Monday, May 30, 2011

I know the face but…

Last night I watched ‘So you think you can Dance,’ and was mesmerised by Kirsty Swain – not so much by her dancing, although the remaining contestants do everything brilliantly short of flying, but her face, hair and figure I’d seen before. It was when I was a sixth-former for a day, in one of the St Trinian films; later I remembered her name – Belinda Lee.

I was a bit of an oddity, looking younger than my years and wearing a wedding ring. Joyce Grenfell who was playing the sports mistress, drew attention to it, and I was told later by a fellow actor she had heard two of the featured players saying with my bone structure I would have a future in films – but ‘She’s not interested,’ was the answer. I knew if my agent heard of this she would not be pleased as she had plans for me; but it was true. I was coming up to 26 and determined to start a family- it was my New Years resolution for 1956.

I had had a successful two years – had become my agent’s top model but I had seen enough of the film world to know it was not my scene. We are told as writers to accept rejection because it is ’not personal’ but when you are just presenting yourself at countless auditions – what is more personal than that? You‘d need a carapace like an armadillo to cope with the inevitable rejections, which even today is the lot of many actors.

My agent’s office was in Soho and there was a faintly sleazy under- belly around there in the fifties. Every night I caught the train to our first home in Epsom, but occasionally there was a party one was expected to attend. At first I found them great fun but they convinced me this was not the life I wanted.

On the set we sixth- formers were all dressed in mini gym-slips and black silk stockings. Off camera I was as demure as it was possible to be, teetering along in high heels and a short skirt and stared open –mouthed when Belinda climbed through a ground floor window to the delight of the crew. She was obviously going places and was snapped up by the Rank organisation. She came from a respectable middle class family in Devon and her peaches and cream beauty was much in demand.

She fell in love with Cornel Lucas – a photographer fourteen years older. I met him soon after they married, doing a cover for Woman’s Own and he seemed very happy.

Belinda was being built up to be a sex-pot to rival Diana Dors but Diana was more popular and won hands down. Lucas sent hundreds of photos of her all over the world and she became known abroad. On loan to Italy for ‘La Venere di Cheronea' she met and fell in love with Prince Orsini.

Orsini belonged to one of the oldest families in Rome and was married with two sons. He was Assistant to the Papal Throne and their affair created a scandal. Belinda declared she couldn’t live with someone she didn’t love and her marriage was over. The Pope ordered Orsini to stay away from Belinda and they both attempted suicide. Belinda took an overdose and was brought round in an iron lung and Orsini slashed his wrists but was found in time.

The Pope ordered Orsini to go to a monastery and no member of the Orsini family would be allowed in the Vatican again. Meanwhile Lucas filed for divorce.

Belinda and Orsini attended the Cannes Film Festival, driving round in a limousine – a present from Lucas, but declared they were ‘just good friends.’ Orsini’s wife started divorce proceedings and the couple set up home in Paris. I think the writing was on the wall when Belinda said her future husband was in the metal age with silver in his hair, metal in his knees and gold in his tooth. She dumps Orsini.

She becomes involved with director Gualtero Jacopetti who was sentenced to three months in a Hong Kong jail for the abduction of two Chinese girls who were minors.

He is making a documentary about women’s lives in various parts of the world. Belinda is not in it. He, Belinda, his co- director and a Neapolitan driver were travelling from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. They were driving too fast, a tire blew, the car somersaulted and Belinda was thrown out. She was severely injured and died twenty minutes later. The other three survived.

Friends said she seemed to be building up to ‘a big finish’. After her marriage ‘reckless ness took over’. Only a handful of people were at her funeral. Her ashes are in the Rome Protestant Cemetery where Keats and Shelley are buried.

Maybe life in the film world is different now. What do you think?


Miss Scarlet said...

It's funny you bring this up as I watched the BBC2 evening about June Whitfield on Saturday night and I thought to myself that if I'd ever been an actress I would have liked to have been just like her.
Off-screen she is one of the rare ones who is apparently completely stable and lovely.

Miss Scarlet said...

...but by God you've had an interesting life Pat, and I am looking forward to reading about it all!

Jimmy said...

I think it is rare to find a beautiful woman with common sense. You have both attributes doll.

mapstew said...

What a life!

(What Jimmy said!) :¬)


Pat said...

Scarlet: yes she never put a foot wrong - a good jobbing actress - in the nicest sense of the word. And she was great in Ab Fab.
After our little holiday I must bestir myself and start sending it out again (the book).

Jimmy and Mapstew: you boys! What are you like?

kenju said...

The only names I recognize in your post are Diana Dors and Prince Orsini. Sounds like a fun group, though, are you sure you don't want to be in it??? LOL

R. Sherman said...

Sad to say, I've never heard of Belinda Lee until this post. Quite a looker she is. Of course, I was hoping you post some more "Pat in alluring modeling clothes" photos, so I am vaguely disappointed.


OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I remember Belinda Lee's name, but not much else about her.....I think there are still many people in Show Biz who lead lives of a seemingly irresponsible nature---But there are many many more who lead stable involved lives that are grounded in family and art.
Looking forward to that Autobiography Pat.....!

Pat said...


Randall: she was better in the flesh. On screen I thought her head looked large and her features heavy.
That's just my opinion but she never fulfilled her original promise.

Pat said...

Naomi: I'm sure that's true. Thank goodness.

angryparsnip said...

She is quite beautiful.
I sometimes think that the managers or producers ? decide that someone should be "The Next...." instead of where the actors talent is.
I am always amazed by your life, I can't wait for you book to be published so I can read it.

cheers, parsnip

Macy said...

Wow, I'm reading the dates there and calculating that she packed all that into 26 years!
Quite gorgeous. Do your children know what you gave up?

Ponita in Real Life said...

Good thing you decided that life was not for you! Given that so many who've gotten into showbiz, from the beginning, seem to have gotten themselves into all kinds of trouble. More trouble than its worth, in my view. I'm sure your life has been exciting enough! As per Jimmy, you definitely are both beauty and brains. :-)

erika said...

I think the film industry chews up and spits out a lot of people, you have to be really well-adjusted and a have a strong character and well-established values to withstand all the pressure it presents. I imagine it's even harder nowadays with all the paparazzi and sensation-hungry tabloid media trying to expose every little detail of your life, trying to snap pictures of you to show how "unattractive" or "fat" you are without makeup. It's so sad to see the mugshots of all these young actresses/celebrities on the evening news... arrested for DUI, going to rehab, OD-ed, getting a divorce, losing custody of their kids... It only takes a couple bad decisions to wreck a life.

Also, you have this lasting quality of beauty. You are still so gorgeous!

Guyana-Gyal said...

It's sad, isn't it?

I don't think it's the film industry. Many women and men live like this, but because they're 'ordinary' people, it isn't known.

On another note...rejection is upsetting whether you're a writer, an actress,'s not personal but you have to go through the anger, etc. before picking up and get moving right along.

Kim Ayres said...

Do you have any photos of you in St Trinians?

lom said...

Sad story, the price of fame

ToilNotSpin said...

Pat, my dear, I think I feel a great deal of jealousy coming from you towards this poor dead girl.

Many are the would-be actors and actresses who never made it; I never read of anyone who said "I just didn't have the talent." No, they all quit, like you, because they were too moral, too sensitive, just too gosh-darn decent to let themselves be degraded....which of course would have led to instant success.

Maybe it's true...but it does mean that all successful actors are people who sold out, and all failures are ones who maintained their purity. I'm not sure I entirely buy that. But I'm sure that would be MY excuse too!

rashbre said...

wow - that story would make a screenplay by itself!

Pat said...

Parsnip: I think Belinda was in charge of her own destiny. She was apparently happily married to someone eager to further her career and she threw it all away.

Macy: yes 26 - tragic! She was just a bright-eyed teenager when I met her.
It wouldn't occur to my children to think I had given anything up. They saw me passionately involved with the business I started with a partner and the modelling days something of a joke.

Ponita: I was always grateful for the experience - and the money:)

Pat said...

Erika: welcome!
What you say is true but in the fifties women were much more vulnerable - they hadn't been empowered by women's lib and many of the would-be starlets were just teen-agers.

GG: as Gertrude Stein might have said 'rejection is rejection is rejection!'

Kim: fotunately no:)

LOM: it is a tragic story - not always the price of fame.

Pat said...

Toilnotspin: welcome!

'No, they all quit, like you, because they were too moral, too sensitive, just too gosh-darn decent to let themselves be degraded....which of course would have led to instant success.'

Just for the record, I 'quit' because I was 26 and wanted to start a family. Once I started being successful we delayed having children but I felt time was running out, we had children much earlier in those days.
I don't consider I was particularly moral, sensitive etc but I did have a degree of common sense and in all my time in the modelling world I was treated with respect and kindness.
It would never occur to me to be jealous of someone like Belinda.
I'm sorry I seem to have misled you but there it is.

Pat said...

Rashbre: surprising that no-one has done it.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

When I was in my early 20s and new to New York City, I feel in love with an actress. She eventually had to leave because the audition grind was killing her. Two or three times a week she was told she's not good enough. How much of that can you take? All these decades later my heart is still reeling.

Pat said...

UB: oh that's so sad. One never forgets one's first love - especially if they got away.

Pearl said...


I hadn't intended to learn so much.

People are fascinating...


WV: cheat. ;-)

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Come on by, my dear...Something really pretty to share with you...!

Pat said...

Pearl: ain't they just! I'm thrilled if you learn anything from coming over here. I certainly enjoy my trips to yours:)

Naomi: I'll be over soon.

Vagabonde said...

I do remember reading about her accident and death but I did not know much about her at the time. Thanks for the story – it is a sad one, although she did pack a lot of living while she could.

Pat said...

Vagabonde: that's absolutely true.

Kevin Musgrove said...

A wave of envy...
...though I'd have been rubbish as a sixth-former at St. Trinian's.

Pat said...

Kevin: with those legs and black silk stockings you would have a head start;)

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