Florence Mary Anderson nee MacArthur (Molly MacArthur), the artist and stage designer, was born in London on 27th October 1893 and trained at the Westminster School of Art. She married James Anderson on 15 February 1917, but appears to have used his name professionally from at least 1914.
She is best known as an illustrator of books mainly, but not exclusively, for children. She illustrated at least thirty titles between 1914 and 1935, including The Dream Pedlar (1914), The Rainbow Twins (1919), China Clay by Trevor Blakemore (1922), Eleanor Farjeon’s Come Christmas (1927), Mumbudget, an Irish fairy-tale (1928) and Tribute (1925) in which her artwork accompanied her own writing. She also contributed to nursery comics like Little Folks and Tiny Tots as well as Cassell’s Children’s Annual and Cassell’s Family Magazine.
In 1923 she moved in theatrical design using her maiden name, Molly MacArthur, and this became her main occupation for the next 35 years. Her first sets were seen at the Oxford Playhouse and two years later she designed her first London production at the Fortune Theatre, THE CRADLE SONG (1926). Many West End productions followed for producers such as Basil Dean and Irene Hentschel. During the 1930’s she worked at the Old Vic, for Tyrone Guthrie and Esmé Church, for whom she designed an 18th century AS YOU LIKE IT “giving the setting for the most memorable Rosalind of Dame Edith Evans” (Marie Ney). She also worked for the OUDS, creating the set for John Gielgud’s ROMEO AND JULIET (1932).
After the war she renewed her association with Esmé Church and together they founded the Northern Children’s Theatre, which gave practical training to young actors in the north of England as well as entertainment for children. Robert Stephens and Edward Petherbridge are just two of the actors whose careers started there.
Molly MacArthur died in Oxford on 12th January, 1972. Her obituarist says of her: “She had a remarkable eye for stage pictures which made a deep impression on the audience and long haunted the memory of those who saw them.”
Note: This short biography was provided by James Anderson, Florence Mary Anderson’s grandson. Thanks James !
Presenting the illustrations from the First edition of Valentine and Orson: The Twin Knights of France. Published by Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, London, 1919.