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17 December, 2013

Phyllis Konstam (1907-1976)

Phyllis Konstam, the actress, who has died, aged 69, was the wife of H W ‘Bunny’ Austin, the lawn tennis player of the late 1920s and 1930s.

Phyllis Konstam
Phyllis Konstam
She shared her husband’s involvement with Frank Buchman’s Moral Re-Armament Group and lived with him in the United States for many years.

She received her stage training in Paris and made her debut in 1925 as the Haymarket in ‘The Jew of Malta’. In 1926 she appeared in Galsworthy’s ‘Escape’ and also in the film version of 1930 and the revival in 1933.

She first went to American in 1929 and later played on Broadway opposite Lawrence Olivier. She also had a part in Alfred Hitchcock’s first sound film, ‘Blackmail’. Other films included ‘Murder’ and ‘The Skin Game’.

She married Bunny Austin in 1931 and shortly after he was a member of the Davis Cup winning team of 1933-36. In 1939 she went with him to America to work for Moral Re-Armament.

She continued the work for more than 30 years. It involved her in the work of the Westminster Theatre of which she became a trustee. She made films on its behalf including ‘The Voice of the Hurricane’, about racial tension, currently being shown in South Africa.

First published in The Daily Telelgraph 25 August 1976


The novelist Dame Daphne du Maurier wrote:

Gladys Cooper, a few years before her death, when on holiday here in Cornwall, and discussion friends in the profession, said to me, ‘What’s happened to Phyll Konstam? She used to be such fun?’ ‘She still is,’ I told her, and reassured Gladys that despite the 40 years of selfless dedication to the cause of MRA which Phyll and her husband ‘Bunny’ Austin passionately supported, the bubbling sense of humour never deserted her, indeed religious fervour may be said to have increased it. Sometimes to the discomfiture of her associates!

She and I were exact contemporaries, born within a month of each other in 1907, and married respectively in 1931 and 1932. As young married women we walked together on Hampstead Heath calling each other ‘Mrs A’ and ‘Mrs B’, discussing the faults, and merits, of our husbands, with total candour and lack of respect, which I may add lasted for the ensuing decades, both of us proving ourselves devoted wives notwithstanding.

Her life in the United States prevented our meeting each other again some years, but when reunion came, Mrs A and Mrs B resumed the old relationship—we had teenage children to discuss by now, not only husbands—and at our last encounter I was a fair jump ahead, with several grandchildren.

We strolled through the shrubbery here at Kilmarth, laughing and joking as of old, and confessed to a mutual eccentricity in our late sixties; we apologized to flowers when we picked them.

Dearest Phyll, let me end with a quotation from my grandfather’s Peter Ibbetson on the life to come. ‘All I know is this; that all will be well for us all, and of such a kind that all who do not sigh for the moon will be well content.’

First published in The Times, 4 September 1976. 

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