Anthony Steel (actor)

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Anthony Steel
Photo of Anthony Steel (actor).jpg
Born Anthony Maitland Steel
(1920-05-21)21 May 1920
London, England, UK
Died 21 March 2001(2001-03-21) (aged 80)
Northwood, Middlesex, England, UK
Occupation Actor, singer
Years active 1948–1998
Spouse(s) Juanita Forbes (1949–1954)
Anita Ekberg (1956–1959)
Johanna Melcher (1964–2001)
Partner(s) Patricia Roc (one son)
Ann Hanson (one daughter)

Anthony Maitland Steel (21 May 1920 – 21 March 2001)[1] was an English actor and singer best known for his appearances in British war films of the 1950s such as The Wooden Horse (1950), and his marriage to Anita Ekberg. He was described as "a glorious throwback to the Golden Age of Empire... the perfect Imperial actor, born out of his time, blue-eyed, square-jawed, clean-cut."[2] As another writer put it, "whenever a chunky dependable hero was required to portray grace under pressure in wartime or the concerns of a game warden in a remote corner of the empire, Steel was sure to be called upon."[3]


Early life[edit]

Anthony Steel was born in Chelsea, the son of an Indian army officer, Edward (1897-1965), who later became an actor himself.[4]

Steel was educated at Alexander House Prep School, Broadstairs, Kent before attending the University of Cambridge. When the Second World War broke out he enlisted in the Grenadier Guards and became an officer. He was badly wounded on patrol in the Middle East, and again in the Far East. He trained as a parachutist, and made nine operational jumps.[5] He finished the war with the rank of major.[6]

On demobilisation, Steel decided to become an actor. For a time he worked with a pick and shovel at Clapham Junction for £6 a week.[6] He began to get some parts on stage, including appearing opposite Margaret Lockwood in Roses for Her Pillow. He was dating a niece of J. Arthur Rank who introduced Steel to her uncle at a party. Rank subsequently signed the actor to a long-term contract with his company.[7][8]

Steel was trained at Rank's "charm school" and given a slow buildup with small parts in several films, starting with Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948). He also appeared in Quartet (1948), The Blue Lamp (1949), Trottie True (1949), Christopher Columbus (1949), and The Chiltern Hundreds (1949). He tested unsuccessfully for a part in Walt Disney's Treasure Island (1950).[9]


Steel's first big break was being cast as one of three British POWs who escape from a camp in The Wooden Horse (1950). This film, based on a true story, was a hit and established Steel as a star.[10] Director Jack Lee said that the actor "was fine to work with just a physical type, a young chap who could do certain things, though he didn't have much acting to do in this."[7] He was paid £15 a week. "[Co star] Leo Genn was getting thousands," Steel said. "It made me pretty mad."[6]

Steel followed this performance playing the romantic male lead in The Mudlark (1950) and supported Bette Davis in Another Man's Poison (1951). He then starred as a game park warden in Where No Vultures Fly (1951), which was the most popular British movie of the year and the Royal Command Performance Film for 1951, confirming Steel's status as a genuine box office draw.[11] In 1952 British exhibitors voted him the fourth most popular British star[12] and he was seen as the successor to Stewart Granger.[13]

Rank tried Steel in a comedy, Something Money Can't Buy (1952), but the public response was not enthusiastic. Later they put him back in war films such as The Planter's Wife (1952) and Malta Story (1953), the genre in which audiences seemed to enjoy him most. He rarely carried a movie alone, usually supporting a better known star, such as Claudette Colbert, Errol Flynn, Alec Guinness, Peter Finch or Bette Davis. Nonetheless, he was popular and in 1954 he and Dirk Bogarde were the highest paid actors with the Rank Organisation[7] with a reported salary of £15,000 a film.[6]

Still, he was not happy with his roles. "In America, they build their male stars by starring them opposite exciting women," he said. "What do they give me? Elephants, crocodiles and giraffes." However, in Passage Home he was cast opposite Diane Cilento. "At last I can prove that I have blood in my veins and can make love to a woman," said Steel. "You know how the public identify themselves with the stars. Well; they think that an actor who gets the girl all the time — especially if she is very glamorous — must really have something."[6]

In 1956 Steel married Swedish actress Anita Ekberg and together they moved to Hollywood, with mixed results. He broke his contract with the Rank Organisation - for whom he was meant to star in The Secret Place (1957)[14] - received bad publicity for fighting with Ekberg and attacking paparazzi, and was arrested twice for drunk driving.[15][16][17] During his time in Hollywood he appeared in one film, the little-seen Valerie (1957). It was announced he would be in a film to be made in Spain, Tetuan, but this did not come to fruition.[18]

Career decline[edit]

Steel returned to Britain but was unable to regain his earlier popularity. His most prestigious role was in a film directed by Michael Powell, Honeymoon (1959), but it was one of Powell's least known works. John Davis, head of the Rank Organisation was known to be furious about Steel having left the company earlier after the support they had given him, and this was thought to have harmed his chances at reviving his career. Steel was also hurt that the sort of war films in which he had made his name were going out of fashion.[7][19]

In 1960 Steel went missing for a week from a luxury hotel in Germany, leading to a two-nation search.[20] He later turned up in Rome, claiming he had just gone there to discuss another film.[21]

In 1960 Steel moved to Rome and lived there for the next decade. His roles grew smaller and less prestigious, such as appearing as Sir Stephen in the Just Jaeckin film adaptation of Story of O (1975).

By the 1970s he had returned to Britain where he appeared in number of TV shows such as Bergerac, The Professionals, Robin of Sherwood and Crossroads. After stage tours in the 1980s he rarely worked, and later lived for a number of years in a tiny flat in Northolt, west London. His then agent, David Daly, said that:

He was a very private man. He just decided that he would withdraw. He found a place to live and simply went into hiding. In some ways, it was not unlike him; if he decided that things weren't right, he would withdraw into himself and not contact anybody.[11]

Daly arranged for him to stay at Denville Hall, a London retirement home for actors. Not long before he died he had a guest role in the TV series The Broker's Man.[11]


In 1954, Steel teamed up with the British vocal ensemble 'The Radio Revellers', to record "West of Zanzibar". Released on the Polygon Records label, it peaked at No. 11 in the UK Singles Chart.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Steel was married three times:

  • Juanita Forbes (1949–1954)
  • Anita Ekberg (1956–1959)
  • Johanna Melcher (1964)

He was engaged to his secretary, Anne Hanson in 1954.[22] He had two daughters and a son.

Steel's engagement and marriage to Ekberg was widely publicised at the time.[23][24] Ekberg later claimed he hit her:

When he wasn't drunk he was charming and cultured, intelligent, a sense of humour. Too bad he got on that road. He would start arguments with anybody after one drink too much and then he would get violent."[25]

Steel had an affair with actress Patricia Roc in 1952 while they were co-starring in Something Money Can't Buy, resulting in a son, Michael. At the time Roc was married to André Thomas but they were unable to have children, so Thomas agreed to bring up Michael as his own.[26]


Anthony Steel died from lung cancer in Northolt, Middlesex in 2001, aged 80.

Selected filmography[edit]

Unmade films[edit]

Box office ranking[edit]

At the height of his career, British exhibitors voted Steel among the most popular local stars in the country.

  • 1952 – 4th most popular British star[12]
  • 1953 – 10th most popular British star
  • 1954 – 7th most popular British star
  • 1956 – 6th most popular British star[29]

Selected theatre credits[edit]

  • Roses for Her Pillow
  • Turn to Page Two by Michael Clayton Hutton (1950) - Embassy Theatre[30]


  1. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 527. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  2. ^ Jeffrey Richards, Visions of Yesterday, Routledge and Kegan, 1973 p87
  3. ^ "Anthony Steel." Times [London, England] 29 Mar. 2001: ^. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 July 2012.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Mound the studios.". The Mail (Adelaide: National Library of Australia). 22 November 1952. p. 7 Supplement: SUNDAY MAGAZINE. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d e "Mr. Steel Has "Had" Elephants!". The Newcastle Sun (11,357) (New South Wales, Australia). 9 December 1954. p. 34. Retrieved 25 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  7. ^ a b c d Tom Vallance, 'Anthony Steel Obituary', The Independent, 29 March 2001
  8. ^ Drama: Steel, Currie Selected for Roles in 'Mudlark:' 'Pandora' Stwains Cast Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 19 Apr 1950: B7.
  9. ^ "From DICK KISCH". Sunday Times (Perth) (2685) (Western Australia). 7 August 1949. p. 3 (Sunday Times Comics). Retrieved 25 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  10. ^ "Best-seller "The Wooden Horse" comes to screen.". The Australian Women's Weekly (National Library of Australia). 4 February 1950. p. 36. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c Barker, Dennis (26 March 2001). "Anthony Steel Obituary". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2012-02-21. 
  12. ^ a b "COMEDIAN TOPS FILM POLL.". The Sunday Herald (Sydney: National Library of Australia). 28 December 1952. p. 4. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  13. ^ Drama: Anthony Steel Enacts Brother in 'Ballantrae;' Bobby Van Speeds Along Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 05 July 1952: A7.
  14. ^ Anthony Steel at Crawleys Casting
  15. ^ "WE WILL HANG 10000 REBELS, SAYS RED BOSS.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 18 December 1956. p. 2. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  16. ^ 'Mate of anita ekberg held as drunk driver' Los Angeles Times 6 Dec 1956 pp. 3-3
  17. ^ "Donald Zee savs his farewell to THE BORE WITH THE BUST". The Argus (Melbourne) (Victoria, Australia). 17 November 1956. p. 17. Retrieved 25 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  18. ^ Edwin Schallert, 'Anthony Steel Films Announced; Two Stars Set for Science Pacts', Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) 23 Aug 1957: B7.
  19. ^
  20. ^ "News In Brief". The Canberra Times 34, (9,577) (Australian Capital Territory, Australia). 16 April 1960. p. 3. Retrieved 25 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  21. ^ "ACTOR SEEKS RECONCILIATION WITH EX-WIFE". The Canberra Times 34, (9,578) (Australian Capital Territory, Australia). 18 April 1960. p. 3. Retrieved 25 February 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  22. ^ "FILM STAR TO MARRY SECRETARY.". The Newcastle Sun (NSW: National Library of Australia). 6 September 1954. p. 12. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  23. ^ "Hollywood Films and their Stars.". The Mirror (Perth: National Library of Australia). 21 April 1956. p. 11. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  24. ^ "Cold shoulder for the groom!.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 24 May 1956. p. 2. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  25. ^ Andrew Billen. "Not so dolce, but a true diva." Times [London] 18 Apr. 2006: 8+. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 July 2012.
  26. ^ "Patricia Roc." The Times 31 Dec. 2003: 31. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 July 2012.
  27. ^ Drama: Steel 'Vendetta' Star; Blackmer in U-I Deal; Katzman Slate Crowded Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 24 Sep 1953: A11.
  28. ^ Louella Parsons: Anita Mixes Honeymoon and Business The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959) [Washington, D.C] 29 May 1956: 27.
  29. ^ "The Most Popular Film Star In Britain." Times [London, England] 7 December 1956: 3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
  30. ^ OUR LONDON CORRESPONDENCE: Mr. Douglas's Successor The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959) [Manchester (UK)] 28 Sep 1950: 4.

Ann Hanson and Anthony Steel have a daughter Penelope Ann Steel born 4 August 1955

External links[edit]