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Dors, Diana (1931–1984)

Dors, Diana (1931–1984)

British actress and celebrity, presented by the media as "Britain's answer to Marilyn Monroe," who prevailed over personal problems to become both well known and admired. Born Diana Fluck in Swindon, Wiltshire, October 23, 1931; died in Windsor, Berkshire, England, on May 4, 1984; daughter of Albert Edward Sidney Fluck and Winifred Maud Mary (Payne) Fluck; married Dennis Hamilton, in 1951 (divorced 1957); married Dickie Dawson, in 1959 (divorced 1967); married Alan Lake, in 1968; children: (first marriage) two sons, Mark, Gary; (third marriage) son Jason.

Selected filmography:

The Shop at Sly Corner (1946); Holiday Camp (1947); Good Time Girl (1948); Oliver Twist (1948); Here Come the Huggets (1948); Diamond City (1949); Dance Hall (1950); Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951); The Weak and the Wicked (1954); A Kid for Two Farthings (1955); Value for Money (1955); An Alligator Named Daisy (1955); Yield to the Night (Blonde Sinner, 1956); The Long Haul (1957); The Unholy Wife (1957); I Married a Woman (1958); Scent of Mystery (1960); On the Double (1961); King of the Roaring Twenties (1961); The Sandwich Man (1966); Hammerhead (1968); Baby Love (1969); There's a Girl in My Soup (1970); Dead End (1970); Hannie Caulder (1971); The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972); Nothing But the Night (1972); Theatre of Blood (1973); From Beyond the Grave (1973); Adventures of a Taxi Driver (1975); Adventures of a Private Eye (1977); Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair (1979); Steaming (1984).

Selected writings:

Behind Closed Dors (London: W.H. Allen, 1979); Diana Dors' A-Z of Men (London: Futura, 1984); Dors by Diana (London: Macdonald Futura, 1981); For Adults Only (London: W.H. Allen, 1978); Swingin' Dors (London: World Distributors, 1960).

Born during the Great Depression in the suffocating English provincial town of Swindon, Diana Fluck dreamed as a child of becoming an actress, writing in a school essay at age nine, "I am going to be a film star, with a swimming pool and a cream telephone." At 13, physically already a woman, she pretended to be 17 and entered a local beauty contest, winning third prize. Confidently, she entertained troops at camp concerts in the closing months of World War II. At 15, Diana enrolled at the London Academy of Dramatic Art, was spotted in a production, and made her film debut in the 1946 thriller The Shop at Sly Corner. A ten-year contract with the J. Arthur Rank organization soon followed. Diana Fluck entered the Rank Charm School for stars and starlets and soon changed her name to Diana Dors, after her maternal grandmother.

Following appearances in a number of formulaic comedy films, Dors' contract with the Rank studios lapsed in 1950. But instead of disappearing into obscurity, her career began to blossom, not because of any significant acting achievements but rather because the British tabloid press now began transforming an actress with few prospects into a platinum-blonde, bigbusted "bombshell" who was the British answer to Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot . Carefully planned publicity stunts were a major part of the strategy. Much of the hype that pushed ahead Dors' career in the 1950s came from the fertile mind of her first husband, Dennis Hamilton, whom she married in 1951. The couple, who would have two sons, moved to Hollywood to advance Diana's American career. Hamilton was determined to make his wife a star, and Svengali-like, this domineering personality fed the gossip columnists of the day with countless Dors stories, many of them fabricated. The most memorable publicity stunt of this phase of Dors'

career took place in 1955, when she surfaced at the Venice Film Festival wearing a mink bikini.

Diana Dors was seen in numerous films during the 1950s, virtually all of them forgettable. One exception was her appearance in the film A Kid for Two Farthings, based on the Wolf Mankowitz book and directed by Carol Reed with screenplay by Mankowitz. In this charming 1955 tale, a boy in London buys a little goat and thinks it is a wish-fulfilling unicorn. Dors gave a good performance, and the film has retained much of its charm. Only rarely, however, was she able to choose a role of some substance. This was the case in the 1956 film Yield to the Night, in which she gave a convincing performance in the role of a condemned murderess. Virtually none of her film roles provided Dors with the opportunity to evolve into a serious actress. Of the almost two dozen forgettable films Dors made during the early 1950s, one of the most popular was Lady Godiva Rides Again, which prompted her to remark that she was "the only sex symbol Britain has produced since Lady Godiva ."

But it was the turmoil of her private life rather than new directions in her career, that most fans of Diana Dors read about in their tabloids. Although Dors appeared to have settled down, her marriage collapsed in a blaze of garish publicity, and the Hamiltons were divorced in 1957. Dors remained in the headlines over the next few years, often because of her colorful, and for the time rather scandalous, private life. In 1959, seeking stability, she married the British-born comedian Dickie Dawson. Virtually all of her ventures from this time, including a song recording for Columbia Records, "Swinging Dors," failed to find a public. In 1960, Dors sold her memoirs to the British tabloid News of the World. Racy and lurid by the standards of 1960, the series ran for 12 weeks, was read by millions, and among other things resulted in Dors being denounced by the archbishop of Canterbury as a wayward hussy.

Never able to compete successfully with Monroe, by the early 1960s Diana Dors had put on weight and was evolving from a sex symbol to a middle-aged mother figure. With her husband's earnings meager at best, Diana Dors had little choice but to become her family's sole breadwinner. In 1966, she abandoned hopes of a Hollywood career to return to the United Kingdom. Hard times compelled Dors to play Prince Charming in pantomime and work in a cabaret act in clubs outside of London. In 1967, her marriage to Dawson collapsed, and she lost custody of her two sons. The same year, Dors was forced to declare bankruptcy. Few doubted her word when she declared herself to be quite "hopeless with money." In 1968, Dors risked marriage a third time, with the actor Alan Lake, a man of working-class origins who in 1970 was sentenced to prison for 18 months for his involvement in a bloody pub brawl. Despite some dramatic ups and downs, Dors' marriage to a man who was nine years her junior would in fact last. Lake was the father of her third son, Jason.

Dors' career revived in the early 1970s, and there were signs she was moving in new directions. In 1970, she appeared on stage at London's Royal Court Theater as the brassy widow in Three Months Gone. That same year, she made a favorable impression in her role in Jerzy Skolimowski's film Deep End. But "Queenie's Castle," a television series written with her as star, received mostly negative reviews. In 1974, she appeared as Jocasta in Sophocles' Oedipus at the Chichester Festival, but here too the critical response was not encouraging.

In 1974, Dors almost died from meningitis. When her acting career ended, she soldiered on as a popular guest on countless television shows, endearing herself to millions of ordinary Britishers. Dors was resilient and cheerful in the face of adversity, writing an "agony column" in a daily newspaper. Fighting her own battle with obesity, she hosted a dieting series on breakfast television and gave advice to the lovelorn on "Good Morning Britain." A true survivor in the celebrity jungle, she wrote several volumes of memoirs and spoke candidly to the media of being a cancer patient, which began in 1982. In the last years of her life, Dors was devoted to her sons and had become a solid British Mum. Having converted to Roman Catholicism, she no longer loathed Sundays as she had while growing up in Swindon. She now regarded Sunday as "a beautiful day when I like to be with my family, go to Mass, rest and spend at least some time with God."

Diana Dors lost her battle with cancer and died at the Princess Margaret Hospital, Windsor, Berkshire, on May 4, 1984. Less than a month earlier, she had finished shooting her last film, Joseph Losey's Steaming. Her husband was at her side when she died peacefully. He told the press, "Her last words to me before she slipped away were 'Oh my darling I love you. Take care of the boys and say farewell to everyone concerned'." Earthy and unashamed of her roots, Diana Dors was genuinely mourned by millions around the world. Her tenacity and courage in adversity won the admiration of all who came in contact with her. Alan Lake never overcame his grief over his wife's death and killed himself on October 10, 1984, the 16th anniversary of their first meeting.

sources:

Barker, Paul. "Observations," in New Statesman. Vol. 10, no. 440. February 14, 1997, p. 54.

"Diana Dors," in The Times [London]. May 7, 1984, p. 14.

"Diana Dors, Actress in Britain," in The New York Times Biographical Service. May 1984, p. 641.

Flory, Joan, and Damien Walne. Diana Dors: Only a Whisper Away. London: Javelin, 1988.

Froshaug, Judy. "Tomorrow is the day of unrest," in The Times [London]. February 4, 1984, p. 11.

Macnab, Geoffrey. "British Cinema," in Sight and Sound. Vol 6, no. 7. July 1996, pp. 22–25.

Waymark, Peter. "Dors, Diana," in Lord Blake and C.S. Nicholls, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography 1981–1985. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990, pp. 119–120.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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