Sunday, 26 February 2012

Carla Lehmann: From Winnipeg Little Theatre to London's Stage UPDATE

British Lion Films card

Carla Lehmann was born in Winnipeg on February 26, 1917, the youngest of five children of Julius and Elsa (Hillerns). Dr. Julius E. Lehmann was a prominent surgeon and on the board of governors of the University of Manitoba.

On her horse 'Muggs', August 11, 1935, Free Press

Lehmann attended Riverbend Girls' School, (now Balmoral Hall) where she was an honours student and editor of the school newspaper.

Through her teens she showed horses, performed at piano recitals and, at age,15 began acting with the Winnipeg Little Theatre. (This was a 1930s incarnation, not the 1950s
John Hirsch troupe that merged to form the Manitoba Theatre Centre.)

Above: December 22, 1932, Winnipeg Tribune
Below: April 8, 1933, Winnipeg Free Press,

In the troupe's Christmas 1932 run of Peter Pan, she was understudy to Peggy Jarman in the lead role and did get to do a couple of performances.

The show was such a success that it was brought back in April for a one-night-only performance at the Winnipeg Auditorium with Lehmann in the lead. (In both the Christmas and April performances ‘Wendy’ was played by
Ruth Gordon.)

May 29, 1933, Winnipeg Free Press

The following year, Winnipeg Little Theatre scored a bit of a coup. In what the Free Press called   a "combination of happy circumstances",  New York-based actor and director Jacob Ben-Ami joined them for their production of He Who Gets Slapped.

Lehmann's performance got noticed. A Free Press reviewer wrote: "Lehmann was the delicate little creature with the lyric voice .… Her simplicity and sense of unawakened emotion were beautifully done.” (June 1, 1933.) The Tribune called her performance "captivating".

Winnipeg Tribune, September 22, 1939 (source)

After graduating from Riverbend in 1933, Lehmanna spent a year at Rupert’s Land Ladies’ College, (also a forerunner to Balmoral Hall.) From there, she decided to go to London, England and enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

She then joined the Croydon Repertory Company for a year and soon found herself on the London Stage.
She appeared in over a half a dozen productions that I could find, including: People at Sea (Appollo Theatre, 1937); Banana Ridge (Strand Theatre 1937-38); Mary Goes To See (Haymarket Theatre, 1938); Spotted Dick (Strand Theatre, 1939); The Moon is Down (Strand Theatre, 1943); Appointment with Death (Piccadilly Theatre, 1945).

Her big break came during Mary Goes to See in which she shared the stage with Dame Marie Tempest. The play was panned by critics but, thanks to Tempest, brought out huge audiences, including Queen Mary, and Lehmann's good performance was noted.

October 11, 1938, Winnipeg Tribune

The same year as Mary Goes to See, Lehmann made her first on-screen appearance, a bit part in Luck of the Navy (1938), a film version of the war-time play.

What is considered to be her true screen debut came the following year,  when she played a lead role in
So This is London (1939) opposite Stewart Granger.

Between 1940 and 1947, Lehmann appeared in ten films with some of Britain's top leading men. Besides Granger there was fellow Croydon alum James Mason in both Secret Mission (1942) and Candlelight in Algieria (1944) and Hugh Williams in Talk About Jacqueline (1942).

A July 1944 Time Magazine review of Candlelight in Algeria noted that “Canadian Carla Lehmann, with her prairie voice, is about twice as American as the average U.S. screen heroine.”

A role in 49th Parallel (1942), the Oscar-winning film shot mainly in Manitoba brought her back home. She was cast as an air stewardess but the scenes were dropped from the final cut.

May 8, 1937, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1947, Lehmann took a break from acting to concentrate on her personal life. In January she married second husband John Townsend, an insurance broker, and had two sons named Anthony and Nicholas.

Lehmann returned to Winnipeg on a number of occasions. Though her father died died in 1934, her mother continued to live at the Wellington Apartments until 1940 and Carla visited her in 1937 and 1939. After her mother moved to Montreal, Carla stayed with old school friends during visits in 1942 and 1952.

December 1942

When Lehmann resumed her acting career in the early 1950s, it was primarily in television dramas. She told a Free Press reporter in 1952 that she preferred stage and television work to that of movies.

Carla Lehmann died in England on December 1, 1990.

Lehmann had vivid personality, showed early talent, schoolmates recall Calgary Herald (1940)
Lehmann tells of London Air Raids Winnipeg Tribune (1940)

My other Manitoba film posts:
Manitoba is hell in Die Hölle von Manitoba
The Oscar winning 49th Parallel
Mantrap !
Deanna Durbin: From Winnipeg to Hollywood
Chaplin's back in town

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