Camp David

CAMP DAVID DECEMBER 2009: BONDING WITH SISTER HYDE

By • Dec 17th, 2009 • Pages: 1 2

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Martine Beswicke in a test make-up for Ken Russell's VALENTINO entire concept and photography by Leonard J Pollack.

I was raised in a “No, you don’t” world overrun with rules, to lift a line from the “woman in the moon” from the second remake of A STAR IS BORN; so imagine if you will what it was like for someone like me to be living in Hollywood during the Disco era of the late 1970’s where one could reinvent oneself in a glittery world of “Yes, you can”–anything you want is there for the asking. It would then be no surprise to find yourself partying with larger-than-life characters that once dazzled you on the silver screen.

There is one very special woman of all the show business characters I encountered during my decades in Babylon. She became in time more like a sister to me, sharing most of my ups and downs in the process. Martine Beswick came into my life like a bolt from the blue. The signs of the Zodiac were in full swing and Jupiter aligned with Mars that night in the summer of 1978 when I blissfully walked into the Blue Parrot (a long-ago watering hole on the corner of Larrabee and Santa Monica in West Hollywood, named after the bar in CASABLANCA run by Sydney Greenstreet) to meet my friend, Steve Tracy (an actor soon-to-be somewhat of a household name as a semi-regular on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE). Steve and I went way back to my college days in San Francisco when he got his start in the first 3-D soft-core gay film, HEAVY EQUIPMENT, with Jack Wrangler and Al Parker. Steve was a curly-haired guy with a great sense of humor who stood about 5’4.” Everybody loved Steve. It would be hard to believe that in a few short years (1986) we would lose him to HIV. Steve loved Hollywood so much that he requested his ashes be scattered under the Hollywood sign. To this day I always think of him whenever I pass in its direction.

Now, the mad British director Ken Russell figures into this as well, since I was carrying with me that evening a set of 11×14 photos taken by David James, from Russell’s THE MUSIC LOVERS. By the time I arrived, the bar was in the process of filling up, so Steve and I found a place by the window facing the boulevard where I could show off my latest treasures. As we examined the photos, another attractive curly-haired guy was watching us with great interest (which in the Blue Parrot was not unusual). Looking back, this would prove to be a life-changing moment. The curly-haired guy finally came over and introduced himself as Mark Baker, asking if he could see the photos and recognizing them instantly as from a film by Ken Russell. Steve looked at Mark for a minute, then asked, “Weren’t you Candide on Broadway?” I then gave him another look and said, “I just saw you at a cast-screening of SWASHBUCKLER in Westwood last week!” Mark playedPeter Boyle’s boy-toy, complete with long silver nails that dripped poison. Well, it turns out that our boy Mark knew Ken Russell far better than any of us, because he played a small role in VALENTINO, acting alongside the great man himself.

Martine Beswicke in a test make-up for Ken Russell's VALENTINO entire concept and photography by Leonard J Pollack.

Steve and I had a couple of drinks with our new friend before he drifted off into the night, leaving Mark and I to our own devices. This was a Friday night so Mark stayed with me until Sunday morning, where we then met actress June Gable (who appeared on Broadway with Mark) at Joe Allen’s for brunch. It was during that brunch that Mark insisted I hook up with another friend of Ken Russell’s, Leonard Pollack, giving me his phone number on the spot.

The afternoon that I first met Lennie was another of those life-altering moments as I instantly got who he was and knew I wanted this talented man as a friend. Lennie was packing to go off to London the next day so our first visit was cut short; but with Lennie ten minutes can be illuminating, so during my first glimpse of his flat (which was decorated with his designs, artwork and photographs) I noticed a double-exposure of a very Art Deco woman posing with a beaded scarf around her neck. Her hair was almost Afro in design. I later learned the entire concept, make-up and hair, was Lennie’s. Lennie told me that she was Martine Beswick, an actress he observed sitting in an outdoor cafe in London while he was working on VALENTINO for Ken Russell. He thought she would make an amazing Nazimova so he approached her for contact information, which he then passed on to Ken. Lennie took that photo of Martine in the manner of Nazimova; the results were fantastic. When he said her name I knew instantly who she was as I had long admired her work in films like DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE as well as PREHISTORIC WOMEN for Hammer Films of England. Most movie fans would know her from the two James Bond films she appeared in, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and THUNDERBALL. I would later discover that Russell would have loved to use her but United Artists insisted on a “name” actress in the role so he gave the part of Nazimova to Leslie Caron, who emoted quite well, but it would have been a tour-de-force if “La Beswick” had been given a chance.

Director Michael Carreras kneeling before the great white rineno while Martine Beswick takes a nap during the filming of PREHISTORIC WOMEN

I made such a fuss over Martine once I realized he knew her that even though we had just met, Lennie gave me Martine’s phone number, explaining that she now lived in West Hollywood and would most likely enjoy having a drink with me. After leaving a message for Martine on her answering service introducing me, my new friend was off to the UK, having done me a kindness neither one of us could even begin to appreciate until much later.

The first encounter with Martine was simply a Mardi Gras of the mind, and leave it to my other new friend of the moment, Lennie Pollack, to have known simply by his remarkable instinct for connecting people that it would turn out that way. I first spoke with her on the phone, explaining how amazed I was that she was living in Hollywood, to which she replied, “Darling, one simply has to be where it all is happening, don’t you know? And right now that place is Hollywood. After all, you’re here as well, aren’t you, Darling?” I invited her on the spot to come over to my Beverly Boulevard abode for drinks the next evening and so she did. My first glimpse of La Beswick was equally unforgettable. She arrived wearing a tricked-out Minnie Mouse combo of red and black; her black-and-red jeweled top was sleeveless, her mini-skirt was black with a bright red heart for a buckle and a matching heart in her hair, which was up. When I opened the door she looked me up and down and then said, “Well, Darling, as you can see, your phone call gave me a heart-on so here I am wearing mine just for you!” I was hers from that moment on, and the rest of the evening was one huge admiration society for all things Beswick.

Martine and David dancing the night away circa 1978 in Beverly Blvd Apt.

This first meeting was around the end of 1977 and Martine had just done an episode of BARETTA with Robert Blake. She played a belly dancer who entices guest star Strother Martin into some intrigue involving a stolen jewel, as I recall. She loved working with Martin, who told her she was an eye-full, and from that moment on they were a double act on-and-off the set. When I visited her place the following weekend she had a poster of herself made up as the belly dancer tacked on her bedroom door. Her charming apartment at that time was filled with flowers and hearts with a cat residing on its own pillow of pink and red. Martine was always filled with an optimism that came from an inner beauty she possessed, probably all of her life. When someone like Martine is born, invested with great beauty, some things in life come easy and this can lead to a certain hauteur or cruelty towards those not quite so blessed. In Martine’s case she was never too self-involved not to be aware of other people’s feelings and never in the twenty-plus years I have known her have I ever seen her be vindictive or unkind to anyone in her orbit. This is a quality she shares with Vincent Price, who also fell in love with her on the set of THE OFFSPRING some years later when I was the unit publicist for that film.

Martine and David recovering from a night at STUDIO ONE 1977.

Looking back now after all these years it is providential why we clicked so well. I think we both felt comfortable with each other; then came a trust that good friends have that allows a certain bond to develop. Up until I met Martine I tended to be the guy who always looked at a bottle that is half full and thought it half empty. After a lifetime dose of Beswick it was always to be half-full, and for that I am in her debt. One thing we shared in common was the love of talking on the telephone, and remember, this was well before cell phones, so we behaved like those teenagers in BYE BYE BIRDIE–always filling each other in on all the gossip that hovered over Hollywood like the smog it is so well known for. One of the first serious conversations we had was, naturally enough, about her career. I was stupefied that she was not already a huge star in Hollywood with that glowing personality she possessed, not to mention being gorgeous. It was her belief that her exotic quality, which separated her from the rest of the women she came up against for parts, played against her. Sometimes I think she simply overpowered the casting directors she read for and many of them were sadly lacking in imagination, so parts went to other less flamboyant actresses. This dilemma she tried to solve by consulting a numerologist, who suggested she add an extra letter to the end of her name so the gods of chance would once again smile on our Bond girl. Hence “La Beswick” became “La Beswicke.”

From the time Martine won the title of Miss Jamaica, winning a car (which she then sold to go to London and begin her career), her looks opened the door and then it was up to her to do the rest. Of course, luck always plays a role in there somewhere. Her first turn in a James Bond film was appearing in the credits of DR NO, and this followed with a speaking role as one of the gypsy dancers that vie for the attention of James Bond in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Martine loved to tell the story of how much the other exotic woman who played her adversary hated her, leading up to the fight itself. The rehearsals went without incident but when the cameras started to roll this woman really put her claws into Martine and what you see onscreen is a bona-fide fight to the death. Her next experience with Bond proved to be one of the highlights of her early career. As Paula in THUNDERBALL she is given a bit more to do and never once had to perform a catfight again onscreen. THUNDERBALL’s director, Terence Young, liked her very much, making this a delightful time to be Martine, who was now officially a “Bond Girl.” Martine remembers the attention she received, which became so intense that the car she was riding in during filming was almost overturned by fans screaming for the “Bond Girl.” The set was overrun with millionaires wining and dining cast and crew in a style not seen since.

Martine Beswick with Sean Connery, Claudine Auger and director Terrance Young on location filming THUNDERBALL.

The kind of La Dolce Vita lifestyle Martine was leading in the days during and after the Bond films became what is now known as the golden age of film making in Europe. She became romantically involved with actor/model John Richardson while they were filming ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. for Hammer Films, a studio Martine would also work for a bit later down the road. Their relationship was so intense that many, including Hammer star Christopher Lee, thought them married even years after they parted company. Martine explained that being with John was always filled with drama, both high and low, because he was constantly being hit-on throughout their relationship, which she found to be quite a turn-on. While he was filming ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. he was required to wear a full beard. She remembered how the day he no longer needed it he would shave a portion of it off and then they would make love for awhile and then he would shave off a bit more and repeat the lovemaking. “I loved helping John remove that beard!” John had also starred opposite Barbara Steele in BLACK SUNDAY. Both Barbara and Martine were well-acquainted with one another by then, and Martine was frequently mistaken for Barbara on film sets since they both were dark-haired and exotic. Martine used to make me laugh with her impersonation of Barbara by folding her arms over her head and then pretending to be a Venus flytrap opening her petals for the unwary fly. They were night and day as people but they both found themselves cast as dark divas in horror films, although Martine never got as typed as Steele because of her connection to the Bond films. They kept her more action-oriented than Barbara, whose one and only film for Fellini gave her a more art-film allure at the time.

Martine Beswick with Alizia Gur during their all too real catfight for FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

“During the making ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. I became quite friendly with Hammer executive Michael Carreras and his wife, so as the film was coming to an end he approached me with this idea of doing a kind of spoof of B.C., which eventually became PREHISTORIC WOMEN. His pitch to me was, ‘Martine, you will play the Queen of a tribe of dark-haired amazons who falls for an English explorer who wanders into her domain.’ I of course said, ‘Absolutely, Darling. I am your Queen.’ We did this film very quickly with Michael directing, which was very much like making a home-movie Hammer style. Once again my leading man, Michael Latimer, was less than my idea of bliss but whatever. My character was such fun to play it didn’t matter. At one point my director brought out this enormous prop of the white rhino sporting a huge white tusk. Without really thinking about it, he suggested that I worship the tusk by rubbing my hands up and down it while invoking some chant. I simply looked at Michael Carreras and burst out laughing. ‘You really want me to do that? I mean, really Michael, I’ve been asked to do some outrageous things in my time but giving a 1200-pound rhino a hand job has to be in a realm of its own.’ The film is a cult classic today and while I was living in Hollywood I would get asked about this film almost more than any other. In fact I was at a party at Curtis Harrington’s one night that was being given for Helmut Newton and his wife. Helmut was such a fan of bad movies that he made a deal with me that if I got him a tape of PREHISTORIC WOMEN he would love to photograph me for one of his projects. I of course was happy to oblige.”

Martine in a publicity pose with James Bond (Sean Connery) FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

“The other Hammer I did was of course DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, which is a cult film as well. The interesting thing about that one was the actor who played Dr. Jekyll, a lovely fellow named Ralph Bates who sadly is no longer with us, began the film looking nothing like me at all and yet as the film progressed we really began to resemble each other in some strange way that only the camera picked up on. I mean, our hands began to look alike, etc. We did some publicity stills where we did look like brother and sister. The director on this one, Roy Ward Baker, was a seasoned pro to be sure, so we got along fine. However the producers kept after him to do more nudity than the script called for and at that point I had to put my foot down. I mean they even had second unit guys putting cameras under stairwells and such to try and get some extra bits, but it was all for nothing and in the end I think we did a classy film considering what they were really after.”

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5 Responses »

  1. Excellent post David. I’ve really enjoyed reading your articles and have wondered if you had ever considered putting your Hollywood reminiscences into a book.

    I remember having the pleasure of meeting Martine and you at the Chiller Theatre convention you mentioned in the article. I was struck by the closeness of the relationship between Martine and you, as I recall you tended to finish each other’s sentences and shared many private jokes. I had also met you at other conventions with other stars like Barbara Steele and Mary Woronov, but the one I remember the most was the one with Martine. You were both very warm, open, friendly and funny. It was great getting to meet Martine and spend some time with both of you. So, here is a belated thank you that is about 15 years or so overdue.

  2. Thanks Fred for remembering those conventions with Martine and I we certainly enjoyed doing them.

    On another note to answer your question I do indeed have a book created in part from my decade of Camp David columns. Our very own editor here at Films in Review- Roy Frumkes has at this very moment a completed manuscript of “LOST HORIZONS” which is the title of my memoirs from 25 years of living in Hollywood where not everyone’s dreams come true at least not as they may have imagined it. We are currently shopping around for a publisher, the book will contain over 100 photos from my personal collection. keep your fingers crossed we find a publisher soon.

  3. Great article, David. She’s one of my favorite Bond Girls. Of course, I’ve always been a sucker for brunettes and cigarettes. Your stories never cease to amaze and entertain me. Keeping an eye out for the next installment.

    -B

  4. Great article, David! I always said you have a memory like a filing cabinet, and your wonderfully detailed reminiscences prove it. I was privileged to attend many of your gatherings at Casa DelValle and elsewhere for at least a couple of decades, and I well remember meeting many of the famous (and infamous!) stars who enjoyed your well-known hospitality during those years. It’s a real pleasure to re-live some of the highlights of those times through your columns, and get to know so much more of the personal and professional sides of many of these actors. I’m sure I speak for a great many film enthusiasts when I say THANK YOU for your always-entertaining columns, and please DO keep up the good work!

    maude

  5. Hi Dave,
    Really really intresting stuff for a fan of Martine like me! Living in the underground hollywood in the 60s 70s 80s must have been a blast to say the least!!! Your story(s) are so fun to read I guest I will spend much much time here!!! I was wondering if there was a way to comunicate with Martine via internet (facebook, myspace, emails….) does she have an official site?Living far away as I do (Quebec, Canada) I have much questions about her films! Im living near where they shot the SEIZURE movie, and would like to find the house they were at to get some ”now” pictures of it, just dont know the exact street, address, I know its in the city of Val-Morin, wich is very close from were I live. And theres this other italian film she made ”John the bastard”. Its unfindable! Was it reallt made? Anyway, keep up the good work Dave! Im really jealous of your times!.. ahah 😉 regards Marc

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