Diana Dors, the British bombshell who was "England's answer to Marilyn Monroe" (and many others), was born 89 years ago today, but she's been gone so long she's long-forgotten by all but a few, certainly in America.
Born Diana Fluck (!) in Swindon, Wilshire, England, she became an obsessive movie-goer, idolizing the beauties of the cinema. As she matured — and did she ever! — she placed third in a pinup-girl contest, worked as a nude model and began acting in theatrical productions. At only 14, she was accepted to acting school
Renamed Diana Dors — and called simply "Dors" by her pals — she made her film debut in 1947, already in possession of a precociously sensual air, but also a wry, earthy sense of humor. "If I'd been in Upstairs/Downstairs, I'd have been downstairs," she joked in the '70s to Merv Griffin.
At 16, the fledgling actress was signed to a career-making contract with the Rank Organisation, which ran a famous "charm school" that was meant to mold actresses into ladylike, refined figures.
Working in film, she landed a part in David Lean's Oliver Twist (1948), batting away a pass from Lean but settling into slutty roles.
By 1951's Worm's Eye View — a huge British hit — and Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951), Dors was becoming a star, but leaning into her sex-icon status. She married Dennis Hamilton in 1951, and skeevy Hamilton became her relentless promoter —but was also robbing her blind along the way. He was also thought to have traded Dors's sexual favors in the movie business to help her get ahead.
While movies like Kid for Two Farthings (1955) brought her fame as an actress, the advice she took from Hamilton sank her as a serious actress, including posing fully nude for a gimmicky 3-D book.
Dors was brought to Hollywood for RKO films like I Married a Woman (1958), but she didn't take, and her big launch party with Hamilton left a bad taste in the mouths of the press when she was pushed into a pool and Hamilton attacked a photographer. It was such a bomb it led to an infamous National Enquirer cover:
She separated from Hamilton, who soon died of syphilis, and Dors remarried, this time to future talk-show icon Richard Dawson (1932-2012).
Though Dors worked with many big names and shot the incredible episode "The Sorceror's Apprentice" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1961) which was so legendarily gruesome it went unaired at the time.
She continued working in film and doing TV guest spots, including in the U.S., but the bloom was off the rose. She divorced Dawson in 1966, and by the end of the '60s was broke and taking substandard roles, including supporting Joan Crawford in the camp classic Berserk! (1967). She remarried actor Alan Lake in 1968 and was a success in cabaret.
Back in the UK, Dors had success on TV with the sitcom Queenie's Castle (1970-1972) and settled into movie sex comedies like The Amorous Milkman (1975) and What the Swedish Butler Saw (1975).
She also hosted legendary sex orgies that captured the imagination of the British public.
By the '80s, Dors was a beloved British icon for her talk-show appearances, on which the overripe former sexpot was a uniquely self-effacing, charming wit. She was also a best-selling memoirist.
Sadly, she developed cancer and died at 52. In a twist, one of her most interesting films, Steaming (1985), came out after her death.
The question isn't whether Dors was the British Marilyn or Jayne or Jean or Lana, but which American actor could possibly be described as the American Dors?
To learn more, check out this fab 1999 doc on Dors, which includes her own posthumously appropriated narration: