“ Genre: Biography „
Hurricane in Mink - Diana Dors was written by David Bret and published in 2010. It's another journey through the famously chaotic and eventful life and times of the brassy platinum blonde who was dubbed Britain's Marilyn Monroe in her youth - Dors though said she'd rather be known as a 'Hurricane in Mink'. This book makes the world of Diana Dors even madder and more grotesque than usual, the story unfolding as before but in more lurid fashion. Bret is famous for biographies of various stars (from Edith Piaf to Morrissey) and not widely loved as far as I can see. His Morrissey biography (Landscapes of the Mind) is the only one of his I've actually read before and it was very functional compared to books like Johnny Rogan's monstrous Morrissey & Marr so you wouldn't really place him in the Premier League of biographers. One salient problem I think is that there was a better Dors biography called Come by Sunday by Damon Wise released several years before and Bret often seems to be cribbing from that volume. There isn't an awful lot new here if you have read other books about the subject. Once again we learn how Dors threatened to become a big international star and how it all fizzled out in the end. Hollywood got shot of her when they got a whiff of how unpredictable her private life/first husband was and she eventually lost her looks and put on weight, ending up as a high camp icon in cameo parts and bits and pieces on British television. Bret notes that her facility for 'self-parody' enabled her to carve out a new niche for herself when her figure became 'fuller' and she got older. He quotes Dors as saying that in the acting profession one must develop the 'skin of a rhinoceros' in order to survive.
Despite her popular image though, Dors could act (she studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) and turned in memorable performances on stage and in films like Yield to the Night. The author here perhaps doesn't always give enough credit to this side of his subject. Hurricane in Mink is not a great book by any means but you'd have to be a complete idiot not to make the life story of Diana Dors at least readable. The tumult and drama of her life is like a melodramatic television film you couldn't make up. Born Diana Fluck (she joked that she had to change her name 'in case it was up in lights and the L fell off') in Swindon in 1933, she won a medal for elocution at drama school and soon began appearing in films for Rank. Her first husband Denis Hamilton beat her 'black and blue' according to Bret and would turn down film roles on her behalf without telling her. He wrecked her Hollywood career by kicking a photographer in the head during an infamous pool party incident. Offers to work with Robert Mitchum and Jerry Lewis vanished and she was effectively blackballed in Hollywood, considered too much trouble, prone to affairs and wayward behaviour. She had back street abortions from casual affairs on film sets, affairs with Rod Steiger and other stars, and went through several fortunes. Her reaction to a tax bill that she knew would wipe her out was to throw a fireworks party and practically burn her house down in the process!
I don't think this is a book that fans of Dors will always enjoy as Bret often seems more inclined to shift through the gutter than celebrate the actress. He does call her a 'national institution' and obviously praises her admirable qualities and abilities but the warmth that seeps through other books about Dors is not always evident here. It's a difficult story too at times. She was exploited by her father and her nutty first husband (Dors had a 'strange knack' of choosing the 'wrong men') but was a strong person who managed to somehow always survive. Bret is obsessed with telling you who was and who wasn't gay in the book, even if you don't care. He contradicts himself on Dors' attitude to gay people too. Apparently one of her boyfriends once left her for Rock Hudson (who was of course secretly gay). It is actually impossible to keep track of Dors' romantic escapades but I would imagine she is in the Guinness Book of Records now. According to Bret her butler was a transvestite!
Dors' first and third husbands were fond of 'raunchy parties' and she was probably way ahead of her time when it came to the type of celebrity who would enrapture the tabloids today. She was the youngest registered owner of a Rolls Royce in Britain and once flaunted her wealth ostentiously but at the end of her life was doing a weight loss bit on breakfast television for £600 a week. By the seventies her film roles were consigned to bawdy British sex comedies and she had become a caricature of herself. Despite being dubbed the British Monroe, Dors lacked the vulnerability of and mystique of Monroe. I think Bret could have been better on this. The life of Diana Dors was always an open book and you could never really say she was an enigma. Her principle quality seems to have been that she was tough and pragmatic would do whatever she had to to earn a living, even embarking on a tour of working men's clubs ('where her spot was often secondary to the bingo') when she'd fallen on harder times. She was willing to accept greatly reduced circumstances to eke out a crust and wasn't a bad singer by all accounts. It was in the 1956 film Yield to the Night that Dors did project vulnerable qualities and gave what is generally regarded to be her greatest performance as an actress. The film was inspired by the story of Ruth Ellis (the last woman to be hanged in Britain) and is a powerful and haunting rejection of capital punishment in a civilised society. It features a remarkable performance by a young Dors, cast against type as the doomed Mary Hilton, sentenced to hang for shooting a woman who she believes drove her lover Jim Lancaster to suicide by having an affair with him behind her back and then leaving him.
Mary is watched over 24 hours a day in her claustrophobic quarters by a rotating staff of female wardens and her emotions and moods fluctuate as she waits for news of her appeal and her punishment looms ever larger. The author rightly suggests that this is a brief glimpse of what might have been if she had been given better roles and the chance to do some acting now and again, a great 'film noir' and a picture that helped abolish capital punishment. Shorn of make-up for the prison scenes and looking sulky and scared, Dors is excellent in this film. Brett is not brilliant on the films but these passages are always interesting of course because practically no one knows more than a handful of Dors' many vintage pictures. I would imagine that most people probably think of The Two Ronnies or that Steptoe and Son film where her work is concerned. Who has seen all those Rank pictures she made when she was young? Hardly anyone I'd imagine. This is readable enough but anyone interested in Dors would be better off buying Come by Sunday by Damon Wise first at least, a book Bret has obviously relied on a lot for his own. That's a better book I feel. Hurricane in Mink is ok but could have been a lot better. At the time of writing you can buy this new in hardback for a shade over a tenner and used for under a fiver.