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Irene Vanbrugh


Irene Barnes (later Irene Vanbrugh) was born in Heavitree, near Exeter, 2 December 1872.


She was the fifth child  of the Rev. Prebendary Reginald Henry Barnes, Vicar of Heavitree, near Exeter and his wife Frances (née Nation).

Her young years were spent in Exeter but later, the family moved to London where she completed her schooling. Like her sister Violet, she always wanted to become an actress and in 1892, she was given the opportunity to join Beerbohm Tree's Theatre Company. As she was Violet's sister, what could be more natural than sisters sharing the same surname - from then  on, her stage name was Irene Vanbrugh.

Irene Vanbrugh


In 1895, Oscar Wilde selected her to play Gwendoline in the very first production of his play, The Importance of being Ernest. From then on, she performed leading roles in plays by Arthur Pinero, Somerset Maughan, A. A. Milne and George Bernard Shaw. J. M. Barrie was a particular admirer of her's and in 1916, he wrote a play for her called Pantomime.

She married fellow actor Dion Boucicault in 1901.

Just like her sister Violet, she soon became involved in the world of cinema, appearing in several films including

The rise of Catherine the Great (1934)

In which she played alongside Douglas Fairbanks jnr, Flora Robson and Gerald du Maurier as Princess Anhalt-Zerbst

Escape me never (1935)

In which Leon Quartermaine played Mr. McClean and she played his wife.

A Yank in London (1945) - also known as I live in Grosvenor Square

A comedy-drama directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Anna Neagle and Rex Harrison. Irene Vanbrugh played a cameo role as an actress portraying Dame Irene Vanbrugh!

Like dozens of other stars, throughout the 2nd World War, Irene regularly appeared in the morale-boosting performances organised by Sir Donald Wolfitt at the National Gallery and for her services was created a Dame of the British Empire.

She died 30 November 1949 at the age of 77 and was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin, Hurley, Berks. Her husband, Dion, died in 1929 at the age of 70.




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