RETURNING to my personal parade of screen beauties which began last week brings me to two movie versions of the 1934 James M Cain novel The Postman Always Rings Twice.
The story concerns Cora, a gorgeous blonde who runs a California diner with her much older husband Nick. A young drifter named Frank Chambers drops in for a meal and is immediately captivated by Cora’s charms. Very soon they begin an affair and set about getting rid of Nick.
The first film, released in 1946, features Lana Turner, who at 25 was one of the highest-paid actresses in America and a fully fledged sex symbol. Her tight tops, which accentuated her bust, led to her being nicknamed the Sweater Girl.
In this early scene Chambers, played by John Garfield, is left alone to supervise a hamburger on the grill when a lipstick rolls towards him across the floor. He looks to see where it came from and is confronted by a pair of shapely legs, topped by the lovely Lana in a white top and shorts with a bare midriff. He visibly catches his breath, and who could blame him? He hands over the lippy and she applies it before giving him a provocative look and leaving the room, closing the door on him. No wonder he burned the burger.
Some 35 years later it was Jack Nicholson as Frank, and Jessica Lange as the femme fatale. Here is a trailer. Apparently director Bob Rafelson, when deciding whom to cast as Cora, was torn between the then 32-year-old Lange and Meryl Streep. I think he got it right, don’t you?
One of my former colleagues on the Daily Mail made it his personal mission to get in the paper at least once a year a picture of Sophia Loren in a basque, from the 1960 film The Millionairess. And he never got any complaints. Talk about the archetypal hourglass figure.
Incredibly, early in her career, Sophia was told that her mouth was too big and her nose too long. Cosmetic surgery was suggested – and rejected. ‘Listen, I don’t want to touch nothing on my face because I like my face,’ she said. ‘If I have to change my nose, I am going back to Pozzuoli [her home town near Naples]’.
La Loren, who will be 90 in September, says: ‘When I look in the mirror, I cheer for myself. I don’t ask, “Are you great?” or “Are you beautiful?” No! It’s how I feel inside, how secure I am, how happy I am. That’s what matters.’
From Italy’s number one sex symbol to America’s. Who could not be enchanted by Marilyn Monroe, especially in the wonderful Some Like It Hot? Here’s a scene which must have set Tony Curtis’s heart racing and steamed his glasses up.
Marilyn (1926-62) was that unique combination of vulnerability and smouldering sexuality which generations of men have found irresistible. She became a star despite terrible insecurity over her acting ability. Stage fright often made her physically sick and caused her constant lateness on film sets.
Director Billy Wilder said: ‘She would be the greatest if she ran like a watch. I have an Aunt Minnie who’s very punctual, but who would pay to see Aunt Minnie?’
Another Hollywood legend is the elfin British star Audrey Hepburn, never lovelier than in the 1961 movie of the Truman Capote novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The character she plays, Holly Golightly, is one of my favourite females in fiction. Hepburn died in 1993 aged only 63.
My next selection will no doubt surprise many readers. I have always had a soft spot for the British actress Carolyn Seymour since she played a teacher’s wife in the creepy 1971 film Unman, Wittering and Zygo. Her most famous movie role came the following year alongside Peter O’Toole in the black comedy The Ruling Class. In 1975, she starred in the post-apocalyptic BBC TV series Survivors, while here she is in a 1979 episode of Return of the Saint. Aged 76, she lives in France.
Although the French actress Estelle Skornik (born 1971) has appeared in a number of films, she remains best known in Britain for Renault TV adverts in the 1990s. As ‘Nicole’ she would have playful conversations with her ‘Papa’ before sneaking off in her little Clio to get up to hanky panky. Here’s one where the old goat pretends to be asleep as she leaves, then goes out gallivanting himself. A survey in 1996 found that Nicole was recognised by more Britons than the Prime Minister, John Major. And greatly more lusted after.
Staying with the French we have Catherine Deneuve (born 1943). Here she is in the 1965 classic Repulsion, and two years later in Belle de Jour.
The English-Australian actress Rachel Ward (born 1957) came to prominence in the 1983 TV miniseries The Thorn Birds alongside Richard Chamberlain. But she first caught my eye the previous year in the superb Steve Martin comedy Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, a collage of vintage moments pillaged from movies through the years. Here she is having her breasts ‘adjusted’ by Martin after she apparently faints at his detective agency.
By the way, to check whether I had overlooked any significant stars I found a site headed: Top 50 Hottest Actresses of All Time (The Ultimate List). Marilyn Monroe at number 40 (!) was the only selection we had in common. They cannot be serious.
Finally, my favourite – a name synonymous with ‘luminous beauty’. Ingrid Bergman was born in Stockholm in 1915 to a Swedish father and German mother. Her multilingual film career spanning five decades brought her countless awards, including three Oscars, and she was described as the most versatile actress on screen, as well as the most international star in the history of entertainment. For me she will always be Ilsa Lund in Casablanca. How could Humphrey Bogart let her go?
The Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, no relation, said: ‘I remember very clearly that whatever she did I was always fascinated by her face. The skin, the eyes, the mouth – especially the mouth. There was this very strange radiance and an enormous erotic attraction. It had nothing to do with the body, but in the relationship between her mouth, her skin, and her eyes.’
Still lovely at 58, here she is interviewed by Michael Parkinson in 1973.
Ingrid Bergman died of cancer in London on her 67th birthday in August, 1982. Some 1,200 mourners attended her memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields. The music included As Time Goes By.
Her grandson, Justin Daly, said hundreds of photographers were outside and one of their cameras hit him on the head. ‘In the middle of all this chaos, I could sense that she wasn’t just my grandmother. She belonged to everyone else. She belonged to the world.’
So that’s it. Or is it? I’ve already been reminded of many more beauties that readers feel should have been included. Keep the comments coming and we’ll see about a Part 3.
Old jokes’ home
How can you tell when you’ve passed an elephant? You can’t get the toilet seat down.
A PS from PG
[of Roderick Spode] He was, as I had already been able to perceive, a breath-taking cove. About seven feet in height, and swathed in a plaid ulster which made him look about six feet across, he caught the eye and arrested it. It was as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla and had changed its mind at the last moment.
PG Wodehouse: The Code of the Woosters