Book review: Diana Dors: Hurricane in Mink by David Bret

Some actresses are remembered for their breathtaking beauty, one magnificent film perhaps or maybe even a single cameo performance.

Tuesday, 23rd November 2010, 6:00 am

Unfortunately for blonde bombshell Diana Dors, her life will forever be defined by her fondness for weak, violent and unpredictable men.

Dors, who died from cancer at the age of 52 in 1984, was what we call up north ‘a bad picker’; a succession of unsavoury lovers and illicit affairs destroyed her reputation and virtually ended her film career.

David Bret’s revealing and raunchy new biography of ‘Britain’s Marilyn Monroe’ takes us to the heart of one of show business’s most hedonistic and enigmatic characters – a likeable but flawed woman who had a penchant for fast living and bad boys.

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Irresistibly drawn into violent and sometimes sadistic relationships, Dors ‘was not just willing to be knocked around, but actually encouraged and appeared to enjoy it,’ claims Bret. Film studio make-up departments had to work wonders to conceal her constant stream of black eyes during her first marriage to the brutal chancer Dennis Hamilton.

However, the real tragedy is that Dors was actually a terrific actress, given the right material.

In Yield to the Night, a top class 1956 film noir, she was outstanding in the lead role as a condemned murderess and her self-effacing performance went some way towards the abolition of the death penalty in Britain.

An all-round entertainer, she could also sing, became adept at self-parody and wrote volumes of entertaining memoirs.

Born Diana Mary Fluck in Swindon, Wiltshire, she took her grandmother’s maiden name Dors, later quipping: ‘What would have happened if my name was in neon lights, and the ‘L’ went out?’

Dors rose to fame as wartime GI favourite but, eager to ditch her goody-goody image, she set out to be a vamp.

The plan worked and before long, she was a huge star, appearing alongside big names like Joan Crawford.

But her outrageous affairs with the likes of married co-star Rod Steiger, her sex parties featuring two-way mirrors, over-the-top lifestyle and a trio of abortions saw her branded a ‘scarlet woman’ and unwanted in the top studios.

‘It really is terrifying how gullible and naïve I was and still am,’ she said in 1968. ‘I fell for hard-luck stories the way boys fall for girls. To make things worse I surrounded myself with gangsters, conmen and phoneys.’

Dors’ third and final marriage to actor Alan Lake was happy despite his troubled character and addiction to alcohol. When Dors died, he shot himself five months later, unable to live without her.

Bret’s warts-and-all biography reveals a woman who is still fondly recalled by many as ‘a national institution’. Tough, talented and resilient, she loved life and lived it to the full.

(JR Books, hardback, £18.99)