Camp David

CAMP DAVID MAY 2006

By • May 1st, 2006 • Pages: 1 2 3

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THE LADY LIGEIA

In 1964 Roger Corman would direct his final motion picture based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, TOMB OF LIGEIA. This film contains a tour de force performance by the most talented of all the actresses to appear in Corman’s “Poe series,” the sublime Elizabeth Shepherd.

Elizabeth embodied the beauty and essence of the “English Rose” with a mystique ideally suited to play the Lady Ligeia and essential to balance her other role of the Lady Rowena.

The production was blessed with superb production values and locations including a ruined 11th century abbey. The darkly romantic script by Robert Towne channeled the spirit of Poe with vengeful black cats, cursed Egyptian artifacts, necrophilia and the ubiquitous Vincent Price in wraparound black shades!

Elizabeth dominated the production with her own unique presence creating an unforgettable impression with her dual role, later I was surprised to learn she had tested for and won the role of Emma Peel in “The Avengers” only to be replaced after one episode due to creative differences regarding her interpretation of the character.

Ryersson & Yaccarino/The Casati Archives

By 1976 I found myself in London working with the late great John Kobal on one of his first exhibits of Hollywood Glamour Photography for the Victoria Albert Museum… John maintained a large flat that contained the Kobal Collection as well, in an area known as Drayton Court/Drayton Gardens and directly across the street lived a then-young up-and- coming director named Waris Hussein. Waris had just finished working on a BBC series entitled “Romance.” His segment was written by the woman who created the “IT” girl of the roaring twenties, Clara Bow, the playwright Elinor Glyn, her masterpiece of purple prose “Three Weeks.” The star of the piece was Elizabeth Shepherd!

Over dinner at William F’s (a favorite haunt on the Fulham Rd) Waris told us about directing this amazing actress who worked so hard on the show that at one point she broke down in tears because there was not enough time to dress her character as she should have been dressed if they were making a proper film instead of television.. Afterwards he brought us round to his flat where he gave me a large photo of Elizabeth from “Three Weeks” where she was posed lying seductively on a tiger’s skin. Waris explained she was currently living in Los Angeles and he knew she would be most pleased to meet such an admirer as myself.

Once back in Hollywood, armed with her home phone number, I wasted no time in ringing the Lady Ligeia to set up a time to call and pay my respects. Well… the end result was to be a lasting friendship with a remarkable lady, loyal in her friendships and devoted to her craft. From that first meeting I found Elizabeth to be a thoughtful caring woman who loved the theater with a passion that one does not see often enough in this business. She signed the photo Waris had given me with the following inscription:

“Would you like to sin on a tiger’s skin with Elinor Glyn? or
would you prefer to err with her on some other fur?”

I have many wonderful memories of Elizabeth from that period of time; I recall with pleasure taking her to see Jeremy Brett perform the title role in the west coast premiere of Edward Gorey’s “Dracula”. As the curtain went up wolves howled over the loud speakers all at once she leaned over to me and said “Takes you back, doesn’t it?” She did a number of personal appearances for KCET, our public broadcasting station in LA, as they were running her episode of ‘The Duchess of Duke St’… I gave her a pin made of shooting stars and she wore it on camera…I remember her happiness at becoming a US citizen so we threw a “Yank” party celebration complete with a charming cake in the shape of the flag we toasted with champagne as the United States acquired yet another national treasure for the arts!

Lots of Parties followed with colleagues and mutual friends like Ferdy Mayne, Martine Beswicke and Barbara Steele; in fact she and Barbara did a one act play in West Hollywood with the late Fox Harris (REPO MAN).

At the performance I attended Fox was so over the top I decided not to speak to him since I had nothing positive to say! Fox was counting on my representing him so the next day he turned up at Barbara’s apt already bombed, complaining about me for hours before her then-boyfriend Anthony Herrera came home and kicked him out. Elizabeth gave a funny, understated performance in that show and Barbara smoked cigarettes and glared at the audience as Fox Harris played out his psycho drama for the entire short run of the play. Fox is gone now and I wish I had signed him on as a client because, overlooking his ‘Wildman’ antics during that show, he was a talented actor whose work in film was cut short.

During this time Elizabeth would appear in her first horror film since LIGEIA. THE OMEN had made box-office history, not to mention millions, for 20th Century Fox, so no one was surprised when they got around to a sequel DAMIEN OMEN II. The filming began in Chicago with a young avant-garde director who felt the film did not have to follow the formula of set-piece killings but could explore a different avenue. He began to experiment with color and symbolism. Elizabeth loved what he was doing with the film and her role of investigative reporter Joan Hart, however the powers at Fox, looking at the rushes, wanted more blood and gore, so out with the young director and in with old timer ex-actor Don Taylor. Taylor arrived in Chicago, matching star Bill Holden drink for drink…they looked at the rushes together and mocked what had gone before. Soon the film began to look like what it would become – an expensive body count film with big names going to their rewards in the most gory manner possible. Elizabeth would have her eyes pecked out by a demonic crow, then blindly wanders back onto the road, only to be run over by a ten ton truck! What made this even more ironic was that director Don Taylor was married to yet another Poe heroine from the ”Corman” films, the beautiful British actress Hazel Court.

Waris Hussein arrived in Hollywood around this time, directing TV movies of the week… Waris loved to tell people he was cursed by a voodoo priest while making a film about the religion Santeria (a blending of Catholicism and voodoo) with Shirley MacLaine called THE POSSESSION OF JOE DELANEY. Everyone on that film met with some kind of mishap…Shirley didn’t make a film for nearly two years and Waris was banished forever into television!

It is amusing to remember now that Marisa Berenson was seeing quite a bit of Waris in hopes he would cast her in one of his upcoming projects. He would throw these little soirées, always screening THREE WEEKS. I remember Marisa saying after watching Elizabeth in it “Oh Waris that is exactly the kind of part I want to play.” As far as I know Marisa has never had the opportunity to display such a range! Life for Marisa in Hollywood was defiantly not a “Cabaret.”

Eventually Elizabeth would meet my friend and fellow film buff director Curtis Harrington who appreciated her qualities as well and thus began inviting her to his parties. It was during one of these shindigs that I think Elizabeth began to think more about theater and how frustrating living in Hollywood could be for theater trained actors used to working at their craft instead of waiting for an agents call. Hurd Hatfield (THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, 1944) was there, and he too felt the theater was an afterthought in Los Angeles. I had a small cocktail party for Curtis and Hurd a few days later and I noticed Hurd and Elizabeth talking more on the subject of not depending on Hollywood for a career. He certainly did not and would soon return to his home in Ireland and semi retirement.

Life often leads us on to different paths and so it was with Elizabeth who, after a few years in Hollywood, bravely chose to cast her fortunes toward Canada and the theater where she would always be appreciated for her range and ability. She came to see me the last day she was in Hollywood and after wishing her well I knew an era in my life was about close.

For the last few years Elizabeth and I had lost touch with each other as she got on with her life.

Canada proved to be the right choice, not to mention a perfect working environment for her talents. It was thrilling for me to read about Elizabeth’s many projects, which kept her busy and in demand not only in theater but films and television. In fact she had her own mystery series, “The Adventures of Shirley Holmes” as well. Her unique voice has been utilized in animated shows like the “Avenger” and the “Silver Surfer”. However it would be her work on a very special project that would bring us back together again full circle.

On January 15th 2001 Elizabeth Shepherd brought to life another remarkable lady to enhance her already formidable resume. This time the Lady is based on fact, proving once again that truth is stranger than fiction. The fabulous Marchesa Luisa Casati lived a life of unimaginable debauchery and glamour for decades, a true original until her death in 1957. The Marchesa desired nothing less than to become a living work of art. She got her wish as most of the great artists of her day worshipped at her altar of personality, immortalizing her image in almost every form of artistic expression.

This one-woman show entitled “Infinite Variety – Portrait of a Muse” was an instant success for its star. A sold out performance at the Italian Cultural Institute in New York and London both hailed her uncanny impersonation of the Marchesa as superb! In the audience for the London performance was the only living relative of the Marchesa, her grandchild The Lady Moorea Black. Lady Black praised Elizabeth as nothing short of perfection in her interpretation of her grandmother. The authors who created all this magic, Scot D. Ryersson and Michael O. Yaccaarino, have worked a miracle in Cultural scholarship. They have created a labor of love in sharing this outrageous woman’s life with a new generation of admirers. Cults are already in place for the Marchesa and their books are responsible for this renaissance. Please do yourself a favor and log on right this minute to www.marchesacasati.com and experience this goddess for yourself. As for Elizabeth Shepherd….Her image in my minds eye will always remain the Lady Rowena sitting by a fire mesmerized by her husband Verden as she quotes these lines as “Ligeia” from the pen of the Divine Edgar:

“Who knoweth the mysteries of the will? The will herein lieth that dieth not. Man need not kneel before the angels nor lie in death forever, but for the weakness of his feeble will. I WILL ALWAYS BE YOUR WIFE…..”

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