Thursday, November 14, 2019

What A Character: The Ever Scandalous Estelle Winwood

This is my contribution to the What a Character! Blogathon hosted by this trio of magnificence, otherwise known as Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled and Paula of Paula's Cinema Club. Check out all three for all character updates.

Estelle Winwood
Hold Me! Touch Me!
Okay, I confess. It was this quote from Louise Brooks that made me want to look into Miss Winwood:

" When I was dancing with Dario at the Persian Room in the Plaza, after the midnight show I would walk down to the Gotham Hotel to visit Tallulah Bankhead. She would declaim Phaedre in lousy French and read the Bible in her lovely Alabama accent while everybody said she stunk and tried to do it better; and in a hooded corner sat Estelle Winwood nursing her latest dose of the clap from one of her little boys." 

Say what? So, I did a little digging and found out a few things about Estelle. First to her career.
Estelle appeared on stage with Bela Lugosi. There were rumors of an affair;
he allegedly broke her ribs with an overly passionate embrace.
Estelle seemed to have that effect on men.
Estelle was primarily a stage actress and prided herself on being such. This proper British young actress, born in 1883,  made her debut at age 20 and eventually made her way to the London stage. She moved to the USA in 1916 and had much success on Broadway. She continued to act in first class productions on both the Broadway and London stages, but the 1930s called for desperate measures, and nothing was more distasteful for this desperate actress during the depression than acting in the movies. But, desperate times do call for desperate measures, so Estelle, at age 50, dipped her dainty toes into movies. While her first film appearance was in 1931's "Night Angel," her scene was cut, so her official film debut was made in 1933 in the "House of Trent," with her first notable role having to wait for 1937's "Quality Street." She is the lady with the scandalous wink:
Estelle stayed away from film during the 1940s, but later found working on television not so awful. She can be found in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents, a Robert Montgomery Presents, an episode of The Donna Reed Show and even an episode of The Real McCoys.

But, Estelle was lured back to film again in the 1950s, appearing in supporting  roles in "23 Paces to Bakers Street," "The Glass Slipper," "Darby O'Gill and the Little People," "The Misfits," and "Camelot."

Estelle with Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable in "The Misfits"

Of course, who could forget her as Hold Me! Touch Me! in Mel Brooks' "The Producers"?
Estelle, predictably, hated the role and the film and said she only did it for the money. 

Estelle also did a memorable stint as Aunt Enchantra on "Bewitched."

But, as memorable a personality as she was on screen, Estelle was an unforgettable character in real life. 

Estelle was married 4 times, her first husband being the renowned theater director and producer, Guthrie McClintic. Her second husband was actor Arthur Chesney, her third a New Zealand rancher and her fourth an actor by the name of Robert Henderson who was 21 years her junior, and of whom she said "I can't remember if I divorced him or not."  Estelle was most famous for her great friendship with Tallulah Bankhead. While a bit more lady-like (at least on the outside), she and Tallulah were great party girls and all around carousers.  She described her first meeting with Tallulah when they met at a party in New York in the 1920s. The host introduced Estelle to Miss Bankhead, who happened to live in the same building:

“Tallulah was so gloriously lovely that I hated her on sight. Later, to my horror, everyone had left the party and the host, who had been flirting with me all evening, had an affair with me. I began to panic and remembered that Tallulah lived in the same building. She let me in and when I explained what had happened she immediately ushered me to the bathroom and loaned me her douche kit and this was the beginning of our enduring friendship.”

She was smart, she smoked, she drank, she loved men and she looked down her veddy English nose at just about everyone. She lived to be 101 and remained feisty, irreverent and utterly charming in her crusty, dismissive and oh-so-British way.

And while we generally know Estelle as a woman of a certain age, she sure was a cutie back in the day, wasn't she?

Please check out more memorable characters!