Diana Dors

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Diana Dors
Diana Dors in I Married a Woman trailer.jpg
Dors in I Married a Woman trailer, 1958
BornDiana Mary Fluck
23 October 1931
Swindon, Wiltshire, England, UK
Died4 May 1984(1984-05-04) (aged 52)
Windsor, Berkshire, England, UK
Cause of deathOvarian cancer
Resting placeSunningdale Catholic Cemetery
ResidenceOrchard Manor, Sunningdale, Berkshire
Other namesDiana d'Ors
EducationColville House, Swindon
Alma materLondon Academy of Music and Dramatic Art
OccupationActress
Years active1947–1984
Home townSwindon, Wiltshire, England, UK
Spouse(s)
  • Dennis Hamilton (m. 1951–1959, his death)
  • Richard Dawson
    (m. 1959–1966, divorced)
  • Alan Lake
    (m. 1968–1984, her death)
Children
 
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Diana Dors
Diana Dors in I Married a Woman trailer.jpg
Dors in I Married a Woman trailer, 1958
BornDiana Mary Fluck
23 October 1931
Swindon, Wiltshire, England, UK
Died4 May 1984(1984-05-04) (aged 52)
Windsor, Berkshire, England, UK
Cause of deathOvarian cancer
Resting placeSunningdale Catholic Cemetery
ResidenceOrchard Manor, Sunningdale, Berkshire
Other namesDiana d'Ors
EducationColville House, Swindon
Alma materLondon Academy of Music and Dramatic Art
OccupationActress
Years active1947–1984
Home townSwindon, Wiltshire, England, UK
Spouse(s)
  • Dennis Hamilton (m. 1951–1959, his death)
  • Richard Dawson
    (m. 1959–1966, divorced)
  • Alan Lake
    (m. 1968–1984, her death)
Children

Diana Dors (23 October 1931 – 4 May 1984) was an English actress, born Diana Mary Fluck in Swindon, Wiltshire. Considered the English equivalent of the blonde bombshells of Hollywood, Dors described herself as "the only sex symbol Britain has produced since Lady Godiva."[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Diana Mary Fluck was born in ­Swindon, Wiltshire, on 23 October 1931, at the Haven Nursing Home. Her mother Winifred Maud Mary (Payne) was married to Albert Edward Sidney Fluck,[4] and had a sexual relationship with their lodger,[clarification needed] Gerald Lack. When Mary announced she was pregnant with Diana, she admitted she had no clear idea which of them was the father.[2]

Educated at Colville House,[clarification needed] Diana enjoyed the cinema; her heroines from the age of 8 onwards were the Hollywood sirens Veronica Lake, Lana Turner and Jean Harlow.[2]

Career[edit]

LAMDA[edit]

Having excelled in her elocution studies, after lying about her age, at 14 she was offered a place to study at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), becoming the college's youngest ever student.[2] She lodged at the Earls Court YWCA, and supplemented her £2 per week allowance, most of which was spent on her lodgings, by posing for the London Camera Club for one guinea (£1.05) an hour. Signed to the Gordon Harbord Agency, in her first term she won a bronze medal, awarded by Peter Ustinov, and in her second won a silver with honours, awarded by casting director Eric L'Epine Smith.[5]

She had already acted in public theatre pieces for LAMDA productions; Smith got her into her first film part with a walk-on piece that developed into a speaking part in The Shop at Sly Corner, at a rate of £8 per day for three days. During the signing of contracts, in agreement with Diana and her father, Smith changed her contractual surname to Dors, the maiden name of her maternal grandmother, on the initial suggestion of her mother Mary.[5] Dors later commented on her name:[2]

They asked me to change my name. I suppose they were afraid that if my real name Diana Fluck was in lights and one of the lights blew ...

Returning to LAMDA, two weeks later she was asked by her agent to audition to for Holiday Camp, by dancing a Jitterbug with fellow young actor John Blythe. Gainsborough Studios gave her the part at a pay rate of £10 per day for four days.[5] Her next film was Dancing with Crime, shot at Twickenham Studios opposite Richard Attenborough during the coldest winter for nearly fifty years, for which she was paid £10 per day for fifteen days. Following her return to LAMDA, and having won over Principal Wilfred Foulis, she graduated in spring 1947 by winning the London Films Cup, awarded to LAMDA by Sir Alexander Korda. She timed her return to Swindon to visit her parents, with the local release of The Shop at Sly Corner.[6]

Films[edit]

At the age of 16 she was signed under contract to the Rank Organisation, and joined J. Arthur Rank's "Charm School" for young actors, subsequently appearing in many of their films.[2] She played a number of supporting roles, where in her early films, Dors' chest was in part strapped down, and with her hair its natural shade of brown, allowed her full and developing acting ability to come through. She made her leading role breakthrough in 1949's Diamond City, a commercially unsuccessful story of a boom town in South Africa in 1870.

After an appearance with Barbara Murray in The Cat and the Canary at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing, she was contracted out to Elstree Studios. They cast her in the play Man of the World with Lionel Jeffries, which opened at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, and capped her works that year to win her Theatre World magazine's Actress of the Year Award. However, with Rank now £18 million in debt, Rank closed their "Charm School", and made Dors redundant.[7]

With her then boyfriend in jail, and having just undergone her first abortion, Dors met Dennis Hamilton Gittins in May 1951 while filming Lady Godiva Rides Again for Rank,[2] a film which has uncredited appearances by Joan Collins, and a then four months pregnant Ruth Ellis.[2] Hamilton romanced Dors, and quickly won her heart, with the couple marrying only five weeks later at Caxton Hall on Monday 3 July 1951.[8] From this point forward and driven by his publicity focus, her appearance became classical sex symbol. She often played characters suffering from unrequited love, and so successful was the transformation that by the mid-1950s Dors was known as "the English Marilyn Monroe."[2] Hamilton also made sure that she had the lifestyle attachments of a sex symbol, agreeing to a lease-deal with Rolls Royce such that a headline could be created in the tabloids that at aged 20, she was the youngest registered keeper of a Rolls-Royce in the UK.[2]

There were no limits to which it is alleged Hamilton would go to advance Dors' career, and his income or influence from it.[2] Many biographers, writers and peers after her death said that Hamilton would loan Dors out as a favour to hiring producers and leading actors, much as in the casting couch practices of Hollywood.[2] In 1954, Hamilton had the idea to exploit the new printed technology of 3D. He engaged photographer Horace Roye to take a number of nude and semi-nude photographs of Dors, which Hamilton subsequently had published in two forms. The semi-nude where her modesty is unseen by the camera, or covered with white faux fur, were issued as a "Diana Dors 3D: the ultimate British Sex Symbol" set, which sold together with a pair of 3D glasses, capped her as the true ultimate British sex symbol. The full nude test shot photographs became part of Roye's 1954 booklet "London Models".[2]

US career[edit]

Following the success of British noir film The Last Page (1952), producer Robert L. Lippert offered her a one-picture deal on one condition: that she divorce Dennis Hamilton Gittins. Dors refused. She gained a second Hollywood offer from Burt Lancaster for a lead role in his His Majesty O'Keefe (1954), but this time Hamilton turned down the part on her behalf before she even knew of the offer. The result was that her early promising career was restricted from this point forward to mainly British films. According to film buffs, her best work as an actress was when she played a murderess in Yield to the Night (1956). British exhibitors voted her the ninth most popular British star at the box office in 1955.[9]

Dors never had quite the same following in the United States, owing to her husband Hamilton. Pre-signing a three-film contract with RKO Pictures, on 20 June 1956 she left Southampton on board the Queen Elizabeth for New York, and then onwards to Hollywood to start shooting The Unholy Wife (1957) and I Married a Woman. Due to meet Hollywood columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, interviews were arranged to be held at the Hollywood home of her friend, the celebrity hairdresser Teasy-Weasy Raymond, who owned a Spanish-style villa off Sunset Boulevard, formerly owned by Marlene Dietrich.[10] To coincide with the publication of the articles, Hamilton and Raymond arranged a Hollywood launch party at Raymond's house in August 1956, with a guest list that included: Doris Day, Eddie Fisher, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Liberace, Lana Turner, Ginger Rogers and John Wayne. After 30 minutes while lining up next to Raymond's pool with her US agent Louis Shurr and her dress designer Howard Shoup, all four including Dors and Hamilton were pushed into the pool after the party crowd and photographers surged forward. Hamilton emerged drenched from the pool, and hit the first photographer before he could be restrained. The following days headlines in the National Enquirer read: "Miss Dors Go Home – And Take Mr Dors With You." Because of the resulting negative publicity, the couple failed to buy Lana Turner's house, settling into a rental property in Coldwater Canyon.[2]

Dors had an alleged affair with Rod Steiger during the filming of The Unholy Wife, which he broke off in October 1956 after Hamilton started an affair with Raymond's estranged wife in London, and his sole management of his alleged mistress Shirley Ann Field. After Dors announced her subsequent separation from Hamilton, RKO cancelled the contract on a moral clause because of her pending divorce, after only The Unholy Wife and I Married a Woman (1958) were completed.[11] Dors left Hollywood, staying in the Dorchester in London for a single night, before reconcilling with Hamilton for a period.[2] Subsequently she had her US films distributed under the stage name Diana d'Ors to avoid bad publicity.

During the summer of 1961, Dors' shot "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", based on Robert Bloch's story "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The episode was so gruesome that it was suppressed for many decades. Dors also starred in a 1963 episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour titled "Run for Doom," co-starring John Gavin.

Cabaret[edit]

In February 1957 while filming The Long Haul, Dors started a relationship with co-star Victor Mature's stuntman, the actor Tommy Yeardye. Details about the affair were reportedly leaked to the press by Yeardye himself.[12] Hamilton discovered the relationship through his 8mm movie camera filming of his wife's flat and caravan, and so started another period of separation, which this time led to the start of divorce proceedings.[2]

Following her final separation from her husband Hamilton in 1958, Dors discovered from her accountants that her company Diana Dors Ltd was in serious debt. Hamilton had steered the company toward the dual purpose of publicising his wife and fulfilling his own dreams, over paying tax bills and establishing financial stability.[11]

Having been forced at gunpoint[citation needed] by Hamilton to sign over all of her assets on their separation, and now in desperate need of money to pay both her divorce lawyers and their accountants, she agreed to the suggestion of agent Joseph Collins (father of Jackie and Joan Collins), to undertake a theatre-based UK cabaret tour, that later extended into Europe and North America, under the title of "The Diana Dors Show".

Her boyfriend Yeardye suggested that they hire the comedian Dickie Dawson, whom they had seen at New York's Stork Club. Dawson subsequently scripted the show and wrote most of the material. Finding Dawson very funny, Dors started a relationship with him and then ended the relationship with Yeardye, who subsequently emptied her cash box at Harrods of £18,000 and sold his story to the media.[2] This brought negative publicity to the show, but audience numbers remained high, which allowed Dors extra time to explain her affairs to a subsequent HM Revenue and Customs investigation of her cash holdings.[11] In 1959, Hamilton died and Dors was free to marry Dawson. After marrying Dawson in New York whilst making an appearance on The Steve Allen Show in 1959, the theatre-based The Diana Dors Show was commissioned for two studio-based series on television at ITV.[2]

After the birth of her first child in February 1960, and wishing to stay in the United States as a family unit with Dawson, Dors undertook a cabaret contract to headline at the Dunes hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.[2]

Dors divorced Dawson in 1966 and returned to the UK, leaving behind her two sons Mark and Gary. Mark never forgave her and was belligerent whenever they saw each other.[citation needed] Her youngest son, by her third marriage, Jason Lake, believed that her feelings of guilt about abandoning her sons may have contributed to her developing cancer.[13] She returned to UK cabaret and subsequently was served with a writ of bankruptcy in which she owed HMRC £40,208.[14] But as her popularity had fallen, this time she was touring working men's clubs.[2]

Recordings[edit]

The earliest recordings of Dors were two sides of a 78-rpm single released on HMV Records in 1951. The tracks were "I Feel So Mmmm" and "A Kiss and a Cuddle (and a Few Kinds Words From You)". HMV also released sheet music featuring sultry photos of Dors on the cover. She also sang "The Hokey Pokey Polka" on the 1954 soundtrack for the film As Long As They're Happy.

Dors recorded only one complete album, the swing-themed Swinging Dors, in 1960. The LP was originally released on red vinyl. The orchestra was conducted by Wally Stott.

She also sang as a special guest for the Italian TV show Un, due, tre (One, two, three, starring Ugo Tognazzi and Raimondo Vianello) on 31 May 1959, at the Teatro della Fiera in Milan, with orchestra conducted by Mario Bertolazzi.

She continued to record singles on various labels: "It's Too Late"/"So Little Time" (Fontana, 1964), "Security"/Gary" (Polydor, 1966), "Passing By"/"It's A Small World" (EMI 1977), and in 1982, although battling cancer, she recorded a single for the Nomis label, "Where Did They Go?"/"It's You Again" (a duet with her son, Gary Dawson).

Later career[edit]

Still making headlines in the News of the World and other print media in the late 1970s thanks to her adult parties, in her later years, Dors' status began to revive.

Although her film work consisted mainly of sex comedies, her popularity climbed thanks to her television work, where her wit, intelligence and catchy one-liners developed as a cabaret performer won over viewers. She became a regular on Jokers Wild, Blankety Blank and Celebrity Squares, and was a regular guest on BBC Radio 2's The Law Game. A popular chat show guest, an entire show—Russell Harty: At Home with Dors— came from the pool room of her home, Orchard Manor.[15] Younger musical artists engaged her persona, brought about after the 1981 Adam and the Ants music video Prince Charming, where she played the fairy godmother opposite Adam Ant, who played a male Cinderella figure.

Having turned her life story into a cash flow through interviewed and leaked tabloid stories, like many celebrities in their later careers she turned to the autobiography to generate retirement cash. Between 1978 and 1984, she published four auto-biographical books under her own name:

Having gone through her first round of cancer treatment, by the early 1980s Dors' hour-glass figure had become plumper, and she addressed the issue through co-authoring a diet book,[16] and creating a diet and exercise VHS videocassette. This resulted in her working for TV-am, ITV's breakfast station, in the summer of 1983, in a regular slot focusing on diet and nutrition, which later developed into an agony aunt segment. But as the cancer treatment took its toll again, her appearances became rarer.[15]

Diana Dors was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in April 1957 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre, and in October 1982, when Andrews surprised her at London's Royalty Theatre.

Personal life[edit]

Dors was married three times:

In 1949 while filming Diamond City, she had a relationship with businessman Michael Caborn-Waterfield, the son of the Count Del-Colnaghi, who later founded the Ann Summers chain, which he named after his cousin/secretary. During the short relationship, Dors became pregnant, but Caborn-Waterfield paid for a back-street abortion, which took place on a kitchen table in Battersea. The relationship continued for a time, before Dors met Dennis Hamilton Gittins on the set of Lady Godiva Rides Again, with whom she had a second abortion in 1951.[7]

Dors became a close friend of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, after Ellis had a bitpart in Lady Godiva Rides Again, four years before she was executed by Albert Pierrepoint, having admitted to and been found guilty of shooting her lover. Through her husband Hamilton, Dors was also close friends with the notorious Kray twins and their mother Violet.[2]

Parties[edit]

Dors became an early focus for the "celebrity exposé" tabloid headlines, most regularly for the News of the World. In a great part, she created this herself in her desperate need for cash, giving an interview after her separation from Hamilton in 1958, which described their lives and adult group parties in full, frank detail. The interview was subsequently serialised in the tabloid for 12 weeks,[17] followed by an extended 6-week series of sensational stories creating negative publicity. Subsequently the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher denounced Dors as a "wayward hussy".[17]

During her relationship with Hamilton, and from the end of the relationship up to a few months before her death, Dors regularly held adult parties at her homes. There, a number of celebrities and young starlets were in close contact, with ample supplies of alcohol and drugs, against a background of both soft and hard core porn films.[2] Dors gave all her guests full access to the entire private house which, her son Jason Lake later alleged in various media interviews and publications, she had had pre-wired with 8mm movie cameras.[13] The young starlets were made aware of the arrangement, and were allowed to attend for free in return for making sure that their celebrity performed in bed at the right camera angle.[2] Dors would then enjoy watching the unedited films the following morning, keeping an archive of the best performances.[13]

Television news and film media companies with broader interests, partly because of her popularity and partly because of those who were also attending the parties, were unwilling to repeat the stories until well after Dors' death.[18] Her former lover and party attender Bob Monkhouse[19] later commented in interview after Dors' death, "The awkward part about an orgy, is that afterwards you're not too sure who to thank."[20]

Death and legacy[edit]

Diana Dors died, aged 52, on 4 May 1984, from a recurrence of ovarian cancer, first diagnosed two years before.[2] Having converted to Roman Catholicism in spring 1973, a funeral service was held at the Sacred Heart Church in Sunningdale on 11 May 1984, conducted by Father Theodore Fontanari. She was buried in Sunningdale Catholic Cemetery.[14]

After her death, Alan Lake immediately burnt all of Dors' remaining clothes, and then fell into a depression. On 10 October 1984, after taking their son to the railway station, he returned to their Sunningdale home, and undertook a telephone interview with Daily Express journalist Jean Rook. He then walked into their son's bedroom, and committed suicide by firing a shotgun into his mouth.[3] He was 43. This was five months after her death from cancer, and sixteen years to the day since they had first met.[21]

Her home for the previous 20 years, Orchard Manor, was sold off by the solicitors. The house's contents were bulk-sold by Sotheby's, who sold off her jewellery collection in a bespoke auction. After solicitors' bills, outstanding tax payments, death duties, and various other outstanding cost distributions, the combined estate of Dors and Lake left little for the upkeep of their son (age 14), who was subsequently made a ward of court to his half-brother Gary Dawson in Los Angeles.[22]

Diana Dors was portrayed by Keeley Hawes (younger) and Amanda Redman (older) in the TV biopic The Blonde Bombshell (1999).

Alleged fortune[edit]

Before she died, Dors apparently hid away what she claimed to be over £2 million in banks across Europe. In 1982, she gave her son Mark Dawson a sheet of paper, on which she told him was a code that would reveal the whereabouts of the money.[2] Her widower Alan Lake supposedly had the key that would crack the code, but as he had committed suicide five months after Dors' death, Dawson was left with an apparently unsolvable code.[2][14]

Dawson sought out computer forensic specialists Inforenz, who recognised the encryption as the Vigenère cipher. Inforenz then used their own cryptanalysis software to suggest a ten-letter decryption key, DMARYFLUCK (short for Diana Mary Fluck, Dors' real name).[2] Although Inforenz was then able to decode the entire message and link it to a bank statement found in some of Lake's papers, the location of the money is still unknown.[2][14]

Some have speculated that there may have been a second sheet of paper, whose information might have led to the discovery of the money. Channel 4 made a television programme about the mystery, and created a website (now removed) where users could learn more and help solve the mystery.[2]

Filmography[edit]

Television roles[edit]

YearTitleRole
1961StraightawayEpisode: "The Sportscar Breed"
1962'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' (Alfred Hitchcock Presents)Irene Sadini
1963'Run For Doom' (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour)Nickie Carole
1970-2Queenie's CastleQueenie Shepherd
1973All Our SaturdaysDi Dorkins
1977-8Just WilliamMrs Bott
1978The Sweeney, Series 4 episode 1, Messenger of the GodsLily Rix
1980Hammer House of Horror: Children Of The Full MoonMrs Ardoy
1980The Two Ronnies: The Worm That TurnedThe Commander
1981Timon of Athens (BBC Television Shakespeare)Timandra
1981Music video Adam and the Ants: Prince CharmingFairy Godmother

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Gary Dawson biography at Angelfire
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac David Bret (October 2010). Diana Dors: Hurricane In Mink. JR Books, London. ISBN 1-907532-10-2. 
  3. ^ a b "Men Who Destroyed Diana Dors" (29 October 2010) The Daily Express
  4. ^ http://www.encyclopedia.com/article-1G2-2591302498/dors-diana-19311984.html
  5. ^ a b c "War Years" Diana Dors - The Official Archive and Website
  6. ^ "Rising Star" Diana Dors – The Official Archive and Website
  7. ^ a b "The Star 2" Diana Dors - Official Archive and Website
  8. ^ "The Star 3" Diana Dors - Official Archive and Website
  9. ^ "'The Dam Busters'." Times [London, England] 29 Dec 1955: 12. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
  10. ^ "Diana Dors" Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen
  11. ^ a b c "The Star 5" Diana Dors - Official Archive and Website
  12. ^ Obituary: Tommy Yeardye, telegraph.co.uk, 1 May 2004
  13. ^ a b c Lee-Potter, Lynda (5 May 2004). "Diana's demons". Daily Mail (London). 
  14. ^ a b c d "Diana Dors". findagrave.com. Retrieved 22 October 2011. 
  15. ^ a b "The Twilight Years" Diana Dors - Official Archive and Website
  16. ^ Diana Dors & Michael Waterfield (May 1983). X-Cel diet. Julian P. ISBN 0-901943-20-7. 
  17. ^ a b "The Star 6" Diana Dors – Official Archive and Website
  18. ^ "Girls, booze, drugs and parties" (30 September 2002) New Statesman
  19. ^ Barber, Lynn (20 August 2000). "Interview: Bob Monkhouse". The Observer (London). 
  20. ^ Anthony, Andrew (29 September 2002). "Television: Under the weather". The Guardian (London). 
  21. ^ Donnelley, Paul (2003) Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries, Omnibus Press, ISBN 978-0-7119-9512-3, p. 221-2
  22. ^ "Orchard Manor" Diana Dors - The Official Archive and Website

External links[edit]