Thursday, 28 November 2013

Vintage Beauty - Moira Shearer

Stunning red haired dancer and actress Moira shearer was born Moira Shearer King in Dunfermline, Scotland on 17 January 1926, the daughter of Harold Charles King. When she was five her family to Northern Rhodesia in 1931, where her father worked as a civil engineer.  It was here that she received her first dancing training.

Vintage Beauty - Moira Shearer

Back in Britain in 1936 she trained in London for a few months under Flora Fairbairn.  While there, Fairbairn's friend Noel Streatfeild decided she was the image of Posy Fossil, the youngest of three dancers in her new book 'Ballet Shoes', and she was photographed for the advertisements (Lucy Boynton played Posy in the 2007 movie with Emma Watson).

Soon after this she was accepted as a pupil by the Russian teacher Nicholas Legat, who had been a dancer with the Russian Imperial Ballet from 1888 to 1914. After three years with Legat, and after his death in 1937, with his widow Nadine Nicolayeva, Moira joined the Sadler's Wells Ballet School (later the Royal Ballet School).

Vintage Beauty - Moira Shearer

During WWII Moira's parents took her back to live in Scotland.  After the war she returned to London and Sadler's Wells and danced  with Margot Fonteyn and Pamela May,in the 1946 version of "Symphonic Variations", and in the title role in the première of  "Cinderella" in 1948, choreographed by Frederick Ashton.

In 1948 she played Victoria Page in the Powell & Pressburger ballet-themed film The Red Shoes.  It was a huge success, and won two Oscars and was nominated for three more, including a nomination for Best Picture.

Moira shearer as Vicky Page in the Red Shoes.
Moira as Vicky Page in the Red Shoes.

Moira Shearer in a scene from "The Red Shoes" (1948),
Moira Shearer in a scene from "The Red Shoes" (1948)

Afterwards she said that she would never appear in another movie while she was still a ballet dancer, as
the movie "made dancers critical of my dancing, the way they filmed me and critics critical of my acting."
However she appeared in a film version of "The Tales of Hoffmannn' 1950, as she had insisted that the film makers shot around her in one sequence, and did not make her stop and start continually.  She said of the role "I shall dance and not act." Moira was also encouraged to take the role by Frederick Ashton, who designed a dance sequence especially for her.

Moira shearer Tales of Hoffmann 1950
Moira in The Tales of Hoffmann
Moira's other celebrated performances were in the premieres of Ninette de Valois’s Promenade (1943), Robert Helpmann’s Miracle in the Gorbals (1944), and Léonide Massine’s Clock Symphony (1948).

Moira Shearer and Alexander Grunt in 'Clock Symphony' 1948
Moira and Alexander Grunt in 'Clock Symphony'
In 1950, Moira married journalist and broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy. They were married in the Chapel Royal in London's Hampton Court Palace. The couple had a son, Alastair, and three daughters, Ailsa, Rachel and Fiona.

In 1950, Moira Shearer married journalist and broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy.

Moira Shearer for Clarks, 1950
Moira Shearer for Clarks, 1950

Moira retired from ballet in 1953, but she continued to act. Her other films were 'The Story of Three Loves' (1953), 'The Man Who Loved Redheads' (1955), Peeping Tom (1960) and Black Tights (1962, the film version of four ballets by Roland Petit). She also played Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the 1954 Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama and performed at the original London and Bristol Old Vic theatres and danced (and sang) the role of Morgan le Fay in the original London production of Camelot, directed and choreographed by her Red Shoes co-star, Sir Robert Helpmann.

Moira Shearer 1954

In 1955 she joined Bristol Old Vic, playing the title role in George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara.

Moira Shearer as major Barbara
Moira as major Barbara
In 1972, she was chosen by the BBC to present the Eurovision Song Contest when it was staged at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. According to author and historian John Kennedy O'Connor's The Eurovision Song Contest - The Official History, Shearer accepted the role of hostess because her children wanted something to tease her with in the future.

Moira Shearer hosts eurovision 1972
Eurovision host, 1972
The choreographer Gillian Lynne persuaded her to return to ballet in 1987 to play L. S. Lowry's mother in A Simple Man for the BBC.In 1994 she played Juliana Bordereau in The Aspern Papers at the Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow. During the last years of her life, Shearer wrote book reviews (not just of dance books) for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, which were immensely readable though not celebrated for their generosity towards authors. In 1998 she published a biography of Ellen Terry.

Moira Shearer in her later years, still gorgeous!
Moira in her later years, still gorgeous!
She died at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, England at the age of 80.

Sir Ludovic Kennedy and his wife, Moira Shearer
Moira Shearer and Sir Ludovic Kennedy c.2000
I'm off to find a copy of Red shoes.....

Deb xx


  1. A Lovely lady and rather unknown to me, so I read your article with a lot of interest. I have to say, she did age gracefully, didnt she? I´d be happy to be so beautiful at the age of 74(?)!

  2. She aged so beautifully! I remember watching The Red Shoes when I was younger and I'm sure that's what inspired me to take up ballet today! Thank you for writing this out~

  3. I had not heard of this lady before and have just took some time to quickly find out about one of the films you have mentioned that she starred in - The Story of Three Loves in which she plays a ballerina called Paula Woodward along side James Mason, the story sounds a very sad one and I am going to try and see if I can find this movie somewhere, thank you for writing

  4. Deb,
    Nice to know we share an admiration for Lady Kennedy!
    Couple of questions..
    1. Define her beauty for me
    2. Is Film Fan Fare an Australian magazine? Do you own that copy?
    I've been researching Ms. Shearer for a couple of years and am always interested to hear another perspective on her.

    1. Hi Dai, thanks for reading. Her beauty is unconventional, I think, with that stunning copper hair, and she aged so gracefully. The film fare photo was a page in the 10 November 1954 issue of the Australian Women's Weekly - which I no longer have, but you can find here -
      Cheers, Deb

    2. Thank you again Deb
      I'll try to find the link


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