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?