Madeleine Carroll

Madeleine Carroll

In 1938, when this picture was taken, Madeleine Carroll (26 February 1906 – 2 October 1987) was the world’s highest-paid actress. How did she achieve such success? Through public records, I’m endeavouring to find out.

Madeleine Carroll was born in Herbert Street, West Bromwich, Staffordshire to John Carroll, an Irish professor of languages, and his French wife, Helene Tuaillon. Helene died on 7 May 1980, four days after her 100th birthday.

Madeleine graduated from the University of Birmingham with a B.A. degree in languages. Indeed, her first appearance in the local newspapers, on 3 July 1924, was the announcement of her exam results.

First steps. While at the University of Birmingham, Madeleine Carroll appeared in productions for the university’s dramatic society, taking the female lead in her first production and receiving a creditable review.

Madeleine’s parents employed a domestic servant, which suggests she enjoyed a comfortable upbringing. The family consisted of Madeleine, her parents and her sister, Marguerite Marie.

Second steps. The Birmingham Daily Gazette, 6 January 1927. While at university, Madeleine Carroll’s stage career progresses. In eleven years she would become the highest paid actress in the world.

Third steps. Combining her university studies with acting, Madeleine Carroll next appeared on stage in The Lash. This review is from 21 May 1927. More stage productions followed over the summer. Then, on 19 September 1927, the Birmingham Daily Gazette announced that Madeleine was to become a film actress. She would appear as Diana Cheswick in The Guns of Loos.

Madeleine Carroll’s movie breakthrough arrived in 1927 with The Guns of Loos (released in 1928). A silent war film produced in Britain, the plot centres on a blind World War One veteran who returns home to run his family’s industrial empire. 

Madeleine Carroll was selected from 150 applicants to play the role of Diana Cheswick, and her selection attracted a lot of media interest at the time.

Personal note: my ancestor Albert Charles Bick died on the first morning of the Battle of Loos. He was gassed by his own generals.

Madeleine Carroll was very quick to lend her name to health and beauty products. Health and beauty became a major theme in her life, as we shall see in future posts.

This item is from The Tatler, 14 December 1927, before the release of her first movie, The Guns of Loos.

Along with a number of other newspapers, The Sketch (28 December 1927) featured promotional photographs of Madeleine Carroll for her first movie, The Guns of Loos, and remarked that along with her B.A. from Birmingham University, stage career, promotional endorsements and a year spent teaching, she’d been signed to make more movies. She was 21, determined, focused and going places.

Madeleine Carroll’s second British film was What Money Can Buy (1928) a story about a man who makes a bet that he can seduce a woman, a tale about “a woman’s soul.”

At this stage of her career, every newspaper report of Madeleine’s movies included a mention of her B.A. from Birmingham University. The column writers promoted her as an example of “the modern intelligent woman who seeks to combine a career with a family.” However, this was a challenge that lay ahead for Madeleine.

1920s – 1960s