Entertainment & Arts

Joanna Dunham, star of The Greatest Story Ever Told, dies aged 78

Joanna Dunham Image copyright AP
Image caption Joanna Dunham was recommended for her role in The Greatest Story Ever Told by Marilyn Monroe

British actress Joanna Dunham, famed for her role in The Greatest Story Ever Told, has died aged 78.

Dunham played Mary Magdalene in the 1965 Hollywood blockbuster, directed by George Stevens.

The actress was recommended by Marilyn Monroe to take on the role in the Biblical epic.

The film, which also starred Max von Sydow as Jesus and Charlton Heston as John the Baptist, was nominated for five Academy Awards.

Dunham was spotted by Monroe in New York in 1962, who had seen her performance in Franco Zeffirelli's production of Romeo and Juliet.

She taken over the lead role of Juliet from Judi Dench.

The actress went on to appear in A Day at the Beach in 1972 and Peter Duffell's 1971 horror classic The House That Dripped Blood, opposite British actors Denholm Elliott, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Image copyright Rex Features
Image caption The Greatest Story Ever Told was nominated for five Academy Awards

Her later TV movie roles included Lady Catherine in Leslie Megahey's The Hour of the Pig in 1992, with Colin Firth and Nicol Williamson, and as Raine Spencer in Diana, A Tribute to the People's Princess, in 1998.

The actress also appeared on British TV in hit series including Van der Valk and Are You Being Served?

Later in life, Dunham turned to her love of painting and created a gallery in a converted farm building at her home in Suffolk, where she lived with her second husband, playwright and novelist Reggie Oliver.

She held exhibitions at the gallery and also also showcased her art work at the New English Art Club in London and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

Image copyright Rex Features
Image caption The actress also starred in British TV in hit series including Van der Valk

Born in May 1936 in Bedfordshire, Dunham won a scholarship to study stage design and painting at the Slade School of Art in London, where her tutors included Thomas Monnington and Lucian Freud.

She went on to play witch girl Barbara Allen in a 1955 London University production of The Dark of the Moon alongside a young Tom Courtenay, which led to a scholarship to train for the stage at Rada.

She made a professional debut at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1958, as Sister Therese in World War Two play The Deserters, and her London debut in 1960 as Ellen in Gore Vidal's Visit to a Small Planet.

Dunham is survived by her husband, children, and five grandchildren.

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