Rachel Roberts (actress)

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Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts.JPG
Roberts in 1976
Born(1927-09-20)20 September 1927
Died26 November 1980(1980-11-26) (aged 53)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Wales
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Years active1953–1980
(m. 1955; div. 1960)

(m. 1962; div. 1971)

Rachel Roberts (20 September 1927 – 26 November 1980) was a Welsh actress. She is best remembered for her screen performances as the older mistress of the central male character in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) and This Sporting Life (1963). For both films, she won the BAFTA Award for Best British Actress. She was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for This Sporting Life. Her other notable film appearances included Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Yanks (1979).

Roberts' theatre credits included the original production of the musical Maggie May in 1964. She was nominated for the 1974 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for the plays, Chemin de Fer and The Visit,[1] and won a Drama Desk Award in 1976 for Habeas Corpus.

Early life and career[edit]

Roberts was born in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales. After a Baptist upbringing (against which she rebelled), followed by study at the University of Wales and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, she began working with a repertory company in Swansea in 1950.[2] She made her film debut in the Welsh-set comedy Valley of Song (1953), directed by Gilbert Gunn.

Her portrayal of Brenda in Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) won her a British Academy Film Award.[3] Lindsay Anderson cast her as the suffering Mrs Hammond in This Sporting Life (1963), earning another BAFTA and an Oscar nomination. Both films were significant examples of the British New Wave of film-making.

In theatre, she performed at the Royal Court and played the title role as the life-enhancing tart in Lionel Bart's musical Maggie May (1964). In films, she continued to play women with lusty appetites as in Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man! (1973), although the haunting Australian-made Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), directed by Peter Weir, provided her with a different kind of role, as the authoritarian head teacher of a Victorian girls' school.

After relocating to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, she appeared in supporting roles in several American films such as Foul Play (1978). Her final British film was Yanks (1979), directed by John Schlesinger, for which she received a Supporting Actress BAFTA.[3]

In 1976, she won a Drama Desk Award for her performance in Alan Bennett's play Habeas Corpus.[4] In 1979, Roberts co-starred with Jill Bennett in the London Weekend Television production of Alan Bennett's The Old Crowd, directed by Lindsay Anderson and Stephen Frears.

Personal life[edit]

Roberts was married twice and had no children. She first married actor Alan Dobie in 1955. They divorced in 1960. The following year, Roberts married actor Rex Harrison in Genoa, Italy.[5] The marriage was tumultuous; Roberts and Harrison both drank excessively and engaged in public fights.[6] Harrison later left Roberts and they divorced in 1971.[7] Later that year, Harrison married British socialite Elizabeth Rees-Williams, Roberts's former best friend.[8]

Roberts was known in the entertainment industry for the eccentric behaviour that stemmed from her alcoholism.[9] She had a habit of imitating a Welsh Corgi when intoxicated and once, at a party thrown by Richard Harris, attacked actor Robert Mitchum on all fours, chewing his trousers and chomping on his bare skin, while he patted her on the head, saying "there, there".[10] At the time of her death, Roberts was living on and off with Darren Ramirez, an attractive Mexican almost 20 years younger, but it was a largely platonic relationship and her last years were plagued by the obsession of winning back Harrison.[11]


Roberts was devastated by her divorce from Rex Harrison, and her alcoholism and depression worsened.[7] She moved to Hollywood in 1975 and tried to forget the relationship. In 1980, Roberts attempted to win Harrison back. The attempt proved futile as Harrison was then married to his sixth and final wife, Mercia Tinker.[12]

On 26 November 1980, Roberts died at her home in Los Angeles at the age of 53. Her death was initially attributed to a heart attack.[5] Her gardener found her body on her kitchen floor, lying amidst shards of glass; she had fallen through a decorative glass divide between two rooms.[13] An autopsy later determined that her death was a result of swallowing lye or another alkali, or another unidentified caustic substance, as well as barbiturates and alcohol, as detailed in her posthumously published journals. The corrosive effect of the alkali was the immediate cause of death. The coroner documented the cause of death as "swallowing a caustic substance" and, later, "acute barbiturate intoxication."[13][14] Her death was ruled a suicide.[14]

Roberts was cremated at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles. Her journals became the basis for No Bells on Sunday: The Memoirs of Rachel Roberts (1984).

In 1992, Roberts's ashes, along with those of her friend Jill Bennett (who took her own life in 1990), were scattered on the River Thames in London by director Lindsay Anderson during a boat trip, with several of the two actresses' professional colleagues and friends aboard; musician Alan Price sang "Is That All There Is?" The event was included as a segment in Anderson's BBC documentary film, also titled Is That All There Is?


Year Title Role Notes
1953 Valley of Song Bessie Lewis Alternative title: Men Are Children Twice
1953 The Limping Man Barmaid
1954 The Weak and the Wicked Pat, pregnant inmate Alternative title: Young and Willing
1954 The Crowded Day Maggie Alternative title: Shop Spoiled
1957 The Good Companions Elsie and Effie Longstaff
1959 Our Man in Havana Prostitute Uncredited
1960 Saturday Night and Sunday Morning Brenda BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
1961 Girl on Approval Anne Howland
1963 This Sporting Life Mrs. Margaret Hammond BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
1968 A Flea in Her Ear Suzanne de Castilian
1969 The Reckoning Joyce Eglington Alternative title: A Matter of Honour
1971 Doctors' Wives Della Randolph
1971 Wild Rovers Maybell (town madam)
1973 Alpha Beta Nora Elliot
1973 The Belstone Fox Cathie Smith Alternative title: Free Spirit
1973 O Lucky Man! Gloria Rowe / Madame Paillard / Mrs. Richards
1974 Murder on the Orient Express Hildegarde Schmidt
1975 Picnic at Hanging Rock Mrs. Appleyard
1978 Foul Play Delia Darrow / Gerda Casswell
1979 Yanks Mrs. Clarrie Moreton BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1979 When a Stranger Calls Dr. Monk
1981 Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen Mrs. Dangers
Year Title Role Notes
1958 The Firm of Girdlestone Mrs. Scully Miniseries
1958–1959 Our Mutual Friend Lizzie Hexam Miniseries
1960 On Trial Mrs. Rogerson 1 episode
1960 BBC Sunday-Night Play Mrs. Holyoake 1 episode
1963 The Eleventh Hour Mary Newell 1 episode
1966 ITV Play of the Week Lady Hamilton 1 episode
1966 Out of the Unknown Anna Preston 1 episode
1966 Blithe Spirit Ruth Condomine Television movie
1969 Destiny of a Spy Megan Thomas Television movie
1969 Happy Ever After 1 episode
1970 Night Gallery Rebecca Brigham 1 episode
1971 Marcus Welby, M.D. Dr. Victoria Thorson 1 episode
1973 Baffled! Mrs. Farraday Television movie
1974 Graceless Go I Television movie
1974 Play for Today Olwen 1 episode
1974 Great Expectations Mrs. Gargery Television movie
1976–1978 The Tony Randall Show Mrs. Bonnie McClellen 32 episodes
1977 A Circle of Children Helga Television movie
1979 Family Angela Brown 1 episode
1979 Six Plays by Alan Bennett: The Old Crowd Pauline Television movie
1979 3 by Cheever: The Sorrows of Gin Mrs. Henlein Television movie
1980 The Hostage Tower Sonya Television movie
1982 The Wall Regina Kowalska Television movie, (final film role)


  1. ^ Roberts Playbill profile accessed 12/9/2016
  2. ^ Halliwell's Who's Who on the Movies. John Walker (ed); HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. (2003) pg398 ISBN 0-06-053423-0
  3. ^ a b The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. John Davies, Nigel Jenkins, Menna Baines and Peredur Lynch (2008) p. 769 ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6
  4. ^ IDBD Profile accessed 12/9/2016
  5. ^ a b "British actress Rachel Roberts, former wife of actor Rex..." United Press International. 27 November 1980. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  6. ^ Wapshott, Nicholas (4 March 2008). "Unfaithfully Yours, Rex". The New York Sun. newyorksun.com. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  7. ^ a b "Rachel Roberts". Wales: BBC. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  8. ^ Reed, Rex (7 February 1971). "Rachel Roberts Raps About Rex Harrison". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois. p. 3. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  9. ^ Lusted, David and Raymond Williams (1989). Raymond Williams: film, TV, culture : a publication accompanying a season of films and television at the National Film Theatre, June, 1989. London: NFT/BFI Education. p. 28.
  10. ^ Sellers, Robert (2011). Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed. NY: St. Martin's Griffin. p. 89. ISBN 978-0312668143.
  11. ^ No Bells on Sunday: The Rachel Roberts Journals - 0060152354. abebooks.co.uk. ISBN 978-0060152352. Retrieved 22 December 2019.
  12. ^ Greek, Sara (30 August 2013). "The story of Rex Harrison's fourth wife to be told at Hertford Theatre". Hertfordshire Mercury. hertfordshiremercury.co.uk. Retrieved 5 March 2017.[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ a b Upton, Julian (2004). Fallen Stars. Headpress. ISBN 1-900486-38-5.
  14. ^ a b "Rachel Roberts Ruled a Suicide". The New York Times. 6 January 1981. Retrieved 17 August 2008.

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