Opera star Marjorie Lawrence, CBE, was born in Australia, but spent the last two decades of her life in Arkansas. Her triumph over polio to return to the opera stage was the subject of the Oscar winning film Interrupted Melody.
First singing in her native country, she rose to star in the opera halls of Europe before conquering the Metropolitan Opera. Lawrence had contracted polio as an adult while on a trip to Mexico. She eventually returned to the stage, usually singing while seated or reclining. She also had an extensive recital career. She performed at the White House at the invitation of Franklin Roosevelt and later Lyndon Johnson. During World War II, she performed at Buckingham Palace. When Queen Elizabeth II made her a Commander of the British Empire in 1977, the Queen fondly remembered that wartime concert.
Eleanor Parker as Lawrence in INTERRUPTED MELODY
In 1949, she wrote her autobiography Interrupted Melody. The next year, Hollywood was interested in making it into a film. Lawrence only wanted to agree to that if she herself did the singing. In 1955, MGM released the film starring Eleanor Parker as Lawrence and Glenn Ford as her husband. Lawrence did not provide the singing voice; Eileen Farrell did. Lawrence was openly critical of the film, though some suspected it was because she did not get to sing for it. By the time of the filming, her vocal range was not what it had been, which is apparently what led MGM to make the decision not to use her.
Despite Lawrence’s disdain for the film, the film was financially successful. It was nominated for three Oscars: Original Screenplay (though it was actually based on a book), Eleanor Parker as Best Actress, and Costume Design for Color motion pictures. Sonya Levien and William Ludwig won the statuette for their screenplay.
Lawrence and her husband bought a ranch near Hot Springs in 1952. She spent most of her life there afterward though she was a vocal coach at Southern Illinois University and Tulane. She also welcomed international students to her home for coaching. In 1975, she started working with students from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She was also an early member of the Arkansas Arts Council.
Lawrence died in January 1979 and is buried in Hot Springs.