Glynis Johns is a South African-born Welsh stage and film actress, dancer, pianist and singer, most notably of “Send in the Clowns”, which she originated in Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music”. With a career spanning seven decades, Johns is often cited as the “complete actress”, who happens to be a trained pianist and singer. She is also an accomplished dancer, and was qualified to teach ballet by the age of ten.
Johns was born October 5, 1923 in Pretoria, South Africa. She is the daughter of the Welsh actor, Mervyn Johns and concert pianist Alys Steele. Johns was born in Pretoria while her parents were on tour there, but she was always proud of her Welsh roots. She made her film debut in 1938, in the movie version of Winifred Holtby’s novel, “South Riding”. In 1944 she appeared opposite her father in “Halfway House”, and in 1948 starred as a mermaid in “Miranda” which is by all accounts her most popular film. She successfully made the transition to Hollywood, appearing in “The Court Jester” (1956) as Danny Kaye’s love interest. The following year, she starred in the especially sad Christmas film “All Mine to Give”. Johns received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the 1960 film “The Sundowners”. One of her best known film roles was that of Winifred Banks, the children’s mother, a suffragette, in “Mary Poppins” (1964). Her last film appearance was in the 1999 film “Superstar”.
Johns has also appeared on television and on stage, most memorably in Stephen Sondheim’s musical “A Little Night Music”. The song “Send in the Clowns” was written with her in mind, and in 1973, she won a Tony award for her role in the musical. She later appeared in London in “Cause Célèbre” by Terence Rattigan. She played opposite Sir Rex Harrison in his final stage production W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Circle” in 1990. She also starred in the premiere of Horton Foote’s “A Coffin in Egypt” in 1998 at the Bay Street Theatre as Myrtle Bledsoe.
In the fall of 1963, Johns and Keith Andes starred as a married couple in her sitcom-drama television series called “Glynis”. In the story, Glynis is a mystery writer, and Andes is a criminal defense attorney. The program was cancelled after thirteen weeks. In the 1962-1963 television season, Johns guest starred in the CBS anthology series “The Lloyd Bridges Show”. She also appeared in the “Murder, She Wrote” (1984) episode “Sing a Song of Murder.” From 1988-89 she played Trudie Pepper, a senior citizen living in an Arizona retirement community in the sitcom, “Coming Of Age”.
Johns has been married four times. Her first marriage was to Anthony Forwood in 1942, with whom she had her only child Gareth Forwood. Her second marriage was in 1952 to David Foster, who at the time was chairman of Colgate Palmolive International. Her other two marriages were to Cecil Henderson in 1960 and Elliot Arnold in 1964. All four marriages ended in divorce. She once remarked that she was wed so often because she married all of her lovers.