The Stately Ghosts of England (1965)

Margaret Rutherford may have ben in more than 40 films, but she is best known for playing Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple in four movies and Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit. She also dealt with some family craziness, as before she was even born, her father killed his father by beating him to death with a chamber pot. After seven years in a mental ward, he was released. After starting his new family, changing his name and moving to India, his wife killed herself, leading Margaret to be raised by her aunt. She was told her father was dead, despite him trying to reach her for years.

Once she began acting, she was pretty much protected from the world by her husband — and frequent acting partner — Stringer Davis. There have been rumors that the two never consummated their relationship, but they did adopt a child of sorts by taking in a young man named Gordon Langley Hall who eventually had gender reassignment surgery and became known as Dawn Langley Hall, the name she used when she wrote the biography of Rutherford, Margaret Rutherford: A Blithe Spirit.

In 1965, Margaret — who suffered bad spells and electroshock therapies in her life in an effort to stay away from the madness she thought infected her family — Stringer Davis and Tom Corbett visited the haunted homes Longleat, Salisbury Hall and Beaulieu for an NBC special based on Diana Norman’s book The Stately Ghosts of England.

Honestly, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen, an absolute delight of old English manners, famous British actors and just plain goofball haunting silliness.

NBC promoted this show with articles in the New York Times and Show Magazine. There was plenty of William Castle-level BS in these, including all manner of ghost antics like slamming doors, ruined footage and broken cameras writer, producer and director Frank De Felitta asked for the ghosts to give him permission to film them.

Great story, right? Well sure, but De Felitta also wrote the novels Audrey Rose and The Entity. So he knew a great ghost story when he heard one.

 

 

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