Claire Bloom Biography
Claire Bloom is a wonderful English actress considered by many people to be one
of the best and most beautiful actresses of the 20th Century. Claire was the first
child of Edward Blumenthal/Blume/Bloom and Elizabeth Griewski/Grew. The name Blume
was modified to Bloom by Claire's mother during the 1930's, but her father's father
had immigrated to England from Central Europe, probably from Russia, and had borrowed
the name Blumenthal from a fellow passenger's passport. Claire's parents were both
from European Jewish descent. Her father's mother came from Riga, Latvia about 1900.
Her mother's mother, the daughter of the grand Rabbi of Frankfurt, also came to England
about 1900 with her husband who later started a successful furniture factory. Both
of Claire's parents were born in England, her father at Liverpool and her mother
in London. Claire was born on February 15, 1931 in the North London suburb of Finchley.
She has a younger brother named John who was born about four years later.
Claire's father was a salesman when she born, and was frequently out of work, and the family moved many times during the years before the beginning of World War II. As a child, Claire read a great deal, including Jane Eyre and the works of Charles Dickens. Her first schooling was at Cardiff., and she enjoyed early games of make believe and walking in fields, but she didn't play with dolls. The family moved from the Severn River to Bristol to Cornwall. When Claire was taken to the 1936 movie of Romeo and Juliet starring Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard, it greatly impressed her and she went home to act out the balcony scene. However, when the war began in the summer of 1939, the family's finances required her to leave Badminton School and moved back to Cornwall and Claire attended a village school. Then they moved to New Milton, near Milford and she entered her fourth school. However, when the bombing began to affect their home and sleeping at night became very difficult, they went to visit her grandparents in London, but that house was very crowded with other relatives and visitors, and Claire and John were sent to join her cousin Norma in the country, where she attended a school run by a former wife of the philosopher/writer Bertrand Russell. This school was very free spirited, and clothes were optional, and Claire learned to talk about sex with the other children. Soon an invitation to visit her uncle in Florida came, and she traveled with her mother and brother to New York City and rode a bus to Florida. They only stayed in Ft. Lauderdale for a year, but Claire went to a dancing school and won a radio quiz and talent show competition and she entertained at benefits to raise funds for British War Relief. She sang a song written for her by Irving Plumber:
"I'm a little English girl,
Knocking at your door,
Driven from my home
By the Gods of War
Asking but the right,
To live and share the sun
Praying for the night
When peace once more will come."
After an argument with her uncle and aunt, Claire moved with her family back to Forest Hills in New York and lived in a room in a small apartment. The landlady's daughter was named Virginia and she also enjoyed games of make- believe and became a lifetime friend with Claire. Claire enjoyed reading books and reading movie magazines. She liked Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara and went to the movie house whenever they could find the money. She also loved to listen to the radio programs of the time. One day in 1941 a letter came from a bank which told her mother that her father had sent her an allowance each month, and they used the money to buy clothes.. Her mother became ill the following spring and had to have an operation, from which she later recovered. In the meanwhile, Claire auditioned for the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta Patience, and got the part of one of Patience's companions, with her own solo. At the age of 12 she saw Three Sisters with Catherine Cornell, which was an unforgettable experience for her. She appeared on Robert Emory's Rainbow Hour on the radio and later she was cast as Gretel in the opera Hansel and Gretel. She had grown to her full height by then, and stood almost a foot taller that the youth who sang Gretel. At that time they sailed back to Europe through Lisbon , but waited 3 months to return to England.and arrived by train at Waterloo Station and met her father. Air raids were still continuing in London, and schools frequently had to be abandoned after they were bombed out. Claire entered the Cone School, for professional children near Berkley Square, and took ballet, tap and acting classes. She was close to her aunt Mary, a formerly well known actress, during that turbulent period.
In 1945, after the war ended, at the age of 14, Claire entered the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art, though she never enjoyed her time in this school. Since she had little formal education, she was considered not qualified enough to attend the lectures on the history of the theater and Greek drama. Her first year included a performance in A School for Scandal, and was noticed by Olive Harding, an important theatrical agent, who offered to represent her. Claire got the role of Anne of Oxford Street, on BBC radio & Confessions of an English Opium-Eater in which, at the age of 15, she took the role of a prostitute. She left the school to do the role.
Claire was completely involved in her work and had no time for boyfriends or parties, and felt uncomfortable in the company of men. She soon was given a role by the actor/dancer Robert Helpmann, a former dance partner of Margot Fonteyn. In 1947, her father left for South Africa to join his sister Frieda and seek his fortune. Claire says she felt emptiness and desolation about his leaving and his eccentric plans. She said, in her biography, that the fear of abandonment began then and never left her. However, Claire then became the main source of support for her family.
Claire performed many roles for BBC radio and encountered many famous people, but seldom knew much about them, including Dylan Thomas, whom she characterized as a 'cherubic, drunken Welshman'. In 1946, at the age of 15, she auditioned as Juliet for Peter Brook, and later met the older Welsh actor, Richard Burton. She appeared in an obscure play called "Pink String and Sealing Wax" and later in An Italian Straw Hat. Her brother John left to go to Westminister Boarding School, a liberal school with strong theatrical traditions, John Gielgud and Michael Redgrave were both graduates. Claire auditioned for the role of Ophelia for the Laurence Olivier movie "Hamlet", but the role went to Jean Simmons. She had a role in the play "The White Devil" but that play ended after six months and then she got a role in "He Who Gets Slapped", directed by Tyrone Guthrie, but the play was not successful and closed soon after opening. At 16, she was out of work, but soon won the role of Eric Portman's daughter in "The Blind Goddess", her first motion picture role. The picture was not successful, and Claire never saw it. Claire then audtitioned for the part of Ophelia in Hamlet, at Stratford, which she won, and acted opposite Helpmann and Paul Scofield. Several more Shakespearean roles followed, in King John and Taming of the Shrew, and The Winter's Tale. At that time she walked home many miles down long country roads, and she related one incident when she walked along a hedge and saw a shadowy figure on the other side of the hedge trailing her. She feared being attacked, and finally turned around to face the potential attacker, which turned out to be a cow.
Claire won the role of Alizon Eliot in a new play by Christopher Frye, "The Lady's Not for Burning" and worked with Richard Burton, with whom she became friends, since both liked poetry. Claire says in her biography, that she had no social life and the age of 18, was totally involved in her work in the theater. Her father had written to her mother from South Africa and asked for a divorce in order to marry a South African heiress, and her mother agreed to the divorce. About that time, Claire left the successful Frye play and acted in "Ring Around the Moon" with Paul Scofield. Stories and photos of her began to appear in such magazines as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. She was noticed by Charlie Chaplin as a potential leading lady for his next film.
Claire managed to obtain a release from her part in "Ring Around the Moon" and flew to America where she met Charlie Chaplin who cast her as a ballerina in his film "Limelight". The film was well made, but not successful because of the political climate, Mr. Chaplin was very unpopular at the time because of his leftist views. He was married to Oona O'Neil, daughter of Eugene O'Neil, and she bore him many children, and Claire became friends with Oona. Though the picture was not successful, Claire became famous because of it, with her picture on the cover of Time magazine in 1952, and later in 1956 on the cover of Life magazine for Richard III. She became acquainted with Sydney Chaplin, Charlie's oldest son by an earlier marriage, and they went together until she returned to London. She next starred as Juliet at the Old Vic in London, opposite Alan Badel. When the play moved to Edinburgh, Claire experienced some health problems, including a cold, but managed to overcome them to win acclaim as Juliet. When her father visited London with his new wife, Claire refused to eat dinner with them, but soon regreted her actions, when her father died suddenly from a heart attack shortly after, at the age of 42.
At the age of 22, Claire continued to act on the stage, but in 1958 she got a role in the film "Look Back in Anger" costarring with Richard Burton, with whom earlier, she had become very close friends, and she later traveled throughout Europe with him and his wife Sybil. In 1956 she had starred with Sir Laurence Olivier as Lady Anne in the film "Richard III". Claire also appeared on television with Jose Ferrer, as Roxanne, in Cyrano De Bergerac. In 1958, she acted with Yul Brynner in The Brothers Karamazov and became very close friends with him, and during the filming, she met a young Elvis Presley who was filming on an adjacent lot. She still owned her house in Chelsea and decided to remain in London for some time, but was offered a role in the play Rashomon, starring opposite Rod Steiger. They soon became close friends and were married in 1959, and had a daughter named Anna Justine on February 13, 1960. Her mother came to America to join her for the birth, but 8 weeks later Claire went back to work in Berlin where she acted in a film with Curt Jurgens. She also acted with her husband in several films, and later he won an Oscar for his part in "The Heat of the Night". In 1964, Claire joined Richard Burton again in the film "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold", but was irritated by Elizabeth Taylor's possessive visits to the set.
In 1969, Claire met the producer, Hillard Elkins, who became infatuated with her, and pursued her until he convinced her to leave her husband, Rod Steiger, and marry him. She married Elkins about 1970, during which time he introduced her to smoking pot and new sexual practices. During the marriage, her daughter Anna was very unhappy, but Elkins produced two plays for his wife to star in, A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler. A Doll's House was very successful for Claire and she later starred as Nora in the movie of the same name. Shortly thereafter, Claire won the role of Blanche in Tennessee William's revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire" on Broadway. She lost quite a bit of weight in order to play the role. By 1975, her marriage with Elkins was over, after she discovered one of his affairs. Claire appeared in another Tennessee Williams play "The Red Devil Battery Sign" but the play closed soon after its opening, and Claire returned to London, upset and disappointed and not financially solvent.
For a few months, Claire lived quietly with her daughter and her mother, but soon accepted a movie role opposite George C. Scott, in Hemingway's "Islands in the Stream" which was filmed in Hawaii. During a brief stop in New York, on her flight to Hawaii, she met the writer Philip Roth, whom she had first met in 1966. He had written the very successful book, "Goodbye Columbus" and later wrote "Portnoy's Complaint". She admired his intellect and writing ability and soon began writing letters to him. They soon became very close and later Claire moved in with him in New York. She lived with him for many years before marrying him about 1990. His erratic behavior and betrayals caused her a great deal of anxiety and eventually she divorced her third husband in 1994.
Claire's only daughter, Anna, grew up to study music and became an opera singer and sang the role of Maddelena in Riggoletto at the Monte Carlo Opera in 1995. Her brother John became a well known film editor. In 1993, Claire acted the role of Madame Ranevskaya in "The Cherry Orchard" for the American Reperatory Theatre (ART), and in 1995 she acted in the movie "Daylight" with Sylvester Stallone. In 1996 she played the part of Mary Tyrone in the O'Neill play "Long Days Journey into Night". Claire later starred in her own production of Shakespeare's Women and Claire Bloom and continues to accept guest roles on television, such as a part on the CBS Soap Opera "As the World Turns" in 1995/6 and occasional guest appearances on other TV shows. As she said at the end of her recent autobiography "Claire Bloom A Memoir: Leaving A Doll's House"-
"Now begins the rest of my life".
Claire continues to act in many roles, and her work in Shakespeare's plays is among the best of any actress that ever played the parts.
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