Barbara Windsor in her ‘Carry On’ days
‘Carry On’ and Eastenders diminutive star (she is 4’10” or 1.47m tall), Barbara Windsor’s autobiography titled All of Me is a most candid work. In it she discusses her affairs with ‘Carry On’ co-star Sidney James, London gangster Reggie Kray and footballer Georgie Best (in the 1960s), as well as her romance with ‘Bee Gee’ Maurice Gibb. She also freely admits her penchant for younger men (her current husband Scott Mitchell is 26 years younger than she), and writes of her five abortions (three of them before her 21st birthday and the last when she was 42). There have been cosmetic surgeries plus numerous nervous breakdowns, hospitalization, and she underwent a hysterectomy in 1994.
Barbara’s first marriage was to bank robber Ronnie Knight in 1964, not long after she had participated in a one-night stand with Reggie Kray. In 2016, she was awarded the Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List in recognition of her services to charity and entertainment. Barbara will turn 83 in August 2020. In 2014, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and retired from public life in 2018.
Lovely Renate Ewert
Renate Ewert was born in Konigsberg, Germany (now Kaliningrad, Russia) in 1933. Her father, a German soldier who fought on the Russian front during WW2, was captured and spent four years in a Russian POW camp. Renate landed her first movie role in the German film 08/15 at Home in 1955. Over the next eleven years she accumulated a total of 38 movie and TV credits, and romanced several big name actors before roles dried up. Devoid of acting opportunities in the sixties she took to pills and alcohol. In December 1966, the 33 year-old beauty was found dead in her apartment by an actress friend. Her body had remained undiscovered for three weeks, the coroner initially ruling she had probably starved to death; an assessment he later altered to ‘suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills’. Her parents, unable to come to terms with their daughter’s death, poisoned themselves not long afterwards.
British actress Jane March was only 18 years old when she made The Lover (1992) under director Jean-Jacques Annaud. When false rumours began circulating that she had been having actual sex with her co-star, Tony Ka Fai Leung, during the scenes, Annaud made no attempt to contradict the rumours. In fact, he fuelled them with innuendo and ambiguous comments, simply to garner publicity for the film. In truth, Jane used five body doubles for the scenes and Leung used two. The whole sordid business led to March suffering a nervous breakdown and she did not speak to Annaud until he personally apologised to her ten years later. Today, they are great friends.
Lee Majors as Heath Barkley in The Big Valley
Lee Majors, future star of TV series The Six Million Dollar Man (1974), landed the role of Joe Buck in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, but had to pass it up when his current TV series, The Big Valley, was picked up for another year and he was contractually obliged to continue in the show. Jon Voight replaced him as Joe Buck and his performance made him famous.
British actor John Hurt was offered the role of Mohandas K. Gandhi in Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi (1982), but it was the 1980s and, as far as Hurt was concerned, the days of Caucasian Europeans portraying persons of Asian descent were well and truly over, so he declined the role and it went to Ben Kingsley who, although himself a British classical actor, was of genuine Indian descent on his father’s side. Ben deservedly won the Best Actor for his portrayal of the legendary Indian spiritualist. It might surprise readers to learn that Hurt was a close friend of John Entwistle, bass guitarist for ‘The Who’ and, in fact, wrote a poem about him that he read aloud at Entwistle’s memorial service in October 2002.
Popular American actor John Garfield was blacklisted during the McCarthy ‘Red Scare’ era in the early 1950s because of his left-wing political beliefs. He adamantly refused to ‘name names’, however, in testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in April 1951. The day after writer Clifford Odets testified before the HUAC and reaffirmed that Garfield had never been a member of the Communist Party, the popular actor was found dead of a heart attack in the apartment of a former showgirl, Iris Whitney. Just hours before his death he had completed a statement modifying his 1951 testimony regarding his Communist affiliations. His funeral in New York was mobbed by thousands of fans. The role of Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954) was originally written for him, but he died before the picture could be made so Marlon Brando inherited it and won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance.
Pop singer turned actor John Leyton
John Leyton was a successful pop singer in Britain during the early sixties. He had a #1 hit in 1961 with ‘Johnny Remember Me’ and followed it up with ‘Wild Wind’ which charted at #2 on the British charts later that year. His pop career, however, was fading by the time he headlined a UK tour in early 1964 with an up and coming support act called The Rolling Stones. Leyton quickly realized that fans wanted the support group more than they wanted him, so he immediately retired from singing to focus on his acting. He enjoyed some success with roles in some good feature films – The Great Escape (1963), Guns at Batasi (1964), Von Ryan’s Express (1965) and Krakatoa, East of Java (1969) – until he gradually dropped from favour. In the 1990s he joined nostalgia Rock ‘n’ Roll tours around the United Kingdom.
Martial Arts star Jet Li
Chinese actor Jet Li played the martial arts expert Yin Yang in the 2010 action film The Expendables. Back on December 26th, 2004, when the terrible Boxing Day Tsunami struck the Maldives Islands, he and his four-year old daughter were vacationing there. They were in the lobby of their hotel when the wave came ashore. Li scooped up his little girl and raced for higher ground and safety. A piece of furniture injured his foot as they fled but fortunately both Jet and his daughter survived a tragedy that claimed many lives.