MEETING SARA SHANE/ELAINE HOLLINGSWORTH.

 

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Sara Shane & Gordon Scott in Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959)

A year or so ago I had the great pleasure and honour to spend five days chatting with a lady named Elaine Hollingsworth, a former Universal actress who performed under the name of Sara Shane in the 1950s on both the silver screen and on television. We chatted, for around ten hours each day, about her time as an actress and society hostess, and it was one of the greatest weeks in my life. She is Elaine these days, having discarded Sara Shane long ago, and is a very classy lady. I admire her tremendously.

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Sara in her modelling days

Until about two years ago I had never even heard of Sara Shane or Elaine Hollingsworth. Experiencing a bout of nostalgia one day, I decided to order some Tarzan movies from the USA and treat myself to reliving my Saturday morning matinee days. Back in the fifties my favourite Tarzan was Gordon Scott, (despite my reservations regarding his hairstyle). Clearly, he had his hair styled each day at the jungle barbershop! Anyway, I settled back to watch the first of my selections, a 1959 feature titled Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure, and was immediately taken by his leading lady. Her name was Sara Shane. There were a lot of pretty girls appearing in low-budget films in those days, but she was not just pretty, she was beautiful, and I began to wonder why her career had not taken off as it should have for a woman with her looks.

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Sara about to be kissed by Gable in The King and Four Queens (1956)

To cut a long story short, I researched her and discovered she was still alive and, furthermore, was living in Australia. She was approaching 90 years of age and residing at her health centre in Queensland. I decided to write a piece on her in my blog (it is still here). I was soon approached by Peter, her friend and minder at that time, (she was bedridden) who asked if I might be interested in writing her biography! I leapt at the chance, of course, and it was eventually arranged that I would fly to Queensland (at Elaine’s expense) and spend time with her.

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With John Cassavetes in Affair in Havana (1957)

By then she had changed her personnel at the centre. Peter had moved on and she was now being cared for by a lady named Leisa. I arrived on the Monday and met Elaine that afternoon. The moment we began talking about the Hollywood of the studio system days we got along marvellously. All Elaine’s carers are quite young women, so having someone to talk with who knew something of virtually every person she mentioned, was a situation she had probably not indulged in for decades. All my years reading and writing about Hollywood has given me an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the movie business back then so, whenever she brought up a name, I invariably knew to whom she was referring. And, boy oh boy, did she know people!

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Sara at the height of her beauty

In her capacity as an actress she had met just about everyone who was anyone in the business, and those she did not meet at work, she met socially. Her wealthy husband insisted she host parties at their sumptuous home, and she was given carte blanche to invite whomever she pleased. As a contract player at Universal she was friends with the likes of Tony Curtis, Jack Palance, Mamie van Doren, Yvette Mimieux, to name but a few. Before marrying she had dated Orson Welles, Burt Lancaster, George Jessel and others, including Howard Hughes! Her best friends included Hedy Lamarr, Faith Domergue, Ruth Roman and Gloria Swanson. She even taught Kirk Douglas to water ski.

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Elaine in her seventies in Queensland

On the screen she worked with Sean Connery, Anthony Quayle, John Cassavetes, Raymond Burr and Rock Hudson. She even had a romantic scene in which she was required to kiss Clark Gable! The more we talked, the more anecdotes were shared by this extraordinary lady. I was privy to some wonderful insights into her life as a Hollywood starlet. At the end of the week she asked me to stay over for a couple more days, but I had other commitments and had to fly back home. It was agreed, however, that we would set up Skype and continue chatting each day for an hour or so. Skype was readied as soon as I returned to Western Australia, but Elaine became ill on the first day we attempted to connect and we had to cancel. She became ill on the second day as well.

A couple of days later I received an email from Leisa, informing me that Elaine had ‘changed her mind about doing her biography’. Just like that. I was flabbergasted. She had so thoroughly enjoyed our chats, reminiscing about those long ago days, it was unthinkable to me that she would suddenly choose to forget the whole thing. There had never been the slightest indication throughout our week together that she might change her mind. Of course, at her age she may have been prone to mood swings. Certainly a possibility. Perhaps, my questions had been getting a little intrusive. Towards the end of my stay I had mentioned one day that I found it difficult to accept she only appeared to have been romantically involved with four men in her entire life. A drop-dead gorgeous movie actress who had lived in Hollywood for two decades, in London for several years, not to mention years in both Paris and Rome, must surely have enjoyed an active social and private life, particularly after her divorce had been finalised in 1957. Her response was a clipped, ‘Of course, there were others, but they were unimportant.’ Then she changed the subject. I opted not to pursue the subject. Maybe at some later time, I thought.

After I returned home, I recalled Elaine mentioning that she had never seen any of her TV guest appearances. In those days any episodes in which an actor or actress appeared might not be screened on TV for months, so the chances of watching one’s performance were negligible before videos and DVDs came along. I managed to track down the episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason, State Trooper, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Outer Limits etc, plus copies of the movies she was in, and mailed them to her. Unfortunately, I have no idea if she watched them or not because I am no longer able to contact her. If Leisa reads this, I would appreciate her letting me know if Elaine got to watch them.

Elaine’s eyesight has been failing for some time and Leisa recites all correspondence to her now. I have not been able to contact Elaine since her illness. I briefly considered using the 50 hours of material I had gathered and writing a book anyway. I informed Leisa of this and was immediately threatened with legal action if I did so. Accusations of blackmail and extortion were tossed about which were nothing if not ludicrous. I was never serious about writing a book without Elaine’s consent, anyway. I had found her to be a delightful person during our hours together. I would no more consider writing her biography without her express permission than fly in the air. Sadly, Leisa had already decided I was capable of just about anything. Since I can no longer get in contact with Elaine, the chances of her ever granting me permission are effectively zero. Maybe, one day, someone else will write it. I hope so because hers is a story worth telling.

6 Comments

    • Disappointing, I agree, Shiela, but Elaine was a delight to speak with and showed me every kindness. It was her prerogative to change her mind on the biography, of course. I shall always remember her with affection.

  1. What can I say except, as an avid reader of your blog, I think you are a fine writer of wit and style? I love your honest opinions and hope you can channel this research constructively. So sorry you’ve had such a bitter experience.

    • Actually, the experience was disappointing rather than a bitter one. I shall always cherish the week I spent with Elaine. We really got along well. I should never have suggested I might write my own book about her time in Hollywood, but I was tired and frustrated by the sudden cancellation of the project. Consequently, I am now cut off from any communication with her, which is very sad indeed. Thank you for your interest and kind words, Cat.

  2. What a sad end to a fascinating post, Alan! At least you gave Elaine intelligent conversation which allowed her relive those glory days and you to learn more about old Hollywood. That’s quite a gift.

    • Yes, Cat. All in all it was a great pity that it did not work out. I think, possibly, that Elaine was more interested in a biography based mostly on her life AFTER Hollywood, whereas I was certainly keen on writing of her days as a movie star. Perhaps, that was why she cancelled the project. Then again, maybe she wanted a better writer to handle it. She offered me $30,000 and 80% of sales to write it. I suggested $20,000 and splitting sales 50/50, and she was delighted. Then, just like that, (according to Leisa), it was all over. Strange. She is a millionaire, so the money angle meant nothing to her. I, on the other hand, am a pensioner and had spent about two years writing and researching her in vain. To then be accused of blackmail and extortion, then threatened with a lawsuit, was unfair in the extreme. Personally, I doubt if Elaine had ANYTHING to do with that at all. It was Leisa. Had to be.

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