13 December 2017

Suzanna Leigh (1945-2017)

On 11 December 2017, blonde British actress Suzanna Leigh (1945-2017) passed away. She was known for her film and television roles in the 1960s and 1970s, including Hammer horror films and a Hawaii musical with Elvis Presley.

Suzanna Leigh (1945-2017)
Spanish postcard by Postal Oscar Color S.A., Hospitalet (Barcelona), no. 592.

Costumed as Madame Du Barry

Suzanna Leigh was born Sandra Eileen Anne Smith in 1945 in Belgrave (some sources say Berkshire), England. Her father was an auto engine manufacturer and professional gambler. Her mother’s a millionaire property developer. Her father died when she was six.

Leigh grew up in Berkshire (some sources say Belgravia, London), and later went to convent schools outside London. She began working in films while still a child, appearing as an extra in British productions. These included the romantic comedy The Silken Affair (Roy Kellino, 1956) starring David Niven and Geneviève Page, and the fantasy-musical Tom Thumb (George Pal, 1958). 7

She changed her name to Suzanna Leigh after entering film, after actress Vivien Leigh. A few years later, she was the star of the 13-episode French TV series, Trois étoiles en Touraine (Maurice Régamey, 1966), which every week featured Leigh, her racing car and a different male lead.

Planning to attend London's Opera Ball, costumed as Madame Du Barry, Leigh had a sedan chair made, along with costumes for five footmen who carried it (and her) through the streets of the city. American producer Hal B. Wallis saw newspaper photos of Leigh's elaborate stunt and imported the 20-year-old blonde to Hollywood.

Leigh's American film roles included a stewardess in the American bedroom farce Boeing Boeing (John Rich, 1965) starring Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis, and the love interest of Elvis Presley in Paradise, Hawaiian Style (Michael D. Moore, 1966). In 1966 her US career hit a snag when the Hollywood and English acting guilds got into a tangle, and she returned to England.

Elvis Presley, Suzanna Leigh
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin. Photo: publicity still for Paradise, Hawaiian Style (Michael D. Moore, 1966) with Elvis Presley and Suzanna Leigh. Collection: Veronique3.

Richard Johnson (1927-2015)
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin. Photo: publicity still for Deadlier than the male (Ralph Thomas, 1967) with Richard Johnson and Suzanna Leigh.

The Kate Winslet of her Day

Back in England, Suzanna Leigh became the frail heroine in a couple of Hammer films such as The Lost Continent (Michael Carreras, 1968) with Eric Porter and Hildegard Knef, and Lust for a Vampire (Jimmy Sangster, 1971).

She also starred in the cult horror films The Deadly Bees (Freddie Francis, 1966) and The Fiend (Robert Hartford-Davis, 1972) with Ann Todd. In 1974 she starred as Amber in the musical comedy Son of Dracula (Freddie Francis, 1974) starring Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr.

Hester Lacey called Leigh in The Independent "the Kate Winslet of her day: a beautiful, feted young British actress who made it big in Hollywood. She lived a champagne lifestyle, mixed with the beautiful people and drove a Rolls Royce. She was presented to the Queen at a Royal Command Performance."

She met Tim Hue-Williams, to be the father of her daughter, Natalia, at Ascot in 1972. This led to a 10-year relationship which ended when Hue-Williams deserted her for a rich heiress, his best friend's fiancee, when Leigh was four months pregnant.

Her heydays were over and after a long and painful divorce, she retired to a small rented flat in a London suburb, with her daughter Natalia and her sheltie dog Sukie. She worked as an interior designer, gave etiquette lessons and sold the Encyclopedia Britannica at Heathrow Airport.

In 2000, she published the autobiography, Paradise, Suzanna Style. In 2015, she was a featured player in the American film, Grace of the Father (De Miller, 2015).

In September 2016, Suzanna Leigh was diagnosed with ‘stage-four’ liver cancer and she died on 11 December 2017.

Trailer Boeing Boeing (1965). Source: Classic Airliners & Vintage Pop Culture (YouTube).

Trailer Lust for a Vampire (1971). Source: kaijindaigo (YouTube).

Sources: Hester Lacey (The Independent), Tom Weaver (IMDb), Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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