Friday, 16 February 2018

FRIDAY FEMME FATLES: THE HAMMER FILM ACTRESS WHO MARRIED A VICAR, MOVED TO AN ISLAND AND WAS FRIENDS WITH LIZA MINNELLI : IT'S ALL VERY VALERIE!


"THE WOMAN WHO WILL BE REMEMBERED as the first Hammer horror vampire to bare her fangs on screen, Valerie Sheila Reddington, died at St Mary’s Hospital, Newport, on November 27, aged 84 . . . . ' These were the first three lines, that appeared in actress Valerie Gaunt's obituary, printed in the County Press Newspaper in 2016, the daily news of the Isle of Wight, Gaunt's place of residence for almost the last twenty years of her life. 



ABOVE AND BELOW: OF THE TWO TELEVISION DRAMAS, that GAUNT appeared in, Only The Father In Law, survives, as her earliest work. Sadly, the ITV Playhouse drama ' A Chance Meeting' from 1956, which was the play, in which Fisher heard, that scream . .  is thought lost.


IT'S INTERESTING THAT Valerie Gaunt’s film career actually amounted to just two supporting roles in two Hammer films, and two small roles in a pair of TV dramas! And yet, she exerted an enduring fascination for horror fans who mourned her early retirement in 1958.  Just like that. Not unlike the poorly credited 'Vampire Woman', a role without a name, in Hammer films, 1958 'Dracula' she vanished into the night . . .



FOR GAUNT, her association with Hammer films began when she caught the attention of, a soon to be Hammer films, go to director Terry Fisher. While watching the tv one night, Fisher had the chance in a million of hearing Valerie deliver her spine-tingling scream, in the unfolding drama. He immediately sent her a telegram, pleading with her to get in touch, with him, as soon as possible. Right there, Hammer history was hatched and Gaunt was to be forever associated with her two roles for the company.





AS FATE WOULD HAVE IT,  those two roles were key in two of Hammer Films most iconic productions. In 1957 she played Justine, the naughty maid to — and secret lover of — one #PeterCushing Baron Frankenstein, in 'The Curse of Frankenstein'. Cushing was fresh from the broadcast of several major BBC TV drama productions. He had been award a BAFTA just sixteen months before, the camera turned on 'The Curse of Frankenstein', in November 1956. Given the few scenes where Gaunt appears in the film, she managed to deliver a full-blooded and nuanced character. Thanks to her jealousy, Justine falls foul of her paramour and ends up suffering an unseen, but implied grisly fate at the hands of his monstrous creation . . .an unknown actor at the time, called Christopher Lee.








BEFORE THIS FIRST screen appearance, Gaunt studied theatre at RADA, London. From 1951, she busily appeared in.... 'this week we perform play 'A', while learning and rehearsing next week's play 'B'...repertory theatre. Another life changing event happened in 1957, the same year that 'The Curse of Frankenstein' was released. Gaunt met her husband to be Gerald, a stockbroker and non-stipendiary priest, later to become a vicar! The happy couple, tied the knot at All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street, West London, on May 17 the following year.


NOW MRS REDDINGTON, she kept the embers of her first role on film glowing, until  almost a year to the day, when she wrapped on Frankenstein, she began work on the film, that would change the fortunes of one Christopher Lee, and sadly snuff out any desires she may have had to continue as an actress. This second role was no less significant. Clad in a just demure nightgown, she pleads with a naive Jonathan Harker, to save her from the evil clutches of the Count, before sinking her fangs into his neck






HUSBAND GERALD, was also a friend of Christopher Lee. On invitation to the set, he watched his wife, shooting her iconic scenes for 'Dracula' at Hammer Studios, Bray. What he made of all the demonic hissing and horror, to say nothing of the feral  fanged fight between his friend Lee and his new bride, we shall never know. But aficionados of  English Gothic cinema, exemplified by the two films in which Gaunt appeared now argue that, Gaunt provided the template, for what would later became known as “Hammer glamour”. 


ALTHOUGH GAUNT enjoyed her stint as a scream queen, Gaunt’s husband, Gerald Reddington, recalled that after the premier of Dracula she came home, kicked her shoes off, sat on the bed and said: “Well thank goodness that is over, I’m never working again!” And really, who could blame her? Gaunt was clearly a woman of character, she knew what she wanted from life. It seems she always did . . .


AND SO, although Gaunt, Mrs Reddington never acted professionally again, she was a dynamic behind-the-scenes force, directing two plays at the prep school attended by her oldest son, Marcus, and later spent five years bringing her talents to teaching drama students, at the Bush Davies School of Theatre Arts, East Grinstead, West Sussex, she also read books for the blind for the Calibre Audio Library. . . . . .


VALERIE GAUNT was born on June 26, 1932, in West Bromwich, the only daughter of a Birmingham industrialist. At the age of 26, having been to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and worked in repertory theatre in Birmingham for four years, she relocated to London. Gaunt moved into a house bought from the stepmother of the man who would become her husband. Having met Valerie, she phoned Reddington and said: “I’ve just sold Queen Anne Street to a very rich man with an only daughter, and you must meet her.” By coincidence, Gaunt’s mother had met Reddington at the same time and invited him for a drink — to meet her daughter.


ALTHOUGH BROUGHT together initially by the gentle meddling of family members, the couple were united by their shared faith. According to Victoria Jol, the couple’s youngest daughter: “The young couple were invited to stay at his family’s country house. However, he was on duty as a server at All Saints church, Margaret Street, so instead my mother went to church with my father — and they never really left.” The church became an integral part of the lives and faith of Valerie and Gerald, who, after a career as a stockbroker, became an ordained minister. They married at All Saints; their four children were baptised in the church; their daughter Benedicta was married there and the memorial for their son Adam, who died when he was just nine years of age, was held there.


AT THE TIME OF HER sad passing on November 27th, 2016 Gaunt was survived by her husband and three of her children. Marcus Reddington, who, like his father, started out as a stockbroker, eventually found his way into the theatre, and is a showman and puppeteer working on the West End production of Wicked. Benedicta Green is a psychotherapeutic counsellor. Victoria Jol worked at the Wiley academic publisher in Australia and the UK and until her Mother's passing, was a full-time carer for her parents.


VALERIE'S TIME IN THE GLOW of the studio ark light was brief, but she certainly made an impression. She decided being an actress was not for her. Maybe also, Hammer studios way of retaining an almost repertory band of crew and actors, could have become a clash of personal sensibilities. She had already appeared in a pair of box office smashers. What if they were to call on her again? Understandably, the church and the glamorous, materialistic and shallow world of entertainment and . . .  horror films, could never be the best of friends. BUT, Valerie was a friend of Judy Garland who moved in such glamorous circles. Gaunt was an unlikely vicar’s wife. Although she once crisply informed a church volunteer that buttering scones was not part of her purview — “Oh no, I’m not into catering” — she flung herself into other duties with gusto: writing stories, painting watercolour portraits of children, putting on musicals and editing the parish newspaper. . . which was very much part of her purview, and Very Much Valerie . . .. 


Valerie Reddington's funeral was held at St Peter’s Church, Isle of Wight on December 2nd 2016. Mrs Reddington, is survived by her husband Gerald, son Marcus, daughters Benedicta Green and Victoria Jol, and three grandchildren. 



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