Rachel Roberts was born in Llanelli, Wales, on 20 September 1927. She studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she won the Athene Seyler Award for Comedy. She made her professional stage debut as Ceres in The Tempest at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1951. Her fellow performers included Richard Burton, Alan Badel, Michael Redgrave, Hugh Griffith, Barbara Jefford, and Ian Bannen (how's that for cast?).
Roberts made her film debut in 1954's Young and Willing, a drama about female convicts starring Glynis Johns. Throughout the 1950s, she worked steadily on the stage, in film, and in a television adaptation of Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend (which co-starred a young David McCallum). She also met and married actor Alan Dobie in 1955; the couple divorced six years later.
Rachel Roberts' big career break came in 1961 with Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. She played an unhappy middle-class wife who has an affair with a younger man (Albert Finney) and becomes pregnant. Her searing performance earned her the Best British Actress award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).
Despite her critical acclaim, Roberts worked mostly in British television for the remainder of the 1960s. There were a few bright spots, such as co-starring with Dirk Bogarde in an adaptation of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit. In 1968, she starred with husband Rex Harrison, whom she had married four years earlier, in the film A Flea in Her Ear.
Around that time, Roberts moved to the U.S., where she starred in made-for-TV movies and guest starred on TV series such as Night Gallery and Marcus Welby, M.D. After she and Harrison divorced in 1971, her film career took off again. Lindsay Anderson cast her in O Lucky Man! (1973), a modern-day Candide in which Roberts played three roles. Indeed, most of the cast--including Helen Mirren and Ralph Richardson--played several characters (though star Malcolm McDowell did not). This imaginative satire, punctuated by Alan Price's terrific songs, earned Roberts her best critical praise in years.
|In Murder on the Orient Express.|
During this same period, she also appeared on the Broadway stage, in plays such as a revival of The Visit and the original farce Habeas Corpus. For the latter, she won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play.
Despite her steady work on stage and in film and television, Rachel Roberts never recovered from her divorce from Harrison. In deep depression, she committed suicide in her home in Los Angeles in 1980. Twelve years later, Lindsay Anderson spread the ashes of Roberts and her friend, actress Jill Bennett, in the Thames while Alan Price sang Is That All There Is? The scene appeared as a surprisingly upbeat tribute to life in Anderson's otherwise satiric 1995 documentary about himself, also titled Is That All There Is?
During the ceremony, with the actresses' friends throwing flowers in the river, Anderson said: "(Roberts and Bennett) both had great humor and great zest. I know-- up there--they'll be having a good laugh."
All this week, you can enjoy the Oscar Blogathon: Best Actress of 1963, hosted by Classicfilmboy's Movie Paradise.
Tuesday, Feb. 22: Kevin's Movie Corner will present Shirley MacLaine in Irma La Douce.
Wednesday, Feb. 23: Classicfilmboy will cover Leslie Caron in The L-Shaped Room.
Thursday, Feb. 24: ClassicBecky's Film and Literary Review will examine Patricia Neal in Hud.
Friday, Feb. 25: Noir and Chick Flicks will look at Natalie Wood in Love With the Proper Stranger.