Laura Smithson – Character Actress
Laura Smithson was born on 14 February 1885 in Stockton-on-Tees. She was a character actress of stage and screen.
Her first appearance on stage was at the Stratford Memorial Theatre, where she had a walk on scene in a 1902 production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. She went onto give poetic and Shakespearian recitals all over England. From 1913 to 1921 she conducted the Summer School of Drama at Stratford.
Her first appearance on the London stage was as the nurse in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the Old Vic in 1918. She played at various London music halls after 1918 and in 1921 toured Belgium with the Old Vic in productions of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Twelfth Night’. For the next five years she performed at various London theatres such as the Haymarket, Criterion and the Drury Lane Apollo. As well London she toured Australia and New Zealand in a production of ‘The Ghost Train’ in 1926/27 and performed on the New York stage in ‘The Matriarch’ (1930).
Her first film was ‘Lamp of Destiny’ in 1919 and she went onto appear in such films as ‘Men Are Not Gods’ (1936) alongside Hollywood stars Miriam Hopkins and Rex Harrison; ‘Rembrandt’ (1936) opposite Charles Laughton; ‘South Riding’ (1938) with Sir Ralph Richardson; and the George Formby comedy ‘I See Ice’ (1938). ‘Rembrandt’ allowed Laura to fulfill a childhood ambition – as a child she loved to visit Stockton Market especially the fish stalls where she would watch the ladies work – she used to think how wonderful it must be to sell fish. In one scene Laura had to smoke a clay pipe surrounded by fish but the scenes had to be filmed several times during a very hot week. Due to the hot weather and week old fish, Laura’s working environment didn’t smell very pleasant – apparently she smoked 14 clay pipes in one day to try and keep the smell away. Her ambition to be a fish monger died after this experience.
When she wasn’t performing, Laura taught elocution and voice production. She died on 20 December 1963 in London.