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08 September 2017

Isobel Elsom

Isobel Elsom (1893-1981) was an English screen, stage and television actress. She usually was cast as an aristocratic lady of the upper class. Elsom was directed in nine British silent films by her husband Maurice Elvey and frequently co-starred with Owen Nares. Later she worked with such directors as Charles Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock.

Isobel Elsom
British postcard in the Lilywhite Photographic series, no. L.E. 1.

Isobel Elsom
British postcard in the Lilywhite Photographic series, Cinema Stars, no. CM 51.

Wealthy murder victim


Isobel Elsom was born Isabelle Jeannette Reed in Chesterton, Cambridge, in 1893. She attended Howard College, Bedford England.

Over the course of three decades she appeared in 17 Broadway productions, beginning with The Ghost Train in 1926. In the late 1930s she settled in America.

Her best-known stage role was the wealthy murder victim in Ladies in Retirement (1939), a role she repeated in the 1941 film version. Her other theatre credits included The Innocents and Romeo and Juliet.

Elsom made her first screen appearance during the silent film era and appeared in nearly 100 films throughout her career. She often co-starred with Owen Nares in such romances as Onward Christian Soldiers (Rex Wilson, 1918).

Elsom met her first husband, director Maurice Elvey, when he cast her in his film Quinneys (Maurice Elvey, 1919). They married in 1923. He went on to direct her in eight more films before they divorced.

Isobel Elsom
British postcard by Rotary Photo, London, no. 5.37-1. Photo: Lallie Charles.

Isobel Elsom
British postcard by Rotary Photo, London, no. 5.37-2. Photo: Lallie Charles.

The epitome of opulent, grande dame haughtiness


According to Gary Brumburgh at IMDb, Isobel Elsom was 'the epitome of opulent, grande dame haughtiness'. "What the tiny-framed Elsom lacked in stature, she certainly made up for in pure chutzpah. The matronly actress remained in Hollywood and played a number of huffy bluebloods in both comedies and drama for over two decades, often as a minor Margaret Dumont-like foil".

Her sound film credits include The White Cliffs of Dover (Clarence Brown, 1944), The Unseen (Lewis Allen, 1945), Of Human Bondage (Edmund Goulding, 1946), the fantasy / romantic comedy-drama The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1947), Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin, 1947), The Paradine Case (Alfred Hitchcock, 1947), and The Two Mrs. Carrolls (Peter Godfrey, 1947) with Humphrey Bogart.

Her later films included Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (Henry King, 1955), the Vincent van Gogh biopic Lust for Life (Vincente Minnelli, 1956) starring Kirk Douglas, and 23 Paces to Baker Street (Henry Hathaway, 1956).

Her final films included The Pleasure Seekers (Jean Negulesco, 1964) with Ann-Margret, and the successful musical My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964) featuring Audrey Hepburn. Elsom also appeared opposite Jerry Lewis in four of his late 1950s and early 1960s solo films.

Elsom's television credits included Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1956-1957, 1962-1963, at least 4 appearances), Hawaiian Eye (1961-1962), Dr. Kildare (1963-1964) and My Three Sons (1965).

Elsom's second husband was actor Carl Harbord, from 1942 until his death in 1958. Sometimes she was billed as Isobel Harbord. She had no children. In 1981, Isobel Elsom died in Woodland Hills, California, aged 87.

Isobel Elsom
British postcard by Rotary Photo, London, no. 5.42-6. Photo: Lallie Charles.

08 Isobel Elsom_Will Scissors. (Actresses; 8)
British cigarette card by Wills' Scissors Cigarettes, no. 8. Collection: Manuel Palomino Arjona @ Flickr.

Sources: Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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