Family History

Ursula Jeans (McMinn) Actress

As you know I’ve been trying to catch up on my scanning during lockdown and this lovely photo below is one that I honestly don’t even remember buying! But I know I would have bought it because it just a beautiful image and the writing on the back is a bonus! It says Ursula Jeans (Actress) McMinn. I had never heard of her. So after some research, looking at the fashions and the fact that the writing is on the side I believe the young girl on the far left is Ursula, born on 5 May 1906, she’s possibly about 6 or 7 in this photo just before WW1. It looks very much to me as though it could have been taken in India, her parents were still in India, her father in the Military, up until at least 1915, although Ursula went to school in England, but I don’t know what year that would have been, maybe after age 10 or 11. Wouldn’t it have been lovely to know who the Bride and Groom were!

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72a. Ursula Jeans Actress (McGinn)

Ursula Jeans McMinn was born on the 5 May 1906 in Shimla, India. Her parents were Major Charles Henry McMinn and Ethel Margaret Fisher. She had a brother Desmond older than her, he was born on 14 Nov 1903 and also a sister Isabel the eldest of the three children born on 16 Sep 1891.

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Isabel Jeans in the film GIGI in 1958.

Isabel Jeans (McMinn) was also a stage and film actress. Isabel died on the 4 Sep 1985, here is her Obituary published by the Stage in Oct of that year: ‘Isabel Jeans Many years ago, when he first saw ISABEL JEANS in a West End play, the critic James Agate exclaimed aloud in the stalls, “Who is this ravishing creature?”. She remained so, practically until her death this month at the age of 93. Beautiful, enchanting, with a suave elegance all of her own, she was a wonderful ornament of our stage for half a century, and also a very fine actress, at her best in comedy, classical and contemporary. It seemed as if she had an innate wit with which she was able to colour even more brilliantly the wit of others, among them Sheridan, Wilde and Shaw. Her technical range, though relatively modest, was strong and subtle, her aura of theatrical effect projected with perfect timing, poise and taste. Born in London, Isabel Jeans began her career in 1909 walking-on for three years at His Majesty’s. She played with the Sunday evening play societies of the time, and later, including the Phoenix, and during 1915-16 was touring the USA with Harley Granville Barker’s company, as Fanny in “Fanny’s First Play”. She had a long run 8t the Winter Garden in “Kissing Time” and her memorable performances in later years included Celia in “Volpone”, Olivia in “Twelfth Night”, Margery in “The Country Wife”, Mrs Wislack in “On Approval”, Lady Coperario in “Spring 1600”, Lady Utterwood in “Heartbreak House”, Mrs Erlynne in “Lady Windermere’s Fan”, Arkadina in “The Seagull”, Mrs Malaprop in “The Rivals” and the old chair-bound Dowager in “Ring Round The Moon”. There was also, at the Haymarket near the close of her career, her Lady Bracknell, which some critics thought superior even to that of Edith Evans, considering it to be more natural and human beneath the satirical facade. The larger part of her career was spent in the West End of London, to which she belonged when the West End had a glittering, charming, lightly enjoyable identity. To behold her coming out of the Fortnum and Mason on a sunny summer’s day, impeccably dressed, with a light walk and a royal bearing, was a delight never to be forgotten. She was married, first, to the actor Claude Rains, from whom she was divorced, and then to Gilbert Wakefield, the dramatist son of a Bishop of Birming ham. He died in 1963. by R. B. Marriott

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This is a great article about Isabel published on 29 Aug 1937 on the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

Ursula’s brother Desmond (Charles) Jeans (McMinn) 1903–1974 was a British film actor, he was also a Boxer and more, see below. I was unable to find a photo of him. These are some of the films he was in:
The Blue Danube (1932)
Diamond Cut Diamond (1932)
The Girl from Maxim’s (1933)
Colonel Blood (1934)
His Majesty and Company (1935)
The Six Men (1951)
His wife, Margaret (Peggy) Livesey, was the sister of the actor Roger Livesey, Ursula’s husband. Here he is below in the 1939 Register in London:

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Desmond (Jeans) McMinn. A Special Constable.

I love this article via the British Newspaper Archive published in the Daily Mirror in Aug 1976 after his death in 1974, a reader had sent a letter to The Old Codgers in about Desmond: ‘Question: A MAN OF MANY PARTS E. SHAW, writes: Wilfred Street, Oldham, Lancs., LAMPOONED and lambasted by the lads in the local, I would be grateful if you could confirm that there really was a character called Desmond Jeans who was an actor, heavyweight mixer and wore a monocle. Answer: We can that, friend. Desmond Jeans was born in India in 1905, the brother of actress Ursula Jeans. Their father was Major Charles McMinn. Educated at Sherborne, he made his stage debut in Urn and then went into films, his monocle making him a natural for German general and high-class crook parts. Apart from being a useful boxer —he won the amateur heavyweight championship of New South Wales—he has been a professional dancer, rugby player, oarsman and wrestler, and one-time income tax officer. A character indeed and what’s more, he was confident enough to keep his monocle in without resort to a cord

From The Stage in Dec 1974: ‘Obituary The death has occurred of Desmond Jeans, the actor, who retired to Sowerby, near Halifax, a few years ago, but who with his wife was to have moved back to the South this month. Mr Jeans, who was 71, was not only a stage and film actor but had been a professional boxer, wrestler, war-time policeman and a restaurateur‘. Just a brief obituary but nice to have a little more information, via the British Newspapers Archive.

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Ursula Jean (Jeans) McMinn was married firstly to Leslie Robin Irvine, known as Robin Irvine. They had married secretly in May 1931, having become engaged the previous Christmas Day, only four people knew of the ceremony until they announced it in August three months later. Robin Irvine was born 21 Dec 1901, in Stoke Newington, London, died 28 April 1933, in Bermuda he was a British film actor. They married in 1931 just two years before his death. Here’s his Obituary in The Stage via British Newspaper Archives: ‘MR. ROBIN IRVINE. We regret to record the death of Mr. Robin Irvine in Bermuda at the age of 32. The cause of death was pleurisy, following a chill. Mr. Irvine had been on holiday after a visit to America. Mr. Irvine was born in London in 1901, and was educated at Aldenham School and Mill Hill School. His first appearance on the stage was at Ipswich on Box ing Day, 1918, as Captain D’Arcy in My Lady Frayle.” His London debut was at the Kingsway on March 31. 1923, as Mr Carhamp- ton in 44 Love in Pawn.” He was subsequently seen as Warwick Entwhistle m The Rising Generation,” Shaftesbury, 1923; Joe Purdie in 44 The Sport of Kings,” Savoy, 1924: Mr. Darling in 44 Peter Pan,” Adelphi, 1926; Digby in “Beau Geste,” His Majesty’s, 1929; and Lieut. Raleigh in 44 Journey’s End,” Savoy, 1929. Later he took up film work, and since 1931 had been general manager of St. George Film Productions, and had devoted himself to production. Ho had prominent parts in the films of 44 Young Woodlev and The Rising Generation.* Mr. Irvine was the husband of Miss Ursula Jeans, with whom much sympathy will be felt in her bereavement’.

Ursula married Roger Livesey on 29 Jan 1937 in Manhatton, New York, America.

This is a great report at the time of their marriage, published in the Liverpool Echo via British Newspaper Archive: Ursula Jeans Weds In New York “Frightfully In Love With Each Other” NEW YORK, Saturday.Miss Ursula Jeans, the actress. and Mr Roger Livesey, the actor. have been married here. Mr Livesey, who is now playing in ” The Country Wife ” Broadway. ‘appeared in the film ” Lorna Boone ” in 1935. His bride, who was born in Simla, India, in 1906, arrived in New York early this month. Miss Jeans toured with Mr. Owen Nitres at the age of 19. She has appeared in a number of films, and went specially from England to Hollywood to play in the picture ” Cavalcade.”— Reuter. ” Nothing could have pleased me more,” exclaimed Mrs McMinn, the mother of Miss Jeans, when told of the marriage. “It is a perfectly happy marriage,” added Mrs McMinn. ” They are frightfully in love with each other. He is a grand man. They have known each other about three years. Mr Livesey has been with Gilbert Miller’. company in New York, and Ursula went out there a fortnight ago for a short holiday. 1 thought they might get married.”

As Mrs McMinn was speaking there was a knock at the door and she left the telephone to answer it. “It is a cable from Ursula.” she said when she returned. “She says, ‘Just to say we were married this morning, my darling,’ and adds how happy they both are.” Miss Jeans made her stage debut at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. in 1925. Six months later she first appeared on the London at Wyndham’ Theatre as Angela in “The Firebrand.” In 1931 she married Robin Irvine, the actor, who died from pleurisy in Bermuda while on holiday‘.  Oh how different things were back then!!!

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Roger & Ursula in their younger days

There is also a beautiful image of Ursula on the The National Portrait Gallery Website by Paul Tanqueray. Do take a look :Ursula Jeans

Ursula Jeans: Fair-haired, blue-eyed British actress with a long career on the London stage. She was born Ursula Jean McMinn in India, schooled in London and trained for acting at RADA. Ursula made her theatrical debut at the Criterion Theatre in 1922. From the 1930’s, she specialised in classical plays by Shakespeare and Shaw, performing primarily at the Old Vic and with the Sadler’s Wells Company. During World War II, she worked under the auspices of the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), along with her second husband, the actor Roger Livesey. They often appeared together on stage and enjoyed a particularly successful run on the West End in a play written specifically for them by J.B. Priestley: “Ever Since Paradise”. In the late 1950’s, the Liveseys toured Australia and New Zealand in “The Reluctant Debutante”. On screen, they had previously appeared in both the stage and screen versions of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943).

Ursula’s relatively few film roles generally saw her as genteel, devoted wives, like her Mrs. Molly Wallis in The Dam Busters (1955). She was rather more effective, however, as the officer’s wife Lady Windham in North West Frontier (1959), or as the middle-class widow Martha Dacre, coming to terms with the aftermath of the war in The Weaker Sex (1948). via IMDb Mini Biography By: I.S.Mowis

Ursula JeansShe made her stage debut in London in 1922, before joining the cast of the London production of The Play’s the Thing, an adaptation of Ferenc Molnár’s play, The Play at the Castle by PG Woodhouse. The cast included Gerald du Maurier, Ralph Nairn, Henry Daniell (before he went to Hollywood), and Henry Forbes-Robertson.

She made her stage debut in New York in 1933. Her first marriage was to actor Robin Irvine in the summer of 1931 (1931–1933). Her second marriage was to actor Roger Livesey from 1937 until her death. (Livesey’s sister Maggie was already married to Desmond Jeans.) She appeared in one film with her husband, 1943’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. She entertained troops with ENSA during World War II, sometimes working with her husband. After the war, she continued acting, including a stage tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1956–1958. She continued to act into the 1970s and died of cancer in 1973, aged 66, some 18 months after her diagnosis. She shares a memorial plaque with her husband Roger in the actors’ church St Paul’s, Covent Garden‘. Info from Wikipedia

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Death. New York Times on April 25, 1973, Page 29: LONDON, April 24 (Reuters) —Ursula Jeans, the British stage and screen actress, died Saturday in a nursing home near here. She was 66 years old. Miss Jeans had been on tour recently in South Africa with her husband, Roger Livesey, the actor, in the P. G. Wodehouse play “Oh Clarence.” She made her stage debut in Britain in 1925 in “Cobra” and her New York debut in “Late One Evening,” in 1933. She also appeared in the film of Noël Coward’s stage panorama of the British Empire, “Cavalcade.” On the stage, Miss Jeans was seen in “The Fanatics,” “Samson and Delilah,” “Chance Acquaintance,” “The Second Man,” “Passing Brompton Road,” “The First Mrs Fraser” and “Grand Hotel.” In “The Second Man” she played opposite Mr Coward.

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Barnes Wallace with wife Molly played by Ursula in the film The Dambusters.

Personally, having seen the film The Dambusters several times I hadn’t realised she played the part of Barnes Wallace’s wife Molly. Do you remember her in any of her films.

Plough Cottage, plough lane, sarratt

This lovely photo above of Plough Cottage, Plough Lane, Sarratt, Herts where Ursula and her husband Roger lived until her death is a Grade 2 listed building. Photographer was Peter Antony Bromage, he added a photo to the British Listed Buildings site in 2011 with this comment “I used to live here when it was the country cottage of actor Roger Livesey & his wife Ursula Jeans (1960’s)

While searching for more information about the couple I also came across Liam Bluett’s site, if you are a movie buff like him, you will love his site! Here’s a direct link to the article he wrote about Roger Livesey: Roger Livesey  Telling you all about his family history and career. Also has a signed portrait of him! Plus a signed portrait of Ursula with information about her on another page.

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BLACKPOOL GAZETTE: At the Ashton Theatre, St Annes, Cicely Courtneidge (left) with Roger Livesey and Ursula Jeans, 1970. What a lovely happy photo!

Once again what an interesting path one photo has taken me on….

Till next time then……..

3 replies »

  1. WOW ! What a great post Lynn Although I do not remember Ursula I do remember Roger Livesey ,he had the most unusual deep sounding voice,also Claude Rains was one of my favourite stars, yes you could say I have always been a film buff. Your research is impeccable Lynn You must get really excited when it all comes together.

    Liked by 1 person

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