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South Wales Evening Post column, May 10, 2024

Robert Lloyd PR, Media and Marketing Consultancy News, Newspaper columns South Wales Evening Post column, May 10, 2024

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South Wales Evening Post column, May 10, 2024

Posted By RobertLloyd58

PAY attention film buffs: here’s a question to test your knowledge.

Name the Mary Poppins star who is buried in a quiet corner of a Burry Port chapel cemetery.

She was nominated for an Oscar and won a Tony Award for a celebrated role in a Stephen Sondheim musical.

With a career spanning more than 70 years, she was regarded as a Hollywood legend. She died at the start of this year, aged 100.

Those clues should lead you in the direction of Glynis Johns, one of the last surviving stars of what film fans will regard as the Golden Age of Hollywood and the classic heyday years of British cinema.

Glynis Margaret Payne Johns lived quietly in West Hollywood in Los Angeles and died on January 4, after spending her final months in an assisted living facility.

She was cremated and her ashes were flown ‘home’ to Burry Port, to be buried (in a small, private family service) alongside her father, the celebrated actor Mervyn Johns, and other members of the family.

A modest stone tablet stands alongside the gravestone bearing her father’s name in the tightly-packed cemetery alongside Jerusalem Independent Chapel in Burry Port, just next to the busy A484 skirting the edge of the town.

The simple inscription reads – ‘Glynis Margaret Johns – born Oct 5th 1923 – died Jan 4th 2024 – aged 100 years’. A small bouquet of artificial flowers has been placed on the stone.

Bit by bit, local historians and film fans are trying to piece together the story of why Glynis Johns chose Burry Port as her last resting place.

The obvious answer is that her father Mervyn’s family had roots in Burry Port and Pembrey, even though he was born in Pembroke. The family had an established heritage for being performers, with Glynis’s grandmother, Elizabeth Steel-Payne, being a recognised virtuoso violinist.

Plainly, Glynis was passionate about her Welsh roots, that being the driving force behind her decision to join Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O’Toole in the film of the classic Dylan Thomas play for voices, Under Milk Wood (1971).

Little is known about Mervyn’s life in the Burry Port area, but we do know that, having been born in Pembrokeshire in 1899, he is recorded as living in Pembrey in the 1901 census. We also know that he attended Llandovery College, having once harboured a dream to become a dentist.

Mervyn went on to star on screen and stage, with more than 100 credits for roles between 1923 and 1979.

On screen, he starred with his daughter on two occasions –

  • The 1944 mystery Halfway House, which many west Wales film fans will insist was ‘set’ in the village of Halfway, between Llandovery and Brecon.
  • The 1960 film The Sundowners, which saw her nominated for an Oscar for best supporting role.

The movie-going public will probably best remember Glynis Johns for her Sister Suffragette role as Mrs Banks in the classic Mary Poppins.

But she was much more than a film actor, being nominated for a Laurence Olivier award in 1977 for playing Alma Rattenbury in Cause Célèbre.

She also introduced the world to the classic bittersweet song Send in the Clowns, by Stephen Sondheim.

Sondheim wrote the song to suit her distinctive husky voice in the role of Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music on Broadway.

“I’ve had other songs written for me, but nothing like that,” she told the Associated Press in 1990. “It’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given in the theatre.”

When her death was announced in January, her manager, Mitch Clem, said: “My heart is heavy today with the passing of my beloved client Glynis Johns. Glynis powered her way through life with intelligence, wit and a love for performance, affecting millions of lives.”

He added: “She entered my life early in my career and set a very high bar on how to navigate this industry with grace, class and truth. Your own truth.

“Her light shined very brightly for 100 years. She had a wit that could stop you in your tracks powered by a heart that loved deeply and purely.”

Glynis was known in the industry to be a perfectionist about her profession and insisted the roles she took were multi-faceted.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m not interested in playing the role on only one level,” she told Associated Press in 1990.

“The whole point of first-class acting is to make a reality of it. To be real. And I have to make sense of it in my own mind in order to be real.”

There was a touch of destiny about Glynis’s career on the stage and screen. Her mother was Alyce Steele-Wareham, an Australian-born concert pianist who had studied in London and Vienna.

Mervyn and Alyce enjoyed a peripatetic lifestyle, touring for different concert or stage performances. Glynis was born in Pretoria in South Africa, because her parents were touring at the time.

She appeared on stage from a young age, making her screen debut in South Riding (1938).

In 1991, in an article in the Los Angeles Times, she reflected: “There were situations that were hard for parents to turn down. It’s difficult to turn down a chance to star with Laurence Olivier, to say, ‘No, she has to go to school’. They had a big decision to make . . . I was interested in everything. I wanted to be a scientist. I would’ve loved to go on and on at university. But you can’t do everything in life.”

One of her most famous roles was as the Cornish mermaid Miranda, a 1948 black and white comedy which inspired a celebrated statue on the banks of the river near Dartmouth Castle.

The cemetery at Jerusalem Chapel may not lend itself to being a site for film fans to pay homage to a Hollywood great.

But the members of Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council may want to consider that, alongside the aviator Amelia Earhart, the town has another star it needs to honour.

A blue plaque to mark Hollywood great Glynis Johns? Or a mermaid statue at the entrance to the harbour?

The Glynis Johns Pembrey and Burry Port link is certainly one that should be celebrated.

  • Glynis Johns is survived by her grandson Thomas Forwood, who is based in Paris, and her three great-grandchildren.


Jerusalem Chapel

Glynis Johns in Miranda, left, and in Halfway House, with her father Mervyn Johns, right.

The grave at Jerusalem Chapel, Burry Port.


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Written by RobertLloyd58

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