Wednesday, August 06, 2008


An Autobiography
by Hazel Court
Tomahawk Press (, 152 pages, $25.00, trade softcover

British actress Hazel Court passed away earlier this year, on April 15, just a month or two before the announced publication date of her long-promised autobiography. A copy of this sadly timed Tomahawk Press release arrived here yesterday, courtesy of (now offering the book for the sale price of $16.50), and I read it straight through in an evening.

The book's advance word of mouth has been beating the drum about the fact that it contains a never-before-seen color image of Hazel topless, as she was filmed for a continental release of THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959). The photo is in the book, and different to the four sequential filmstrip images previously seen on the inside cover of LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS #16, but not printed large enough to permit much detail. Even so, it's neither the most beautiful or ravishing image in the book, which is loaded with lovely images of Hazel at all the different stages of her life. The two that particularly took my breath away can be found on the Acknowledgements page (which appears to be post-retirement) and page 38 (a photo from her first professional session at age 16).

As loath as I would be to say this to the dear lady's face, pretty pictures and a nice interior layout aside, I found the book a disappointment. Why? Because the opening chapters are so arresting, so complete and vivid a recreation of her early years, and so revelatory of an unexplored gift for writing, that the later chapters about her life in movies seem sketchy and shallow by comparison. There is an almost palpable feeling of difference here between chapters written by hand and others that might have been obtained otherwise, as through a transcribed tape or ghostwriter. I don't know how difficult a book it was for her to write, if other duties were in the way of her concentration, but the early chapters give us dense, delicious portraiture while the later ones give us snapshots.

The early chapters do offer the reader some insight about how this working class girl from Birmingham acquired her regal bearing onscreen and how she wore those period costumes with such ease. There is also a heartbreaking story about her first love, identified only by his initials, who went off to war and died in 1941, but not before taking the photographs (by gaslight) that led to Hazel's first screen test. Her first marriage to actor Dermot Walsh is almost elliptic in its modest coverage, and none of the reasons for their "painful" divorce are gone into, nor really is the story of how she came to fall in love with second husband, actor/director Don Taylor (obviously the great love of her life). A strange emphasis of photos showing Hazel in the company of artist Fred Yates, with whom the text mentions only one brief anecdotal meeting, begs curiosity. There are also odd instances of padding, with surprisingly detailed film synopses added in (complete with dialogue), and quotes taken from recklessly identified sources. One quote, allegedly from TV GUIDE, is far too long and critical in character to have ever appeared there, and it's an embarassment when the book reaches out to the IMDb for information anyone could find there for themselves. The text is also guilty of some inattentive editing (repeated information, etc) and proofreading (Edgar "Allen" Poe, "Heaven's" no!, etc).

Despite these unworthy birthmarks, it's still a pleasure to spend time in her thoughts and reveries, and a shade of her book's early substance eeks into its latter pages, which focus on her development as a sculptress, her widowhood, and her last years in a log cabin in the High Sierra Mountains. But my abiding feeling about the book, after closing it, is that it makes me wish that Hazel Court was still here with us, so that she might be coaxed into sharing even more details of her life and times as ably as she began to put them down here.

Also included are loving and observant Forewords by her daughter, animation art authority Sally Walsh, and Vincent Price (signed with a "V" I've never seen in his signatures before) and notes of affection and respect from Roger Corman, Ken Annakin and producer Harvey Bernhard.

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