Glen Alyn – the actress who was chased by a shark

Glen Alyn (1913-1984) in Picture Show Annual, 1942, P117, via the Internet Archive. The cropped article in the background, that reported the shark attack, is from the London Evening Standard, Nov 19, 1940, P8, via the British Library Newspaper Archive.

The Five Second Version
Born Glen Pointing in Sydney in 1913, she developed a career on the English stage and in mostly supporting film roles after 1930. She said she hated her first film experience in The Outsider in 1931, but she took a Warner Bros (UK) contract for two years in the late 30s. She continued to perform on stage until the 1960s. Late in life she retired to Australia, where she died in 1984.
Audrey Pointing, born 1910, also appeared on the English stage in the 1930s, and briefly on Broadway. She married and became Lady Doverdale in 1933, retiring from the stage. She died in Monte Carlo in 1970. 

Was a young Glen Alyn really chased by a shark, as the London Evening Standard reported in November 1940? Well, probably not. Although this does occasionally happen in Australia, it was almost certainly a tall story developed for publicity purposes, – like Lotus Thompson’s “acid on the legs” story or Errol Flynn’s “Irish birth”. Glen left a clue to the reason for this story when speaking to the same newspaper years later. By 1954, she could honestly report that her career had been “a persistent plodding on,” and she had never really had an outstanding success. Other Australian actors reported similar experiences – ten years later Australian born actor Betty McDowall, complained that working in London was “tough as hell”. But why would we expect it to have been anything other than hard work.

Left: “Vivacious Glen Alyn” photographed while the drama The Ware Case was being filmed, The Daily Mirror, 26 Sept, 1938. At no point in the film did Glen pose like this, it is apparently a “glamour shot”. Via the British Library Newspaper Archive.

The Pointing family of Sydney

Glenore Joan Pointing was born in Sydney on 30 September 1913, to Arthur Pointing (1883-1944) and his wife Elsie nee Davis (1888-1956).

Arthur Pointing owned several butcher’s shops in Sydney which had a reputation for high quality and modern cleanliness. But Arthur also had other interests and he didn’t work in the shops himself. These other interests included harness racing and some unspecified but obviously very lucrative investments. Arthur’s father, Albert, had been a City of Paddington alderman for many years, and was Mayor in 1900 and 1911-12.

Arthur and Elsie’s family lived in Woollahra for most of the 1910s and early 1920s, in a large beach front home they had built themselves, on Beach Road in Darling Point.

Above: One of Arthur Pointing’s chain of butcher’s shops, as shown in The Sun (NSW) 6 Sept 1913. Customers were greeted with attractive displays of choice cuts of meat amongst the palm fronds, served by smartly dressed butchers. A very different experience to many butcher’s shops of the era. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.

Glenore attended Ascham School in 1918 and 1919 (where she was known as “Glennie”) and her older sister Audrey (born 1910) was also a student at the school. The girls were very young boarders for a time in 1919, while Arthur and Elsie took a trip to the US. It seems the parents enjoyed the tour so much they decided to take the girls to the US, departing on the SS Ventura in January 1921. Some accounts claimed Glen was a keen dancer and suggest that while on this trip aged only 7 years, she determined to go on stage. In later years, the story was that the Australian comedian Clyde Cooke, then working in Hollywood, had shown the two girls around a studio. This might be so, and we know Cooke directed her in his British film Trouble in Store, in 1934, about the time the story gained currency. However, as with so many aspects of Glen’s early career in the UK, details that might confirm this story are sketchy.

Audrey steps on stage

It was actually Glen’s older sister Audrey who was first on stage and who proved to be the passionate dancer. Audrey was a “star pupil” of well known Sydney dance teacher Minnie Hooper. In late 1923 and early 1924, 14 year old Audrey appeared on stage at the Grand Opera House in Castlereagh Street, Sydney, for Hugh Ward‘s “revusical” panto The Rockets, and in March 1924 in Tons of Money. Ward had been managing director for J C Williamson’s for ten years and had resigned in 1923. These were productions he mounted in a new collaboration with John Fuller.

Possibly enthused with what they had seen of the world on their trip several years before, the Pointings packed up and departed on the Ormonde for England, arriving there in June 1924. Advancing opportunities for Audrey and Glen almost certainly was at the heart of this permanent move, although Arthur was to return every few years to “attend to his affairs.” The Pointing’s Beach Road home was finally sold up in October 1925, including all its contents. The family had relocated to an apartment near Hyde Park, in London’s west end.

Above: Audrey Pointing – while appearing in Out of the Bottle at the Hippodrome, London Daily Mirror, 8 June 1932 P7. A year later she was Lady Doverdale. Via British Library Newspaper Archive.

Audrey Pointing can be found in the chorus lineup for several shows from the late 1920s – such as the musical Peggy Ann, that ran at Daly’s Theatre for four months in 1927. By the early 1930s Audrey had made a name for herself on the British stage, especially for her well received work in some new Noel Coward productions. These included the London and New York versions of the revue This Year of Grace, the operetta Bitter Sweet and the comedy Private Lives. However, in May 1933 she suddenly married Edward Alexander Partington, 3rd Baron Doverdale, and soon after, retired from the stage for good.

Glen starts her career

Unfortunately there is no reliable information telling us what Glen did between the time of the family’s arrival in London and her first recorded performances in 1931, aged about 18. Film biographies of the 1930s claimed she spent six years training as a dancer and indeed, like Audrey she first appeared on stage in the chorus for musicals in the early 30s. Her first credited role in film was a supporting one in the 1931 British medical drama, The Outsider, based on a popular British stage play. (The better known 1939 movie version starred Australian starlet Mary Maguire). It was followed by another supporting role, in Michael Powell’s Born Lucky, a 1932 “B film” or program filler, in this case based on a novel. She also took the love interest role in Clyde Cooke’s 1934 Trouble in Store, another British B film (sometimes called a “quota quickie”) – a vehicle for comedian James Finlayson who was more usually associated with Laurel and Hardy films in Hollywood.

For newspaper reviewers, Glen’s roles were big enough to be noted in passing, but not significant enough to be seriously critiqued. All the Kinematograph Weekly could report of her role in Trouble in Store was that she “spoke well.” (18 Jan, 1934, P22) When she appeared opposite Hugh Williams in The Perfect Crime (1938), another journalist would characterise her only as “glamorous”.

Above: Glen Alyn in early 1937, about the time her Warner Brothers contract was announced. The Leeds Mercury 5 Jan 1937 P3. Via British Library Newspaper Archive.

On the stage, Glen was listed as a dancer in He Wanted Adventure, a musical which ran at the Saville Theatre for five months in 1933. In late 1933 she adopted the stage name Glen Alyn, at about the same time she took a credited role in the Stanley Lupino musical That’s a Pretty Thing, which ran at Daly’s Theatre for four months.

The Warners contract

Following several good reviews for her part in the 1936 film Grand Finale, Glen signed a contract with Warner Bros (UK). Much less exciting in reality than it sounded at the time, studios expected actors to appear in all the films thrown their way, and the contract was not designed to develop a actor’s career or serve any interests other than that of the studio. While under contract to Warners over the period 1937-38, Glen appeared in at least 13 films – a very mixed bag, but many of them requiring her to perform what she later described as “other woman” roles. Many of these Warner Brothers films are lost or inaccessible today.

Above: George Saunders and Australian born actress Margaret Vyner arrive at a 1938 cocktail party at Glen’s London flat. Unusually, even for the time, the article also listed Glen’s address in Grafton Street, Mayfair. The Newcastle Sun, 6 April 1938, P14. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.

We can gain a little insight into Glen’s work in the late 1930s from her surviving films. In Ealing’s The Ware Case (1938) she took a supporting role in several short scenes as Clare, a girlfriend to the playboy Hubert Ware (Clive Brook). One can see how this might once have worked as a stage play – heavy on dialogue, Hubert is presented as a strangely appealing but caddish dandy. Law and Disorder (1940), a film with a stronger cast – including Alistair Sim, Barry K Barnes and Diana Churchill – was probably slightly more enjoyable to make. It was a spy drama with Glen appearing in several scenes as an overdressed foreign (German) spy, pretending to be a reporter.

Above – screen grabs from several of Glen’s pre-war films. Left: Glen with Clive Brook in a casino scene from The Ware Case (1938). Right: Diana Churchill, Barry K Barnes and Glen in Law and Disorder (1940). Here Glen plays the enemy spy, in one of her few scenes. Both films are still available from specialist DVD providers. Author’s collection

Above – a publicity photo of a very blonde Glen with Michael Redgrave. This was another very brief film appearance – a bar scene in Lady in Distress (1939). The Evening Sun (Maryland), 9 April 1942, P26, via Newspapers.com.

Above: Many British actors did their best to support the war effort. Here Glen poses with US tennis player Don Budge, in a photo widely syndicated through the US. The article noted she was an ambulance driver – her steel helmet hangs behind her. The San Francisco Examiner, 13 August, 1939, P19. Via Newspapers.com

Plodding on

Glen did not pursue film work after the outbreak of war – instead she was widely reported as having volunteered to drive ambulances. She found time to appear in a cabaret at the Cafe De Paris, a Coventry Street night club that in December 1940 advertised itself as the “safest” in London because it was 20 feet below the ground. (Six months later the restaurant was bombed out and 34 people were killed, with scores injured – Glen was not there at the time). Glen’s sister Audrey provided at least one public letter from London when the girls were living together in the height of the London Blitz, reminding us how hard life was for Londoners in early 1941.

In 1943, Glen toured provincial England in the popular musical Chu Chin Chow.

Sometime in the mid 1940s, Glen met Stanley Grove Spiro, a London financier. Spiro had fled England in early 1937, after arrest warrants alleging significant financial fraud were issued, but he returned and surrendered himself in early 1938. He was found guilty and imprisoned for eight years, however he was released early, reportedly in exchange for providing helpful information to the authorities. A lesser known side to Spiro was that he was an avid theatre enthusiast, and he had backed the popular musical Balalaika in 1936 – perhaps this was how the couple met. Glen and Stanley (who dropped the surname Spiro in 1944) married very quietly in England in early 1947. Sadly for Glen, he died of heart failure barely a year and a half later, in October 1948.

Glen returned to acting full time after the war – she must have achieved some satisfaction from her role in the musical (or more accurately “comedy with music”) Under The Counter, with Cicely Courtneidge. The show enjoyed a long run on the West End but it closed after three weeks at New York’s Shubert Theatre in October 1947 – its theme of wartime black marketeering did not resonate in the US. All the same, she impressed US critic George Jean Nathan, who picked the “Australian siren” out for praise in what was otherwise, a vehicle for Courtneidge. Courtneidge subsequently decided to bring the play on to more enthusiastic audiences in Australia, but Glen and most of the original cast turned the trip down and returned to England.

Above: Glen’s signature. Undated, in the author’s collection.

Glen continued to appear on the British stage for the next twenty years – and comments she made suggest the stage had become her preference. Her work was a mix of comedy and drama in new and established work, and was often well received. For example, in reviewing the 1950 play The Non-Resident, Hubert Griffiths singled Glen out as an “actress of considerable talent and force,” but he qualified this with the comment that Glen’s was “a name new to me”. As she observed herself to the Evening Standard in 1954, this was her challenge – Glen had not had a major success to establish her name.

Above: Glen Alyn (left), June Clyde (centre) and Margot Lister (right) in It’s Different for Men. Photo from The Sphere, 16 April 1955, P33. The Spectator described this as “a feeble little comedy”. It ran for a month in 1955 at the Duchess Theatre. Copyright held by the Illustrated London News Group. Via the British Library Newspaper Archive

Amongst Glen’s last screen appearances was a leading role in the BBC’s 1954 historical drama The Gentle Falcon, a seven part children’s television serial based on Hilda Lewis’ historical novel. Unfortunately, like so much early television, this series has been lost.

Glen returned to Sydney, permanently, in January 1972. Her mother Elsie had died in England in 1956, and sister Audrey, Lady Doverdale, had died in Monte Carlo in 1970. Glen noted on her Australian entry form that she had not been in the country for 40 years. This was a mistake – she had lived in England for almost fifty years. The form also noted she was an actress, although she made no effort to resume her career in Australia. Glen lived her remaining life in modest apartments in Double Bay and then Bondi, near the famous sunny beach. She died there in October 1984, Australians completely oblivious to her presence. Perhaps this was what she wanted.


Nick Murphy
August 2021


References

  • Special Thanks
    To Marguerite Gillezeau, Archivist at Ascham School.
  • Text
    • Amalgamated Press (1942) Picture Show Annual 1942
    • Harrison’s Reports Inc (1933) Harrison’s Reports
    • Douglas Jerrold (Ed)(1950) The English Review Magazine
    • Brian McFarlane (2003) The Encyclopedia of British film. Methuen, BFI – Methuen
    • George Jean Nathan (1948) The theatre Book of the Year 1947-1948
    • J.P. Wearing (Ed)(2014) The London Stage 1920-1929 : a calendar of productions, performers, and personnel. Rowman and Littlefield
    • J.P. Wearing (Ed)(2014) The London Stage 1930-1939 : a calendar of productions, performers, and personnel. Rowman and Littlefield
  • National Archives of Australia
    • Passenger Card, Glenore Jean Grove, 10 Jan 1972.
  • Clay Djubal, et al (2012) Australian Variety Theatre Archive
  • National Library of Australia’s Trove
    • The Sun (Syd) 6 Sept 1913
    • Sydney Sportsman, 14 Nov 1923, P7
    • Truth (Syd) 6 Jan 1924, P5
    • Sunday Times, (NSW) 27 April 1924, P20
    • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 1920, P16
    • Sydney Morning Herald, July 31 1933
    • Newcastle Sun (NSW) 6 April 1938, P14
    • Daily Telegraph (NSW) 1 Oct 1938, P2
    • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton Qld) 14 Oct 1938, P7
    • Sydney Morning Herald 4 March 1941, P2
    • The Sun (Syd) 29 May 1944, P2
    • Truth (Syd) 4 Feb 1945, P14
    • The Sun (Syd) 30 Nov 1952, P49
  • Newspapers.com
    • The Guardian, 13 April 1925, P1
    • The San Francisco Examiner, 13 Aug 1939, P19
    • The Evening Standard (UK) 19 November 1940, P8
    • The Evening Sun (Baltimore, MA), 9 Apr 1942, P26
    • Daily News (New York) 4 Oct 1947, P131
    • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 4 Oct 1947, P12
    • Latrobe Bulletin (Latrobe, PA) 16 Oct 1947, P4
    • The Evening Standard (UK) 29 Feb, 1954, P8
    • Sydney Morning Herald 9 Oct 1984, P21
  • British Library Newspaper Archive
    • Bournemouth Graphic 10 July 1931, P3
    • Kinematograph Weekly 15 Dec 1932, P7
    • Daily Mirror, 8 June 1932. P7
    • The Bystander, 16 Oct 1935, P97
    • Leeds Mercury, 5 Jan 1937, P3
    • Derry Journal, 11 Oct 1937, P6
    • Daily Mirror, 26 Sept 1938, P6
    • Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 7 Jan 1939, P3
    • The Tatler and Bystander, 15 Jan 1941, P89
    • The Stage, 27 Jan 1955, P9
    • The Sphere, 16 April 1955 P33
    • The Stage, 19 Feb 1970 P16

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