If ever there was an archetypal name for a British film star, Nova Pilbeam was it. The combination of a starry first name with a down to earth surname I suspect is a major factor in why her name is remembered when those of most of her contemporaries have been forgotten.
She got into acting through her father, Arthur Pilbeam, manager of the Lyric Hammersmith. At 15 she signed a long-term contract with Gaumont-British for the star-making role of a child torn between divorcing parents. Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much was the next up where she played a kidnapped child, but it was Tudor Rose where she played doomed Lady Jane Grey that was her first star vehicle as Gaumont-British tried to develop her appeal. Sadly, developing stars has never been a skill the British cinema industry excelled at, so Pilbeam released a film about every eighteen months in this period instead of the two or three times a year US stars would expect.
Next up was another Hitchcock, Young and Innocent. This is now probably her most revived film but it was also important to her personally because the assistant director was Pen Tennyson who later became her husband. His is the hand she clings to when dangling over a mineshaft during one of the film's stunts. They married in 1938.
The outbreak of war meant her filming rate went up, and also the anti-Nazi Pastor Hall finally got a release. Sadly, her husband died in a plane crash in 1941 and she seems to have lost any real desire to film. She had always been more interested in theatre work which her contract prevented, so after the war she concentrated on that. She retired from acting altogether when she remarried in the 50s.
|1934||The Man Who Knew Too Much|
|1937||Young and Innocent|
|1939||Cheer Boys Cheer|
|1942||The Next of Kin|
|1946||This Man is Mine|
|1948||The Three Weird Sisters|
Nova Pilbeam at Amazon UK
Nova Pilbeam at Amazon US