Contact me at the Sabrina Site
Transcribed from the 2003 interview.
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|Note - I cringe now hearing how often I cut Sabrina off mid-sentence. I wasn't trying to be rude: the trans-Pacific telephone lag made it hard to tell when she started and stopped speaking. I have sometimes left out Sabrina's hesitations or "you knows" to improve readability. Where I have left them, they might be telling. If anyone notices incorrect transcriptions, please note the part number and let me know.|
Click the part number above to hear the recorded interview.
mark- G’day. Is that Sabrina’s place please?
j- Who’s this?
m- This is Mark from Australia.
j-Mark from Australia? Yeah, she’s right here.
m-How are you?
m-I hope this isn’t-
s-This is a surprise.
m-Is this too late to call?
s-No. No. No. I’m up ‘til about 5 in the morning.
m-I thought you might be.
m-I just wanted to thank you for your card and your letter-
s-Yeah, I got your letter, and I had drafted a letter and I had some points I had to clarify, and I made a kind of little note of them and so, as I said I just drafted a letter to you.
m-I hope you’re well.
s-Yeah – uh huh. I need another operation, you know, but it’s finding a doctor. I was telling you in the letter that the doctor who screwed me up was Australian. I put in the letter, I was wondering if you’d ever heard of him. His name was Doctor [deleted] but actually I call him Doctor Quack.
m-No I haven’t heard of him.
s-No he was from Melbourne or from Sydney. I never got around to asking him.
m-Can you tell me what the operation’s for?
s-I don’t know. I’ve been asked that question by the biggest professors at the University of California and Washington State and they all said “Why did he do that operation on you?” It was on my spine, you know, but he really butchered me and I told him that. Usually I put doctors on pedestals; probably that’s why I married one, but this time you know I just told him, I said, “You just butchered me” and I just had no qualms about saying it. But he just caused me a lot of problems. And so there we are.
m- I was thinking about your scrapbooks. And I’ve done a search on the internet and both FedEx and UPS can deliver to Australia and I can pay it at this end.
s- O it would cost you a fortune.
m- Well, it won’t be too much. I suppose it just depends on what they weigh.
s- O my God they’re like a ton of bricks. Well you know after all, paper is from wood. And these are, I mean, I’ve got scrapbooks from every country that I’ve worked in… South America and I’ve got two big ones from Australia and they’re like – oh… Joe, how big are those scrapbooks? About 18 inches by what? No, not ten! They’re not narrow! Yes! They’re bigger than 12. Yeah – about 14. They’re big. Four inches thick.
m-Yeah, they’ve got rates up to ten kilograms or 20 kilograms.
s- I don’t know what kilograms are.
m- Multiply by two for pounds. They can use a forklift to-
s- Forklift! No you don’t need a forklift!
m- Well, they have rates for forklifts too. So if you wanted to send them, either FedEx or UPS would be OK.
s- I was gonna send you- I have an album but you know, you would have to send them to me back.
s- Joe is telling me they’re too precious.
m- I’d certainly send them back.
s- He said they could get lost in the mail. The thing is there’s no price that you can put on such memories. You know I have my real personal albums and those I think are about what – 12 by 14? And there are a lot of snaps my husband took and things like that, which are kind of nice.
m- That sounds good.
s- Yeah, and if I took them out of the binders they wouldn’t be that heavy. I just would hate for them to get lost. O you know that night I was writing the letter?
s- It was funny, because I had on the shopping channel as background, you know, and I was writing that I didn’t know how to look at the negatives. You can’t- it’s hard to make out where they were and what – you know. And they’re not all black and white. They’re all colour, my negatives.
m- That’s good!
s- Yeah, and at that moment as I was writing that they brought on this thing where you can view your negatives and it prints them or something like that. Anyway about an hour or so later another one came on, so anyway it finished up I ordered them and I got both of them, but you’ve got to have a computer. You’ve got to hook it up to a computer so I’m back to square one. So now I’ve got two negative viewers but nothing to… [laughter]
s- There were 21 things in that [Mail on Sunday] article that were untrue. Because I mean the house next door to me has just sold for a million dollars and the one across the street sold for $700,000. And so here they’re saying I’m living in this run-down neighbourhood and the houses in the street are going for these big prices.
And the one across the street… my house … that only has oh – I don’t know, what [inaudible] – and just had a little back garden. ‘Cos a friend of mine used to live there and I was in the house and the garden was only about 20 feet in back and here I’ve got this huge lot, enough to put a swimming pool in, so my property is much more valuable than the one across the street.
So there are so many untruths… That Mary from next door – I only ever said hello to her. I never even spoke to her. She was taken away. Right after that she was taken away because she was getting lost. She was walking up and down. All the time she was walking around the neighbourhood. She had Alzheimers. So, whatever she said, none of it was true, and they used her as a source and she had to be taken away to be looked after because she has Alzheimers. And her mother said, “O she was getting lost and people were finding her and having to bring her home.” And so, that’s their source – she had Alzheimers.
So as I say, I had 21 things. In fact I’ll make a photocopy because it will give you a little idea of how untrue that article was.
m- Do you know how, or why, a lot of the magazines in the 60s said you came from Wales?
s- No! And actually I’m not really from Lancashire. I was born in Cheshire.
m- Yes, but several of the magazines seem to think you came from Wales.
s- I don’t know why.
m- And that you were born on some strange date. I’m just wondering whether you knew how that story came about.
s- What strange date was that?
m- February 2nd.
m- I don’t know where they got it from.
s- I must be the only person with two birthdays though because I really should celebrate Sabrina’s birth. That way I can make myself younger.
m- You actually have about four birthdays, according to the magazines.
m- Somewhere between 1936 and 1939, and somewhere between February and May.
m- ’36 and ‘39
s- Uh huh.
Note - see here for details of the birth date.
m- Cully, who’s one of the Sabrina fans, asked whether the Saint Trinians film, Blue Murder at Saint Trinians, was as much fun to make as it was to watch.
s- Well, I was hardly in it.
m- We all noticed.
m- It was a bit of a shame you never got to talk.
s- Ahh, yeah. They had some scenes and they had to condense it, and there were some more scenes with me.
m- There were some publicity stills of you-
s- Yeah, there were scenes of me in the gym slip, but I was like the school swat, and there were scenes of me in the uniform in the film but they got cut. I suppose they just wanted to use me for publicity reasons.
M – There was a story that the book you were reading in bed was by Dostoevsky-
s- Yeah, I read him every night!
m- That was because Marilyn Monroe said that she read a lot of books.
s- No, no. I don’t think that had anything to do with it.
s- But it’s funny you know… she married Arthur Miller and I was dating Abbey Mann, who I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of.
s- He’s a very famous – he wrote Judgement at Nuremberg and he did – he took his name away from it - but he did produce Kojak but then it was, you know, beneath him so he took his name off it but he was a top – a brilliant writer, and he had many academy awards and it was funny that I was dating a writer too.
He wrote – oh, what was the other one? – Ship of Fools and he did Martin Luther King – he did his biography and he got an academy award for that.
Find out more about whom Sabrina dated.
s- And I also dated Joe Dimaggio.
m- What did you think of him?
s- Very boring.
m- I think Marilyn thought the same.
s- Yeah, he had a boob fixation.
s- I didn’t do much modelling really.
m- Didn’t you?
s- No… No.
m- I thought you were quite big in the pinup world.
s- NO! Not at all! No. That really gets me upset, that I’m referred to as a model. And another thing that really P.O.’s me off is –
m- You can be honest if you like!
s- Yes I will be! – is that June Wilkinson who I think I only met – tops – I think, twice… and once she turned up at my 21st birthday party. And we had the same dress maker, and she came out with this story that, you know which is true: Carmen was making me this dress and I didn’t like it half way through so June Wilkinson bought it and said, “O, but I had to let it out.” But who adds two inches of fabric in the bust? You make a seam, you know, and I used to sew, and you have like a quarter of an inch seam. You don’t have two inches of superfluous fabric lying there so June Wilkinson could let it out to accommodate her bust.
And the other thing was this thing with the tape measure. And she was saying that she was my friend and everything and um-
m- You had a two-sided tape measure.
s- Yeah! Where does she come out… I never even thought of this!
m- It sounded good, though.
s- Yeah, but maybe this is something she did. But my mind didn't run to that.
s – A funny thing that happened, because somebody in England, some wealthy person challenged me about my waist being 17 inches and he had a belt made and he said that if I could put this belt on he would give a certain amount of money to a charity of my choosing.
But the crafty devil, he had the belt made – you can put on a belt and pull it in – but this one he had made of steel and to get it on you had to clip it over to – like, you had to go down to sixteen to get it on because he had, like, studs on it and you had to wrap it over – and I remember that the photographers coming around to my apartment and the reporter – and they did this – you know it was on the front page with this whole front page of my waist.
But it was funny because I tried to get it on – and you had to have a six – and it was made of steel and it went all the way round and – well, you’d have to have like a fifteen or a six- I know I was lying on the floor, and the reporter and the photographer, they were trying to get it on but, anyway, you know, we did. So the guy had to give the money to this charity.
You could tell how tickled pink Sabby was to get into that thing!
m- You did have a phenomenal waist, though.
s- Yeah, that was the secret of everything else, because of my tiny waist… I always said I didn’t have such a big bust, really. I never thought I did.
m- It’s all in comparison, isn’t it?
s- Yeah – I had such a tiny waist and I still do. Everything else looked – because I really had an hourglass figure.
m- When you did modelling at sixteen-
s- I wasn’t doing modelling at sixteen!
m- They said when you left Blackpool to go to London when you were sixteen-
s- Who were “they?”
m- Several articles.
s- Yeah… yeah…
m- They said you left Blackpool to go to London when you were sixteen and at that stage you weren’t having a lot of luck. You were doing waitressing in Soho bars and-
m- restaurants. And you got picked up by a photographer-
s- O my God!
m- and Arthur Askey, or Arthur Askey’s producer saw one of your pictures and thought you’d be good.
s- No, no, not true. I went to an audition at the BBC.
m- Straight from Blackpool?
S- No, no. I went to London, originally. I was dating the brother of Dickie Valentine, but that had little to do with why I went to London. I went to London to… I was making costume jewellery because while I was quite sick as a … you know I had polio and rheumatic fever and osteomyelitis all at once. Of course I always did everything in a big way.
M- Several articles said you had polio. One said you had rheumatic fever-
S- Yeah, well I did. I had them both. And osteomyelitis in my leg. What I was doing was occupational therapy. I went to work for a jeweller, that was it, and that’s how I learned how to make costume jewellery.
And then, what happened was, I was having to - trying to say - so long ago! I haven’t thought of this for a long time. Trying to get… so- I used to have to go and buy like necklaces and things and then I would break them up and make my jewellery from things that I would buy from the stores. Retail. This is after I left the jewellery manufacturer.
So I went to London to get my supplies. I went to Hatton Garden. And it was rather funny. I was about sixteen and I’d be behind this row of big businessmen who were buying grosses and boxes for several thousand pounds’ worth of jewellery and stuff. And of course Hatton Gardens is a diamond place in England and my turn would come and I’d say, “Well, I want twelve of these, and half a dozen of those” and I would drive the man absolutely mad because they’d have to be picking out twelve of this and other people would be buying grosses of things. And I’d have my little orders and I’d trot back to England, I’d catch the train back to England and I was making my jewellery.
And then – ahhh – I then went to London after that to- my mother… yeah. I had… my mother let me go back to London to be with this boyfriend but then I stayed in London and that’s when I got a job as a waitress.
But then, what happened was, I was living in the attic of this place, and it was a transport café and I had to get up at four in the morning and I didn’t finish work until like four or five in the afternoon and my leg began to play up because I’d had about eight surgeries on my leg, and at one time they were going to amputate it, and it started to play up on me because I was on it too long.
So this couple I was staying with kind of adopted me in a way. They had no children and they were very nice people. And of course my mother was having a fit that I was in London and she came down to London to take me back. And then she saw that these were nice people and she let me stay because by this time I was making my jewellery and the lady had a friend who had a friend who had a beauty shop, a hair salon, and she was selling my jewellery to her clients.
And then I had a lot of initiative so I made up samples of my jewellery and I went to several shops and big department stores and I got commissions to put my supplies in their shop. And this was when I was like sixteen.
And that's how I went to London.
m- One of the people who wrote to me said you went with David Whitfield [1925-1980]
s- No! Never did.
m- Do you remember a person called James Taylor?
s- Who's that?
m- He said he knew you in Blackpool. His email said you went to Claremont Girls' School...
s- No... don't think I did. No...
m- And you left in 19-
s- No, I went to Tilby Road*. I went to Tivoli High School*. But I don't think I ever went to - No. I didn't go to Claremont.
m- He said that you went to the Savoy Cafe on the Blackpool-
s- That's true. Ya.
m- Blackpool Promenade-
s- Yeah, when I was about 14 and 15. Ya.
s - I used to go to the Tower dancing. That's true.
m- At the Blackpool Cafe there were Shirley Abicair, there was an Australian zither player - I don't know who she was - and an American airforce pilot**.
s- But I was only 14 or 15! How could there be a-
m- This was apparently in 1952
s- How could I be friendly with an air force- [laughs]
*Google can't find any trace of these schools. Anyone know of them? Please let me know.
** Shirley Abicair is the zither player and was well known. Wikipedia says she was born in Australia in either 1930 or 1935 and went to London in 1953 and within weeks ended up on BBC TV. If she were in Blackpool in 1953, Sabrina would have been 16 or 17, which is contrary to evidence that she was already in London.
Shirley's father was an RAAF Wing Commander, so perhaps the "American pilot" was in fact her father?
m- He says you were not dumb as Askey and others claimed-
s- Arthur never said I was dumb... did he?
m- I think Askey implied it because he never let you talk.
s- No, but that was the gimmick.
m- He said he was honking horns and ringing bells around your bottom and breasts like a twerp.
s- No, never did. Arthur always treated me with the utmost respect. And he was a gentleman. No, no!
m- 'Norma was well-liked by her peers. When she was in the alcove with the other local girls at the Wintergardens Dance she sparkled. '
s- Yeah, I used to go dancing. Yeah. At the Wintergarden, ya.
m- Now it says your mother had a private hotel off Central Drive, Blackpool.
s- Yeah, little ho- no, it wasn't a big hotel, it was just, you know-
m- A B&B?
m- You went to Blackpool Claremont School from 10 to 15 years.
s- No. What?
m - From when you were 10 to 15.
s- No, I hardly went to school because I was in and out of hospital and I hated school. And in fact, as I was saying, the one school, Tilby Road I remember I used to always say 'Oh, I'm sick' and used to get notes from my mother. And my school was close to the beach, and I'd be lying on the beach sunbathing and suddenly my class would suddenly- the teacher would decide to have a lesson on the beach and I'd be lying there [laughs] and I'd have to make a quick getaway.
During the cookery lesson I used to pretend I was tired and I used to always be sleepy, the ovens made me sleep [?], and everyone would say "Ahhh, poor thing, she had a lot of sickness and everything. Don't bother her." 'Cause I said, "Well I'm not going to learn to cook because I don't intend to cook for any man..."
m- And you never have.
s- And stand over a stove- What?
m- And you never have.
s- Yes I did! I became a gourmet cook!
m- Did you?
s- In fact I dated [Rick] - well, he owns- it was Pioneer Chicken, which is similar to Kentucky Chicken. Yeah, well, he has a big chain of restaurants and Rick used to come here to my house and we used to go out to all the top restaurants and Rick never would eat chicken because he was tasting it every day because with him holding a chicken franchise and when I saw him giving my dog veal that was costing a fortune I figured I'd teach him a lesson and I pounded the chicken very thin and put a nice sauce on it and he said, "O my God that's the best veal I've ever tasted."
He said he would never eat chicken [with him having it] every day and so after that he said "O my God that's the- you make the best veal and this is- you've got the best restaurant in town." Little did he know he was eating chicken.
I did become a great cook.
m- I would never have imagined you becoming a good cook.
s- Ah... well! Many things are surprising about me.
s- Let me just go back to the modelling. Yeah, um. I just- for that Russell Gay- I did- because I- I was living in the studio and I had this German Shepherd and-
m- Was that Shane?
s- Yeah, and my jewellery business- I wasn't- oh! I left this couple and got my own little studio apartment - and I think that was when I got the Askey show - and I was living... And they were only paying me £15 (pounds) for every two weeks and out of that I had to buy my own gowns and so that's why I always had the reputation for being late because I would get a taxi for the last half a mile and I'd go on the underground, you know, because I couldn't afford it!
And if I had an interview with a reporter, I would - to arrive in style - I would show up in a taxi but little does he know I'd had to go on the tube. So I was always getting lost and was always late.
m- One of the articles said you weren't a very good driver. Is that right?
s- Why not? No! I was a great driver! He compared me to a kamikaze pilot, right?
m- Yes, yes!
s- Yeah, because I didn't back down. I would never give in to the taxi drivers and I scared the hell out of him. That was a sarcastic article. I remember it well. He said I was knocking down the milk bottles.
m- And he was living in fear.
s- Yeah, well, no... I was a great driver. Because taxi drivers expect you to give in but I didn't and when they realised I wasn't going to give in they let me go.
m- That sounds like you. Not giving way to other people.
s- I'm a Taurus. I can be stubborn, you know.
s- Going back to how I got the Askey show... I had two or three covers on a magazine, and just call me a model but I wasn't modelling at all. And this boyfriend of mine took me to a cocktail party and it was at this party that I met Frederick Mullally and he worked for Picture Post. And it was at the time that the Italian girls were making a big impact - you know Sophia Loren and Gina - and they were sort of saying "England has our own- we don't have to import them. We have our own sex symbols, whatever." So they put me on the Picture Post, on the cover...
And I think they referred to me as being a model but I wasn't, really.
m- A lot of people think you were.
s- No, I wasn't. And then what happened was an agent saw the Picture Post and he called me and said- and I went to his office- and he said, "I'd like you to put your name down on my books." And he represented Joan Collins and her sister Jackie and a lot of other top models and starlets and he said to me, "Can I put you down in my books?"
"Yeah, but," I said, " I'm not an actress." I was honest. And so he said, "Well, I'll put you down anyway and if anything comes up I'll give..."
Well about a week later I got a call from him and he said, "Look, they're having an audition at the BBC and they want a girl for the one night, and will you go along for the audition?" And I said, "Well... OK..." And then after I hung up a friend of mine was there and I said, "O my God, they want me to go for this audition" and I said "Oh, I'm not going". I said, "What have I got myself into? What kind of an audition will it be?"
Apparently it was only an audition on camera with Arthur Askey so this friend of mine- lucky he was there because I doubt if I would have gone... I was very shy. And he was there and he said, "Look, you're going to go." And he came back a week later, or whenever it was, and he made sure- and on the way I said, "No, stop the car. I want to go back." And he said, "No" and he stopped at a pub and he gave me a double Scotch to give me some Dutch courage and so I went on.
When I got there, there were all these glamour girls that I'd seen photographs of... Shirley Enfield and all the other girls, Eaton*...
*Sabby meant Shirley Eaton, not Enfield.
s- ... who was in Goldfinger. Who, by the way, Sean Connery wanted me to do that part.
m- Did he?
s- In Goldfinger, yeah. Sean, I knew since I was seventeen. He was a boyfriend of mine.* I knew Sean before he was even in James Bond, when he couldn't even afford to buy me a cup of coffee.
*See other Sabrina boyfriends here.
s- So, going back to the audition, all it was was an interview on camera with Arthur Askey who was just sort of asking questions etc and then when I came out of there I cursed the guy - this boyfriend of mine - and I said, "O my God that was embarrassing. That's my first and my last experience with show business." I said, "What did you make me do that for? That was embarrassing. All those girls there, they were talented and I was virtually the odd one out."
So then it was a couple of days later, that's when I got the call from the agent who said to me, "They've chosen you for the part!" and I said, "What part?"
He said, "Well, you know, Arthur Askey's starting a new series and you'll get a script in a few days..."
s- "By the way, they're going to call you Sabrina." and that's when I said, "I don't like that name." I'd just seen that movie that Audrey Hepburn was in, who- by the way I think you got the impression I don't like her, that I didn't like the name Sabrina.
s- I didn't for the first week, but then it grew on me and then I never used my real name again.
m- It's very hard on the internet because there are so many cats and porn stars called Sabrina.
s- [laughs] I know.
m- You should have picked something more distinctive maybe.
s- Well, who started it?
m- Well, that's the point!
m- They all copied you.
s- Yes of course! Well, I copied Audrey Hepburn. We have to give her credit.
Read up on the debate about who named Sabrina.
s- She was so elegant and classy and one of the best actresses.
m- It didn't seem as if you'd like Sabrina as a name.
s- No, I did. I did afterwards. It grew on me. And my mum would always call me Sabrina and the only person who ever called me Norma was Arthur! He would always call me "Norm."
s- So the agent said, "By the way, they want you to go on Friday evening to this cocktail party because they're launching this show, and they're going to call you Sabrina". And that's when I said "Arghh, I don't like that name" and he said, "Well, what do you care? It's only for one night."
And then I said, "Well, what am I going to be doing?" He said, "You'll be getting a script in a few days so don't worry. You'll get a script soon." So the script hadn't arrived when I got to the cocktail party.
And they introduced me as Sabrina, and when the press started asking me what I was going to be doing, of course I didn't know. And seeing that I am honest, they said "Are you going to be singing?" And I said "No- I'm not a singer."
And they said, "Oh, well. Are you going to be dancing?" and I said, "No, I don't dance."
And then they said, "Well, you must be an actress. Are you going to be doing sketches?" and I said, "No! I've never had an acting lesson in my life!"
So they said, "Well, what are you going to be doing?" and I said, "I don't know," which was the truth. By the next day every newspaper in England had me on the front page and it said, "Meet Sabrina. Turn your TV on at a certain date and at the moment she's keeping it a secret as to what she's going to do. But if you turn your TV on you're going to see what the big surprise is- what she can do."
But the truth of the matter is that I couldn't do anything and that's how it came out that I had no talent, because I was the one who said it.
Read one account of Sabrina's earliest days in the media - in 1955.
m- You did work hard on acting and deportment and musicianship and singing and everything-
s- Well fortunately I had a natural deportment. Somewhere - I don't know - in a prior life I must have been something because I know when I walked into a room-
m- You had it.
s- I had something. And I always thought I was Anne Boleyn reincarnated.
s- If I hadn't been honest and if I had said I was going to be singing or acting, that would have been it because they would have just written it down. But because of my telling the truth, that's how Sabrina was born.
And then what happened after that, I began to get so much publicity every day that by the end of the rehearsal [series/season?] the press were knocking down the door to take pictures of me. There was no way the few lines that I did have in the show could live up to all the publicity I got.
So they didn't know what to do with me. And then the writers came up with this idea that I wouldn't say anything. I know they had the song O Let Me Go Lover, which was a big hit at the time, and I know they had this big entrance where I came down this big flight of stairs and when I got to the mike - and they had this big chorus singing O Let Me Go Lover or something - and when I got to the mike Arthur came on and said, "No, not now. Come back later."
And I kept popping up throughout the show, making like "When am I going to get to sing?" and he said "Later, later" so I never did get to speak, to sing, and of course that drove everybody mad.
And - the show was every two weeks - they came up with a different gimmick where I didn't speak. It just blew out of all proportion. I mean people would stop me in the street and say, "Just say something to me. Do you really speak, or can't you speak?
And that's how it all started.
s- I knew Prince Phillip because he once, when I met him, he said to me, "You know, my son Charles has a big crush on you." And then he whispered, "As a matter of fact, so do I."
m- You could've been royalty.
s- Well, I dated Prince Christian of Hanover for two years...
m- And you ended up with Doctor Melsheimer.
s- ...and he wanted to marry me. But he was very - no sense of humour, like all Germans.
m- Yes. I don't think we'll spread that to Germany.
s- Well, Harold Melsheimer never had any sense of humour. I couldn't believe I ended up marrying a German.
m- Was he actually German or American?
s- No, he was American but he came from Germany. He was born in Germany.
m- It said in one article that you were attracted to him because he didn't know who you were. Was that important to you?
s- I think, maybe I've always been attracted to people who didn't know who I was.
m- Were you trying to get rid of the past?
m - You just liked being the average girl?
s- Maybe, ya. In fact I know that when I was doing my scrapbook - it was when I was married to Melsheimer - he never even bothered looking at them. I'd be thinking "That's nice what I've done"
m - And he wasn't interested in that?
s- I don't think so, no. I know he didn't want me to be in the theatre. He destroyed all my music which I'd paid - all my charts from my nightclub act - which cost me about 25,000 dollars, or pounds, whatever. He destroyed them all.
m - Why did he do that?
s- Because he didn't want me to work.
m- Did you have many offers in your married days?
s- I didn't look for it. People would- I was- I seemed to have had enough. I don't know. I just lost interest.
m - I supposed you'd had a long run between '54 and - what was it - '69 or so.
s- Yeah, yeah. I never had time to enjoy myself.
m- And I suppose the movies weren't really satisfying.
m- Well, in Stock Car, for example, your first movie, they overdubbed you.
m- And you never got to talk in your English movies*. In your American movies you were just this blonde bimbo, like in The Ice House. You got to talk a bit but-
s- Did I?
m- Have you seen the clips from-
s- No, I never saw them.
m- I've got some clips from The Ice House and House of Black Death...
m- ... on the Sabrina Site, and you were-
s- But when I came to Hollywood I was doing my nightclub act and this was at the time that the blonde bombshell era was over and I realised that. At that time they were looking for more down-to-earth types. Do you remember that Rita Tushingham type? The more homely type was in style.
m- I didn't think the blonde bombshell would ever go out of style.
s- Ya. There was a time when it was no longer- and I was just using Hollywood as a home base because I was travelling all over the world.
m- Was it true when you were in Cuba that Fidel [s- No!] Castro was a great fan of yours?
s- No, I only met him once.
m- It seemed that in the QT article that you were very friendly with most of the Communist government over there.
s- O MY GOD!
m- They seemed to be having meetings with you.
s- Jesus, I feel like- No! That was totally untrue. And they said that's why I couldn't get any work. Well, my God, I never stopped working. I did a show called Playgirls with Sheree North and Finger [?] and - you wouldn't know them but - and we were working up in Lake Tahoe and the Cal Neva Lodge that was owned by Sinatra. And then we were on tour with it. And then I did plays. I mean, I never stopped working.
m- But you decided to stop
s- And then I just- Yeah. When I got married I decided to stop.
s- Let me finish what I thought about Castro 'cos that really upset me. I met him once and that was at the TV studio, and he was doing one of his marathon broadcasts, and I was doing a TV show. He wanted to meet me afterwards and all he said to me was, "Welcome to my country. I hope you have a very pleasant time, and if there's anything you need please call my aide and they will take care of anything you need." And that was the extent of my conversation - not more than five minutes.
m- Apparently, he was calling American journalists and you were in the background having fun with his cabinet.
s- NO... that's not true! Then what happened was, there was one newspaper, Confidential that spliced a picture of him and myself together and put it on the front page, and were insinuating that we were having a romance - that was all.
'Cos he asked me - the press, the Cuban press - what I thought of Fidel. And - what are you going to say? "He's a hairy bastard"? No! I said it was either he had a lot of magnetism or charisma, or something like that, and that's all I said.
And that was- you know- I never heard from-
O yeah - he sent me a dozen chickens...
s- Painted in the revolutionary colours. [m-A dozen chickens!] They were green. Ya, a dozen green chickens. The thing was ... I had to keep them in the bath tub in my hotel. And every day I'd find one dead and I'd go "O my God, what's going to happen? Where do I get some more green chickens?"
I was afraid he was going to find out that I was killing his chickens off.
m- So what did you do with a dozen green chickens?
s- Well, they were just in my bathroom! And what could I do in a hotel room with a dozen chickens?
m - You could fry them.
s- Wouldn't be much of a meal.
m- I'm just wondering how a celebrity deals with a dozen green chickens from a dictator of an aggressive country.
s- Well they all died.
m- In the bathtub.
s- Well, yes. You know, I didn't know what to do with them.
m- It sounds wonderful.
s- [laughs] No. I was very upset.
m- It'd be very hard to take a bath.
s- It was. I'd have to pull them out of the bathtub, otherwise - you know - you'd have chicken dirt on you, wouldn't you? So I had to keep them there, I don't know.
m- The story gets more interesting every moment.
s- That was my involvement with Fidel.
Note: I now can only assume the chickens were actually baby chicks, which explains why they could not have jumped out of the bath nor provided "much of a meal".
m- A person called John Andrews would like to know how tall you were.
s- What do you mean "were"? You can't grow smaller!
m- Even I have shrunk in my 46 years but-
s- I'm not shrunk [laughs]
m- No, but he was wondering - he knows all of your measurements, all of your vital measurements from your heyday and he was wondering-
s- Five foot six.
m- Five foot six.
s- Uh huh.
m- Right. Because we've never mentioned that anywhere on the site and I thought it was a very good question.
s- And the thing is, everyone was saying to me, "O you're so tiny" when they'd meet me because I came across on TV as being- and of course standing next to Arthur who was very tiny... and I looked very big, tall. I'm actually relatively petite, actually quite small.
m- I thought you were, because of that waist [s- ya] you must be fairly petite-
s- Even now, you know, oh - I've got long, sort of reddish coloured hair-
m- I thought you were always a blonde.
s- No, no. When I let my natural hair go back to its own colour, it had a reddish tint to it because my mother was a redhead and I have sort of now got long red hair down my back.
m- All of the articles say you were a natural honey blonde.
s- No, I'm not, but what I like to do though is- I like to wear wigs, and I've got a lot of blonde wigs, all styles and shapes and colours and everything. So if I want to be blonde for a day when I go out, I'll be blonde, you know. I'll put on a wig. People will so, "Oh God, your hair is so beautiful". I'll say, "Oh, it's a wig". I always cop out.
But I've got wigs that are in bright- you know- red red. All colours, all shapes. I never have a bad hair day.
m- It'll be nice to see you in a picture as a redhead.
s- Oh yeah! I've even got some film of me as a redhead.
m - Have you? Great! Because most of your pictures were you in black and white and it was very hard to tell what colour you were.
s- I'm in black and white?
s- O God, that's why you'd love to see my albums.
m- It would be fascinating. I think most of your fans would be delighted to see you as you really were.
s- Also too, what would be nice is all the reviews I got for shows I did. Where it said I was a good actress, and this and that. I did the play Rattle of a Simple Man* which I never left stage for. There was like two and a half hours - I was on stage the whole time. And it was really basically a two character play.
m- That's a lot of acting.
s- Ya! And I got very good reviews on that. In fact it was very funny. It was here in Hollywood that I did the play and it was with an English man, Bernard Fox. He said - and he's very sarcastic - you know. British people have that wit - and he said, "Bloody hell. I have to come to America to bloody well work with you." You know, implying that I wasn't an actress or anything. And then opening night, or I should say the night after, when all the reviews came out I went in to knock on his door and went into his dressing room and "Oh!" he said. "I'm a fifth generation of actors and I have to come to bloody America to work with you." Something like that. So when all the reviews came out I knocked on his door and I threw all the reviews on his table and I said, "There you are Bernie. It took me one night to knock out five generations of actors." [laughs] That's a true story.
*August 1966-7, Ivar Theatre, Los Angeles. Sabrina was 30. I remember Bernard Fox as Dr Bombay in Bewitched.
m- I'm just wondering how you got from a working class background in a small town to be one of the greatest publicity experiences that the United Kingdom-
s- And I never had a publicity agent!
m- You never had one?
m- They kept talking about you having an agent.
s - No, I had a photographer, Joe Matthews [contemporary reference], who was acting as my manager in England. And it started out by him taking me to - he would ask me to go out to a certain dinner dance for some charity organisation and of course his-
s- his gimmick was, him being a photographer, all the people at a dinner dance wanted a picture with me and he'd sell the pictures to all the people so they had a picture with Sabrina. And like a friendship developed and he became my manager. He was also like a chaperone to me too. Noone was ever good enough for me. And he would always, if I was going out on a date, he'd always take me there and pick me up so nobody ever got to be alone with me.
m- I always thought your mum was your chaperone.
n- Because she seemed to be everywhere that you were.
s- No. I took her to Australia. Then I met that terrible guy Ray Bolwell. She didn't like him so she went home.
m- She didn't take you with her?
s- Well, I was still under contract to Tivoli Theatre. He was a bastard.
Sabrina and manager Ray Bolwell at Mascot
m- It must be hard in the industry with the casting couch and everything. [s- No] Trying to get on.
s- No, I never had that problem. No.
m- I thought you must have been sort of pestered by all sorts of people who were thinking that they could do you a favour [s- No] if you could do them a favour.
s- No. Never did.
m- That's a surprise.
s- No, because I already had a name. And they couldn't offer me something I didn't have already.
m- The thing that some people say that really stopped you from becoming the big superstar like Marilyn was that you never posed nude after you became famous. Was that because of religious beliefs or you just didn't want to or you didn't have to or what?
s- Didn't have to.
m- But did you see that the potential was there?
s- O yeah, that's all so true. That's what happened too in- a lot of nudity was in the films in Hollywood. I forgot about that. That put me off also.
n- It just didn't take your fancy. You weren't that way.
s- No, no. Marilyn was an exhibitionist, wasn't she? She like to run around in the nude all the time?
m- I never saw her do that, but-
s- No you wouldn't see her do that! [laughs]
m- No, but she was a strange sort of a girl. You always seemed very controlled and you knew what you were doing.
m- Did you always have that? Were you in control?
s- Uh huh.
m- Did you get that from your parents?
s- I was just born with it.
m- As a survival skill.
s- And my mother was very astute.
m- Did she give you much guidance?
s- No, not in the theatre because she was just happy when I took her with me.
m- So, when you said you were going to London, what did your mum say?
s- She had a fit! She got onto the next train and tried to bring me back. And then she saw I was with these nice people so she let me stay there. It was funny: she let me go with this boyfriend. She wouldn't have let me go on my own but she let me go with this boyfriend 'cos he said he'd look after me. [laughs]
m- That's even stranger.
s- She liked him, and he said he'd look after me. But she didn't know that when I got there I left him and got on the next train to London.
m- You went from- [s-Blackpool] Blackpool? And you went to where from Blackpool? Was it straight to London or somewhere else?
s- No, I went to Bournemouth for a day. And that's where the boyfriend was. And then I went to London.
m- And when you went, were you aiming for something in particular or did you just want to get out of where you were?
s- Well, I had been to London before because I had gone to Hatton Gardens for the jewellery so when this person said he wanted me to go on a holiday, she let me go. But I just thought, "O great! I can go to London and stay for a week or so."
Note - As you may tell from my questioning, I was (and still am) very confused about this entire sequence of events. If I'm right, Sabrina said she was going from Blackpool to Bournemouth for a holiday with the boyfriend. When she gets to Bournemouth, she leaves him and goes to London with the intention of a short holiday there. She finds the nice couple and stays with them. Annie, her mother, finds out Sabby is in London and has a fit, hops on the train and goes to London to bring Sabby back. Annie sees the nice couple and lets Sabby stay.
m- There was a TV producer who says he's got a copy of 'At Home With Sabrina' [click to see it] where you do some vacuuming. [s-Uh huh] Do you remember that one? [s-Uh huh] Can you tell us about that? It seems to be a very big thing on the internet, about you vacuuming.
s- [laughs] That was just a little thing- eight millimetre thing, film, 'At Home With Sabrina'. It was just a - I don't know - ten minute film.
m- There was also another film called 'Sabrina Takes a Bath'-
s- No. No! [laughs] They made another one, I think 'A Night Out with Sabrina' [actually Good Night With Sabrina has the bath sequence- click to see it]
m- I haven't heard of that one.
s- There they had a bubble bath. I had a bathing suit on underneath and there was all bubbles in the bath. Maybe they're getting confused. I have it somewhere.
m- This guy who said he knew you at Blackpool, he also said that a well-known Blackpool photographer of the day he knocked around with did a nude photoshoot-
m- Apparently there were several pictures of you getting into the bath-
s- No, not me.
m- And then the suds covered you-
s- No. No.
m- And then apparently-
s- I would be very, very young! [laughs]
m- Well, yes! That's the question. Because if you sixteen or so it would have been a bit of a worry.
s- I wouldn't- I wouldn't - yeah, yeah. Ya - it wasn't me at all.
m- It must've been someone else.
s- The only pictures I did, that was so I could feed my Doberman- my German Shepherd.
m- Do you remember the shots- the first shots we've got of you are from 1954, tenth of April, when you appeared on the cover of Blighty.
m- And is that the earliest that you remember being on a magazine cover?
s- Yeah, uh huh.
m- We've got- we've got nothing else-
s- There were no more covers because I wasn't a model*.
m- They seem to think you were.
s- Well "they" are wrong!
m- Well, I suppose you were posing in front of a camera so they must've thought you were a model.
s- Yeah. I may have done a couple of photography shoots, but that was, you know- I wasn't a model.
m- They said, "Lovely Norma Sykes provides this week's cover and very attractive she is too." [s- giggles] "When not posing, Norma makes and sells earrings"-
s- Jewellery. Wasn't it- I had some jewellery around me?
m- No, you had no- you had earrings.
s- O no. I can visualise- see the picture now. I think I've got one hand up and down my leg-
m- You seem to be pointing at your earring.
m- And sort of a 1940s hairstyle.
s- Yeah. I'd gone to- I never went to a hairdresser and I'd gone to a hairdresser that day and that's what they did to me. I always did my own hair.
m- Did you?
s- Uhmm hmmm.
m- That's interesting. It says, "In fact she's pretty and clever."
s- Mmm mmm. That was nice of them.
m- Yes! Probably better that a lot of the other articles which seemed to think you didn't have many brains.
[If you don't count these covers - Ed.]
s- I never thought of myself as a singer. Although I did put on a good nightclub act. But I never ever felt I was a singer.
m- I thought your songs were very good actually.
s- You did? I never did- heard them since they were played*
m- I find myself sort of humming them occasionally.
s- You do?
s- I had a terrible cold that day. I didn't want to do it because - "awww, I can't". And then I know they took- I had to go to a doctor to drain my sinuses because I had a terrible cold. And they had this whole orchestra all booked and everything and Norman Newell** was having kittens because I couldn't speak. I was- So he had to take me to a Harley Street doctor to drain my nose so I could sing. [laughs]
m- You sounded very well in the end.
s- But that's what happened with that record, and I always hated it because I thought, "O, I could have done better", you know?
* On radio, I assume.
m- It was a shame you didn't get into any bigger movies.
s- I worked for two years at the Prince of Wales theatre in London.
m- What were you doing there?
s- I had a big rev- was in a big revue at the Prince of Wales, in The Pleasures of Paris.
m- O yeah.
s- And it was a big extravaganza show. That's why I get so upset when people put me in this category with like June Wilkinson. [laughs] Hugely. I really do. [m-Yes] And Betty Boop or whatever it is.
s- Remember I was trying to get the [nudie card] pictures- you said I was trying to get the pictures back, or something?
s- Something about Scotland Yard or something?
m- O they made a lot about that, yeah.
s- Yeah, but the only thing that happened was this photographer said "They're selling these pictures of you." Because he wanted a story and I was naive enough to go with him. And my mother came too. And it was just a matter of- we went there to supposedly buy the pictures up, you know? And nothing else happened.
m- It played big in the English press. They said you were- they basically said you were throwing tantrums-
s- O God, no.
m- and claiming that you were poor and broke and you were only- sorry... ' "I was broke," she wailed, "I had to earn a few shillings."'
m- And this was in London when you went to see Detective Sergeant Glander, I think it was, and he said "he wouldn't rest until he had the full collection on his desk."
m- And the heading is "Bared - the picture that Sabrina will give £10,000 [pounds] to get back"
m- And it seemed to think you were throwing tantrums and tearing up cards all around London.
m- O. That's a bit of a disappointment.
s- Not true.
m- Did you deliberately decide that you'd never pose nude-
s- They only paid me 15 shillings-
m- And even when your popularity-
s- And that was the extent of it, the one on the card, you know, the playing card. [m- Yes] That was the extent of them.
m- It seemed that you had some deep moral objection to being found nude in public.
s- Well, it was very embarrassing, especially when my mum and dad didn't know about it. Suddenly one morning I woke up and it was on the front page. And I think I wanted, you know, I was almost suicidal when it came out... when the paper came and my mother saw it and before my dad got up. And I thought, you know, "Let's keep the paper from him". It was very bad.
m- It would have been embarrassing, yes.
s- Luckily he never knew.
m- It's not the sort of thing you tell your mum, is it?
s- Well, I had to.
Note: I now wonder why Sabrina was at her parents' house in Blackpool, and not in London, when the news broke in 1956. Was it a coincidental visit, or was did she know what was about to happen?
m- OK. Thanks very much Sabrina.
m- It's been wonderful to talk to you again.
s- Thank you Mark.
m- And I'll get back to you soon.
s- God bless.
m- Bye Bye.
s- Bye Bye.
Page Created: 21 August 2006
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