British actor Ben Kingsley will quite rightly be remembered for winning the Oscar in the title role of Gandhi (1982), yet he had been a musician/singer, busking for over a decade before fame caught up with him. It was 1966 when the twenty-three year old Ben made his debut on the London stage, initially as the narrator of ‘A Smashing Day, a production by The Beatles manager Brian Epstein. Not only did he narrate, he also wrote the music for the production; then sang and played guitar in it as well! And he was impressive. After one performance, John Lennon and Ringo Starr came backstage and advised him to go into music. If he did not, they told him, ‘he would regret it for the rest of his life.’ The Beatles’ publishers even offered him a contract, but Ben chose to remain an actor. The following year he was invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company and the rest is history.
Ursula Andress is fluent in French, German, Italian and Swiss-German, but her English has required a lot of work over many years. Back in the mid-fifties she was signed by both Paramount and Columbia, but those signings resulted in no acting roles at all, due to her lack of attendance in speech class. Her 1962 role as Honey Ryder in Dr No (for which she was paid a paltry $6,000), made her universally famous, yet it should be acknowledged that her voice in that picture, because of Ursula’s strong accent, was entirely dubbed by Nikki Van der Zyl.
Ursula developed a reputation as a serial home-wrecker after being named as co-respondent in three separate, high profile, divorce cases – those of John Derek and Pati Behrs, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Elodie Constant, and Ryan O’Neal and Leigh Taylor-Young. She even broke up Harry Hamlin (the father of her only child) and his fiancée when she first took up with him. She was unapologetic when asked about these issues. ‘When you are in love, you are in love’, she said. ‘That’s all that matters.’
After a morning’s shoot at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, those on the various sets each day would adjourn to the fabled MGM commissary, the brainchild of the studio’s patriarch Louis B Mayer. He had ordered the very best commissary in Tinsel Town be constructed there by set decorator Cedric Gibbons (the man who also designed the Oscar statuette). Done out in green and chromium, the enormous room sat 225 at any one time and served lunch to 1200 people every day. If a musical was being made, a table would be set aside for the Music Department where mega-stars like Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney might be seen dining.
During the Second World War and for several years afterwards, Howard Strickling was chief of publicity at MGM. It was his job to ask any new contract player for his or her life story. He was especially interested in any potentially embarrassing details that may have been held back; anything the press might get hold of and use to make life difficult for both the actor and the studio. ‘If you tell me now’, he promised, ‘I can make sure that anything like that stays out of the press. Or if we can’t keep it out of the press, I can make sure it’s revealed in the most positive light possible.’ Not for nothing was he known as ‘The Fixer’.
Judy Garland & husband Mickey Deans
Judy Garland turned forty-seven on June 10, 1969. Twelve days later she was dead. Her husband of just six months, Mickey Deans, found her in the bathroom of their London hotel room. She was seated on the toilet with her head down on her chest. Poor Judy had not deliberately killed herself; her almost skeletal body had simply been overwhelmed by the sleeping pills and alcohol in her system. It had been coming for a long time; the life had been ebbing out of her for years. She had simply burnt out.
Joe Kennedy & Gloria Swanson
Old Joe Kennedy, father of JFK and RFK, was typical of the menfolk in the Kennedy clan. They were masters of the house, their will was law, and any breaking of their marriage vows was expected to be acquiesced to without complaint by their wives. Back in the twenties he became intimately involved with silent movie star Gloria Swanson, even bringing her home to Hyannis Port in 1929 to meet his wife Rose, who welcomed her husband’s mistress into her home without protest.
If Diana Rigg, (Mrs. Emma Peel of The Avengers), had not fallen ill she would have played Elizabeth, (the role later filled by Jean Seberg), opposite Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin in 1969’s Paint Your Wagon. The following year Diana became, (along with co-star Keith Michell), the first major star to appear nude on the stage, during the production of Abelard and Heloise. Born on the same day as Natalie Wood (July 20, 1938), she was described by Michael Parkinson, who first interviewed her in 1972, as the most desirable woman he ever met – one who ‘radiated a lustrous beauty’. In October 2003, she took advantage of Britain’s libel laws when she filed suit against the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail newspapers after they had described her as an embittered woman who held British men in low regard. British courts awarded her $63, 832 in damages and $134,000 in court expenses.
Raquel Welch in Bedazzled (1967)
Raquel Welch only appears in about 7 minutes of film in the 1967 feature Bedazzled, yet she is prominent in almost all of the promotional material. Nevertheless, when the producers were struggling to come up with a title for their movie, Peter Cook suggested they simply call it Raquel Welch. When pushed for a reason, he explained: ‘Movie marquees inevitably put the stars’ names above the title so, a marquee that read, ‘Peter Cook & Dudley Moore in Raquel Welch’, should result in a great deal of word of mouth publicity. However, wiser heads prevailed and they ultimately went with the more conventional title of Bedazzled
While filming a scene in Ruby Gentry (1952), Jennifer Jones was required to slap the face of her co-star Charlton Heston. Both Heston and the director, King Vidor, made it very clear that they wanted her to not hold back, to give the slap as much venom as she could muster. She hit Heston as hard as she could – and broke her hand!