Morgan le Fay On Screen: Virginia Field
Following the first two film adaptations of Mark Twain’s 1889 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the next film version was the 1949 Technicolor musical of the same name starring Bing Crosby as Hank, Rhonda Fleming as Princess Alisande, Cedric Hardwicke as King Arthur, William Bendix as Sir Sagramore, and Murvyn Vye as Merlin. In this musical, Morgan le Fay was played by the English-born actress Virginia Field.
Virginia Field was born in London in 1917 to an English judge and an American cousin of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. She was the niece of renowned stage actress and director Auriol Lee (1880-1941). Lee was also a pilot, became the first woman pilot to cross the Equator, and played the writer Isobel Sedbusk in Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941). Educated in London, Paris and Vienna, Field made her film debut in 1934, worked in Vienna with Max Reinhardt in a production of All’s Well That Ends Well, and accepted an offer from Hollywood in 1936 to film Little Lord Fauntleroy. A cool, blonde, aristocratic actress with glamour and presence, Field did not become a top-tier star despite her talent and poise. It appears she refused to put up with any unacceptable treatment from male power players in Hollywood: according to several sources, when the producer David O. Selznick tried to “make a pass at her”, she clubbed him over the head with a decanter. Her forthright opinions on other actors is believed to have harmed her reputation as well.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Field starred as the heroine in a number of second-feature thrillers and played supporting parts in main pictures. One of her most notable roles was in the 1940 classic Waterloo Bridge, in which she played Vivien Leigh’s friend and fellow ballet dancer, Kitty. In 1949, Field was cast as Morgan le Fay in the hit film musical A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, but she did not appear as one of the main stars in the picture’s publicity and trailers. Her Morgan is a villain, of course. However, her Morgan is not the sister but the niece of Cedric Hardwicke’s elderly King Arthur, and she is an accomplice to Merlin, who, in an interesting twist, is the main baddie of the piece.
In the 1950s, Field segued into television, where she appeared in several episodes of the Perry Mason TV series. She was married to actor Paul Douglas from 1942 to 1946, with whom she had two children, Johnnie (b. 1942) and Margaret (b. 1945); musician Howard Grode from 1947 to 1948; and actor Willard Parker from 1951 until her death. In 1992, Virginia Field died from cancer in Palm Desert, California, at the age of 74. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered at sea off the coast of Santa Monica.