George's Leading Ladies
Star of MUCH TOO SHY Of course, we didn’t have the luxuries that film people have now”, recalls Eileen Bennett. “We even did our own hair and make-up. Wartime rationing meant few precious clothing coupons so we had to provide our own clothes in the films. Luckily I owned a smart Hyde Park riding outfit consisting of some good looking riding boots and breeches, so I became of the best dressed milkmaids in England. There was no studio car to transport us to the studio, about an hour’s drive from London. I had a Hillman Minx (no longer made, I believe) and was allowed just  enough petrol coupons to get me back and forth so I would give Hilda Bayley and the others a lift. Depending on the trains was chancy. If an air-raid was on they would be delayed.” In Much Too Shy, Eileen Bennett plays the role of Jackie, a chic, honey-haired dairy farmer, who inspires handyman George. She even gives George a sisterly kiss on the cheek when he consents to paint her portrait. ‘I’m shaking already Miss Jackie,’ George blurts out delightedly. Apparently George did some shaking off-camera too. “My experiences with George Formby were very similar to those of his other leading ladies,” Eileen says, “It was quite strange. He never spoke to me except professionally – not even ‘good morning’ or ‘how do?’ when we first met. I think he would have liked to chat, but we were under Beryl’s constant surveillance, which made him nervous. George, Beryl and director Marcel Varnel sat on one side of the set. The rest of us sat on the other. The comic plot of Much Too Shy has George able to paint faces but not bodies. Someone borrows George’s work for an advertisement and adds semi-nude bodies to his recognizable portraits of local ladies. A lively trial for damages ensues. George insists on conducting his own defence and wins only because Jackie tells him what to say via notes delivered through the pea-shooter of his kid brother (played by Jimmy Clitheroe). Since all the village ladies (including Jackie) benefited from the publicity, the case is dismissed, and George gets Jackie, although the traditional film-end kiss is teasingly obscured – and never took place. “Although in the film George was supposed to be very attracted to me,” Eileen Bennett says, “there was no touching, no hand holding, and only one quick peck on the cheek. When we started filming he was the complete professional. But there was one day when the ever-present Beryl left to go to a dental appointment. I have never seen such a change.  “George and I were sitting in the milk wagon while the crew was lighting the set. Suddenly, George started uttering all sorts of endearments and moving closer until our legs were touching. He was trembling with emotion. Poor man, he was so frustrated. I was petrified that Beryl would appear and could see that the crew knew what was going in by their winks. “Well, Beryl did arrive earlier than expected, and I have never seen such a quick change. From then on, not a word from George, except when filming. “Marcel Varnel was very nice. The Formby’s had great confidence in the French director, and I was grateful to him also. He not only cast me in Much Too Shy, but also suggested me for the stage production of Arsenic And Old Lace.” Of her fellow performers, Eileen recalls that she didn’t know until later that radio star Jimmy Clitheroe, another Lancashire lad, wasn’t a child actor: “I wondered why he was the only person George felt comfortable with. Years later, I found he was older than me. “Of the others in the cast, I did not know Kathleen Harrison well, but Hilda Bayley became a great friend. She was a lovely woman and quite a star during World War I.” Much Too Shy turned out to be Eileen’s final film, although she had no premonition of this at the time. “I was bombed out twice in London in direct hits and lost everything. Fortunately I was out both times. The first time, I had gone to stay with my widowed mother in the lovely Cotswolds while having my tonsils out. The second time I was out gallivanting. I came back from having dinner with friends and found the street cordoned off, my flat completely demolished, and my dog killed. “My friends walked me all the way to the Hyde Park Hotel - I remember I was wearing some really impractical  high-heeled evening slippers. We arrived fairly late. I had no luggage, no money, yet they gave me a room without saying a word.  “The next morning they sent a housekeeper to Harrod’s to get me some day clothes and told me to pay when I could. Perhaps they knew who I was, but perhaps not.” She does recall being in a play with Sarah Churchill, with her then- husband Vic Oliver coming to all the rehearsals. “And I was also in several plays at the Q theatre, the foremost of the West End theatres, but I cannot remember all of them.” One role she will never forget was the ingénue lead in Arsenic And Old Lace, the longest-running, West End play prior to The Mousetrap. It opened 23 December 1942 and closed in 1946. Drama critic Philip Page raved: ‘Eileen Bennett, young, fresh, and very beautiful, fits her part to perfection’. Another wrote: Miss Eileen Bennett is the very essence of blonde pulchritude’. Also memorable is the day the theatre was hit by a buzz bomb during a performance. “We were accustomed to hearing the buzz bombs go over. It was all right as long as they kept going, but when the engines stopped, you knew they were on their way down. “We were in the middle of a matinee, the theatre was full, and suddenly there was a tremendous explosion. The dust in the ancient theatre was so overwhelming that we couldn’t see each other. We just waited for it to settle a bit and then continued. No one on stage or in the audience had moved. Lillian Braithwaite, who played one of the elderly sisters, was wonderful, carrying on as if nothing had happened. At the end of the scene the audience cheered.” Eileen left Arsenic And Old Lace after three years, in September 1945. A few months earlier, in July, she had married an American Army officer, Col Thomas W Hammond. When he was transferred to France, she decided to quit the show and follow him. The Hammonds had two sons: David, who was born in Paris on 7 October 1946, and Nicholas, born in Washington on 15 May 1950. “When my husband and I came to the US, we were constantly moving in the military, so it was hard for me to continue acting. But in 1965, I did tour the summer stock theatres of New England and New York in The Happiest Millionaire, starring dear Walter Pidgeon.” Nicholas became a noted actor and starred as the eldest von Trapp child in the film version of The Sound Of Music, 1965 and one of the boys in Lord Of The Flies. Col Thomas Hammond died 'unhappily far too young’ of a heart attack in 1970 and Eileen is now a widow. She has not remarried and lives in Washington DC. Now. 56 years later, Eileen Bennett Hammond still projects the qualities that made her so appealing in Much Too Shy, a unique blend of self-assurance, good humour intelligence, and wholesome beauty. It’s easy to see why wartime audiences (and handyman George) were so smitten. Eleanor Knowles Dugan 1999
Eileen Bennett
George's Leading Ladies
Star of MUCH TOO SHY Of course, we didn’t have the luxuries that film people have now”, recalls Eileen Bennett. “We even did our own hair and make-up. Wartime rationing meant few precious clothing coupons so we had to provide our own clothes in the films. Luckily I owned a smart Hyde Park riding outfit consisting of some good looking riding boots and breeches, so I became of the best dressed milkmaids in England. There was no studio car to transport us to the studio, about an hour’s drive from London. I had a Hillman Minx (no longer made, I believe) and was allowed just  enough petrol coupons to get me back and forth so I would give Hilda Bayley and the others a lift. Depending on the trains was chancy. If an air-raid was on they would be delayed.” In Much Too Shy, Eileen Bennett plays the role of Jackie, a chic, honey-haired dairy farmer, who inspires handyman George. She even gives George a sisterly kiss on the cheek when he consents to paint her portrait. ‘I’m shaking already Miss Jackie,’ George blurts out delightedly. Apparently George did some shaking off-camera too. “My experiences with George Formby were very similar to those of his other leading ladies,” Eileen says, “It was quite strange. He never spoke to me except professionally – not even ‘good morning’ or ‘how do?’ when we first met. I think he would have liked to chat, but we were under Beryl’s constant surveillance, which made him nervous. George, Beryl and director Marcel Varnel sat on one side of the set. The rest of us sat on the other. The comic plot of Much Too Shy has George able to paint faces but not bodies. Someone borrows George’s work for an advertisement and adds semi-nude bodies to his recognizable portraits of local ladies. A lively trial for damages ensues. George insists on conducting his own def ence and wins only because Jackie tells him what to say via notes delivered through the pea-shooter of his kid brother (played by Jimmy Clitheroe). Since all the village ladies (including Jackie) benefited from the publicity, the case is dismissed, and George gets Jackie, although the traditional film-end kiss is teasingly obscured – and never took place. “Although in the film George was supposed to be very attracted to me,” Eileen Bennett says, “there was no touching, no hand holding, and only one quick peck on the cheek. When we started filming he was the complete professional. But there was one day when the ever-present Beryl left to go to a dental appointment. I have never seen such a change.  “George and I were sitting in the milk wagon while the crew was lighting the set. Suddenly, George started uttering all sorts of endearments and moving closer until our legs were touching. He was trembling with emotion. Poor man, he was so frustrated. I was petrified that Beryl would appear and could see that the crew knew what was going in by their winks. “Well, Beryl did arrive earlier than expected, and I have never seen such a quick change. From then on, not a word from George, except when filming. “Marcel Varnel was very nice. The Formby’s had great confidence in the French director, and I was grateful to him also. He not only cast me in Much Too Shy, but also suggested me for the stage production of Arsenic And Old Lace.” oF HER fellow performers, Eileen recalls that she didn’t know until later that radio star Jimmy Clitheroe, another Lancashire lad, wasn’t a child actor: “I wondered why he was the only person George felt comfortable with. Years later, I found he was older than me. “Of the others in the cast, I did not know Kathleen Harrison well, but Hilda Bayley became a great friend. She was a lovely woman and quite a star during World War I.” Much Too Shy turned out to be Eileen’s final film, although she had no premonition of this at the time. “I was bombed out twice in London in direct hits and lost everything. Fortunately I was out both times. The first time, I had gone to stay with my widowed mother in the lovely Cotswolds while having my tonsils out. The second time I was out gallivanting. I came back from having dinner with friends and found the street cordoned off, my flat completely demolished, and my dog killed. “My friends walked me all the way to the Hyde Park Hotel - I remember I was wearing some really impractical  high-heeled evening slippers. We arrived fairly late. I had no luggage, no money, yet they gave me a room without saying a word.  “The next morning they sent a housekeeper to Harrods to get me some day clothes and told me to pay when I could. Perhaps they knew who I was, but perhaps not.” She does recall being in a play with Sarah Churchill, with her then-husband Vic Oliver coming to all the rehearsals. “And I was also in several plays at the Q theatre, the foremost of the West End theatres, but I cannot remember all of them.” One role she will never forget was the ingénue lead in Arsenic And Old Lace, the longest-running, West End play prior to The Mousetrap. It opened 23 December 1942 and closed in 1946. Drama critic Philip Page raved: ‘Eileen Bennett, young, fresh, and very beautiful, fits her part to perfection’. Another wrote: Miss Eileen Bennett is the very essence of blonde pulchritude’. Also memorable is the day the theatre was hit by a buzz bomb during a performance. “We were accustomed to hearing the buzz bombs go over. It was all right as long as they kept going, but when the engines stopped, you knew they were on their way down. “We were in the middle of a matinee, the theatre was full, and suddenly there was a tremendous explosion. The dust in the ancient theatre was so overwhelming that we couldn’t see each other. We just waited for it to settle a bit and then continued. No one on stage or in the audience had moved. Lillian Braithwaite, who played one of the elderly sisters, was wonderful, carrying on as if nothing had happened. At the end of the scene the audience cheered.” Eileen left Arsenic And Old Lace after three years, in September 1945. A few months earlier, in July, she had married an American Army officer, Col Thomas W Hammond. When he was transferred to France, she decided to quit the show and follow him. The Hammonds had two sons: David, who was born in Paris on 7 October 1946, and Nicholas, born in Washington on 15 May 1950. “When my husband and I came to the US, we were constantly moving in the military, so it was hard for me to continue acting. But in 1965, I did tour the summer stock theatres of New England and New York in The Happiest Millionaire, starring dear Walter Pidgeon.” Nicholas became a noted actor and starred as the eldest von Trapp child in the film version of The Sound Of Music, 1965 and one of the boys in Lord Of The Flies. Col Thomas Hammond died 'unhappily far too young’ of a heart attack in 1970 and Eileen is now a widow. She has not remarried and lives in Washington DC. Now. 56 years later, Eileen Bennett Hammond still projects the qualities that made her so appealing in Much Too Shy, a unique blend of self-assurance, good humour intelligence, and wholesome beauty. It’s easy to see why wartime audiences (and handyman George) were so smitten. Eleanor Knowles Dugan 1999
Eileen Bennett