Dame Anna Neagle, the endearingly popular British star during WWII, was born Florence Marjorie Robertson and began dancing as a professional in chorus lines at age 14. She starred with actor Jack Buchanan in the musical "Stand Up and Sing" in the West End and earned her big break when producer/director Herbert Wilcox, who had caught the show purposely to consider Buchanan for an upcoming film, was also taken (and smitten) by Anna, casting her as well in the process. Thus began one of the most exclusive and successful partnerships in the British cinema.
Under Wilcox's guidance (they married in 1943), Anna became one of the biggest and brightest celebrities of her time. Always considered an actress of limited abilities, the lovely Anna nevertheless would prove to be a sensational box-office commodity for nearly two decades. She added glamour and sophistication for war-torn London audiences and her lightweight musicals, comedies and even costumed historical dramas provided a nicely balanced escape route. The tasteful, ladylike heroines she portrayed included nurses Edith Cavell and Florence Nightingale, flyer Amy Johnson and undercover spy Odette; Nell Gwyn and Queen Victoria also fell within her grasp. She appeared in a number of frothy post-war retreads co-starring Michael Wilding that the critics turned their noses on but the audiences ate up - including Piccadilly Incident (1946), Katy's Love Affair (1947), Spring in Park Lane (1948) and The Lady with a Lamp (1951). She tried to extend her fame to Hollywood and briefly appeared there in three musicals in the early 40s, but failed to make a dent. Anna's appeal faded somewhat in the late 50s and, after producing a few film efforts, retired altogether from the screen.
She returned to her theatre roots, which culminated in the long-running "Charlie Girl", a 1965 production that ran with Anna for nearly six years. She was bestowed with the honor of Dame of the British Empire in 1969 for her contributions to the theatre. Anna continued to perform after her husband's death in 1977, later developing Parkinson's disease in her final years. She died in 1986 of complications.