Saturday, October 07, 2006
Enjoying The Times's Obituaries
The Dowager Lady Oranmore and Browne — the actress Sally Gray – who has died aged 87, bewitched filmgoers with her good looks and husky voice during the 1930s and 1940s before retiring to marry into the peerage.
Her first outstanding film was Dangerous Moonlight (1941), in which she played a heartbroken wife who has to nurse her husband, a Polish airman with amnesia. It was a sensitive and emotional role, which led her to suffer a complete breakdown that may also have been connected with the death of her close friend, the comedian Stanley Lupino.
Sally Gray undertook some musical comedy on the West End stage later in the war, then returned to the screen in 1946 with a new grace, combining a statuesque figure with a well-bred manner like Valerie Hobson (who was also to retire after marrying well).
After turning down a lucrative Hollywood contract, in December 1951 Sally Gray became the third wife of the 4th Lord Oranmore and Browne; their marriage was secret, and became public only when they attended the Coronation in 1953.
One of a widowed ballet dancer's five children, she was born Constance Vera Stevens at Holloway, north London, on Valentine's Day 1919. After going to the Fay Compton Studio of Dramatic Art, she started to do cabaret in order to earn money for further lessons.
After she married Oranmore and Browne, the couple settled at Castle Mac Garrett, Co Mayo. Although she had never before been to Ireland, she happily left her career behind and developed a passion for gardening. But the estate no longer had the financial support which had been provided by the second Lady Oranmore and Browne, the former Oonagh Guinness, and the rural economy in Ireland was declining sharply.
Lord Oranmore and Browne ended up rearing pigs in the drawing room in the hope that animals raised in such surroundings would command a higher price.
On finally leaving in the early 1960s, they settled in a flat in Eaton Place, London, where the former actress enjoyed meeting old friends, such as her dresser; but she declined to talk about her career. However, she persisted in saying "Good morning", whatever the time of day, because it was a theatrical tradition.
When Lord Oranmore and Browne died, aged 100, in 2002, days after he and his wife had attended at a party in the Ritz, he had been the longest serving peer in the Lords (where he had never spoken) until ejected by Tony Blair's reforms.
Lady Oranmore and Browne, who died on September 24, continued to enjoy lunching at Simpson's and Wilton's. She remained unflappably good-humoured even when she became stuck in her bath.