14 April 2013

Susan Shaw

Lovely blonde Susan Shaw (1929 – 1978) was an English actress, who was groomed for stardom in Rank’s charm school. She was a promising starlet, but after the tragic death of her husband Bonar Colleano, she would never be the same again and became an alcoholic.

Susan Shaw
British card.

Charm School
Susan Shaw was born as Patsy Sloots in Norwood in 1929. She began her career as a model. In 1946 she was signed to a contract by the J. Arthur Rank Organisation and trained at their ‘charm school’. Her film debut was a bit part in the musical London Town (1946, Wesley Ruggles) with Sid Field as an aging music hall performer. It is generally regarded as one of the most infamous flops in the history of British cinema. The following year she had a bigger part in It Always Rains on Sunday (1947, Robert Hamer). In its gritty, unsentimental depiction of post-war Britain, and in its exploration of the frustration and desperation wrought by poverty, the film is an interesting precursor to the ‘kitchen sink’ dramas that would become fashionable with the British New Wave of the late 1950’s. Craig Butler at AllMovie: “The cast is excellent, despite a few obviously affected accents, with a surprising effective turn from Googie Withers and a quietly affecting one from Edward Chapman. All in all, an excellent melodrama.” Shaw often played a pretty young blonde with her nose in the air, and her early career showed promise. Susan was seen to good advantage in such crowd-pleasers as Holiday Camp (1947, Ken Annakin), My Brother's Keeper (1948, Alfred Roome, Roy Rich), and Quartet (1949, Ken Annakin a.o.). Her popularity reached a peak around 1950 with such films as the Gainsborough comedy Here Come the Huggetts (1948, Ken Annakin). This was the first of the Huggetts Trilogy about a working class English family, with Jack Warners as the father and Shaw as one of the daughters. One of her best films was the murder mystery The Woman in Question (1950, Anthony Asquith) with Jean Kent and Dirk Bogarde. In 1949, she married actor Albert Lieven, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1953.

Susan Shaw
British postcard, no. F.S. 24. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation. Publicity still for Here Come The Huggetts (1948, Ken Annakin). Caption: "Susan Huggett - otherwise Susan Shaw poses for the portrait camera in her bridesmaid's headdress, worn at her sister Jane's wedding in the first of the Huggett Family Films - Here Come The Huggetts."

Susan Shaw
Dutch postcard, no. AX 495. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Silly Space Opera
In 1951, Susan Shaw featured in the crime drama Pool of London (1951, Basil Dearden). Her co-star was American actor Bonar Colleano, known for his roles as the wisecracking Yank in British films. In 1954 they married and Susan with her petite blondeness and Bonar with his loud mouth and dark good looks made a handsome couple. A year later, their son Mark was born. Shaw’s films came incidentally. Probably her worst film was the silly space opera Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956, Cy Roth) starring Anthony Dexter as an astronaut. Shaw co-starred as a ‘fire maiden’ from the thirteenth moon of Jupiter. She also played a supporting part in the crude and funny farce Carry On Nurse (1959, Gerald Thomas). This was the second Carry On comedy and the top grossing film of 1959 in the UK. With an audience of 10.4 million, it had the highest cinema viewing of any of the Carry On films. It was also highly successful in the US. In 1958 Susan Shaw’s husband, Bonar Colleano was suddenly killed in a traffic accident. Badly affected by her husband’s death, Shaw began to drink heavily and was unable to care for her young son. Colleano's mother, a contortionist, became Mark’s legal guardian. She groomed the boy for an acting career. Susan remarried in 1959, but divorced again a year later. She resumed her career, but was unable to sustain it. Her final film was The Switch (1963, Peter Maxwell) starring Anthony Steel. She would never be the same person as she was before Colleano’s death and she spent most of the rest of her life battling alcoholism. In 1978, Susan Shaw died of cirrhosis of the liver and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, North London. She was penniless and the Rank Organisation paid for her funeral. She was only 49. Her son actor Mark Colleano became an actor. In 1970, he played opposite Rock Hudson in the war film Hornet's Nest (1970, Phil Karlson, Franco Cirino), as a 14-year-old Italian youth.

Scene from Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956). Source: (YouTube).

Sources: Craig Butler (AllMovie), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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