of: GEORGE IN CIVVY STREET
Sunny and self-assured, Rosalyn Boulter seems an unlikely lady of mystery. She is the perfect no-nonsense foil for George Formby in his final film, George in Civvy Street in 1946.
Rosalyn plays Mary Colton, George's childhood sweetheart.
When George returns from the war, he finds that both he and Mary have
inherited their fathers' rival pubs. She owns (but is too young to
run) the Lion, across a canal from George's Unicorn. We may wonder,
of course, where she got her posh accent in a Lancashire village,
but the fair-haired, feisty Mary is more than a match for the requisite
villain who seeks her inheritance, her hand, and George's downfall.
Fair-haired Rosalyn Boulter was born in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, on February 1, 1916, the daughter of Arthur Edward Boulter and his wife, Lillian (Douthwaite). Rosalyn attended the North Middlesex School and then studied for the stage at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art under Elsie Fogerty.
Her first professional appearance was at age 19 at the Arts Theatre Club on June 11, 1935, playing Lady Clive in Clive of India. That summer she had important roles in A Midsummer Night's Dream (as Hermia) and Love's Labour's Lost at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre. (The following summer she returned for As You Like It and The Tempest.)
Her career took off quickly, bringing both stage and film roles. She was featured in 4 West End productions in 1935 and 1936. Her first 2 film roles, a romantic comedy called Love at Sea (1936) and Holiday's End (1937), a thriller, gave her top billing. In 1937, she toured the U.K. and made her Broadway debut, playing the ingenue lead in the West End hit George and Martha.
Rosalyn married Stanley Haynes, a film writer, director, producer, and, according to one friend, "charming philanderer." They had a daughter, Carol, in 1942 or 1943. Rosalyn remained active in films during this time, appearing in 1942 with Leslie Howard, David Niven, and Anne Firth (another Formby leading lady) in The First of the Few (aka Spitfire), a stirring biography of R.J. Mitchell, designer of the Spitfire airplane. In 1943, she made two wartime propaganda films, The Gentle Sex, about women doing war work, and Rhythm Serenade, a Vera Lynn vehicle.
Back in the West End, she starred with Barry Morse in The Assassin in 1945. A fellow performer recalls impressing his girlfriend by taking her to the splendid opening night party at the Savoy which was attended by Noël Coward and other celebrities. There, the young lady was introduced to Boulter's husband, Stanley Haynes, and "two weeks later, he buggered off with my girlfriend!" Apparently, this marked the end of Boulter's first marriage. Devastated, she remained with her daughter Carol in the family home at 2 Gloucester Walk in Kensington, London, getting emotional support from friends that included Marcel Varnel (a Formby director) and fellow actors Derrick de Marney and Richard Neilson.
1946 represented both a peak in Rosalyn's career and a major disappointment. Every actor knows how the right role at the right time can make a star. On stage, Rosalyn had scored a major triumph as the unscrupulous and faithless wife of a man driven to murder in Dear Murderer. However, the film, starring Eric Portman and Dennis Price, used Greta Gynt in Boulter's role. Then her luck changed -- or so she thought.
She was cast in the key role of Burgess Meredith's mistress in the film Mine Own Executioner. Unfortunately, Meredith's wife, Paulette Goddard, was also in England, filming Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband for Alexander Korda. Goddard decided that Rosalyn wasn't sexy enough for the part and was instrumental in having her replaced by Korda's current protegée, Christine Norden, a voluptuous green-eyed blonde who was playing Mrs. Marchmont in The Ideal Husband. Norden's highly sensual performance as the mistress in Mine Own Executioner helped to establish her as the first postwar sex symbol of the British cinema, prior to the ascendancy of Diana Dors. So memorable was Norden's performance that, after her death in 1988, part of the planet Venus was named for her!
Rosalyn was bitter about this loss for many years, feeling it blighted her career. Norden, aware of Boulter's feelings, said in later years, "She blames me to this day, but I was under contract and simply did as I was told."
On August 8, 1952 in London, Rosalyn married Joseph Sistrom, an American film producer (Double Indemnity, Botany Bay). A newspaper account described the happy couple accompanied by Rosalyn's pretty, blonde daughter, Carol, then age 9. Rosalyn made only one more film, The Day They Gave Babies Away in 1959, and then her private life becomes something of a mystery.
According to one friend, she never remarried after Sistrom's death in 1966. But another, actor Richard Neilson, recalls being introduced that year to Rosalyn's husband William Dozier, "a prominent Hollywood producer with Universal....in a luxury high-rise in Greenwich Village. They later lived on a turkey ranch in Arizona." William Dozier (1908-1991) was a Vice President at RKO Studios and later a CBS-TV executive.
"Ros was going on the road with some show," recalls Neilson, "and I loaned her a rather beautiful -- what we called in those far off days -- wardrobe trunk, white leather, very posh. I had a few cards over the next months. Then Rosalyn -- and my trunk -- went out of my life." (If indeed she did a U.S. road tour in the 1960s, this would indicate that Rosalyn remained active in the theatre well beyond Waggonload O' Monkeys in 1951, her final, officially-logged U.K. stage appearance.)
Rosalyn Boulter died on March 6, 1997 in Santa Barbara, California. Her death certificate lists her Rosalyn Boulter Sistrom, indicating that either she never remarried after Joseph Sistrom's death, or alternately, that she returned to his name after William Dozier's death. To further muddle things, some sources recall that she married William Sistrom, a British film director (whose wives included Joan Fontaine and Ann Rutherford), but this clearly is not the case. Perhaps a mental merging of Joseph Sistrom and William Dozier?
(The obituaries for neither William Sistrom nor William Dozier mention Rosalyn.)
Whatever her professional activities after her final film in 1959, Rosalyn Boulter deserves being remembered in the various biographical performing arts anthologies, both for her more than 20 years in show business with 12 films and 23+ stage appearances, and also for her obvious beauty and charm.
Real life, like reel life, can offer melodramatic twists and surprise endings. Some of the Formby leading ladies went on to well-documented fame. Others retired from performing, making it a challenge to locate them or find information about their later years.
One of the most elusive has been Rosalyn Boulter, who, despite extensive stage and screen credits, seemed to vanish when she left acting. No obituary has been found. Even a group of hardy scholars devoted to tracking the birth/marriage/death dates of obscure UK actors could not find a trace of her.
During several years of networking, I located two longtime Boulter friends. Both told me that Rosalyn Boulter had died "some years ago" in the United States -- one thought in California, the other on a ranch in Arizona. They also differed on the name of her last husband. (Given the fallibility of human memory, it is a wonder that eyewitness testimony is ever permitted in court!)
Enter a recent boon for researchers: the on-line U.S. Social Security Death Index (http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=3693). As a matter of public record, it lists birth and death information for everyone with a U.S. Social Security number who has died since 1960. (Presumably earlier S.S. records will be added, back to its inception in 1933.) By checking maiden and all possible married names, I found that "Rosalyn Sistrom" died on March 6, 1997 in Santa Barbara, California. This was just 17 months before I was assured by good friends that she had been dead for a decade or two.
I sent for a copy of her probated will, another public document that could reveal the names and addresses of relatives or friends. However, another mini-mystery: her will wasn't probated in the county where she died. Nor have I been able to determine if her daughter Carol (who would now be about 58) is still alive.
A poignant and probably fanciful explanation has occurred to me. Did Rosalyn suffer a stroke or incapacitating illness and enter a nursing facility several decades ago? Did her east-coast friends, having their Christmas cards returned and discovering her phone disconnected, decide that she must have died? And did she spend her final years alone and cut off from her old friends until her death in 1997? Or is there a simpler and less melodramatic explanation, such as a failure of the post office to forward letters?
Carol Haynes, if you are out there, we would love
to know more about your lovely mother's life after she left the spotlight.
In the Spring, 2001 Vellum profile of Rosalyn Boulter,
Carol Haynes Johnson is the daughter of Rosalyn and
film director-writer-producer Stanley Haynes. Their marriage broke
up when Carol was quite young. "Daddy came into our lives when
I was about 4," she recalls,
Rosalyn married her second husband, William "Billy"
Sistrom, in London
Billy Sistrom had produced 30 UK and US films between
1930 and 1949,
Rosalyn worked with the Phoenix Little Theater, directing,
"The joke in the family to this day," says
Carol, "is that I have never
Carol appeared on stage only once as a child, a small
role in a Phoenix
The "extraordinarily happy" couple had
often talked of moving to Santa
Nearing the age of 80, Rosalyn developed macular
A memorial service was held at the Lobero Theatre,
attended by many of
Carol recalls that her mother "had a fantastic
sense of humour and loved