Sunday, July 20, 2008

You Diabolical Mastermind, You!

I usually frown heavily upon newspaper features and obituaries that focus on older people, yet are accompanied by photographs of them when they were considerably younger. (Who are they kidding, anyway?)

Yet here I am, using a shot of actress Diana Rigg taken during her sensual prime to illustrate a post about her turning 70 years old today. My only excuse is that I always think of Ms. Rigg (who was born in Doncaster, England, in 1938) in terms of those three years she spent--1965-1968--playing cat-suited and curvaceous spy Emma Peel on The Avengers opposite Patrick Macnee. Alternatively, my mind turns to Rigg’s performance as James Bond’s doomed spouse in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Yes, of course I know that she’s had many other notable roles. She appeared in The Assassination Bureau (1969), A Little Night Music (1977), and Evil Under the Sun (1982). For a very short while, she even had her own American TV sitcom, Diana, which debuted during the memorable 1973-1974 season. It had her playing a divorced fashion coordinator who moves from London to New York City and takes up residence in her brother’s Grand Central Station of an apartment. (TV Guide said, “Amid all the confusion, the star of the show, Diana Rigg, stays cool, calm and comely.” That might have been the most praise the series received.) During the 1980s Rigg hosted PBS-TV’s acclaimed Mystery! series and later starred as criminologist and amateur sleuth Adela Bradley in a short-lived BBC series, The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries, based on an abundance of novels by once largely forgotten English wordsmith Gladys Mitchell. Rigg also turned in a chilling, Emmy Award-winning performance as Mrs. Danvers in a 1997 TV production of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

In a recently published profile, Britain’s Daily Telegraph found that even as she begins her eighth decade of life, Rigg (now Dame Diana) remains as interesting as ever--still smoking 20 cigarettes a day, still driving a Mercedes sports car, still “[t]oo dignified to be vain,” and still feisty as hell. Reports Nigel Farndale:
Though she describes herself as ‘hopelessly un-neurotic’ and thinks she might be a better actress if she were more neurotic, she does have a sudden and explosive temper, and the angrier she gets the more articulate she becomes. She is intolerant of queue-jumpers, litter-droppers and bad-mannered people generally. When driving, she will roll down her window and yell, ‘Thank you!’ to people she has let into a line of traffic. I get a taste of this sharpness now, or rather the waitress does, when she appears and says, ‘I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’d like to talk you through the specials on the menu.’

‘I think we can read,’ Rigg says. ‘Thank you so much.’

‘But they change each day,’ the waitress says, staggering back slightly. When the waitress goes, Rigg explains her shortness with people. With her, things have to be said. She’s no good at bottling up her feelings. But she is good at saying sorry and she never sulks.
Nonetheless, pitifully nostalgic as I am, it’s as a woman in her 20s and 30s that I recall Diana Rigg best. Back in the days when she was considered one of television’s hottest stars and numbered among “the greatest British beauties of all time”; back when she was a Bond babe capable of wrapping a lonely boy’s heart around her little finger. If you’ve forgotten how appealing she could be, here’s a YouTube tribute to her days on The Avengers.

Let’s face it, Mrs. Peel: You’ll always be needed.

READ MORE:Diana Rigg Takes on the Russians,” by Aleks Sierz (The Daily Telegraph); “Brilliant Careers: Diana Rigg,” by
Robin Dougherty (Salon).


Keith Raffel said...

I saw Ms. Rigg play Eliza in a West End revival of Pygmalion opposite Alec McCowen. Pretty lucky, huh? Needless to say, she was sublime.

You can usually find an Avengers rerun somewhere on the cable dial.


P.S. The day after her 70th birthday starts her 8th decade.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Lucky, indeed, Keith. And thanks for the correction on "eighth" vs. "seventh." It's been fixed now.


Roger Morris said...

Hi Jeff, you may be interested to know that my dad used to work in the rag trade, and way back in the sixties was a sales exec for the firm that made Emma Peel's leather catsuit. We had photos of her modelling it.

I was such a big fan of the Avengers that I had a Steed dressing up outfit, complete with cane. I was probably about six at the time.

Hope things are going well - I met Ali at the Heffers bash the other week.

Minonda said...

Nothing wrong with showing a photograph of the younger self when writing about older people. As we age, our faces move further and further from who we are inside. People see not us but "an old person", and the baggage of the years obscures the person inside. The truest image is the image of the younger self, before it got worn down by time and life.

Warren O'Leary said...

Diana Rigg was the sexiest, best looking woman ever in her prime as she acted as " Emma Peel ". Her personal characteristics and extraordinary talent plus those sexy diverse outfits; she had and still has no competition ever since. Diana is certainly uniquely " Blessed " by Our Lord .

Anonymous said...

I agree. Diana Rigg is the sexiest TV actress ever. And so talented too, as we all know.
Perhaps she appeared so sexy not only because she was beautiful and wore those alluring clothes in The Avengers, but because it was all natural to her, she didn't act sexy.
I've read her biography by Kathleen Tracy where she quotes Rigg saying in her mature years, "I didn't know I was pretty' and I believe it.
However, in her later years, she's dyed her hair blonde and has a bob style that doesn't really suit her and make her look older. She should dye it brown and maybe wear it layed short to medium as she did in her 50's or 60's.