Miss Kitty: Amanda Blake’s Cheetahs

Born in Buffalo New York on 20th February 1929, Beverly Louise Neill was a descendent of Kate Berry, the celebrated American Revolutionary War heroine, who warned the Continental Army that the British were approaching shortly before the Battle of Cowpens in 1871. Relocating to California with her parents, she started a course at Pomona College, but decided to quit a year later to pursue a career as an actress after becoming involved with a local community theatre.

At the age of 20, having changed her name to Amanda Blake and touted as ‘the young Greer Garson,’ she won her first movie role in Stars in My Crown (1950) a drama about a Civil War Veteran’s who becomes the gospel minister of Walesburg, a lawless town where he struggles to gain acceptance. In 1950, she also featured in Duchess of Idaho with Esther Williams and Lena Horne, as well as the film noir Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard. A string of minor film and television appearances ensued in productions such as Scarlet Angel (1952), Sabre Jet (1953), A Star is Born (1954), The Glass Slipper (1955) and High Society (1955). It seemed that in spite of her feline beauty and seductive husky voice, Blake was never to be a major leading lady or a huge Hollywood star.

Above: Gunsmoke – Miss Kitty Season 7 Episode 3 (1961)

In 1955, she accepted a part on a new television series called Gunsmoke. Originally a radio programme, set in Dodge City, Kansas during the 1870s, Blake was cast as Miss Kitty Russell, the feisty dancer and later, the proprietor, of the Long Branch Saloon. She would appear on small screens across America as Miss Kitty for nineteen seasons until she asked to be written out in 1974, remarking that, ‘nineteen years is a hell of long time for someone to be stuck behind a bar.’ The show ran for one more season after Blake’s departure, with the final episode airing on 31st March 1975. Continue reading

Star 80: The Stellar Dorothy Stratten

It was around 11 p.m. on the evening of 14th August 1980 and Dr Stephen Cushner was growingly increasingly concerned. The private investigator hired by Paul Snider, the friend with whom he shared an apartment, had rung to say that Snider’s phone was not being answered. Knowing that Snider was home, Cushner broke down the door; the scene that greeted him was one of unimaginable horror. Lying naked and bloodied were the bodies of Snider and his estranged wife, the stunning model and Playboy playmate, Dorothy Stratten.

Only 20 years-old at the time of her death, she was born Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten in Vancouver on 28th February 1960; her parents had emigrated to Canada from the Netherlands and had two other children, John who was a year younger than Dorothy, and Louise who arrived in 1968.

Whilst working at a local branch of the fast-food restaurant Dairy Queen, at the age of 17, Dorothy caught the eye of Snider, a club-promoter, pimp, drug-dealer all round shady character, who was nine years her senior. Noting her statuesque height and curvaceous figure, which provided a striking contrast to her angelic face, Snider saw the young woman as his path to fame and fortune, apparently telling a friend ‘That girl could make me a lot of money.’ Continue reading

Diamond Geezer: George Cole’s Lobster

Born in Tooting on 22nd April 2015 and adopted at ten days old, George Cole spent his childhood in Morden, his earliest memory being his mother’s ire when she discovered he had sold a pair of new shoes to a rag-and-bone man in exchange for a toy windmill. Whilst he excelled academically, Cole first love was acting, and as he later remembered, ‘I was always in plays at school and in school concerts – you could say I liked to show off.’

After leaving school at the age of 14, he worked first as a butcher’s delivery boy and dreamt of joining the Merchant Navy, a dream that was hastily abandoned when he landed a role in the musical comedy The White Horse Inn and then Cottage to Let, which was turned in to a film in 1941, starring Alastair Sim and John Mills. Sim and his wife offered Cole and his mother lodgings and Cole was to live with them until he married the actress Eileen Moore in 1954.

Between 1941 and 1947, Cole would appear with Sim in eight films, most notably The Belle’s of St. Trinian’s and Blue Murder at St. Trinian’s in which Cole played Flash Harry, a spiv who encouraged the girls to get up to all sorts of mischief, and Sim their indulgent headmistress, Miss Fritton. Oher significant roles included the part of ‘the Boy’ in Olivier’s Henry V (1944) and Curley, a member of the Lancaster Crew in the 1945 war film Journey Together, with Richard Attenborough and Jack Watling. The latter enabled Cole to draw upon his own experiences as an R.A.F. radio operator from 1944 to 1947. Continue reading

Le Temps Des Fleurs: Remembering Dalida

Yolanda Christina Gigliotti was born into an Italian family in Cairo on 17th January 1933. As the first violinist at the Cairo Opera House, her father Pietro Gigliotti instilled her and her two brothers with a appreciation for music from an early age. After attending an Italian Catholic school in the Egyptian capital, and Yolanda dreamt of becoming a model, an ambition that would be easily realised on account of her breathtaking Mediterranean beauty.

Winning the title of Miss Ondine at a beauty pageant in 1950, Yolanda was again triumphant when she competed for the crown of Miss Egypt four years later. Her new found status brought her to the attention of the French painter and film director, Marc de Gastyne, who promised to help her pursue a film career and she moved to Paris in December 1954. Changing her name to the more French sounding Dalila, she later decided upon its variant Dalida. In Homage to the continent of her birth, it was of African-Swahili and Arabic origin, from the former, her new moniker translated as ‘gentle,’ and from the latter, ‘to tease.’

Isolated and far away from her family and friends, Dalida found solace in music and took singing lessons. Not only did she have natural talent, she also had a powerful stage presence and was hired to perform her own cabaret act at a the Olympia, a music hall in the 9th arrondissement with her signature tune being Étrangèr au Paradis, a hit from the 1953 musical Kismet. Dalida also appeared in several films including the Egyptian motion picture Sigarah wa kas (1955) and Marc de Gastyne’s Le masque de Toutankhamon (1955), but it was whilst working at the Olympia, that she met Lucien Morisse, a produce at Europe n° 1, the biggest radio station in France at that time, and the record producer Eddie Barclay. Instantly captivated by her, Morisse proposed despite already being married. Morisse later divorced and they would eventually wed on 8th April 1961, although the marriage dissolved in matter of weeks following Dalida’s affair with the French actor Jean Sobieski.  Continue reading