“Jennie” with Lee Remick Revived on CD

“Jennie” with Lee Remick Revived on CD

We are hap­pi­ly informed that one of the finest-ever films about Win­ston Churchill, fea­tur­ing the late Lee Remick as his moth­er in Jen­nie: Lady Ran­dolph Churchill, is now avail­able on CD from Ama­zon. It was orig­i­nal­ly a tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary, “The life and loves of Jen­nie Churchill,” broad­cast on ITV in Britain and PBS in the USA in 1974.

On 4 May 1991 the Inter­na­tion­al Churchill Soci­ety held a din­ner for Lee, then dying of can­cer, on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, to present her with our Blenheim Award for notable con­tri­bu­tions to our knowl­edge of the life and times of Win­ston Churchill. It was a bit­ter­sweet occa­sion, Lee’s last appear­ance in pub­lic. But we did her proud, thanks to the par­tic­i­pa­tion of a spe­cial guest, Gre­go­ry Peck, who start­ed off with a droll sto­ry:

It was my priv­i­lege to work in only one film with Lee. It was called “The Omen.” It had to do with Satanism. It had some hor­ri­fy­ing spe­cial effects; it was a spine tin­gler, excru­ci­at­ing­ly suspenseful—and com­plete nonsense—and a block­buster! Peo­ple lined up for blocks to see it. While the stu­dio exec­u­tives took bows as the mon­ey rolled in, only Lee and I knew the secret of the film’s extra­or­di­nary suc­cess: We did it! It was our spe­cial artistry, our sen­si­tive por­tray­al of a mar­ried cou­ple very much in love, to whom all these dread­ful things were hap­pen­ing. We pro­vid­ed the human ele­ment that made it all work.

He said all this very much tongue-in-cheek. Then he added what he had real­ly come to say:

Lee Remick in Lon­don, 1974, pho­to by Allan War­ren from Wiki­me­dia Com­mons.

There can­not be anoth­er Amer­i­can actress so well suit­ed, by her beau­ty, her high spir­its, her intel­li­gence, and more than that, by the mys­tery of a rare qual­i­ty which I would call a depth of wom­an­li­ness, to play the moth­er of Win­ston Churchill….Playing oppo­site this clear-eyed Yan­kee girl with the appeal­ing style and fem­i­nin­i­ty that graces every one of her roles just sim­ply brings out the best in a man.

Lee was not a Lady Ran­dolph looka­like, wrote crit­ic Stew­art Knowles: “What cast the illu­sion were clothes, wigs, and the tal­ent of a great actress.” She was one of the most remark­able actress­es Amer­i­ca ever produced—from her debut in “A Face in the Crowd” (1957) and “The Long Hot Sum­mer” (1958) through her Oscar nom­i­na­tion as the wife of Jack Lem­mon in “The Days of Wine and Ros­es” (1962) and her final film, “Emma’s War” (1986). She won sev­en Emmy nom­i­na­tions for her out­stand­ing roles in tele­vi­sion docu­d­ra­ma, includ­ing the role of Eisenhower’s wartime chauffeur/mistress, Kay Sum­mers­by, as well as Jen­nie Churchill.

Lee as "Jen­nie" (1974)

Although it was a great hon­or to wel­come Gre­go­ry Peck (and amus­ing to watch people’s reac­tion as he walked with us through the ship’s cor­ri­dors to our din­ner), it was a very sad night, for Lee was swollen with med­ica­tions and just bare­ly able to speak. Her hus­band, the British film pro­duc­er Kip Gowans, made sure to tip Greg in advance, for he hadn’t seen Lee in years and would oth­er­wise have been unpre­pared for the change her ill­ness had wrought—which, great man that he was, Mr. Peck nev­er hint­ed he had observed.

We played excerpts from “Jen­nie” before giv­ing her the award, and I noticed when the lights came back on that she was in tears.

“I was beau­ti­ful then,” she said wist­ful­ly.

“But Lee,” I said, “you still have those eyes…”

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