Acclaimed and distinguished British actress Billie Whitelaw, most famous Stateside for her role as the sinister Mrs. Baylock in The Omen, passed away on December 21st in Hampstead, England, at age 82.
An alumnus of the Royal Academy of Dramatic arts who made her stage debut at age 18, in her native England, the revered and award-winning actress was best known for her theatrical work and 26-year professional association with Irish playwright Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot). From the early 1960s until his death in 1989, Whitelaw, whom Beckett referred to as “The perfect actress,” was his muse and premier interpreter of his works, many of which he wrote expressly for her.
Although known for her stage work, Whitelaw worked consistently onscreen as well, emerging from the early days of British kitchen-sink cinema (working-class, social realism films) and winning the BAFTA (British Academy Award) for her performances in Hell is a City (1960), Charlie Bubbles (1967), and Twisted Nerve (1968).
Adept at drama: Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972), and comedy: Start the Revolution Without Me (1970), Billie Whitelaw never became a household name in America, but she did achieve horror film immortality (and another BAFTA nomination) for her chilling portrayal of the nanny minion from hell in the popular 1976 Occult thriller, The Omen. An iconic role which nevertheless barely scratched the surface of her talent.
For those interested in exploring some of her other work, here are a few of my favorites.
The Krays (1990) As the doting, domineering matriarch of real-life sociopath gangster twins, Ronald & Reginald Kray.
Night Watch (1973) As the adulterous best friend to possibly loony Elizabeth Taylor in surprisingly effective 70s thriller.
Twisted Nerve (1968) Available on YouTube, a recognized stellar performance in underrated 60s psycho-sexual oddity with Haley Mills.
The Omen (1976) No explanation is necessary
Start the Revolution Without Me (1970) A comically wanton Marie Antoinette in this farcical historical spoof with Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland.
An actress who has worked extensively in radio, screen, stage, and television; Whitelaw was aware that, in spite of having a career which spanned more than forty years, her success was rooted more in reputation and quality of work than in pop culture fame. Amusingly, she titled her 1996 memoir, "Billie Whitelaw...Who He?"
If you're not familiar with the actress, i urge you to check out her credits on IMDB, or do a Billie Whitelaw search on YouTube and Netflix. As marvelous as she is Mrs. Baylock, to coin a phrase, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." It's my guess that after just a film or two, Billie Whitelaw is likely to become one of your favorite actresses you could never quite remember the name of.
Billie Whitelaw will be greatly missed, but happily, has left an extensive legacy of screen performances I look forward to exploring.