Thursday, April 17, 2008

Court Adjourned

Ah, distinctly I remember. It was in the bleak December,
And each separate, dying ember wrought it's ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow. Vainly I had sought to borrow,
From my books, surcease of sorrow, sorrow for the lost Lenore,
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore,
Nameless here for evermore.

-The Raven
Edgar Allan Poe

In the wake of Cheston's death, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that Death isn't always a good thing. Perhaps it's just as well that Poe is dead, because if he wasn't, he might be weeping, for this week we lost Lenore again. The photo on the book cover at the top of this column is from the 1962 American International Picture The Raven, starring Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Jack Nicholson (No, that's not a typo, and yes, the Jack Nicholson.), and beautiful Hazel Court as Lenore, Poe's Lenore. And now, at 82, beautiful Hazel Court has died.

I have to accept the fact that I am a born trendsetter. There. I've accepted it. No sooner had I published my award-free autobiography, My Lush Life, not to be confused with Richard Price's rip-off novel, than Hazel decided to leap onto my beerwagon, and pen her memoirs. However, noting what a personal drain on me all my bookstore signings have been, Hazel sped off down Life's Offramp just before publication, as her book comes out this June. You can pre-order it from now. Here's Amazon's description of the book.

International star Hazel Court has been described as the Ultimate Scream Queen, due to her work with both Hammer Films and Roger Corman. She is the only actress to have worked with all of horror films' leading men - Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and Christopher Lee. But Hazel Court was so much more than a Scream Queen! She was one of England's top film actresses in the 40's and 50's as well as one of the world's top pin-ups. Hazel went on to have a high-profile career in US television in the 60's (Bonanza, Dr. Kildare, Rawhide, Mission Impossible, The Twilight Zone, Burke's Law, The Wild Wild West, and more). Her autobiography traces her path from her childhood in the West Midlands of England to Lake Tahoe; from famous actress to internationally-acclaimed sculptor and artist. Hazel provides a unique and emotionally moving view of an English woman's life in Hollywood. Lavishly illustrated with rare photos including some that you never thought you'd see!

Now first off, I also worked with Peter Cushing, in Bats in My Belfrey and Frankenstein's Reason for Living, Vincent Price, in The Haunting of Horrible House and Poe's The Premature Climax, Christopher Lee, also in Bats in My Belfrey, and Boris Karloff in Fu Manchu's Blessed Event and Poe's The Black Pussy, though my role in The Black Pussy was entirely cut out of the picture before release. Further, I was married to Boris briefly back in the 1930s. However, Hazel also worked with Peter Lorre, which sadly, I never did, though Peter Lorre and I did have an evening of mad passion atop Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, and I'll bet you won't read that in Hazel's book, nor in mine, for that matter, out of respect for Half Dome.

Still, Hazel was the Scream Queen's Scream Queen. She was there at the birth of the Hammer Horror movie, playing the heroine Elizabeth in the very first one, The Curse of Frankenstein, with Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the monster. Here you can see her with Peter Cushing in that movie.

Here she is with Anton Diffring and Christopher Lee in Hammer's The Man Who Could Cheat Death. (You know, if you're having an affair with Death, you're ill-advised to cheat.)

In her English horror movies, she played innocent heroines, but when she came to Hollywood, Roger Corman saw greater possibilities in her, and cast her in his film of Edgar Allan Poe's The Premature Burial in a role that seemed to be a simpering heroine at first, until we learned, about three-quarters of the way in, that she was really a scheming murderess, who buries Ray Milland alive for his money. (Well who could blame her? He deserved it for pretending to be Vincent Price - no relation to literary scammer Richard Price!) Villainatrixes became her new stock in trade, and she excelled at them. Like my dear friend, the lovely Martine Beswicke, Hazel stood head-and-cleavage above the common crowd of Scream Queens (as opposed to Screaming Queens, aka, most of my ex-husbands.) by virtue of her beauty, her talent, her intelligence, and her gift for simulating cold-blooded evil.

Here she is in her next AIP film, The Raven, seen with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre. If the shot were wider, you'd see Jack Nicholson on the other side of Peter. No honest! Jack played Peter Lorre's son in that film. Think about it. They sound exactly alike!

And here she is with my ex-husband Boris Karloff, in that same film.

It was in The Raven that Little Dougie first saw her and fell as madly in love with her as he would ever love any woman, at the Fox Redondo Theater, Redondo Beach, California, in 1963. She played Lenore as a scheming vixen with a sadistic streak. When Boris, as the evil Dr. Scarabus, announced his intentions to wring secrets from Dr. Craven (Vinnie Price), Hazel heaved that massive bosom with the skill of an ambidextrous Olympic shotputter, and purred with eager delight, "Are we going to have a little torture?" She made it sound like a special treat, and turned Poe's tragic heroine into a 13th Century Lyndie English.

How lovely is she in this still from Corman's film of Poe's The Masque of the Red Death, in which she played a would-be Satanist?

Here she is with Vinnie again in Masque of the Red Death, watching Little Jane Asher take a bath. My, aren't we a bit kinky? Well, she was selling her soul to Satan. At the time this film was being made, Little Jane was dating Sir Paul McCartney, so maybe they're checking her for Beatles. This is a really good movie. Jane is still making films. (She was just in this year's hilarious Death at a Funeral.) I have no idea what became of Little Sir Paul (I heard rumors that he died a while back, but, given how long it's been since The Beatles broke up, he's probably just destitute, and living in a cardboard box somewhere, traumatized by the movie of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, although for pure McCartney-related horror, that ghastly film can not compare with Lennnon-McCartney Night and Beatles night on this season's American Idol.)

This next lovely-but-puzzling picture hangs in a frame on Little Dougie's living room wall. That's Boris, Lon Chaney Junior, Vincent, and Hazel. What's puzzling about it is that Hazel never made a film with Lon. It must be the scene dock at Producer's Studios in Hollywood (Now called Raleigh Studios), where many of AIP's films were shot (Though not Masque of the Red Death, which was shot in England.). The outfits are particularly mixed. Boris is wearing his costume from The Terror. Lon is wearing his outfit from The Haunted Palace, Vinnie is wearing his duds from A Comedy of Terrors, and Hazel's frock is the one she wore in The Raven, although she wore her hair differently in that movie. (See above.) These were all AIP films, all shot at Producers/Raleigh.

But there was more to Hazel's career than just her period as the female Vincent Price (There were rumors of course that Vincent himself was the female Vincent Price. Absolutely almost not true!), odd as that might seem when we see such other titles on her resumé as Ghost Ship, Omen III: The Final Conflict, and of course, the classic Devil Girl From Mars, a movie that makes Bridge on the River Kwai look like Plan 9 From Outer Space, albeit, as Plan 9 would look if it were cast with the best actors in the world. She began as I did, as a Glamour Girl. Check out this gorgeous cheesecake shot from 50 years ago. Her home must have been a mess when she ws molting.

Here she is, gracing the cover of a British movie magazine of the period. "Hollywood Men and their Morals"? That must have been a short article, especially after the Hollywood Men got a gander at Hazel's Grand Canyon of Cleavage. You could lose your keys in there.

The book description above mentioned some of the TV shows she appeared on, Bonanza, Dr. Kildare, Rawhide, Mission Impossible, The Twilight Zone, Burke's Law, The Wild Wild West. Her Mission Impossible is on the season 2 DVD set, if you'd like to see it. Among other TV shows she appeared on were Alfred Hitchcock Presents, McMillan & Wife, The Name of the Game, Mannix, Gidget, 12 O'Clock High (or as I always think of it, my normal lunch.) The Wackiest Ship in the Army, Thriller, and Danger Man. She even starred in one British TV sitcom, with Patrick O'Neal, called Dick and the Duchess, which, despite it's title, was not porn.

She is survived by two daughters and a son. Let's hope those daughters preserve her beauty for a new generation. After all, just look at this headshot. She could be mistaken for Ava Gardner, except for Hazel being a far better actress, and never having been dumb enough to marry Frank Sinatra.

Oh, and the "Iris" that picture is signed to was not Little Dougie's mother Iris. Since retiring from acting, Hazel devoted herself to art, and became an internationally-praised sculptress. She brought beauty, taste, and class to even the dumbest, class-free, and most tasteless movies, and was considerably more than just an ornament even in the very best. She'll be missed, but fortunately, we can all visit with her again with just a trip to the DVD shelves. I think I'll stagger over and put on one of her movies right now. Hazel darling, we loved you. Thanks for staying around so long. We wish it could have been longer.

Quoth the raven: "Cheers darlings!"

PS. Little Jeffrey Swanson reminds me that he was the one who misheard Jayne Hamil as saying "Beef Stroking-Off" for Beef Strogonoff. Sometimes, I get so drunk, I forget just whose ears I'm listening through. Cheers darlings.

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