The horror princess: Caroline Munro
|FEATURES - MOVIES|
Possibly the face of the 1970s, she brought glamour to hammer and even raised 007's jaundiced eyebrow...
One of the highlights of my trip to Whitby in October 2010 for the Hammer Horror Exhibition was meeting someone who once a teenage crush of mine - Caroline Munro. Still breathtakingly beautiful, the stylish former Hammer glamour girl and one-time face of those famous Navy Rum posters, is also a polite, well spoken and utterly charming lady who clearly has a lot of time for her fans. Not surprisingly I went weak at the knees when I met her; I guess schoolboy crushes never truly fade away!
Thanks to her stunning looks, Caroline could easily alternate from sexy heroine to even sexier villainess even if her soft English rose voice was often dubbed over with something more suited to her bad girl image. Sadly her screen potential was never fully realised, but despite not achieving the major film stardom she really deserved, her popularity among genre fans remains very high. She also had the unique distinction of working with Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Euro horror king Paul Naschy.
The daughter of a solicitor, Caroline Munro was born on 16 January 1949 near Windsor Castle. She spent her early years in Richmond before moving to Rottingdean, near Brighton where she was educated at a private Catholic convent school. Blessed with an excellent singing voice, she sang in her church choir.
Caroline studied interior design at art school in Brighton. When she did some modelling work for a photographer friend, one of the photos taken was entered in a ‘Face of the Year’ modelling competition organized by London newspaper The Evening News (one of the judges was fashion photographer David Bailey). Caroline’s picture was chosen as ‘The Face of 1966’ from the 700 photos submitted.
With her new quickly career taking off at the age of 17, Caroline moved to London to seek more lucrative modelling assignments that included cover girl for Vogue Magazine (her measurements are 36B-25-35). There were some high profile TV advertisements for Turkish Delight and a bit of notoriety with a suggestive US TV commercial for Noxzema Shaving Cream, which was enough to get her banned in America’s Bible Belt!
But despite such notoriety, Caroline has refused to pose nude; she once turned down a lucrative offer bare all for Playboy Magazine.
Making her acting debut in David Bailey’s film G G Passion (1966), Caroline recorded backing vocals for the EMI produced single Tar and Cement for EMI records. She was in good company as the musicians involved were Eric Clapton, Ginger baker and Steve Howe.
Despite having no formal drama training, Caroline’s modelling portfolio was enough to get her a bit part in Casino Royale (1968). A screen test for director Peter Collinson led to a one year contract with Paramount, and her first proper role opposite Richard Widmark in A Talent for Love (1969). During the making of the film she met her first husband, American actor/musician Judd Hamilton; they married in 1970.
In 1969 Caroline achieved modelling immortality as the Lamb's Navy Rum Girl in a series of extremely popular TV and billboard advertisements that lasted 12 years; her beautiful face was now seen on posters all over the UK. It certainly was enough to attract the attention of that most charismatic of British filmmakers, Sir James Carreras of Hammer Films.
Jimmy Carreras always had an eye for a pretty girl; he made sure there were plenty either around him or in his movies. After seeing Caroline’s face on a massive billboard outside Victoria Station in London, he invited her over to his Wardour Office for a screen test. It must have worked a treat, because Hammer put her under contract; allegedly she was the only actress to officially sign with the studio.
Now ‘The Hammer Find of 1971’, Caroline was set for a starring role in the abortive fantasy film The Day the Earth Cracked Open. With nothing else lined up, Hammer loaned her out to their US rivals American International Pictures, who cast her as Victoria Phibes opposite Vincent Price as The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971).
Because she was under contract with Hammer, Caroline’s tiny appearance as Dr Phibes’ dead wife was uncredited. There was more of her in the sequel Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972) but once again she remained dead and uncredited. There was a joyful added bonus of working with the great (and very funny) Vincent Price, who often regaled her and everyone else with hilarious stories from his career.
But being a corpse however did have its drawbacks; during her time in Whitby, she told the audience about the time Price brought some homemade pâté on the film set. Caroline ate her fair share of pâté and then had to try and stop her tummy rumbling when she was playing dead on screen!
Caroline's first Hammer film was Dracula AD 1972 (1972) as the Count’s first victim Laura, an archetypal bad girl if ever there was one. Unfortunately the film has dated badly, even on its release, thanks the script’s self-conscious attempts at being hip. The end result is more of a depressing nostalgia trip than a decent horror movie.
For what its worth, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing add much needed weight to the proceedings, and despite being plainly overage, the young cast led by Stephanie Beecham and Christopher Neame acquit themselves very well - although Caroline steals the show as the thrill-seeking Laura. Making the most of her limited screen time, she is absolutely sensational, especially during the satanic ritual where her eye-rolling, near-ecstatic performance is worth the price of admission alone. In fact she is so stunning, the rest of the female cast suffer slightly in comparison.
Caroline was in good company starring alongside Hammer’s two kings of horror. She enjoyed her few scenes with Christopher Lee but noticed a sadder, more introverted Cushing. The actor had just lost his wife and spent most of his time in his dressing room. Despite being distant for much of the filming, he did enjoy the company of the younger cast members.
Caroline’s next Hammer film was also her last, but at least it provided her with her first leading role, as Carla opposite Horst Janson’s Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter (1973). The part was pretty bland, but Caroline made the most of it, and certainly rose above the film’s pedestrian air. Plans for a movie series featuring Kronos were scrapped when the film flopped at the box office. It now has something of a cult following.
The huge success of The Exorcist (1973) basically destroyed the low-budget horror market Hammer relied on. Caroline’s arrival at the studio came too late to make her into a horror movie star. She was pencilled into play the leading role in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974) but lost out to Madeline Smith. Now having trouble raising finance for future films, Hammer’s new head Michael Carreras wanted Caroline for the leading role in the upcoming (but eventually unfilmed) Vampirella, but once again she declined over the nude scenes she was required to do. The unfruitful and costly development work on Vampirella was to be the final nail in Hammer's coffin.
Away from Hammer, Caroline appeared in a couple of interesting fantasy films. Perfectly cast as the stunning slave girl Margiana in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), she was equally effective as the beautiful Princess Dia in At the Earth’s Core (1976). Working once more with Peter Cushing (in brilliantly OTT form as the zany Dr Abner Perry), the fragile man of Dracula AD 1972 had regained a little of his old sense of fun.
Caroline’s highest profile role was the evil Bond girl Naomi is the 007 extravaganza The Spy Who Loved Me (1977); her bad girl wink at Roger Moore prior to her helicopter getting blown up is now part of Bond folklore. Once again she looks so beautiful on screen she manages to push her better known co star Barbara Bach into the background.
The Spy Who Loved Me should have led to better films, but once again her refusal to do nudity made her turn down high profile roles in Force 10 from Navarone (1978) and The World is Full of Married Men (1979). She also turned down the role of Ursa in Superman (1979).
As it was, Caroline began the eighties appearing in a sporadic number of very dubious horror films on both sides of the Atlantic. Brilliantly cast as science fiction heroine Stella Star in the otherwise awful Starcrash (1979), she starred in a trio of slasher films alongside Joe Spinnel (best known Willie Cicci in The Godfather films) and worked with Spanish horror great Paul Naschy in Faceless (1988). Many of these films were unworthy of her looks and talent.
With her marriage to Judd Hamilton coming to an end in 1982, Caroline turned down a lucrative role in the American daytime soap The Bold and Beautiful to become the hostess of the British game show 3-2-1. She had just met her second husband George Dugdale (the couple married in 1990 – they have two daughters) and was reluctant to leave her family. Away from acting she owned a production company with her husband that produced several rock videos.
Today Caroline alternates between occasional acting assignments and making appearances at many horror and fantasy conventions, usually with her good friend and fellow Hammer/Bond girl Martine Beswick. Always beautiful and charming throughout, she continues to delight fans of all ages as one of the genre’s most popular (and most beautiful) icons.
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