Ivy Close

03 July 2019

Find out more about Ivy Close, the most beautiful woman in the world, but whose Stockton accent wasn’t right for the talkies.

In 1907 there was a contest in America to look for the most beautiful woman in the world. In response, the Daily Mirror ran Britain’s first beauty competition. John Robert Close a jeweller and amateur photographer form Stockton-On-Tees sent a photograph of his daughter Ivy Close into the competition. There were over 15,000 entries, competition was fierce. All entries were judged by the specially formed Beauty Adjudication Committee.

Ivy Close, Daily Mirror newspaper article, 1908.
Courtesy of Preston Park Museum.

‘Her typical dreamy, sylph-like brand of loveliness’ not to mention her blond curls and blue eyes clinched her the winning prize. Seventeen year old Ivy won a Rover Motorcar and sat for Sir Arthur Hacker, a famous artist of the day. Following her win the Daily Mirror sent leading photographer of the time, Elwin Neame, to take a series of photographs of her. There was ‘an overwhelming rush for copies’.

Following her win Ivy appeared live at the Empire Theatre in Stockton for a week, giving her a love for acting. Ivy and Elwin became close and married in 1910. A year later Ivy gave birth to her first child, Ronald. Elwin and Ivy developed a passion for the new moving pictures and decided to give it a go themselves. Ivy was the star and Elwin the director. Their first picture was filmed in their own home to great success.

They began their own film company called ‘Ivy Close Productions’, and in 1914 Ivy starred in her first full length feature film, ‘The Lure of London’ – a great triumph. As the economy slowed as a result of the First World War, Ivy accepted a year’s contract acting in Florida, then the home of American film making. When her contract was up Ivy came home and had success with several films including the critically acclaimed, ‘La Roué’, which debuted in 1923.

In 1923 her beloved Elwin was killed in a motorcycle accident, leaving Ivy with two young children. Furthermore, with the new ‘talking’ movies now in production she struggled to find work. Her Stockton accent was considered unsuitable for American audiences.

As a result of these hard times Ivy’s son, Ronald had to leave education and get a job. First as an office boy at an oil company, then as a messenger boy for Elstree Studios. It was here he learned the business of film making and became an assistant cameraman for Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Blackmail’ (1929).

Ivy died in a nursing home in Goring, Oxfordshire in 1968. A silent movie star, famed beauty and a fierce entrepreneur. Her career may have ended sharply, but she founded a dynasty of film and television making producers and directors, spanning four generations. The latest being Gareth Neame, Executive Producer of ‘Downton Abbey’. Gareth put a reference to Ivy in one of the episodes. Did you catch it?

Ivy Close on a Cecil Hepworth Postcard, circa 1910.
Image courtesy of Preston Park Museum.