SOUTH AFRICAN CLASSIC FILM STAR MOIRA LISTER Deborah Painter

     Moira Lister’s patrician beauty was her basic screen persona.  Born on August 6, 1923 in Cape Town, she was the daughter of Margaret Hogan Lister and Major James Lister.  Moira began acting at the age of six for the University Players in Johannesburg.  She graduated from the Parktown Convent of the Holy Family in Johannesburg and was a student of Anna Romain Hoffman, who, with her husband Arthur established The Johannesburg Repertory Theatre.   When not quite fourteen Moira traveled to London to perform on the stage.  She returned to South Africa for a time and then alternated between her home country and Britain.

Moira Lister as Jennifer in the comedy Another Shore. CREDITS: Ealing Studios

   In 1943 Moira appeared briefly in her first film, The ShipbuildersAnother Shore was an Associated British Pathe Limited film shot at Ealing Studios. This lighthearted comedy starred handsome Robert Beatty as Gulliver Shiels, who inherits money and loiters outside an Irish bank building, dreaming of helping rescue some rich person from an accident there and adding to his inheritance so he can achieve his goal of retiring to Tahiti.  Jennifer (Lister) is determined to wake him up from his dream. One day, the anticipated accident actually occurs and Jennifer has to woo Gulliver and prevent the move.

Charlotte Carrington (Moira Lister, left) looks on as Yul Brynner as CIA agent Dan Slater gets to know Gina Ericson (Britt Ekland), sole witness to a skiing accident that killed his son in The Double Man. CREDITS: Albion Film Corporation

   Lister’s career in films accelerated during the early 1950s. She worked in radio also, with a regular role in the first series of the BBC radio comedy Hancock’s Half Hour in 1954 to 1955, and was also one of the girlfriends of a bachelor in A Life of Bliss. During this period she married Jacques de Gachassin-Lafite Vicomte d’Orthez, a French officer of the Spahis and vineyard owner.  They had two daughters, Chantal and Christobel.   The Limping Man (Lippert Pictures) was Moira’s breakout internationally produced film. Lloyd Bridges is Frank Prior, an American engineer and lover of boat racer Pauline French (Lister) who arranges to rendezvous with him at a London airport, only to ask him to meet her at home instead after he has already arrived.  A man is shot dead right in front of Prior as he exits his plane and he spends the rest of the movie trying to get to the bottom of Pauline’s strange emotional connection to the murdered man. And who is the suspected killer, the mysterious Limping Man?  See The Limping Man for the suspense and for what some have called an undesired ending.  This author, for one, liked the ending and saw hints of it at the beginning.

The Limping Man teamed Moira Lister with American rising star Lloyd Bridges. CREDITS: Lippert Pictures

    “This is a story of the Battle of the Atlantic, the story of the ocean, two ships, and a handful of men. The men are the heroes; the heroines the ships. The only villain is the sea, the cruel sea that man has made more cruel. ” actor Jack Hawkins speaks in a voice over during the opening shots of tossing waves in the 1953 The Cruel Sea, a World War II drama.   Lister is the wife of Officer Morell, who, after a particularly hazardous mission visits her in her dressing room at the theatre where she performs. She is more interested in impressing her producer than kissing her husband.

Moira Lister as Lady St. Simeon (far left) quietly learns about an extramarital affair between Edmund Purdom (Fane) and Lady Frinton (Jeanne Moreau) in The Yellow Rolls-Royce. CREDITS: MGM

     From 1958 to 1959 Moira took her one woman show People in Love across Africa.   Many film and television comedies and dramas were sandwiched in before and after her tour, such as Trouble in Store (1953) about the hazards of the retail world, and The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964).  This is a three part tale of a luxury roadster from the day it leaves the showroom to its service decades later transporting the Yugoslavian resistance to fight Nazis during the beginning of World War II.  Moira Lister is Lady Angela St. Simeon in the first story, who knows the details of where and when Lord Charles Frinton (Rex Harrison’s) wife is planning a tryst with her secret lover (in the Rolls) and informs the Lord.

   Lister published her autobiography, The Very Merry Moira, in 1971.  The title was based on her popular British produced television programme, The Very Merry Widow and How.  Her awards include Best Actress of the Year (1971), the Naledi Award, a lifetime achievement award for service to South African theatre, and the Freedom of the City (of London) Award in 2000.   Active on television until 2005, she passed on October 27, 2007 in Cape Town.  Moira Lister’s legacy includes 30 films and 28 television programmes.