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Rachel Roberts (actress)

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Rachel Roberts
File:Rachel Roberts.JPG
Roberts in 1976
Born (1927-09-20)20 September 1927
Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales, United Kingdom
Died 26 November 1980(1980-11-26) (aged 53)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Years active 1953–1980
Spouse(s) Alan Dobie (1955-1961)
Rex Harrison (1962-1971)

Rachel Roberts (20 September 1927Template:Spaced ndash26 November 1980) was a Welsh actress noted for her fervour and passion. Roberts is best remembered for her forthright screen performances as the older mistress of the central male character in two key films of the 1960s, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and This Sporting Life. For This Sporting Life, Roberts was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Lead Actress. In Australia, she is remembered for her performance as Mrs Appleyard in Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Early life and career

Roberts was born in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales. After a Baptist upbringing (against which she rebelled), followed by study at the University of Wales and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, she began working with a repertory company in Swansea in 1950.[1] She made her film debut in the Welsh-set comedy Valley of Song (1953), directed by Gilbert Gunn.

Her portrayal of Brenda in Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) won her a British Academy Film Award.[2] Lindsay Anderson cast her as the suffering Mrs Hammond in This Sporting Life (1963), earning another BAFTA and an Oscar nomination. Both films were significant examples of the British New Wave of film-making.

In theatre, she performed at the Royal Court and played the title role as the life-enhancing tart in Lionel Bart's musical Maggie May (1964). In films, she continued to play women with lusty appetites as in Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man! (1973), although the haunting Australian-made Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), directed by Peter Weir, provided her with a different kind of role, as the authoritarian head teacher of a Victorian girls' school.

After relocating to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, she appeared in supporting roles in several American films such as Foul Play (1978). Her final British film was Yanks (1979), directed by John Schlesinger, for which she received a Supporting Actress BAFTA.[2]

In 1979, Roberts co-starred with Jill Bennett in the London Weekend Television production of Alan Bennett's The Old Crowd, directed by Lindsay Anderson and Stephen Frears.

Personal life and suicide

She married Alan Dobie (1955–1961), then Rex Harrison (1962–1971). Both marriages ended in divorce. Her alcoholism and depression increased after her divorce from Harrison. Devastated by their divorce, she moved to Hollywood in 1975 and tried to forget the relationship. In 1980, a final attempt to win Harrison back proved futile, and, impulsive and insecure, she committed suicide on 26 November 1980, at her home in Los Angeles.

It was reported that her death was a result of swallowing lye, alkali, or another unidentified caustic substance, as well as barbiturates and alcohol, as detailed in her posthumously published journals. The corrosive effect of the poisonous agent was an immediate cause of death. Her gardener found her body on her kitchen floor, lying amidst shards of glass; she had fallen through a decorative glass divide between two rooms.[3] Her cause of death was initially reported as cardiac arrest.[3] The coroner documented the cause of death as "swallowing a caustic substance" and, later, "acute barbiturate intoxication."[3][4] It was ruled a suicide.[4] She was 53 years old.

She was cremated at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles.[5] Her journals became the basis for No Bells on Sunday: The Memoirs of Rachel Roberts (1984).

In 1992, Roberts' ashes, along with those of her very good friend Jill Bennett, were scattered on the River Thames in London by director Lindsay Anderson during a boat trip, with several of the two actresses' professional colleagues and friends aboard; musician Alan Price sang "Is That All There Is?" The event was included as a segment in Anderson's BBC documentary film, also titled Is That All There Is?


Year Film Role Notes
1953 Valley of Song Bessie Lewis Alternative title: Men Are Children Twice
The Limping Man Barmaid
1954 The Weak and the Wicked Pat, pregnant inmate Alternative title: Young and Willing
The Crowded Day Maggie Alternative title: Shop Spoiled
1957 The Good Companions Elsie and Effie Longstaff
1959 Our Man in Havana Prostitute Uncredited
1960 Saturday Night and Sunday Morning Brenda BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
1961 Girl on Approval Anne Howland
1963 This Sporting Life Mrs. Margaret Hammond BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
1968 A Flea in Her Ear Suzanne de Castilian
1969 The Reckoning Joyce Eglington Alternative title: A Matter of Honour
1971 Doctors' Wives Della Randolph
Wild Rovers Maybell (town madam)
1973 Alpha Beta Nora Elliot
The Belstone Fox Cathie Smith Alternative title: Free Spirit
O Lucky Man! Gloria Rowe/Madame Paillard/Mrs. Richards
1974 Murder on the Orient Express Hildegarde Schmidt
1975 Picnic at Hanging Rock Mrs. Appleyard
1978 Foul Play Delia Darrow/Gerda Casswell
1979 Yanks Mrs. Clarrie Moreton BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
When a Stranger Calls Dr. Monk
1981 Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen Mrs. Dangers
Year Title Role Notes
1958–1959 Our Mutual Friend Lizzie Hexam Miniseries
1960 On Trial Mrs. Rogerson 1 episode
BBC Sunday-Night Play Mrs. Holyoake 1 episode
1963 The Eleventh Hour Mary Newell 1 episode
1966 ITV Play of the Week Lady Hamilton 1 episode
Out of the Unknown Anna Preston 1 episode
Blithe Spirit Ruth Condomine US TV movie
1969 Destiny of a Spy Megan Thomas US TV movie
Happy Ever After 1 episode
1970 Night Gallery Rebecca Brigham 1 episode
1971 Marcus Welby, M.D. Dr. Victoria Thorson 1 episode
1973 Baffled! Mrs. Farraday Television movie
1974 Graceless Go I UK TV drama
Play for Today Olwen 1 episode
Great Expectations Mrs. Gargery Television movie
1976–1978 The Tony Randall Show Mrs. Bonnie McClellen 32 episodes
1977 A Circle of Children Helga USA TV movie
1979 Family Angela Brown 1 episode
Six Plays by Alan Bennett: The Old Crowd Pauline British Videotaped TV drama
3 by Cheever: The Sorrows of Gin Mrs. Henlein Television movie
1980 The Hostage Tower Sonya Television movie
1982 The Wall Regina Kowalska Television movie


  1. ^ Halliwell's Who's Who on the Movies. John Walker (ed); HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. (2003) pg398 ISBN 0-06-053423-0
  2. ^ a b The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. John Davies, Nigel Jenkins, Menna Baines and Peredur Lynch (2008) p. 769 ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6
  3. ^ a b c Upton, Julian (2004). Fallen Stars. Headpress. ISBN 1-900486-38-5. 
  4. ^ a b "Rachel Roberts Ruled a Suicide". The New York Times. 1981-01-06. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  5. ^ Edwards, Robert (2001-10-19). "Rachel Roberts (1927–1980)". Find A Grave. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 

External links

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