Daphne du Maurier Profile
* Titles in Bold will be aired on TCM
Martyn Shallcross The Private World of Daphne Du Maurier
Born May 13, 1907 to Muriel and Sir Gerald du Maurier (one of the most famous actor/theater managers of his day), Daphne Du Maurier grew up in Cannon Hall in Hampstead, England. Her family was very wealthy and they lived in a world of famous actors, writers and artists. Muriel Beaumont had been an actress but gave up her career when she had children, which made her resentful and distant with Daphne and her sisters, who were left to nurses and governess to raise. This later affected the way Daphne herself would raise her children, even hiring the same nurse who had raised her. As a child and later as an adult, Daphne was more interested in spending time alone reading than attending parties. Being very intelligent, she was bored with children her own age, preferring the company of adults. "During my childhood, the reading of books became very important to me. I learned to read at a very early age. The characters I read about were acted out by my sisters and me...during these years I thought it was much more fun to be a boy than a girl, and all my life I have wished that I had been born a boy. I think this attitude has resounded through some of my books...I started to write when I was about thirteen or fourteen and I used to scribble short stories. We had a very good governess, Miss Waddell it was Miss Waddell who really got me started and encouraged me to write. When I was sixteen or seventeen, I went overboard for Katherine Mansfield's short stories and hoped that mine would be as good as hers."
Du Maurier admitted late in life to having fallen in love with a woman in her late teens; she was rumored to have fallen in love with her American publisher Ellen Doubleday, and to have had a long affair with actress Gertrude Lawrence. Her first heterosexual love affair was with Carol Reed, director of films such as The Third Man (1949) and Oliver! (1968), when in her early twenties. Around the same time she met Jessie Lasky, Jr. (son of Jessie Lasky, founder of Paramount Studios) with whom she would remain friends for the rest of her life. "When I was introduced to Daphne, she was in the attic of her Hampstead home, sitting cross-legged and wearing what appeared to be men's trousers. I was keen on writing poetry too, so we exchanged poems...I noticed that she was not in the least conventional, so I was very surprised, a few years later, when she did the most conventional thing possible marrying a Guards officer." Her first work, short stories, were published in Bystander magazine beginning in 1928. Du Maurier's first novel The Loving Spirit was published in 1931 and was an instant bestseller, to her father's great pride. It also won her a husband. Having read her book, Frederick ("Tommy") Browning (who later became Lt.-General Sir Frederick Browning) was determined to meet the author. Du Maurier told Martyn Shallcross about the first time she laid eyes on Browning, on October 3, 1931. "I saw this white motor boat cruising around the harbor, and sister Angela said, "There's a most attractive man at the helm." Later I was introduced to Tommy, as I came to call him and we both enjoyed one another's company." They were engaged a few weeks later and married on July 19, 1932. The couple would eventually have three children and the marriage lasted until Browning's death in 1965.
Shallcross wrote in his biography of du Maurier, ""Her marriage to Frederick Browning whose eventual career was as a member of the royal household, took Daphne to Balmoral and Buckingham Palace. But like all writers she drew on what she knew and many of the characters in her plays and novels are based on her friends, both royal and theatrical."
Having moved to Cornwall, where she would live for the rest of her life, du Maurier would use this setting in nearly all her stories up until the 1960s. In 1936 she published Jamaica Inn which was another bestseller. Du Maurier later remembered "I developed the idea for the novel Jamaica Inn during an expedition with my friend Foy Quiller-Couch, when we visited Jamaica Inn (a famous tavern in Cornwall) on horseback. I had just begun Treasure Island as bedtime reading, and that is when the characters began to develop, and the idea of Jamaica Inn, with wrecking and smuggling, became clear to me."
The book was adapted into a film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1939, starring eighteen-year-old Maureen O'Hara, Robert Newton and Charles Laughton. Du Maurier was not happy with the results because Laughton's character - the ringleader of the smugglers - had originally been a clergyman in the novel, but film censorship would not allow that so he was changed to a Justice of the Peace. Laughton (as producer as well as star) wanted his part enlarged which to Hitchcock's and Du Maurier's mind ruined the story. As he told Francois Truffaut years later, "If you examine the basic story, you will see it's a whodunit. It was completely absurd, because the Justice of the Peace, played by Laughton [was the ringleader and] should have entered the scene only at the end of the adventure. Therefore it made no sense to cast Laughton in that key role. Finally I made the picture and although it became a box-office hit, I'm still unhappy over it."
Hitchcock and Du Maurier were both happier with Rebecca (1940). Du Maurier's most famous novel was set at Maxim de Winter's home Manderley, which was partly based on Du Maurier's own home, Menabilly, a large estate she rented for decades in Cornwall. Published in 1938 it was her biggest success. Rebecca was adapted into a play starring Celia Johnson (best known to audiences in David Lean's Brief Encounter ) and Owen Nares as Max and Mrs. de Winter, and Margaret Rutherford as Mrs. Danvers. The play ran in London for almost 400 performances in 1940. The film version of Rebecca was shot in the United States just after Hitchcock had arrived in Hollywood in the autumn of 1939 to work under contract to producer David O. Selznick. It starred Joan Fontaine as Du Maurier's protagonist (sometimes known as "I" or "the Second Mrs. de Winter") and Laurence Olivier as Maxim. Fontaine told Shallcross, "During the filming the nameless heroine was often referred to as Daphne. In fact, when I told her [Du Maurier] this many years later in Cornwall she agreed, and told me this was something like the truth, and that she was the girl in the story." Du Maurier is quoted elsewhere as saying, "When one is writing a novel in the first person, one must be that person." While Browning had not been married before, Du Maurier came across old letters written to him by his former fiancée, the beautiful debutant Jan Ricardo, on whom Du Maurier based the character of Rebecca. Du Maurier's lifelong insecurities made her feel like the timid character she created. The film version pleased Du Maurier much more than Jamaica Inn, as she later said, "I was surprised with the treatment of Rebecca. I had worried that the film would turn out like Jamaica Inn, but I was proved wrong. The film was perfect, and I wrote to Selznick and Hitchcock and told them so!"
Rebecca made Du Maurier one of the most popular authors of her time, which was supported by subsequent novels Frenchman's Creek (1941), (the film version also starred Joan Fontaine in 1944), and Hungry Hill, which was published in 1943 and was made into a film in 1947 starring Margaret Lockwood. Du Maurier made her one and only attempt at being a screenwriter on Hungry Hill, but later thought that "the stills were far more interesting than the final film".
Du Maurier continued to write for most of her life, though her association with filmmaking and the theater diminished. While her husband worked at Buckingham Palace, Du Maurier remained at home, almost a recluse. She preferred to remain at Menabilly reading and writing and very rarely went to London. On occasion the Queen and Prince Philip stayed at their home, and she enjoyed entertaining her friends but as she grew older, especially after the death of her husband, she preferred to be alone. Du Maurier did see her short story "The Birds," which was published in a collection called The Apple Tree in 1952, made into another film by Alfred Hitchcock by the same name. Although Hitchcock changed many of the details of the original story, the result pleased her. Don't Look Now (1973), directed by Nicholas Roeg and based on her 1971 short story, was also a well-received film which helped advance Roeg's career. She wrote to Roeg, "I was tremendously impressed with the whole thing, direction, camera-work, acting, story adaptation. It is a strange feeling to sit and watch something one half-glimpsed some years ago in Torcello and Venice, later to write down on paper seeing, half dimly, through the character John's eyes, and then watch it transformed upon the screen."
Her love of privacy and her home in Cornwall made Du Maurier hesitant to tell even her children that Queen Elizabeth had chosen to make her a Dame of the British Empire in 1969. In fact she didn't even want to go to the ceremony, but her son and daughters talked her into going through with it for her grandchildren's sake. Ill health which began in the 1970s slowed Du Maurier down and as she neared eighty she found, to her great frustration that she could no longer write. By the time of her death on April 19, 1989 at the age of eighty-one, Daphne Du Maurier, who had always felt she was not taken seriously as a writer, was still one of the twentieth century's most successful authors. At the end of 2006, a previously forgotten short story entitled And His Letters Grew Colder was published in the United States by Hearst's International Combined with Cosmopolitan magazine in 1931. It tells in letters, the brief affair between an older man and a younger, less experienced woman and was probably written around 1926. It was included as part of the Daphne Du Maurier Companion which was published by Virago last May.
by Lorraine LoBianco
The Private World of Daphne Du Maurier by Martyn Shallcross
The Internet Movie Database
Total Fiction or True Romance? The Times Online, April 15, 2007