Contributed by Anne Wolstencroft ©2009

Born Enid Bosworth Nunn, she took Lorimer as a stage name when she appeared in the West End as a student of Elsie Fogerty in 1911.[1] From 1912 until the outbreak of war she appeared with leading theatre companies including those of Beerbohm Tree,[2] William Poel,[3] and Laurence Irving.[4] In 1912, she married fellow actor Wentworth Zerffi,[5] and in 1914 she ran her own repertory company based in Manchester.[6] When most theatres closed after the war started, Enid’s husband enlisted, whilst she found alternative employment in the booming film industry.

Enid modestly described her career in film as being a dogsbody, making tea and “writing them, the subtitles”. However, her role was clearly not so slight; she had her own office, and worked for the Samuelson and Ideal Film Companies, and possibly Broadwest as well.[7] Furthermore, due to her theatrical experience and personal contacts, it seems likely that she was instrumental in coaxing established stage actors to take part in films. These included Ellen Terry, Edith Craig, Dennis Neilson Terry, Bernard Vaughan, James Welch and Matheson Lang.[8] When working as a writer on the film Her Greatest Performance (Ideal, 1916), Enid was consulted about changes to the script by the film’s leading lady, Ellen Terry.[9] This would be Terry’s only title role in a film.

Although not credited, Enid claimed to have worked on the films The New Clown and The Second Mrs Tanqueray (both 1916), and it is likely that she worked on other films in this highly productive period for Ideal.[10] She may also have been a screenwriter with Reuben Gilmer and Percival Landon on The House Opposite (Broadwest, 1917), although Gilmer protested that he wrote this alone.[11]

Enid’s work in the film industry extended beyond screenwriting. In early 1917 she was one of four speakers at a conference on the Educational Influence of Cinema held at the University of London,[12] and she became a shareholder in Femina Films, a company which aimed to promote films as educational and morally uplifting.[13] The Bioscope published two letters written by Enid that relate to Femina Films and express these pedagogical views and aims.[14]

In 1918 Enid returned briefly to the stage, once in London with Edith Craig’s Pioneer Players,[15] but due to the war found the world of theatre and herself much changed. And although Enid’s husband survived the war, their marriage did not. Towards the middle of 1918, she joined the Theosophical Society[16] and began lecturing for them, and in 1923 she emigrated to Australia where she lived in Sydney’s Theosophical commune and took the role of artistic director of The Amphitheatre, the Society’s new outdoor theatre on the shores of Sydney Harbour.[17] At this time, the shipping registers and her passport list Enid as a writer, not as an actress.[18] In 1924, these interests and her personal experience informed the subject of a semi-autobiographical novel, The Amazing Refuge, in which she expressed her theosophical beliefs and pain about the breakdown of her marriage.[19] Her husband, who had been severely affected by war injuries, committed suicide two years later in England, and this appears to have prompted Enid to return to England in 1926. Thereafter she carefully fostered the impression that her husband had been killed during the war.[20]

In 1932 Enid returned to Australia, where she re-entered the public world of drama, first teaching and then taking on stage and radio work in Sydney.[21] Twenty years later, in 1952, she once again returned to England, where she worked both on stage and in television with many of the great names of the period, such as Patrick MaGoohan, Boris Karloff, and Sean Connery. At Laurence Olivier’s invitation she was involved in the first years of the National Theatre, appearing in four of their early productions.[22]

Finally in 1968, aged 80, Enid returned for a last time to Australia where she continued to work for a further thirteen years, appearing in many early television soaps (in one instance alongside a very young Russell Crowe). She was interviewed by Michael Parkinson for Australia’s Channel 10 in 1980.[23] In this and other interviews she comes across as a forceful and imposing woman who lived a very full life, retaining religious beliefs to the end, and able to reinvent herself successfully many times over.

Enid made her last public appearance in 1981, when she was presented with a “Chips Rafferty Award” for services to Australian television; and a month before she died at age 94 she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to the Performing Arts.[24]

© Anne Wolstencroft B.A. ANU, Grad Dip Aud, University of Melbourne.

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[1] J.P. Wearing, The London Stage 1910-1919, (Metuchen; London: Scarecrow, 1982), p.121, 11.81, Atalanta in Calydon.

[2] Hazel De Berg radio interview, Conversation with Enid Lorimer, Oral History Section, National Library of Australia, 1981 ORAL DeB 1243. p.17418.

[3] Cast list, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Archive, TR0191305.

[4] De Berg, Conversation with Enid Lorimer, p.17420.

[5] Marriage Certificate, Enid Nunn and H.G.W. Zerffi, 27 July 1912, Knaresborough.

[6] Manchester Guardian, 31 October 1928, p.14.

[7] Dennis Gifford, British Film Catalogue 1895-1985, Vol.1 Fiction Films (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1986), Nos. 06108, 06216, pp.225 & 232; On Stage! Videos of Australian Playwrights and Performers: Enid Lorimer, Archival Stage Series, video recording (Australia Council, 1979).

[8] On Stage!.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Mirte Terpstra, Girls from the Sky: A Critical Catalogue of Women in the Production of Silent British Cinema 1914-1918 (London: British Film Institute, 2006).

[12] The Bioscope, 18 January 1917, p.vi.

[13] Company Records, Femina Films, National Archives, Kew, BT 31/23281/143935.

[14] Terpstra, Girls From the Sky, p.32.

[15] J.P. Wearing, The London Stage 1910-1919, p.778; Manchester Guardian, 31 October 1928, p.14.

[16] Membership Register, Library of the Theosophical Society, London.

[17] Jill Roe (ed.), Twentieth Century Sydney: Studies in Urban and Social History (Sydney: Hale & Ironmonger in association with Sydney History Group, 1980), p.92.

[18] Passenger List, S.S. Barrabool, 6 September 1923, http://www.findmypast.com/passengerListShowTranscript.action?uvn=1354000006&vsn=76&_zga_s=1 [last accessed 13.08.09]; British Passport 234866, Mrs Enid Lorimer, issued 20 July 1930, Enid Lorimer Archive, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.

[19] Enid Lorimer, The Amazing Refuge (London: J.M. Ouseley & Son, 1924).

[20] De Berg, Conversation with Enid Lorimer, p.17421.

[21] Ibid., p.17422.

[22] National Theatre Archive, http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/9788/stage-by-stage/the-early-years-19631975.html [last accessed 13.08.09].

[23] Michael Parkinson, The Best of Parkinson (Australia: Thomas Nelson, 1983), p.137.

[24] Online Collections Database, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, www.dhub.org/object161745,australian+packaging+award [last accessed 13.08.09]; Obituary in Sydney Morning Herald, 17July 1982, p.7.

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