Rachel Roberts (actress)
Roberts in 1976
20 September 1927|
Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales, United Kingdom
|Died||26 November 1980
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Suicide|
|Alma mater||University of Wales
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
|Spouse(s)||Alan Dobie (m. 1955; div. 1960)
Rex Harrison (m. 1962; div. 1971)
Rachel Roberts (20 September 1927 – 26 November 1980) was a Welsh actress noted for her fervour and passion. She is best remembered for her forthright screen performances as the older mistress of the central male character in two key films of the 1960s, 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, and won a Drama Desk Award in 1976 for Habeas Corpus.
Early life and career
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. 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. 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.
In 1976, she won a Drama Desk Award for her performance in Alan Bennett's play Habeas Corpus. 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.
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. The marriage was tumultuous; Roberts and Harrison both drank excessively and engaged in public fights. Harrison later left Roberts and they divorced in 1971. Later that year, Harrison married British socialite Elizabeth Rees-Williams, Roberts' former best friend.
Roberts was known in the entertainment industry as a legendary alcoholic, with a history of eccentric behavior. 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 champing on his bare skin, while he patted her on the head, saying "there, there".
Devastated by her divorce from Rex Harrison, Roberts' alcoholism and depression worsened. 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.
On 26 November 1980, Roberts died at her home in Los Angeles at the age of 53. Her cause of death was initially attributed to a heart attack.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. An autopsy later determined that her death was a result of swallowing lye, alkali, or another unidentified caustic substance, as well as barbiturates and alcohol, as detailed in her posthumously published journals. The corrosive effect of the poisonous agent was an immediate cause of death. The coroner documented the cause of death as "swallowing a caustic substance" and, later, "acute barbiturate intoxication." Her death was ruled a suicide.
In 1992, Roberts' ashes, along with those of her very good friend Jill Bennett (who committed suicide 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?
|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|
|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)|
- Roberts Playbill profile accessed 12/9/2016
- Halliwell's Who's Who on the Movies. John Walker (ed); HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. (2003) pg398 ISBN 0-06-053423-0
- The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. John Davies, Nigel Jenkins, Menna Baines and Peredur Lynch (2008) p. 769 ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6
- IDBD Profile accessed 12/9/2016
- "British actress Rachel Roberts, former wife of actor Rex...". UPI. upi.com. 27 November 1980. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
- Wapshott, Nicholas (4 March 2008). "Unfaithfully Yours, Rex". The New York Sun. newyorksun.com. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
- "Rachel Roberts". BBC Wales. bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
- Reed, Rex (7 February 1971). "Rachel Roberts Raps About Rex Harrison". The Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois. p. 3. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Upton, Julian (2004). Fallen Stars. Headpress. ISBN 1-900486-38-5.
- "Rachel Roberts Ruled a Suicide". The New York Times. 1981-01-06. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
- Edwards, Robert (2001-10-19). "Rachel Roberts (1927–1980)". Find A Grave. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
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