La La Land

24th February 2017 in Archives Centre, Our Collections

In 1949, Sarah Churchill ran away to America for the second time, to pursue her dream of becoming a successful actor. She quickly found work in summer stock theatre in New England and in a Theatre Guild touring production of The Philadelphia Story. That autumn, she also embarked on an impulsive marriage to the British celebrity photographer and would-be film producer, Anthony Beauchamp, in a hastily arranged ceremony at Sea Island in Georgia.

Sarah Churchill and Antony Beauchamp

 

Photograph of Sarah Churchill and Anthony Beauchamp at the time of their wedding at Sea Island in Georgia, [October 1949]. Sarah Churchill Papers, SCHL 6/2/10.

Letter from Sarah Churchill to Clementine Churchill

 

‘Mule has decided to go into double harness’, an extract from Sarah Churchill’s letter to her mother Clementine Churchill, announcing her marriage to Anthony Beauchamp, 14 October 1949. Sarah Churchill Papers, SCHL 1/1/12.

The couple had met in London before the war and their paths crossed again when Anthony took some new publicity stills of Sarah, one of which was later used on the cover of Life magazine.

They moved to Hollywood in the early summer of 1950 when Sarah was offered a contract with MGM to appear in a supporting role in a film — Royal Wedding, starring Fred Astaire. Los Angeles, she wrote to her father Winston Churchill, was an ‘enchanted city’ (CHUR 1/47). With characteristic extravagance, she and Anthony rented 1022 Ocean Front, Santa Monica from the actors Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels, a ‘faded and slightly sea-stormed Palace of former fabulous glories’, complete with an eccentric caretaker and a ‘cedar wood closet you can walk into and ponder which of your diamanté evening gowns you will wear tonight’.

Her letters home to her mother Clementine Churchill (SCHL 1/1/13) describe the round of ‘fittings and make-up and wardrobe tests and publicity’ at the studio, ‘I’m pretty busy now — but doing nothing!’ and the production problems on Royal Wedding, with June Allyson dropping out having discovered she was pregnant, Judy Garland suspended for being ‘unreliable’, and possible replacements discussed and dismissed: ‘sad to say they think Ginger Rogers too old’ and Betty Hutton and Betty Grable both ‘a little brassy’.

Sarah was perturbed to find that the highlight of her role was to be a song, as her ‘singing career’ had been ‘strictly limited to the bathroom’. She took dancing lessons with Nico and Pierre Charisse to brush up her skills and persuaded the producers to let her dance instead. In the end, the part was not the ‘singing and dancing one’, but ‘quite small’ and ‘romantic’: ‘I sit and sigh on a park bench with Fred Astaire and I get him in the end!’.

Royal Wedding would be the only film Sarah Churchill made in Hollywood. Darker days lay ahead in both her personal and professional life and, although she would return to Los Angeles over the years, her Hollywood dream was over. And yet, it had been a ‘really happy summer by the sea’ in the ‘enchanted city’.

Sarah Churchill’s painting ‘Malibu at Night’

 

Photograph of Sarah Churchill’s painting ‘Malibu at Night’, [1957-8]. Sarah Churchill Papers, SCHL 6/2/28.

— Sophie Bridges, Archivist.


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