It is difficult to imagine that this wondrous monster of the American and London stage began her career as a Broadway chorus girl doing high kicks in the Ziegfeld Follies. Her audacity in choosing roles, her life-long outspoken liberal-left politics, her cavalier sexual adventurousness, her boozing, her cigarette-ravaged baritone croak, and her willingness to wrangle just for the hell of it, made her a figure of larger than life proportions even where celebrity is commonplace. Though she created a number of important roles on the American stage (Regina Giddens in "The Little Foxes" and Sabina in "The Skin of Our Teeth"), her greatest triumphs took place during an eight-year residence in London where she was revered as one of the great actresses of the ages for a series of performances beginning with Noel Coward's "Fallen Angel."
In films she was stereotyped as a maneater, shredding would-be suitors and relatives with relish. Her failure to snag the part of Scarlett O'Hara rankled her for the remainder of her life, and even the satisfactions of playing "Lifeboat" were no recompense. Her autobiography, It's Me, Dahlings (1952), is one of the finest and most candid of theatrical memoirs. David S. Shields/ALS