Her rags-to-riches story inspired a nation: from a back street terrace in Rochdale to a villa in Capri, armed with nothing but a glorious voice and bags of personality.
She was born over a chip shop, and from an early age was pushed by her mother into talent shows and reviews (not that she needed much pushing). By her teens she was touring the halls. She met her first husband, struggling comic Archie Pitt, in 1915. He soon became her manager and built a show around her, Tower of London, which toured the provinces for four years.
She worked hard through the 20s, at one point appearing in four different productions each evening. By the time talkies arrived, she was a huge star and it was inevitable she appeared in films.
She signed with Basil Dean at ATP. She hated filming and she loathed Dean (the feeling was mutual) but the public loved the result. This success, and her reluctance to film, kept her price high. She met director Monte Banks while making Queen of Hearts and they soon hit it off. Her marriage to Pitt was failing and after the divorce she married Banks in 1940.
Unfortunately, Banks was still an Italian citizen and would have been interned when Italy entered the war. The couple went to Canada to raise funds for war charities and the press went wild. They accused Gracie of fleeing the country out of fear and taking her wealth with her. She denied this, though much of her family had moved to America "for health reasons".
Whatever her reasons for going, she was soon back; touring factories and army posts at home and abroad, and making innumerable radio broadcasts. The press were still against her, but her audience remained loyal.
After the war, she started to slow down her workload. Banks died in 1950 (a heart attack on the Orient Express), but she soon took husband number three. He was Boris Alperovici, a stateless resident of Capri. Love blossomed and they were soon married. Despite being semi-retired she continued to make special appearances notably on the Stars on Sunday TV series in the early 70s.
In 1979 she was made a Dame of the British Empire and died later in the same year of a heart attack. She left behind a string of songs which she made her own (Sally, Wish Me Luck, Sing As We Go, The Biggest Aspidistra in the World) and some classic films. In an era dominated by Mayfair accents, she was one of the few working-class women to keep her identity and translate it into worldwide success.
|1931||Sally in Our Alley|
|1932||Looking on the Bright Side|
|1933||This Week of Grace|
|1933||Love, Life and Laughter|
|1934||Sing as We Go|
|1935||Look Up and Laugh|
|1936||Queen of Hearts|
|1937||The Show Goes On|
|1938||We're Going to Be Rich|
|1943||Stage Door Canteen (U.S.)|
|1943||Holy Matrimony (U.S.)|
|1945||Molly and Me (U.S.)|
|1945||Paris Underground (U.S.)|
Gracie Fields at Amazon UK
Gracie Fields at Amazon US