Opening the Doors with this Bold Biography on the British Brutally Honest Blonde Bombshell…
Telling of the ups and downs on screen and off screen of the British actress, Diana Dors.
Diana Dors Day – Thursday 4th May, Talking Pictures TV
Often in English lessons at school, we are asked to write what we wanted to be when we grow up. Proving childhood dreams do come true, in one such lesson a young Diana Fluck wrote “was going to be a film star, with a cream telephone and a swimming pool”. This ambitious kid grew up to do just that, as after she left school and at 14, she became London Academy of Dramatic Art’s youngest pupil. This led to a change of name to Diana Dors and her colourful life on and off-screen.
Diana Dors was one of Britain’s much-loved actresses. Her presence in films, TV books and more started in the 1940s to just before her death at 52 in the mid-1980s. My first memories of this actress were sadly just before she passed away, as she starred with The Two Ronnies in their comedy serial, The Worm has Turned and in Adam and the Ants’ pop video for Prince Charming. At this time, I was unaware of this actress’ earlier on-screen career in drama, horror, sex comedies and more.
Diana’s life story on and off-screen is told in the upcoming biography, The Real Diana Dors by Anna Cale. This book gives a fascinating and honest insight into this actress. In Cale’s wonderfully researched book we not only learn the truth of Diana’s often turbulent life off-screen, but more about the movies and television shows that she starred in, and their place within the then British film industry. Cale tells it as it was during these sometimes difficult times in Diana’s life, with understanding and compassion.
Additionally for the Diana Dors film and TV newbie or aficionado Cale adds a list of all her on-screen appearances and her roles. She also adds her discography, this was a string to Diana Dors talent, that I was not aware of till this book. There is also a lengthy bibliography of the literature Cale used in her research of this actress known for her sassy, sex symbol roles as the “blonde bombshell”.
In Cale’s book, we learn of this actress where Cale shares Diana’s joys and sadness in a non-judgmental, factual way from her childhood to her untimely death. As Cale tells Diana’s story, she tells of her middle-class childhood in Swindon (England) with a doting mother, and a distant father. Diana’s godfather had lived with her parents for some time before her birth, and he left shortly afterwards.
Diana often escaped her life by daydreaming and going on trips to the movies with her mother. Many GIs then compared her to Veronica Lake and Lana Turner. She had a strong, close relationship with her mother and found her father, a man of Victorian attitudes. Before her acceptance to the London Academy of Dramatic Art (LAMDA) in 1946 aged 14, she had worked as a model, won third prize in a beauty contest and had small roles in theatre productions.
During her time at drama school, she continued working as a model and won many acting awards. Diana was seen in a few supporting film roles in her early teens. These films described vividly by Cale, telling of their plots and Diana’s co-stars. From this book I discovered, she co-starred with Richard Attenborough and worked with director David Lean in Oliver Twist. It was surprising to learn of her young age at the time of making these movies.
Diana was signed up for a 10 year contract with Rank and joined their “Charm School”. Dors later changed her surname to that of her beloved grandmother, her mother’s mother. Cale reminding us how Dors believed that her surname Fluck was a bit risky, in case one of the letters lights blew. Off-screen, it seems Diana was craving romance and she had many short but intense relationships with fellow actors, married and older men.
After she starred in Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951), she met the man who would be her first husband, Dennis Hamilton, while her then-boyfriend was in jail. They married shortly after this meeting and her parents approved of their marriage. Cale tells of Hamilton’s strong influence on young Diana, along with mentions of their affairs, his temper and threatening behaviour.
He also had an extreme paranoia of her being with other men. Hamilton also managed her career, often putting the couple in debt as he controlled her money during their time together. Diana loyally turned down many roles on his advice – including one in Hollywood – after refusing the clause in the contract that she would divorce Hamilton, as she was told unmarried stars were easier to promote.
As her PR person, Hamilton often thought of ways to promote his wife as a sex symbol and actress (such as a 3D Book featuring his wife in scantily dressed pictures). During her time with him her mother passed away, and she had an abortion. On-screen, however, she was seen in many roles including the comedy An Alligator in the Kitchen (1955).
Cale writes on Diana’s dramatic performance in Yield to the Night (1956), and tells how Diana was seen in a new light in the lead of the drama movie. Cale reports in this movie, she showed her talents as an actress. Cale’s book also telling of her actual love affairs during this time and mentions the facts relating to Hamilton and her sex parties.
After she and Hamilton separated, Diana took to the stage in her own variety show. There she met husband number two, Richard Dawson, who was her then warm-up act. They married after Hamilton passed away with syphilis. This illness possibly explained his erratic behaviours.
Dawson and Diana had two children together. However, during this time together, he too appeared to have mood swings. However, during this marriage she had affairs and her father passed away. Her career was now primarily off-screen in cabarets and working men’s clubs. Their lack of control in money, lead to her declaration of bankruptcy in 1967.
She then took another role, in an unreleased television series. There she met a young actor, Alan Lake. Lake was nine years her junior and he was reportedly the love of her life. She had another child with him at 37, but then sadly a stillborn child years later. Diana stayed with Lake through his tempers, and mood swings and heavy drinking.
Lake also spent a short time in jail and was seriously hurt in a riding accident, which he recovered from. Diana’s career continued to wax and wane as she was seen in then topical movies including horrors, TV series film spin-offs and sex comedies, on stage and in roles in television series.
She left Lake for a short time and she returned to him after he promised to enter rehab for his alcoholism. In 1982, while she was in the hospital for a hysterectomy, where some cancerous tissue was removed. Her cancer returned in 1983 and in 1984, she learned this cancer had spread and she passed away in October. Five months later, Lake shot himself and died after he had been reportedly depressed after her death.
In Cale’s book, I learnt more about the sadness behind this actress’s off-screen public more bubbly persona. It was sad to learn, how badly the many men in her life treated her, Cale adds that Diana thought as a young woman that her heart always ruled her head. It seems, reading Cale’s book that she sought love be it with a married co-star or stuntman off stage with a charming comedian.
She loved her children dearly, and it was heartbreaking to learn that she only saw the eldest two fleetingly at Christmases. Cale tells this actresses story in full, not glossing over the more ugly times in Diana’s life. These included when The Archbishop of Canterbury called her a “brazen hussy”, her apparent wealth discussed in parliament and her bankruptcy. These are all mentioned, but their context in her life shown and often the heartbreaking reasons for these provided.
Cale tells of Diana ups and downs as an actress on stage, in films, on TV and in her stage career in cabaret and working men’s clubs. It provides an insight into the roles she could have had, and include Black Narcissus (1947) and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960). Cale also mentions her musical career and she provides a full picture of Diana as a versatile all-round performer.
The roles she starred in are discussed within a short description of the film, these providing a valuable timeline of her part in the then British and American film industry. Cale telling of this actress in her roles so well you can picture her in these roles in films and TV. Thanks to her vivid and passionate descriptions, I now want to see Diana in those roles in her earlier career, having recently seen her in a few of her seventies roles just before reading this book.
This book is also an advocate of Diana’s strong character, telling of an honest woman determined to become an actress. As those became realities, these desires were often snatched away by her then man of the moment, yet she appeared to never give up. Thanks to Anna, we can appreciate this actress did fulfil her childhood wishes as an all-round performer, writer, actor and singer.
Now it’s so sad she was snatched away from this life and love she deserved, so young in her career. Despite these lows never appeared to regret her life, off-screen loves and career choices, but instead embraced them and her humour and honesty is seen and felt in countless interviews and her small number of books and autobiographies.
Who knows what her life would have brought had she lived longer, perhaps a regular part in Eastenders, or a role as herself in that possible musical of her life and career, or even titled as a Dame. One thing is clear, that she would have totally endorsed Anna Cale’s candid biography which tells how those dreams from that kid from Swindon came true. Her talent best described by Bob Monkhouse HERE as;
“It was her energy that at first attracted me”, he wrote. “Her acting was raw but promising and her vitality made me remember her afterwards as if her part of the screen had been in colour.”‘
This quote best sums up that talented, vivacious all-round performer from that small and silver screen.
On author Anna Cale in her own words …
Anna Cale is an arts and culture writer who specialises in classic film and television. She has written for a number of publications and websites, including Little White Lies, Film Stories and the British Film Institute, and has also appeared on Radio 4. Her writing subjects are wide ranging, but she has an interest in British cinema of the 1940s, 50s and 60s, and in particular, showcasing the role of strong female voices in film culture.
A disclaimer and personal thank you to Anna Cale and Pen and Sword Books for giving me an Advance Reader Copy of The Real Diana Dors by Anna Cale. Financial compensation was not received, however, I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own. If you would like your book to be featured or promoted here, please drop a line to me via my Contact Me Page.