Dame Maggie Smith



  • (1934 - ) British actress and comedienne, knownfor playing "the impossible nanny goat" roles. The criticAlan Brien wrote in 1974 that "it is Maggie Smith, all thoseknees and elbows and pointed toes like an umbrella in a thunderstorm,or a sleepwalking bat, or a spider escaping from treacle, who keepsus continually watching her in incredulous delight."

    She made her debut in 1952 in the OUDS productionof Twelfth Night. After training at the Oxford PlayhouseSchool, she appeared on Broadway in the revue New Faces of '56at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The following year she was back inLondon in Bamber Gascoigne's revue Share My Lettuce, in whichshe appeared with Kenneth Williams. She claimed to have picked upher nasal delivery from Williams. One night he unexpectedly addednew material and ruined her next line; Smith rushed angrily to hisdressing room, where Williams explained it seemed such a good jokethat he couldn't wait for the next rehearsal to add it. Smith defusedthe situation by leaning over his dressing room sink and asking "Haveyou been peeing in here? I suppose you couldn't wait for that either?"

    In 1959 she joined the Old Vic company and a year later replacedJoan Plowright in Ionesco's Rhinoceros. She joined Olivier'sNational Theatre company at the Old Vic in 1963, playing the roleof Desdemona to this Othello in 1964. In the same year she appearedin a revival of Noël Coward's Hay Fever directed by theMaster himself; when Smith starred in another Coward hit PrivateLives in 1972 he praised her as being "much better thanGertie" (his beloved Gertrude Lawrence).

    Subsequent plays included the one-woman show Virginia(1980), based on the life of Virginia Woolf, Ronald Harwood's Interpreters(1985), and Peter Shaffer's Lettice and Lovage (1987). In 1993she starred as Lady Bracknell in Nicholas Hytner's revivalof The Importance of Being Earnest and in 1999 as the eccentricMiss Shepherd in Alan Bennett's The Lady in the Van. More recent workincludes David Hare's The Breath of Life (2002), a two-hander withJudi Dench, and Edward Albee's The Lady from Dubuque (2007).

    Maggie Smith is probably still best known for creating thetitle role in the film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969),for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress. To the younger viewer,however, she is most familiar as Professor Minerva McGonagall in theHarry Potter series of films.

    From 1967 to 1975 she was married to the actor Robert Stephens (1931 - 95);their son, Toby Stephens (1969 - ), is also an actor.