09 April 2016

Claire Gordon

Blonde, voluptuous Claire Gordon (1941-2015) made theatrical history as the first actress to appear naked on the British stage. The British actress and pin-up model is also known for sexy leading and cameo roles in many British film comedies of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Claire Gordon
German postcard by ISV, Sort 9/6.

Claire Gordon
German postcard by ISV, Sort VII/6. Photo: Anglo-Amalgamated.

Beat Girl

Claire Gordon or Clare Gordon was born in 1941. According To Wikipedia, her birthplace was the city of Cambridge, but according to IMDb, it was London. However, she is British. Her father was a doctor, and her mother a make-up artist, who worked for Max Factor.

Gordon made her West End theatre debut on a motor bike in The Darling Buds of May and then created the role of Peggy Evans in Neil Simon's Come Blow Your Horn. Her film debut was a cameo (bit part) as a Harem girl in the comedy I Only Arsked! (Montgomery Tully, 1958), about a group of of misfit soldiers who are desperately trying to fiddle themselves some leave. Instead they wrangle a posting to the British Middle-East protectorate of Darawa.

Two years later she had a bigger part in the British thriller And Women Shall Weep (John Lemont, 1960). That year she also played a typist in the British Noir Never Let Go (John Guillermin, 1960), starring Richard Todd and Peter Sellers, and played a supporting part in the Beatnik drama Beat Girl (Edmond T. Gréville, 1960) with David Farrar and Christopher Lee.

Into the 1960s, Gordon continued to play eye candy parts in such films as the Norman Wisdom comedy The Bulldog Breed (Robert Asher, 1960), Ticket to Paradise (1961) with that other British sexpot Vanda Hudson, and the King Kong rip-off Konga (John Lemont, 1961) starring Michael Gough. In his review at DVD Drive-in, Joe Cascio writes of her performance in Konga: “Claire Gordon as Sandra Banks is not much of an actress, but has other beautiful attributes in which one can easily understand why men young and old are turned on to her.”

On Television she guest-starred in the popular TV series The Danger Man (1960) starring Patrick McGoohan. Gordon was also a popular pin-up model for men’s magazines like Parade and Piccolo. In the Cliff Richard musical The Young Ones (Sidney J. Furie, 1961) she also appeared as a pin-up girl on the cover of a magazine browsed by Dench (Harold Scott).

In Italy she played a gangster’s moll in I due evasi di Sing Sing/Two Escape from Sing Sing (Lucio Fulci, 1964) starring the comedians Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia. Other 1960s films in which she appeared were the spy film Licensed to Kill (Lindsay Shonteff, 1965), and the George Bernard Shaw adaptation Great Catherine (Gordon Flemyng, 1968) starring Peter O’Toole and Jeanne Moreau.

Vanda Hudson
Vanda Hudson. German postcard by ISV, no. 11/6.

Jeanne Moreau
Jeanne Moreau. French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 1017. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Making Theatrical History

In 1968 Claire Gordon married writer and producer William Donaldson, who had auditioned her for Lady de Winter in his production of The Three Musketeers. In this production she made theatrical history as the first actress to appear naked on the British stage. The New Statesman wrote: "watch out for the bath scene; it's a breakthrough."

Her husband was quite a wild character. After his death in 2005, The Telegraph and The Times published hilarious obituaries. The Telegraph wrote Gordon "had introduced him to cannabis and that they held orgies, with call girls, naked DJs and two-way mirrors". In 1971 Donaldson fled wife and creditors and left for Ibiza, where he spent his last £2,000 on a glass-bottomed boat, hoping to make money out of tourists.

In 1992 Claire Gordon revealed the ‘Randy secrets of the real Mrs Root’ to a tabloid, describing how her husband sent pornographic pictures of her to contact magazines in exchange for a plug for her fitness video. ‘Mrs Root’ was a reference to Donaldson’s later satirical pseudonym Mr Henry Root, a Right-wing nutcase and wet fish merchant. Root specialised in writing brash, outrageous and frequently abusive letters to eminent public figures (including his ‘hero’ Margaret Thatcher), enclosing a one pound note. The letters appeared absurd to the public but not to those to whom they were addressed. The recipients duly replied, often unaware that the joke was on them. Compiled and published in 1980, The Henry Root Letters became the number one bestseller that year.

Meanwhile Claire Gordon had returned to the screen in the early 1970s in such British sexploitation as Cool It Carol! (Pete Walker, 1972), Suburban Wives (Derek Ford, 1972), and Sex Farm (Arnold L. Miller, 1973). Commuter Husbands (Derek Ford, 1974), the equally unfunny sequel to Suburban Wives, was her final film. Gordon joined the Open University and went on to graduate from Middlesex University with a BA degree in English and American History and Literature.

On TV she was later seen in the BBC Play of the Day The Amazing Miss Stella Estelle (John Davis, 1984). Later, she played the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella at the Princess Theatre, Hunstanton. She also worked with Sarah Louise Young in Clive Evans's two woman show The Nunnery.

In 2015, Claire Gordon died of a brain tumour in a nursing home in West London. By the end of her life, she had been working on her memoirs and a documentary about her experiences while living in Egypt before and after the 2011 revolution.

Scenes from Beat Girl (1960). Source: Michael Fox (You Tube).

American trailer for Konga (1961). Source: Mothra Blues (You Tube).

Source: Joe Cascio (DVD Drive-in), Bonnie Estridge (Daily Mail), The Telegraph, The Times, Wikipedia and IMDb.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Famous for her 17 inch waist