Thursday, July 1, 2010

Underrated Performer of the Month: Diana Rigg

Every time I mention Diana Rigg in a blog post, she generates a plethora of positive comments. So, for all we Dame Diana fans, I wanted to pay a brief tribute to one of the most versatile and reliable actresses of her generation—both in the cinema and on the stage.

After guest stints in a handful of TV shows, Diana Rigg secured lasting fame as Mrs. Emma Peel (the name a play on “man appeal’”) in the classic British series The Avengers. I’m convinced that if she had done nothing else, there would still be plenty of Diana Rigg fan clubs around the world. (And if you think the role was easy, watch Uma Thurman struggle with it in the 1998 big screen adaptation of The Avengers).

Regarding her famous first-season costume, she once said: “The leather catsuit I wore in The Avengers was a total nightmare. It took a good 45 minutes to get unzipped to go to the loo. It was like struggling in and out of a wet-suit….I got a lot of very odd fan mail while I was in that show, but my mum used to enjoy replying to it. Some of the men who wrote to me must have been a bit startled because she would offer really motherly advice. I would get a letter from a teenage boy, say, who was overexcited and my mother would write back saying: ‘My daughter is far too old for you and what you really need is a good run around the block.’ "

Her post-Avengers film career included the tongue-in-cheek The Assassination Bureau (with Oliver Reed), the witty theatrical satire Theater of Blood (she plays Vincent Price’s daughter), and a portrayal as the only Mrs. James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Agent (in spite of George Lazenby, this is one of my favorite 007 films). Concurrently, she gained acclaim on the stage, earning Tony nominations for Best Actress in 1972 and 1975 (she would eventually win a Tony in 1994 for Medea).

For the rest of her acting career, she moved back and forth among the theatre, the big screen, and the small screen. She earned kudos for dramatic parts in the TV miniseries In the House of Brede, Bleak House, and Rebecca (as Mrs. Danvers). She showed off her singing voice in the 1977 film version of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music (my wife and I were in London when she did Sondheim’s Follies on stage, but a ticket was not to be found). In 1982, she expertly pulled off the Marlene Dietrich role in an entertaining TV version of Witness for the Prosecution and brought sparkle to the part of a murder suspect opposite Peter Ustinov’s Hercule Poirot in Evil Under the Sun.

The only significant blight on her stellar resume is the ill-advised 1973 American sitcom Diana, in which she played a divorcee living in New York. She has much more success with her other U.S. TV series gig—hosting PBS’s Mystery! from 1989 to 2003.

At age 71, she continues to act, most recently appearing as a nun (as she did in House of Brede) in the 2006 version of The Painted Veil.

So, Dame Diana fans, it’s your time to chime in!


  1. There's nothing not to love about Diana Rigg (that I can think of)...a wonderful combo of smart & appealing, she was an intriguing "role model" to women of my era...Diana Rige was also wonderful in Paddy Chayefsky's pre-NETWORK satire, THE HOSPITAL with George C. Scott...loved her when she was hosting "Mystery" on PBS not so long ago...thanks, Rick, for spotlighting this unique last-half-of-the-20th-century legend...

  2. As you know Rick I LOVE Dame Diana! She also did a Mystery! series of her own "Mrs Bradley Mysteries" which were set in the 1920's and she rocked it! I was also impressed with her Mrs Danvers in Rebecca. Thanks for highlughting her!

    1. She also got to introduce herself playing the lead in Mother Love, playing a chilling psychotic in a murderous mini-series that had streaks of humour. Another award winner, it seems to have vanished & really deserves a reissue.

  3. Every time I mention Diana Rigg in a blog post, she generates a plethora of positive comments.

    That's because Dame Diana is "da bomb," as the young folks say. (Seriously--she is one amazingly sexy and talented thesp.) I second Eve's comment about her performance in The Hospital, one of my very favorite flicks.

  4. Gilby, you'e so right about Diana Rigg's "Mrs. Bradley" series (she was delightful as the slightly risque Agatha Christie-esque lady detective)& I also enjoyed her Mrs. Danvers, Judith Anderson is a near-impossible act to follow...

  5. Rick, this is an excellent tribute to an extraordinary performer. She was perfectly paired with Patrick Macnee in "The Avengers." I loved her strength and intelligence, and thought she made it quite fashionable to be brunette and gorgeous.

    Her resume includes several of Shakespeare's works but the only one I recall seeing is "King Lear." I would love to see more of these.

    Thank you for reminding us of the beautiful Dame Diana Rigg. Well done!

  6. Ivan, I agree! Dame Diana is indeed da bomb. I haven't seen the MRS. BRADLEY series, but am now definitely interested. I wasn't sure she could compare to Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers, but she was quite good (as was that whole adaptation). And, of course, she was incredible in THE AVENGERS...I loved her sly smile.

  7. Rick...Loved your Underrated Performer of the Month: Diana Rigg, post. One of my favorite Diana Rigg, performances was, The Avengers.

  8. I think Dame Diana Rigg may very well be the most beautiful woman of all time.