16 August 2011

Margaret Lee

Cool and beautiful Margaret Lee (1943) posed as a glamorous starlet for many international magazines throughout the 1960's. Between 1962 and 1983 the British born actress co-starred in over 70 European films.

Margaret Lee
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/361. Photo: Georg Michalke.

Blonde, Fluffy Look
Margaret (sometimes credited as Margareth) Lee was born Margaret Gwendolyn Box in Wolverhampton, England in 1943. She was educated at Roan Grammar School in Greenwich, and later studied for three years at the Italia Conti Theatre School in London. Shortly after graduation, the 19-year-old headed to Rome, the European film captital at the time, to attempt to break into films. Soon she started to play small film parts in Italian films. According to Wikipedia she made her screen debut in Maciste contro i mostri/Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules (1962, Guido Malatesta) opposite bodybuilder Reg Lewis. With a blonde, fluffy look modelled after Marilyn Monroe, Lee followed it up with a stream of low-budget peplum spectacles, comedies and thrillers. Some of them are now considered cult films. Highlights include Gli Imbroglioni/The Swindlers (1963, Lucio Fulci) with Walter Chiari, the comedy In ginocchio da te/On My Knees For You (1964, Ettore Maria Fizzarotti) starring singer Gianni Morandi, Questa volta parliamo di uomini/Let's Talk About Men (1965, Lina Wertmüller) with Nino Manfredi, and Casanova '70 (1965, Mario Monicelli) with Marcello Mastroianni. She appeared in several comedies and parodies which starred the popular comedic duo Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia. Few of these films received much (if any) distribution in foreign territories but they were highly successful in Italy, and made Lee a well-known film actress.

Margaret Lee
German postcard by Kruger, no. 902/356. Photo: Georg Michalke.

Margaret Lee
Israelian postcard by Éditions de Luxe, no. 123.

Sexy Femme Fatales
Around the mid 1960's, Margaret Lee started to appear in a long line of Eurospy films, where she was frequently cast as sexy femme fatales. Her appearance also changed as she dropped the blonde look and became a brunette instead. These Eurospy films include Le Tigre se parfume à la dynamite/An Orchid for the Tiger (1965, Claude Chabrol), Agente 077 dall'oriente con furore/Agent 077 From the Orient with Fury (1965, Sergio Grieco), Se tutte le donne del mondo/Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966, Henry Levin) with American TV star Mike Connors, and the French James Bond variation Coplan sauve sa peau/Coplan Saves His Skin (1968, Yves Boisset) opposite Claudio Brook and Jean Servais. Lee was also popular on Italian television in the 1960's. She appeared as a showgirl alongside the famous singer Johnny Dorelli. Lee also starred with Dorelli in his film debut Arriva Dorellik/How to Kill 400 Duponts (1967, Steno). She was also seen in sexy parts opposite opposite Jean Gabin in Le soleil des voyous/Action Man (1967, Jean Delannoy), and with Gian Maria Volonté in Banditi a Milano/The Violent Four (1968, Carlo Lizzani). Lee speaks both English and Italian fluently, and from 1966 on she dubbed most of her own films.

Margaret Lee
German postcard by Kruger, no. 902/170.

Margaret Lee
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Margaret Lee caught the eye of international film producer Harry Alan Towers. He gave her wider international recognition by casting her in prominent roles in several of his all-star cast productions. The first was the British Edgar Wallace mystery Circus of Fear (1966, John Llewellyn Moxey) starring Christopher Lee. Towers also cast her in the spy-comedy Our Man in Marrakesh (1966, Don Sharp), the action film Five Golden Dragons (1967, Jeremy Summers), the thrillers Venus in Furs (1969) and The Bloody Judge (1970), both directed by Jesús Franco; and finally in the Oscar Wilde adaptation Dorian Gray (1970, Massimo Dallamano) starring Helmut Berger. Lee's co-star in Circus of Fear, Five Golden Dragons and Venus in Furs was the renowned German actor Klaus Kinski, who was also a regular in Harry Alan Towers productions. The pairing of Lee and Kinski proved to be very popular among cinema-goers - especially in Italy - so they would appear in a total of 12 films together. Other interesting films Margaret Lee appeared in were I Bastardi/Sons of Satan (1969, Duccio Tessari) - one of the last films of Rita Hayworth, and the ‘giallo’ (Italian thriller) Gli assassini sono nostri ospiti/The Killers Are Our Guests (1974, Vincenzo Rigo) starring Anthony Steffen. However, with the death of the spy genre in the late 1960's, Margaret Lee was then often cast in popular Euro horror flicks. Wikipedia notes: "By the early 1970's, Lee's movie career had descended further and further into exploitation; culminating in Fernando Di Leo's extremely sleazy and violent thriller La bestia uccide a sangue freddo/Slaughter Hotel (1971)." In 1974 she retired from the film industry and returned to England. In 1982 she came back for two more films, the comedies Sesso e volentieri/Sex As You Like It (1982, Dino Risi), which reunited her with her old co-star Johnny Dorelli, and Stangata napoletana/Neapolitan Sting (1983, Vittorio Caprioli) starring Treat Williams. Margaret Lee married in 1963 choreographer/agent Gino Malerba. From this marriage which soon ended in a divorce she had a son, producer/production manager Roberto Malerba (V for Vendetta (2006, James McTeigue) and Speed Racer (2008, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski)). After retiring In England she married again and had another son, production coordinator Damian Anderson (V for Vendetta (2006, James McTeigue) and Ninja Asassin (2009, James McTeigue)).

Margaret Lee performs an Italo-pop lounge act in the Diabolik parody Arriva Dorellik (1967, Steno). Source: Dumbdistraction (YouTube).

Margaret Lee sings the title song in Five Golden Dragons (1967). Source: Filmfan3 (YouTube).

Sources: Brian J. Walker (Brian's Drive-in Theater), Sandra Brennan (Rovi), BFI, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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