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Friday, August 28, 2009

Annette Who???

After having filmed several movies in German speaking countries of Europe like Germany and Austria, Marisa Mell was ready to spread her wings in the movie business. She longed to film abroad. In 1964 her wish was granted when she got a phone call from England with the request to appear in the first feature film of then TV-director Ken Russell called "French Dressing". Marisa Mell got the leading female part of Françoise Fayol. The movie is a slight comedy about a stodgy British resort. Gormleigh-by-the-Sea is a holiday community besotted with dullness. To liven up, Jim, a young deck-chair attendant, convinces the local entertainment director and mayor into starting a film festival. The town convinces an ambitious French actress Françoise Fayol to be the star of the festival. What happens after that is a series of near disasters, including the failure of a Nudist Beach and a riot at a film premiere. It is left to Jim's American journalist girlfriend to save the situation and the reputation of the town.
It is not known if Marisa Mell was aware of the fact that, unfortunately, she was not the first choice by director Ken Russell to cast her as the French actress visiting the sea side resort. Nope, his first choice was actress Annette Vadim, ex-wife of French director Roger Vadim. Roger Vadim was known during the 60's as the man who made French actress and then wife Brigitte Bardot, a mega-star in Europe, when he filmed her in his cult movie "Et Dieu...créa la femme" (1956). After his relationship with Brigitte Bardot, Roger Vadim hoped to strike gold again by starting a relationship with a little known actress called "Annette Susanne Strøyberg" from Denmark.
The beautiful Strøyberg was born on the island of Fyn, in Denmark, on December 12th, 1934. Her father was a physician who died when she was quite young. She and her sister then moved to Copenhagen where she was raised. She found her way to Paris (France) in her late teens where she worked at couture houses as a model, later finding employment with such fashion notables as Chanel.Annette hooked up with Vadim during the filming of his legendary first feature "Et Dieu...créa la femme". Possessing Bardot's similar erotic balance of melancholy and fragility within her Lolita-like stunning looks, Vadim was immediately attracted to her, when Brigitte Bardot started up a heated affair with young co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant. Vadim moved in with Annette, who subsequently gave birth to their daughter Nadine in 1957. The couple married in June '58. Vadim then proceeded to build and groom a replica of Brigitte Bardot with Stroyberg. Her biggest chance for fame was when he put her on display in the film of the classic novel "Les liaisons dangereuses" (1959) as Marianne de Tourvel, the virtuous victim of the evil Jeanne Moreau and Gérard Philipe. Making her debut, Annette was stunning, of course but found herself quite outclassed by her cast, hardly ready for such a demanding role. And then came the role which gave her a cult status among Eurocult fans and vampire movie lovers.
She earned far more recognition when Roger Vadim cast her in his next movie as a society girl-cum-lesbian vampire Carmilla von Karnstein, falling in love with Elsa Martinelli, in "Et mourir de plaisir" (1960). The same Elsa Martinelli who seduces Marisa Mell in the Lucio Fulci movie "Una Sull'Altra".
By the time of the film's release, however, her marriage to Vadim was history. He had moved on to try and conquer up-and-coming actress Catherine Deneuve. Annette subsequently packed her bags for Italy where she made a few unmemorable pictures, reverting to her maiden name of Strøyberg on marquee boards. In between she managed to amass a number of love affairs with such available playboy actors like Vittorio Grassman, Roberto Rossellini, Alain Delon, Omar Sharif and Warren Beatty. Her last film was "Lo scippo" (1965). Giving up on her career, she turned socialite and married a French Moroccan, dividing her time between Paris (France) and Africa. When that marriage failed, she married a Greek shipping magnate, Gregory Callimanopulos, and settled for a time in America. She returned to Europe after their divorce. Strøyberg died at age 71 of cancer in 2005, and was survived by her three children, one from each of her marriages.
As often written on this blog, Marisa Mell refused to color her dark brown hair into another color so the only solution was to wear a wig like she did in this movie "French Dressing". When you compare the style of the hair of both women you can clearly see that Marisa Mell's wig is copying the hair style of Annette Vadim for her role as Carmilla von Karnstein. So one can assume that Ken Russell was a huge fan of the actress Annette Vadim and her role in that movie from 1960 and had her in mind to play the part in his first movie for the French actress Françoise Fayol. When Annette Vadim fell ill during the pre-production of this movie, he must have been very disappointed and started to look for another European actress to play the role! So it is quite remarkable that he asked Marisa Mell to accept the part because she had only played in a few German speaking movies.
It is not known how Ken Russell got to know the work of Marisa Mell and I wonder if Marisa Mell was aware that she was a copy (and I must say a very bad one with the horrible blond wig) in this movie of another actress. And being a copy of Annette Vadim could explain why she had to wear that wig instead of her beautiful thick brown hair for the role. French Dressing was a big box office disaster and gave the director for several years a trauma. It also ended the British career of Marisa Mell. The next year she relocated to Italy and starred in the cult movie "Casanova 70".


Anonymous said...

At the end of "French Dressing", she takes her blond wig off and walks out of the movie with her long, black mane. So the wig was a "gag" in the movie.

The DVDs are on their way to you. You shall have them by Wednesday.

Keith said...

Great info and photos. I enjoyed this post.

Anonymous said...

She was a truly remarkable lady.
Great blog!