, was killed during a German air raid on London in 1940, she began to focus on the war effort, and dedicated herself to whatever she could do to help the victims of the war in Europe, particularly in France. She joined the Red Cross and served at the American Army Air Force’s 61st Station Hospital in Italy, where wounded airmen flying out of area air bases were hospitalised.
She also donated her chateau outside Paris to more than 150 orphans, arranging for groups of young people in California to knit clothing for them. In a RKO-Pathe News bulletin she was filmed at the chateau with children and staff wearing the donated clothes thanking those who contributed. She was awarded the Legion d’Honneur for her efforts by France.
Following her direct experiences of the devastation in Europe during the war on children, Madeleine proposed a resolution to UNICEF that there be constituted an International Children’s Day.
And on Monday morning, June 13, 1949, in the first plenary session of the Rotary International Convention held in New York, the Keynote Address was given by Madeleine Carroll. The script of her speech is available in this link and is definitely worth reading to gain greater insight into her passion.
She really was a remarkable woman and I hope someday someone makes a film about her – perhaps they can film some of it at Brinsop. In the meantime, come and see it all for yourself!