‘A pioneer, a real national treasure’: Theater actress Barbara Chilcott dies aged 99

Brieanna Charlebois, Canadian Press

Published Sunday, January 2, 2022 5:22 PM EST

Last Updated Sunday, January 2, 2022 17:22 EST

TORONTO – Stage actress Barbara Chilcott, a mover in the Canadian theater scene for more than half a century, has died.

Carol Davis-Manol said Chilcott, her first cousin after being transferred, died at her Toronto home of natural age-related causes on New Year’s Day. He is 99 years old.

A fixture from the Crest Theater in Toronto and a frequent performer at the Stratford Festival in his early years, Chilcott moved between Canada and England during a prolific career on stage, says William Scoular, former colleague and renowned director.

“She was a pioneer – a true national treasure that paved the way for many female actors to pursue her,” he said.

Chilcott began his career in 1943 as a member of the Canadian Auxiliary Services Entertainment Unit during the Second World War and toured the UK and Europe entertaining troops. After the war ended, he lived in England and studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London before making his West End debut in 1949.

“Barbara was determined to become an actress, so she left for London because, at the time, there was no professional theater (in Canada) and she was the first Canadian to star in the West End,” Scoular said.

He returned to Canada in 1950 and performed on CBC Radio before joining his brothers Murray Davis and Donald Davis in their summer theater company, Straw Hat Players.

Her brothers also founded the Crest Theater in 1953, where she played Viola in Twelfth Night, Antigone in Antigone, and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra.

“Everyone who acts at the Crest Theatre,” Scoular explained.

He said he later spent several years going back and forth between the UK and Canada, acting on stage, on television and in films in both countries. In 1963 he founded the Crest Hour Company to do drama tours of schools.

Scoular, who directed Chilcott’s final performance at the age of 89, said he was a modest performer but, over the course of his career, crossed paths with many of the major players in the arts and entertainment world, including JB Priestley, The Beatles, Maharishi and Sean Connery.

He also said he was instrumental in convincing British director Tyrone Guthrie, who helped found the first Stratford Festival in 1953, to come to Canada.

“Barbara has a great laugh and a terrible sense of humor, and although she is a very secretive person, she enjoys being a part of the company more than anything else,” Scoular said. “The show was more real to him than anything in the world and I think the last years, when he wasn’t on the show, life was pretty boring for him.”

Chilcott survived her husband Harry Somers, a famous Canadian composer who died in 1999. She has no children.

“She’s the type of actress who doesn’t need to be told what to do, she just knows how to do it. She can say more with a raised eyebrow than most actresses can with an entire speech,” said Scoular.

This Canadian Press report was first published on January 2, 2022.

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