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28 July 2013

Maxwell Reed

Tall, dark and handsome Maxwell Reed (1919-1974) was a British actor who was trained at the Rank's ‘charm school’. During the late 1940s, he became a teen idol in Britain, and he would be Joan Collins’ first husband.

Maxwell Reed
British postcard by A Real Photograph, no. F.S. 53.

Powerful Physical Presence
Maxwell Reed was born in Larne, Northern Ireland in 1919. He worked several years as a merchant seaman, and appeared on stage in Ireland. Then Reed moved to London and was auditioned and signed by the Rank Organisation. He became part of their ‘Company of Youth’ (or 'Charm School'). In 1946 he started his film career with an uncredited part in the British film The Years Between (Compton Bennett, 1946) starring Michael Redgrave. He was 27 at the time. A big part followed in the melodrama The Brothers (David MacDonald, 1947), with Patricia Roc. Dave Pyke at BritMovie: “The Brothers is a good, old fashioned melodrama, enhanced by the wonderful Scottish scenery and a sexy performance from Roc. Reed gives a surprisingly confident performance and works well with Roc. His powerful physical presence is also evident as he strides among the hills and enjoys an epic fist fight with a rival for Roc’s affections.” Reed also played supporting parts in the thriller Dear Murderer (Arthur Crabtree, 1947) featuring Eric Portman, and the crime drama Night Beat (Harold Huth, 1947) starring Anne Crawford. At the time he was the heartthrob of many schoolgirls. Daughter of Darkness (Lance Comfort, 1948) featured Siobhan McKenna as the UK’s first onscreen female serial killer, Emily Beaudine. Reed played her first victim. His second film of 1948 is Daybreak (Compton Bennett, 1948), a dark and gloomy drama which is laden with heavy rain and passion. He had his first lead in Blackout (Robert S. Baker, 1950) as a man suffering from temporary blindness who accidentally walks into a house where a murder has just occurred. Dave Pyke: “Smartly written by John Gilling and smoothly directed by Baker, Blackout is almost like a dry run for The Saint, with Reed portraying Pelly as a wise cracking charmer with a nose for trouble. It is an extremely likeable performance and Reed looks fabulous, it’s just a shame he didn’t get more roles of this type.”

Maxwell Reed
British autograph card.

Maxwell Reed
British autograph card.

The Wild Man of British Cinema
Maxwell Reed rotated between leads in B films and supporting roles in major productions. He became known as a ‘hellraiser’ and was dubbed ‘The Wild Man of British Cinema’ by the newspapers. Unclear is why. On screen, he was excellent as a killer in The Dark Man (Jeffrey Dell, 1951). He played a motorcycle daredevil in There Is Another Sun (Lewis Gilbert, 1951) and a boxer in The Square Ring (Basil Dearden, Michael Relph, 1953). He hoped he could repeat the recent Hollywood success of Stewart Granger in Universal’s swashbuckling romance The Flame of Araby (Charles Lamont, 1951) but the film was not a success. In 1952, he married Joan Collins whose first husband he was. The marriage ended in divorce in 1956 and in her 1978 autobiography Past Imperfect, Collins claimed that the divorce was a result of Reed's alleged attempt to sell her to an Arab sheik. Reed’s family strongly objected to Collins’ accusations and managed to get her to withdraw some of them from later editions of the book. In Italy Reed played in the epic Helen of Troy (Robert Wise, 1956) featuring Rossana Podestà, and then drifted to the US. There he was a guest star on many TV shows such as Bonanza (1961), Perry Mason (1964) and Daniel Boone (1966). He also appeared incidentally in films, including The Notorious Landlady (Richard Quine, 1962) with Kim Novak, and the horror film Picture Mommy Dead (Bert I. Gordon, 1966). His last screen role was in the British TV series Sherlock Holmes (1968) with Peter Cushing. In 1974, Maxwell Reed died from cancer, aged 55.

Joan Collins
Joan Collins. British postcard by L.D. LTD., London in the Film Star Autograph Portrait Series, no. 60. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Rossana Podestà
Rossana Podestà. Dutch postcard by Editions P.I., no. 662. Publicity still for Helen of Troy (1956).

Sources: Dave Pyke (BritMovie), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

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