Monday, July 09, 2012

Carole Lesley and the Illusion of Glamour

Like many Fifties teenagers, I collected favourite photos from newspapers and magazines and pasted them into scrapbooks.  The stars of that time were so glamorous; posed provocatively to show off tiny waists, beautiful breasts and legs yet, though sexy, there was nothing crude or pornographic about these pictures.  Even those actresses who created a scandal with nude calendar shots were hardly titillating. The Victorians had far worse to offer down Holywell Street.

This kind of pin up beauty is no longer the current style of feminine attraction on the screen  Take me as I am, judge me by my acting, current movie stars seem to say.  Of course, there are still some very beautiful actresses but somehow they all look alike, admittedly more natural, less painted and posed.  But also less special, individual, glamorous. Which may all be for the good.  Glamour is something of an illusion, a chimera, a false conceit.  How many of us now remember a lovely young film actress called Carole Lesley?   She was one of those starlets of the 1950’s and 60’s and as gorgeous as any of them.  She had some acting talent and might with time have improved, as did Diana Dors who became a very fine actress. Diana put on weight but took on many interesting character parts after dropping the luscious glamour image of her youth.  Somehow, Carole Lesley just didn’t make it past the beauty post.

When I met her in early 1973 I was helping out a friend who, like myself, was stuck at home with small children, counting pennies. She decided to supplement her income by taking on cleaning work for the social services  but couldn’t always make it to every client.  In such moments she called on me to take her place.  It was all unofficial but the odd fiver I made this way was like a treasure trove so I was happy to oblige.  She knew I was both reliable and unlikely to shop her. 

Lesley Dalling lived literally round the corner in a pleasant semi-detached house on a road, overlooking the railway station in New Barnet, London.  The front door was on the latch and she called me upstairs as I went in. I certainly didn’t recognise the beautiful peroxide blonde of my teenage years in the thin, sad looking woman with bleached hair showing dark roots, twisted up on her head.  I found her sitting up in bed, smoking a cigarette.  Cuddled up beside her was a small boy of about three years old, dressed in a vest and nothing else, sucking his thumb. 

I brought her a cup of tea and she asked me to sit with her for a while.  Lesley talked a lot about herself and her youth.  She was absorbed by it. I can hear her voice now as she told me that she had once met the Queen at a film premiere.
from my scrapbook
     ‘I used to go over to Paris to have my hair done and wore clothes by Maggy Rouff,' she told me, 'I was a model, you know, then I became a film star.’
I gathered that her husband, Michael, was still involved with films and would make her a star again.  When she was better.  She’d been depressed that was all. He was away on business even then on her behalf.  She seemed confused, slow, sad, no fire in her at all.  I mulled over what she had said as I went down again. Was it true or not?  Yet, I felt sure it wasn’t all fantasy.  There were still glimpses of her former loveliness. 

Despite the fact that at that time the atmosphere in the house was one of neglect, the sitting room was tidy and neat.   I noticed several attractive photos of her on the sideboard and it was then that the sudden realisation came to me.  She had mentioned the name Leslie Carol.  Could this possibly be Carole Lesley?   Running home after the job was finished and I’d bidden her goodbye for that day, I dug out my scrapbooks and found the few pictures I had. Was this glorious beauty really the pathetic woman I’d just spoken to?  It made me feel immensely sad to see that despite the youthful beauty, relentless efforts and promise, she had never risen to real fame. And this disappointment was slowly destroying her as it had so many other beautiful women of that time, caught up with the allure of stardom. 

Her real name was Maureen Carol Lesley Rippingale, born in Chelmsford on 27th May 1935.  Lesley was transfixed and compelled by the idea of stardom, the lure of the silver screen. At the age of sixteen, she ran away from home wearing her father’s shirt with two shillings and four pence in her pocket.  And she did indeed make her way to Paris where she took up modelling.  Re-naming herself Lesley Carol, she avidly attended premieres and other prominent events and managed to work her way to the Cannes Festival alongside Jayne Mansfield.  Her escort at the time was the handsome actor Richard Todd.   Sadly though, she was scarcely noticed at this event, all eyes being turned upon Jayne and her prodigious curvy assets.

Richard Todd
In 1954, Lesley was offered a seven year contract with Kenilworth pictures. Some of her minor roles in prestigious films such as Woman in a Dressing Gown, No Trees in the Street were considered as fine ones.  There was a television appearance in the 1960’s as Helen of Troy and several other film roles but somehow, she just didn’t have that special something that makes a face and figure stand out amongst the many hopefuls thronging the pages of PictureGoer.  She just didn’t grab the public imagination. In the end,  Associated decided to release her from her contract.  This just devastated her.  From then on she disappeared from the public eye altogether.  The fight had been taken out of her.  All her immense efforts had been in vain.

In August 1964 she married Michael Dalling and had two sons, the youngest of whom I met at her home.  I understand both these sons now live in the States and that, if Lesley was still alive, she would have grandchildren now. I never saw the first son though I would sometimes see Lesley walking down the street to collect him from school, the other little one with her. In February 1974, just a few months after I had given birth to my own son, I was shocked to read in the paper that she was said to have committed suicide.  I later heard that she was addicted to sleeping pills, had gone to several doctors in order to fuel her addiction, then hidden the stash of collected pills from her husband's surveillance under one of the bushes in the garden.  Her husband and relations feel sure her death was an accidental overdose, especially as she left no note.  But a couple of friends of ours have committed suicide and left not a whisper of their problems, fears, or intentions to their grieving family.  It is always so hard for those close to see the truth of a situation and we shall never enter the mind of Lesley to know what happened and whether it was indeed a tragic accident or pre-meditated.   All I can say is what I saw when I visited her sometime in 1973: a deeply depressed, once beautiful woman, still haunted by a glamorous past that had vanished like a mirage before her eyes. 

Favourite Quotes

  • My home is my retreat and resting place from the wars: I try to keep this corner as a haven against the tempest outside, as I do another corner of my soul. Michelle de Montaigne
  • Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony: Mahatma Gandhi
  • Friends are people you can be quiet with. Anon.