Remembering Lee Remick as Lady Randolph Churchill
Lee Remick 1935-1991
May 2021 marks thirty years since we lost dear Lee Remick. She was the accomplished actress who brought Winston Churchill’s mother vividly to the screen.
One of the finest-ever Churchill films, Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill, is available on CD. 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. Co-starring with Remick were Ronald Pickup as Lord Randolph Churchill and Warren Clarke as young Winston.
Lee and Greg
In 1991, two months before she died, we held an award dinner for Ms. Remick on the Queen Mary in Long Beach. It was a gala evening to celebrate her film contribution to our knowledge of Churchill’s life and times. And a bittersweet occasion, for she was stricken with cancer. This would be her last appearance in public. We did her proud, thanks to the participation of a special guest, Gregory Peck, who added luster and eloquent words.
It was fun to watch people’s reactions as Mr. Peck and his wife Veronique walked the ship’s passageways. But sadly, Lee was swollen with medications, barely able to speak. Mr. Peck hadn’t seen her in years. Her husband, British film producer Kip Gowans, briefed him in advance. The consummate professional, Gregory Peck spoke as if nothing had changed:
It was my privilege to work in only one film with Lee. Its title was “The Omen.” The theme was Satanism. It had some horrifying special effects. It was a spine tingler, excruciatingly suspenseful—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 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.
“A depth of womanliness”
He said all that very much tongue-in-cheek. Then he added what he had really come to say:
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.
Creating the illusion
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). She was Oscar-nominated for playing the wife of Jack Lemmon in “The Days of Wine and Roses” (1962). And again for her final film, “Emma’s War” (1986). She won seven Emmy nominations for outstanding roles in TV docudrama. One of these was playing Eisenhower’s wartime chauffeur/mistress, Kay Summersby. Another was for “Jennie.”
We played excerpts from the film before giving her the award. When the lights came back on there were tears in her eyes.
“I was beautiful then,” she murmured wistfully.
“But Lee,” I said, “you still have those eyes…”