Actress Hillary Brooke was raised in Astoria

By Greater Astoria Historical Society

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, TimesLedger Newspapers presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.

Born Beatrice Sofia Mathilda Peterson on Sept. 8, 1914, and raised in Astoria, actress Hillary Brooke appeared in more than 50 films and television shows from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Best known for her polished British accent on screen and regal, upper-class image, she appeared in roles alongside greats including Bob Hope, James Stewart and Doris Day. She died in 1999 in California.

After attending Columbia University, the striking blonde worked as a model for agent Johnny Powers. On her way to Australia from California in 1936, Brooke found herself stranded in Hollywood due to a boat strike. She visited RKO Pictures and asked if she could be cast in a movie and soon landed her first role in Tinseltown in the musical comedy, “New Faces of 1937.”

The aspiring actress had mostly uncredited bit parts in the late 1930s and early ‘40s, but also co-starred alongside Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in several Sherlock Holmes movies including “Sherlock Holmes Faces Death,” in 1943 and “The Woman in Green,” two years later. The young actress also appeared in the 1943 film adaptation of the Charlotte Bronte novel, “Jane Eyre,” with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.

Later in her career on the silver screen, the Queens native appeared in the sci-fi B-movie classic “Invaders from Mars” in 1953, a 3-D film called “The Maze” in the same year and the Alfred Hitchcock thriller “The Man Who Knew Too Much” in 1956. With her studied British accent, she usually portrayed English women on screen, and was even cast as a local in the 1954 British crime drama “The House Across the Lake.”

Brooke claimed her favorite film was the 1945 production “The Enchanted Cottage,” where she played the fiancée of a man badly disfigured by wounds suffered in the war. She fondly recalled the story of two ordinary people who are beautiful in each other’s eyes.

“I thought that was a very nice film,” she said. “I played Robert Young’s fiancée, the girl who couldn’t bear him after he was disfigured during the war. I was a society dame.”

In the ‘50s, Brooke also enjoyed a degree of success in several television shows. The former model appeared regularly in the sitcom, “My Little Margie,” as the love interest of Margie’s father. At the same time, Brooke starred in “The Abbott and Costello Show,” another popular situational comedy.

With the main actors appearing as themselves, Brooke portrayed a straight laced, refined tenant in the boarding house shared by the title characters who was also a prospective amour of Lou Costello.

The talented actress largely disappeared from film and television after the late 1950s. In her personal life, Brooke was married to film director Jack Voglin in the 1940s and they had a son together named Donald.

In 1960, she married MGM executive Raymond Klune and they remained together until his death in 1988. When the actress died in 1999, her ashes were scattered at sea.

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at (718) 278-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.

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