28 January 2013

Belinda Lee

English actress Belinda Lee (1935 - 1961) was a knock-out peroxide starlet who became an authentic brunette star.

Belinda Lee
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin-Charlottenburg, no. C D 21. Photo: Rank-Film.

Belinda Lee
Belgian card by Cox, no. 20.

Belinda Lee
German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. CK-309. Photo: Klaus Collignon / Ufa.

Dumb Blonde Pulp-thriller Addict
Belinda Lee was born in Budleigh Salterton, England, in 1935. Her parents were Robert Esmond Lee, a former army captain and owner of the Rosemullion Hotel, and Stella Mary Graham, a florist. They raised Belinda as a good class-English country girl. She pesters her parents to send her to drama school. They finally relent, and Belinda attends the Tudor Arts Academy in Minehead / Hindhead, Surrey, and later the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). While playing in one of the Academy’s productions, she was spotted by director Val Guest and cast for the comedy The Runaway Bus (1954) with Frankie Howerd and Margaret Rutherford. Val Guest introduces her to Rank’s still photographer Cornel Lucas, who takes some glamour publicity photographs for The Runaway Bus. Lucas is 14 years her senior. They fall madly in love and become engaged. For her role as a dumb blonde pulp-thriller addict in the film she received good notices. She was then cast as Amanda, one of the nubile and naughty schoolgirls in The Belles Of St.Trinians (1954, Frank Launder). This anarchic comedy is set in the riotous, thankfully fictional girls' school St Trinian's, created between 1942 and 1951 by British cartoonist Ronald Searle. It was the first of a series of five films wand starred Alastair Sim in a dual role. When the Rank Organisation offered her a seven-year contract in 1954, Belinda Lee readily accepted. That same year Lee and Lucas married. Lucas takes thousands of photographs of his wife and sends them to leading newspapers and magazines around the world.

Belinda Lee
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag G.m.b.H, Minden/Westf., no. 2720. Photo: Cornel Lucas / J. Arhur Rank Organisation.

Belinda Lee
German postcard by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel. Photo: dpa-Bild.

Belinda Lee
Yugoslavian postcard by Irzarda Nas Glas, Smederevo, no. 105. Photo: Cornel Lucas.

Glamorous Starlet
Rank typecasted Belinda Lee as one of their glamorous starlets. Dylan Cave at BFI Screenonline: "At the 1955 Cannes film festival she led Rank's glitterati during the studio's uncharacteristic attempt to generate British Cinema glitz. This may well have prompted Diana Dors' outrageous mink bikini at the same event - a barely concealed method of stealing back the limelight." Lee was often seen as a second-string Diana Dors. Lucas advises her to stop bleaching her hair. She landed bigger comedy roles opposite stars like Benny Hill in Who Done It? (1956, Basil Dearden) and was served up as typical window dressing in Miracle in Soho (1957, Julian Amyes). The swashbuckler Dangerous Exile (1957, Brian Desmond Hurst) concerns the fate of Louis XVII, who died in 1795 as a boy, yet was popularly believed to have escaped from his French revolutionary captors. Lee played a spirited young woman looking after the refugee heir (Richard O'Sullivan). That year, British exhibitors voted her the 10th most popular British film star at the box office.

Belinda Lee
Dutch postcard by Gebr. Spanjersberg, Rotterdam, no. 963.

Belinda Lee
Postcard. Photo: Rank.

Belinda Lee
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag G.m.b.H, Minden/Westf., no. 2942. Photo: J. Arthur-Rank-Film. Publicity still for The Secret Place (1957, Clive Donner) .

Scandalous Romance
Belinda Lee then went to Rome to play the female lead, Aphrodite, in La Venera Di Cheronea/Goddess of Love (1958, Fernando Cerchio, Victor Tourjansky) opposite Jacques Sernas and Massimo Girotti. She met intelligent, and good-looking Prince Filippo Orsini, head of one of the oldest and finest families in Italy, with many popes and generals in their lineage. Soon there was a romance between the married prince and the also married film star, and it became an international scandal. Wikipedia: "Italian newspapers reported that Miss Lee had taken an overdose of sleeping pills. Three days later, papal prince Filippo Orsini, who had been linked to her by the papers, was reported to have been hospitalised after slashing his wrists. Police refused to comment on the newspaper reports linking the two romantically. Orsini, whose injuries were light, refused to tell the police why he had done it. Lee said that she had been suffering from insomnia and had taken an overdose by mistake. Both were married to others at the time. The Vatican said that Orsini would lose his title if it were proven that he had attempted suicide" Belinda Lee returned to England for Nor The Moon By Night (1958, Ken Annakin) in which she was even allowed to suggest sexual desire. However, the scandal significantly had damaged the image that Rank had built for Lee and, by the end of 1958, her contract was terminated, with her husband filing for divorce.

Belinda Lee
French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 731. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Belinda Lee
French postcard by Editions P.I., no. 927, presented by Les Carbones Korès Carboplane. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Belinda Lee, Albert Lupo
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Filmvertrieb, no. 1636, 1961. Photo: publicity still for Il sicario/Blood Feud (1960, Damiano Damiani) with Albert Lupo.

Voluptuous Temptresses
In 1959, after her divorce from Cornel Lucas, Belinda Lee moved definitively to Italy. Her personal drama worked to Lee's advantage. Avoiding the complete obscurity suffered by many Rank starlets, the European film industry offered her a range of riskier roles that played on her previously contained sexuality. The parts she played, the colour of her hair, her publicity photographs: all were in marked contrast to her British period. She played voluptuous temptresses in lowbudget epics as Le Notti di Lucrezia Borgia/The Nights of Lucretia Borgia (1959, Sergio Grieco) and Messalina Venere imperatrice/Messalina (1960, Vittorio Cottafavi), but she also gave credible dramatic performances in Francesco Rosi's immigration drama I Magliari/The Magliari (1959), in Il Sicario/Blood Feud (1960, Damiano Damiani) and in the intense war story La lungha notte del 43/The Long Night of '43 (1960, Florestano Vancini). While on holiday in California with her boyfriend, filmmaker Gualtiero Jacopetti, she suddenly died in a car accident. Near San Bernardino, California, on US 91, their driver, driving too fast, loses control on the winding road. A tire blows, the car somersaults and is flipped over on its top, and Belinda is thrown out. She is seriously injured and dies twenty minutes later of a fractured skull and broken neck in the arms of a California police officer. Belinda Lee was only 25. It all ended much too soon. In 1962 Gualtiero Jacopetti presented Mondo Cane, the first and commercially most successful of several sensational feature-length documentaries that focuses on lurid and cruel aspects of life.

Belinda Lee and Ian Carmichael in a scene from The Big Money (1958). Source: Jim Beattie (YouTube).

Scene from Nor The Moon By Night with Michael Craig. Source: Mr. Tobyjug3 (YouTube).

Sources: Dylan Cave (BFI ScreenOnline), Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen, LoveGoddess.info, Wikipedia, and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

Such a beauty. It's a shame she died so young.