Anna Massey, a Tony nominee who played supporting roles in more than 40 movies, died at age 73 on July 3, in London. (Image: Anna Massey in Peeping Tom.)
The daughter of Academy Award nominee Raymond Massey (Abe Lincoln in Illinois) and sister of another Oscar nominee, Daniel Massey (Star!), Anna Massey began her acting career in the late 1950s. She was nominated for a Tony for her performance in The Reluctant Debutante (1958), which was made into a movie that same year. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, the movie version starred Sandra Dee as an Americanized version of the role Massey had originated in the West End and on Broadway.
Massey’s first film appearance also took place in 1958, in John Ford’s crime drama Gideon’s Day, starring Jack Hawkins. Other notable film roles, invariably supporting bigger names, include those in Michael Powell’s controversial Peeping Tom (1960), with Karl Böhm as a fetishistic serial killer; Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965), a mystery drama starring Carol Lynley and Laurence Olivier; Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972), another thriller about a serial killer; and as Kristine Linde in one of two 1973 adaptations of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (the one starring Claire Bloom).
More recently, Massey could be spotted supporting Christian Bale in The Machinist, Gwyneth Paltrow in Possession, Colin Firth in The Importance of Being Earnest, and Elijah Wood in The Oxford Murders. Additionally, she was featured in Richard Bracewell’s The Gigolos, co-starring fellow stage and screen veterans Susannah York, Angela Pleasance, and Sian Phillips.
Notable television roles, which flourished from the mid-1960s onwards – include those in David Copperfield, Thunder Rock, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Pinochet’s Last Stand, Anna Karenina, The Cherry Orchard, Oliver Twist, and Moving On, a 2010 TV series that marked Massey’s last appearance in front of the camera. She won a Best Actress TV Bafta for her performance as a lonely novelist in a 1986 adaptation of Hotel du Lac for Screen Two.
Between 1958–1692, Massey was married to Jeremy Brett, with whom she had a son. According to the Guardian obit, in her 2006 autobiography Telling Some Tales Massey openly discusses her breakup with Brett – who throughout his life was involved with both men and women. The formerly married couple were reunited on the small screen in a 1979 version of Rebecca, in which Brett played Maxim de Winter and Massey was Mrs. Danvers.
“I don’t want any dramas in my life,” Anna Massey told an interviewer in 2006. “If I’m in a drama, I want to be paid for it.”
January 2019 update: A previous version of this Anna Massey post erroneously featured an image of another strangled Frenzy actress, Barbara Leigh-Hunt. That image can now be found in this Packard movies article.
Anna Massey Frenzy image: Universal Pictures.