Dors gets caught short of blonde dye.
We always note that one reason mid-century tabloids have historical value is because of their rare shots of significant celebrities, and here's a perfect example. Diana Dors appears on the cover of a National Enquirer published today in 1960, and in this photo we've never seen anywhere else she's sporting deep black Frida Kahlo eyebrows. Dors was one of the most interesting figures of her time, and the blurb on this Enquirer references her marriage to Dennis Hamilton, a union which led to her being lent as a sexual plaything to various producers and leading actors, and which also gave Hamilton the incandescent idea of hiring photographer Horace Roye to make Dors the star attraction of two racy photo collections. One of those was in 3D, and we bet those batwing eyebrows of hers really jumped off the page. For a bit more about Dors' strange and remarkable life, check here.
Every celebrity’s time comes eventually.
Reading about celebrities in these old tabloids is a bit like reliving their fame in real time, and in this Whisper published this month in 1957 we get to observe Marilyn Monroe in mid-career. You know that stage. It’s the one where she’s no longer a sparkling new star, but hasn’t yet earned the status of a venerable old treasure. It’s the stage where almost overnight the very editors who were partners in constructing the edifice of fame begin to take it apart brick and girder, with sledgehammers and blowtorches.
In this issue Whisper editors throw Monroe into their monthly crucible “The Pit,” an unenviable place you may remember from our post on Liberace a while back. Sometimes a celebrity behaves in such a way as to deserve harsh criticism, but generally that isn’t the case—only the narrative has changed, which itself reflects the belief in editorial circles that more magazines can be sold by tearing a person apart than by continuing to build them up. As we’ve mentioned before, we know a little bit about this, having spent many years working in media.
So what had Monroe done? What was Whisper so miffed about? Well, she had declared her craving to act in serious films. We’ll let Whisper hatchet man Tom Everleigh spin it for you in his own words: “And while the only success she’s ever had in films has been by rolling her hips and doing a lightweight Mae West routine, she’s suddenly going to become a “serious actress”—and would even love to render Shakespeare even!” There you have it, complete with two "evens," oddly. Monroe was the pits because she sought artistic growth. Everleigh describes every aspect of her career as crass manipulation and propaganda, which strikes us as pretty harsh, considering she was never in politics.
But anyway, it does illustrate the point that when the script is primed to flip the flimsiest of pretexts will do. At this point in her career Monroe probably would have ended up in Whisper’s Pit whether she’d personally thwarted a terrorist attack or thrown a crate of golden retriever puppies in a woodchipper. Or put another way, when it’s your time to suffer the knives of the tabloids it’s simply your time. Monroe eventually did reach venerable old treasure status, but sadly, it was after her death five years after this issue appeared. We have a couple of scans of her, as well as a great page of Diana Dors with her husband Dennis Hamilton, below.
Did she turn into a freak or was she always that way?
The National Insider was a second tier tabloid, but even it sometimes got the facts correct. The headline on this cover is true—Diana Dors did have a two-way mirror in the bedroom ceiling of her house in Maidenhead, just outside London. Insider didn’t break the story. Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World had done that six years earlier and had shared all the tawdry details with British readers in a heavy breathing 12-week serial. But a good sex story can always be reprised, so Insider decided to dredge the details up again for American readers today in 1964.
At age nineteen Diana Dors had married a man named Dennis Hamilton, who turned out to be a paranoid, violent, and domineering louse who smacked her around and took over the management of her career. Professionally, he steered her away from serious drama into fluff cinema, while privately he initiated her into a life of sex parties and voyeurism. In addition to the two-way mirror in the bedroom ceiling, there were also assorted 8mm motion picture cameras scattered around the house so they could film their bacchanals and later review the action in their leisure time.
While all this partying was going on, a young American actress named Marilyn Monroe was becoming a star. Largely because of Hamilton’s career strategy, Dors would forever be considered Monroe lite, or, as she was often called, "The British Marilyn Monroe." This despite starting in movies a year earlier than Monroe.
Things weren’t going well in the marriage either. Hamilton’s violent and drunken tendencies were more and more often on public display. Make-up artists gossiped about the bruises they had to mask before Dors could shoot a scene. Hamilton punched out a photographer. And in one ugly incident, he brought two reporters home at midnight, dragged a sleepy Dors out of bed, and when she protested, smacked her so hard she tumbled down the stairs. She landed at the reporters’ feet, naked save for a dressing gown that had come open during the fall. Hamilton shouted to the reporters: “Now fucking interview her!”
Hamilton, who you see with Dors at bottom on their wedding day, died in 1959. An autopsy revealed that he had been suffering from tertiary syphilis. This terrrible affliction may have contributed to his erratic behavior, but it’s equally possible that his type of bad simply came straight from the core, and his need to hurt and control was a character trait, not a symptom. In any case, The National Insider replayed all the tawdry details of the marriage, and the issue must have simply flown off the newsstands, because the paper ran with the story again the very next week, at right. The interest is understandable. Dors was glamorous and very beautiful, and tabloid readers love nothing more than seeing a goddess in the muck.
What is most interesting about all this, to us at least, is that Dors did not curtail her raunchy activities after Hamilton exited the scene. Even two husbands later she was up to the same tricks. Her son Jason described life with Dors and her third husband Alan Lake this way: “There were no taboos in our house. I was only seven but I was free to wander in and out of my mum’s parties, no matter how hot they got. I would walk around in my pajamas chatting to John Lennon and Keith Moon. Mum would wander around serving cups of tea and trying to get people up into the bedrooms. She loved having friends round to watch the porn films made at the parties. They would sit around giggling as couples groped each other and made love on the bed. Most of them didn't even know they had been filmed.”
So there you have it. Whether Dennis Hamilton unleashed something in Diana Dors or she was always a voyeur party animal we don’t know. Or maybe it was a little of both, exacerbated by her reaching the height of fame as the prim fifties gave way to the swinging sixties. Interestingly, most of the information about the wild parties came from Dors herself at first. It wasn’t until after she died of cancer at age 52 that other people spoke up. But they were often kind with respect to Dors. That could be for many reasons, but we like to think of it this way: they must have had an awfully good time at those parties.