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

The English Boy: Richard Warwick’s Great Performances

The third of four sons, Richard Carey Winter was born in the Kent village of Longfield on 29th April 1945, but grew up near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. He would always consider the county his true home and speak fondly of it, marvelling at its rich history and once telling a friend that, as he sat in a local dentist’s chair, he delightedly realised that he was in the very room from which Margaret of Anjou had observed the bloody aftermath of the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471.

With a father who was an aeronautical engineer, and no familial acting connections, it came as a surprise to his parents when Richard won a place at RADA after leaving the Dean Close School in Cheltenham. From RADA, Richard joined the National Theatre, and, having adopted the stage name ‘Warwick’ for Equity reasons, at the age of 23, he was cast as Gregory in Franco Zeffirelli’s lavish Romeo and Juliet.

At the same time, he appeared as the recusant sixth-former Wallace in If…., Lindsay Anderson’s brutal dramatisation of the English public school system. Catching the counter-cultural wave that was spreading across Britain and other parts of Europe in the 1960s, the film was a cinematic triumph, and was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1969. Malcolm McDowell, may have been the film’s main protagonist, but as Anderson said of Warwick, ‘I never met a young actor like Richard! Without a touch of vanity, completely natural yet always concentrated, he illumines every frame of the film in which he appears.’ His enormous talent, stage presence and charmingly boyish looks made Warwick ideal for the televised plays then loved by British audiences.

Above: Trailer for If…. (1968)

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