Obituary: Valerie Hobson
Vallance, Tom, The Independent (London, England)
LIKE MANY British female film stars of the Thirties and Forties, Valerie Hobson exuded breeding and class, but she also brought to her performances a delightfully sophisticated sense of humour and a refreshing element of spunk, whether as the wise-cracking heroine of Q Planes, the resourceful double agent of The Spy in Black, the haughty Estella of Great Expectations, the shrewd widow in Kind Hearts and Coronets, or, on stage, the dignified but determined governess Anna Leonowens in The King and I.
She was to display similar grit in her real life when her husband, the politician John Profumo, became notorious for his relationship with a call-girl who was also involved with a Russian official. In an admirable display of stoicism and loyalty, Hobson stood by her husband and they were to remain married until her death.
She was born Valerie Babette Louise Hobson, in Larne, Northern Ireland, in 1917, the daughter of a British naval officer who was serving on a minesweeper at the time. She was educated at St Augustine's Priory, London and started dancing lessons at three: When we moved to Hampshire and I was five, I was taken to London twice a week to be taught ballet by Espinosa. These lessons were intended to "give me grace", but were precious training for the stage, which I'd been heading for ever since I grabbed a bath towel and pretended to be the Queen of Sheba, with nanny for an audience. After training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, she made her stage debut at the age of 15 in Orders Are Orders. Oscar Hammerstein II, who saw her in the show, spotted her lunching with her mother at Claridge's, went over to their table and offered her a small part in his production Ball at the Savoy, starring Maurice Evans, at Drury Lane. While appearing in the show, she made her first film, a minor thriller Eyes of Fate (1933). Evans then asked her to appear with himself and Henry Daniell in the film version of L. DuGardo Peach's radio play The Path of Glory (1934), a satire on war so biting that it was taken out of distribution after one day. Hobson had a small stage role in Noel Coward's Conversation Piece, during the run of which she played the romantic lead in a popular screen adaptation of R.C. Sherriff's play Badger's Green. As the daughter of a developer whose plans will wreck a village's beloved cricket green, she complicates things by falling in love with the son of a protestor. Her performance in the film led to tests for Hollywood and the offer of a contract by Universal Pictures. With her mother, the 17- year-old Hobson departed for the US, but was disappointed with the parts she was given. Ironically her first role, that of Biddy in the studio's version of Dickens' Great Expectations (1934) was eliminated from the final print - years later Hobson was to have notable success as Estella in David Lean's masterly version of the same tale. The studio started her in B films (briefly as a platinum blonde), and though one of Hobson's subsequent American films is a true classic, James Whale's baroque Bride of Frankenstein (1935), the actress was unhappy with the other horror films and minor thrillers she was offered. Even in the best, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935) and Werewolf of London (1935), her roles were colourless. "I'd been there 18 months and learnt a great deal, but I was getting tired of horror pictures and doing nothing but scream and faint . . . In The Bride of Frankenstein, I was carried by Boris Karloff over almost every artificial hill in Hollywood." Universal in fact kept her screams in their sound library to use in subsequent horror movies. Hobson returned to England in 1936, where in such films as the intriguing thriller No Escape (1936) she quickly established herself as a stylish leading lady. In this pre-war period Hobson reputedly also made more television appearances than any other actress. The producer Alexander Korda, after seeing Hobson's performance opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jr in Raoul Walsh's Jump For Glory (1937), tested her for the role of a colonel's wife on the North West Frontier in his production The Drum (1938). …