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The curious incident of

Cinderella Nightingale

In 1958, Robert Muller's novel Cinderella Nightingale was released. Sabrina sued the author and publisher for libel and all copies of the book were withdrawn from sale (except for Australia where I found a hardback first edition!)

A 'revised' edition was released by Pan in 1962.

Cinderella Nightingale

Written by Robert Muller, and published in 1958 by Arthur Barker, Cinderella Nightingale is "a tale of an ambitious shop-girl". A Cinderella Bibliography reports about Cinderella Nightingale:

“What human blood was to a vampire, the devotion of the camera was to Iris Littlewood.” Raped by her father when she was thirteen, Iris tries to make a career for herself. She works first as a waitress, then does some modeling. Endowed with a mythically gorgeous body, but with little talent for acting, she gets a break with a photographer, Miles Meyerstein, who gives up his career to become her agent. He succeeds in getting publicity for her, and she becomes a top professional model. She begins as Mona Martin, but Miles gives her the name that gets her ahead–first Tess Nightingale, then Cinderella Nightingale. Miles falls in love with her, but she is incapable of loving in return, casts him off when he asks her to kiss him, takes a new publicity agent named Angell and manages, in Monte Carlo, to get cast in the leading role of Ed Hochstetter’s new movie Adam’s Eve. In a desperate effort to regain her attention Miles gambles everything away, even his Leica camera. She goes to Hollywood: it “seems our Cinderella found her Prince Charming” in Hochstetter, who is as cold as she. Miles goes to the beach with his old friend Sam, they meet another young girl who would like to be a starlet, and the story starts over, albeit cruel, empty, and painful."]

29 July 1958

Sabrina 29 July 1958 at court suing for Cinderella Nightingale libelLondon, England, United Kingdom - NORMA ANN SYKES escorted on her arrival at the Law Courts for her hearing on suing London publisher Arthur Baker Ltd. for alleged libel.

Read more of other times when Sabrina was in court.

Read more of what Sabrina was doing in 1958.

It was a "sizzling, up-to-the-minute close-up of the amoral machine that turns a beautiful body into big business'. Its story of Iris Littlewood, an ambitious shop-girl who becomes 'the darling of the photographers, the prey of the columnists".

There is ITN news footage of Sabrina arriving at court - sadly neither the 9 seconds of footage nor the date is available, but the summary is: SABRINA AT LAW COURTS: She arrives at Court for hearing of libel case against a Publishing company. SCU Sabrina arrives at Court escort: Sal by a man - walks towards and holds on end. She is dressed completely in black and covered up::" (Source)

The Offending Passage

Cinderella Nightingale, by Robert Muller
First Edition, 1958. Page 208. Added 14 Jan 2013.
Note: 'Iris' is Cinderella Nightingale's birth name.

See more below


“She’s had it rough, you can’t deny that.”
“I don’t know,” Sam said, “as far as I can see, it’s been roses, roses all the way for her.”
“Her home was no bed of roses, was it? ”
“You mean that old man of hers? ” Miles asked.
Brian nodded.
“What about her old man? ” Sam asked. “What’s the story? He’s in a looney-bin, isn’t he? ”
“No,” Brian told him, “he’s in jug.”
“Whatever for? ” Miles asked.
“She told you, surely. About what he did, I mean? ”
Only some story about him throwing a frying-pan at her mother. Was there something else? ”
“Is that all she told you? ” Brian asked. Then he withdrew as though, after a long telephone conversation, he had suddenly discovered that he had been connected to a total stranger.
“Well, go on,” Sam said impatiently, “what did she tell you?
Brian scratched his cheek.
“This is a bit of a turn-up,” he said. “I thought she’d told Miles the lot, Iris I mean, them being friends and all.”
“You better assume we know nothing,” Sam said, “come on, let’s have it.”
But Brian refused to be rushed.
“She told me after we got friendly,” he muttered.
“Maybe we never got that friendly,” Miles said bitterly. “By the way, how friendly did you get? ”
“Never mind about that now.” Sam was almost beside himself. “Let’s have the dirt on the old man.”
Brian shifted in his chair. “If you must know,” he said truculently, “he’s inside for trying to do her.”
“To kill her, you mean? ”
“No, not to kill her.”
Sam passed the cigarettes round. Miles struck a match. They all inhaled.
“So?” Sam said. “Go on, Brian.”
“Well, she makes out he only tried, but if you ask me, he must have got pretty far, else they wouldn’t have put him inside for fifteen years, would they? ”
“No,” Sam said with finality, “they wouldn’t.”
“How old was she at the time? ” Miles enquired.
“I’m not sure. Thirteen, I think. Just a kid anyway. It’s disgusting. Mum thought of keeping it quiet at first, but the old sod bashed her up one night, so she went to the cops and told them. What are you looking at me like that for? ”
“I just thought of something,” Sam said, rolling his cigarette between thumb and forefinger. “The two of you must have got pretty friendly for her to tell you all this.”
Brian watched his own feet tracing the designs on the carpet. “She’s funny like,” he explained. “Only goes for the rough and tumble. I can’t make her out.”

Bullet29 June 1958 - BATTLE OF THE BLONDES.

From Roderick Mann in London

SABRINA may take legal action to stop production of a film she claims is based on her own life.

The film is "Cinderella Nightingale" — which tells the story of a blonde's rise to fame on the strength of her vital statistics.

Already Sabrina has had the book on which the film is based withdrawn from the bookstalls.

She said this week: " 'Cinderella Nightingale' was all about me. They said it wasn't, of course, but it was.

"And it contained a cruel libel against my father and myself. I had no alternative but to stop it."

Sabrina said the film would cut right across a film she was planning to make — "The Sabrina Story."

At Associated-British Studios at Elstree, where "Cinderella Nightingale" will be made, Carole Lesley, who is to star in the film, said: "Fancy Sabrina thinking she could get my film stopped.

"What conceit. And, anyway — how can she suggest I'm going to caricature her in the film? There's no comparison."

Bullet14 August 1958 - The Stage, p.3 - Thursday

Sabrina Gets Apology

Sabrina and her rather were wrongly identified with two unpleasant characters in a novel, it was stated in the High Court in London last week. She was given an apology by the publishers and the book has been withdrawn from circulation.

8 October 1959 - Daily Express

'Publish' says Sabrina
Actress Sabrina is willing that the novel "Cinderella Nightingale" shall he republished provided certain incidents which could have been taken to refer to her life are cut out.
This was said in the High Court yesterday when an action brought her and her father, Mr. Walter Sykes against author Robert Muller was withdrawn.
They accepted his assurance that he never intended any passage to be read as referring to either of them.

8 October 1959 - Daily Mirror

Sabrina Gets An Apology

Sabrina got an apology yesterday from the the author of a novel entitled "Cinderella Nightingale" which portrays the life of a TV and variety star.

She claimed that the book contained passages which could have been taken from HER life.
And, she complained, other passages threw an unpleasant light on the career of the book's principal character and her father.
Sabrina, 23 - real name Norma Sykes - and her father, Mr. Walter Sykes, sued the author, Robert Muller, in the High Court.

Mr. Justice Pault gave leave for the action to be withdrawn after hearing that Mr. Muller "sincerely regretted" any embarrassment caused.

Mr. Anthony Lincoln for Sabrina — who is at present in America - said the book had been withdrawn. and Mr. Muller had agreed to pay the costs of the court action.

Sabgrina and her father had no objection to a new edition of the book if the passages complained of were adjusted, he added.

Sabrina discusses the incident in a 1961 magazine article...

I was libelled

Taking a rise out of Sabrina became almost a national pastime. A book called "Cinderella Nightingale" was published, and the heroine resembled me too closely for there to be any mistake as to who it was intended to be.

The additions in this case gave me no alternative but to sue the publisher and the author for libel. I won the case, and all the remaining copies of the book had to be recalled from circulation. By then, however, much of the damage had been done.

In the book "J. Lee Thompson" by Steve Chibnall, it says:

After Ice Cold, Lee Thompson made two more monochrome dramas of men and women in 'fraught' circumstances' - No Trees in the Street and Tiger Bay, postponing his planned starring vehicle for Carole Lesley, Cinderella Nightingale.

Robert Muller's book about the exploitation of feminine beauty in the film world was published in 1958 and would have made a fascinating exercise in self-reflexivity both for Lesley and for Lee Thompson.

When it was published in paperback by Pan in 1962 the advertising blurb called it a 'sizzling, up-to-the-minute close-up of the amoral machine that turns a beautiful body into big business'.

Its story of Iris Littlewood, an ambitious shop-girl who becomes 'the darling of the photographers, the prey of the columnists, the favourite "pin-up" of a fickle public' has resonances in the careers of both Diana Dors and the more tragic Carole Lesley.

The growing demands for Lee Thompson's services meant that the film was never made, and Lesley was obliged to make Operation Bullshine (Gilbert Gunn, 1959) instead. A similar story by Muller was filmed by Val Guest in 1964 as The Beauty Jungle. Ironically, it starred Janette Scott, who had played the ambitious ingenue in Lee Thompson's The Good Companions.

EDITOR'S NOTE 2011

It's interesting that Diana Dors and Carole Lesley (click the link for a spookily familiar biography) were mentioned as being the 'real' Cinderella, but not Sabrina who found it most libellous. Actually, Carole was lined up to be in the film.

It's a little interesting that the main character in the novel is not Cinderella Nightingale. More time is spent with the Miles character, with Cinderella being obverved from outside. The extract below, set in Cinderella's mind, is an uncommon exception...

A Taste of the novel

Cinderella Nightingale, by Robert Muller
First Edition, 1958. [Added 14 Jan 2013]

Chapter 10

AT four o’clock in the morning, after the All-Star midnight Matinee at the Palladium, Iris let herself into her flat and turned on all the lights. There was no message, as she had hoped, from her mother; only a typed note from her secretary listing telephone callers and informing her that she had given [pet] Jerry his supper.

Iris crunched the paper into a tight ball, and fell back on her bed. For a few moments she lay quite still, listening to her own breathing. Then she switched on the electric fire and closed her eyes. She felt too weary to undress, or wash her face, or boil some water for tea. All she longed for was sleep, or, at least, a good releasing cry.

If only she hadn’t had that row with Mum. Fancy her sulking for days, because she hadn’t introduced Geoffrey to her. Just because he was Lord Ragsdale. If they asked her, she’d turn him and his lot in for a nice tin of Heinz’s tomato soup, right now, cooked with a bit of Marmite, the way Mum did it.

Not that Geoffrey was worse than the rest of those duty dates. But it was no joke going out with people what treated you like a prize cow.

Even if you got to like one of them, it could never amount to anything. If you let him have a bit of a cuddle, there was always the danger they found out about the padding, and it would be all over the West End by next evening ; in the papers, too, no doubt. And so much for your career, Miss Nightingale. So hands off it had to be, and she was getting sick and tired of saying no to people who thought she was kidding.

What a cheek, trying to get round her when all they went out with her for was getting their names and pictures in the papers. Come to think of it, they probably didn’t like her any more than she liked them. . . .

Like that other evening, when Geoffrey had taken her to a show. Hadn’t bothered to warn her that it was the Old Vic. She’d almost dozed off in the last act, with all those kings and people shouting about nothing. But then, there you was again, if you was Tess Nightingale you couldn’t just slink out, else all the papers would be full of it next morning. And that night club afterwards. Shuffling about and talking in that funny way. As if she cared about Old Toby and his ruddy Mater. And everybody staring at her cleavage all night, like they’d want to order it for dessert or something. . . .

Too tired now to get up and undress, not sleepy enough to find sleep, she put her thumb in her mouth and tried to turn on the tear switch. For once the mechanism refused to work.

She stretched out her arm, lifted the receiver off the hook and let it dangle, purring, from the table. Then she grabbed a cushion and held it over her head. It was awful sleeping alone. Tonight it would come on again, she was sure of it, with her head feeling like a mine, and a million little men with pick­axes digging for coal. If only there was someone she liked. . . . Brian could help, he didn’t worry about her being 37½ or 37 or what. Trust him not to care whether she was alive or dead.

They was all so soft, the others, always asking, like a lot of silly kids. That wasn’t the way a man did it. They didn’t have much sense, did they? A familiar horror swept over her. Didn’t they know you wasn’t supposed to like it? Didn’t they know you died from it if you liked it too much?

Tomorrow, singing lessons again. The way [her agent] Miles liked to boss her around. Do this, do that. He didn’t have to do any of it himself. That bloody professor with his scales and more scales. She could murder him—and that dancing academy. Good job that chap was giving her private lessons now, she couldn’t go through that again, all those ballet dancers tittering every time she jumped. It had said practice clothes, hadn’t it?

Well, let ’em laugh. How much money did they make a week? She sighed. . . .

What a way to make a living. Those stories they wrote about her. Like the one she read the other day about her Mum having taught her to sing and dance when she was four, and about her preferring a cultured type of man who read the New Nation or something, and took her out to concerts. And those wicked things they’d written about her, just because they’d picked her for the Midnight Matinee. About her talents measuring 37½ inches and that. Dirty sods, they shouldn’t be allowed to write things like that. They was only jealous. Not a word about doing “Only a Dream ” (with Frankie this time instead of Danny) for Charity. Not a penny she’d got for it.

And all those clothes and bras and things they sent her, which she usually gave straight to Mum to wear. Funny the way people sent you things for nothing only after you could afford to pay for them. And all those questions . . . like that man the other day who’d wanted to know what records she’d take on a desert island*. The best of that sort of thing was the endorsing. At least you got money for that, and your picture in the papers as well, just for saying you liked cornflakes or cough drops or whatever it was.

One thing, there wasn’t all those pictures of herself to send out, now that Beryl and Greta did all that donkey-work. Funny types to run a fan-club really, a bit soft in the head the way they followed her around. Waiting outside theatres and studios till she had finished, like dogs really. And all they ever wanted was for her to say Hello to them and give them a smile. . . .

She put her hand behind her to unhook her driess.
Damn, now I’ve put lipstick all over my front. . . .
She hoisted herself up, shook two capsules out of a cardboard box, and dragged herself to the kitchen to get a glass of water.

Doctor Waley had told her not to take them every night, but how else did he think she could go to sleep and look “radiant” next morning?

She threw herself, stomach down, on the bed. If only Mum were here to undress her . . . there was nobody else.

They all had their eye on the main chance. They must think her dumb if they supposed she didn’t see through them. That little man with his furs, and those two Irishmen who did her commercials—they was all jumping on her band wagon, like Miles said, hoping for a bit of That on the side. Tudor Mathiesson, for all his fine airs, he wasn’t any different. Always talking about her neckline, and paddling about and kissing her cheek and fussing around her. Anyway, whatever else they said, they couldn’t deny that she’d put that Wrong Answers lark in the Big Time. Top Ten every week. No wonder Tudor was sending her flowers every Monday. Twerp. And even then nobody was treating her like a real star—all that fatherly advice and chucking under the chin and Little Girling. Some of them was younger than she was !

It made you sick. Sometimes you was nothing more than a walking bloody advert. Asking her to their publicity parties so they could write that Tess Nightingale was washing her smalls in WHITO (and somebody had to make a crack about smalls of course), getting her to pose for all that cheesecake so that they could flog their magazines, asking her to premieres so that people should know their picture was showing. . . .

Everybody on TV wanted her now. Miles said that one of them give-away shows wanted her to distribute the prizes. What had they called it? Oh, yes, they wanted her to “complete the dream image.” Like that reporter, writing up the story that she’d insured her bosom for fifty thousand quid, calling her a “universal obsession.”

Well, universal obsession or not, she hadn’t done so bad. All that publicity and five hundred smackers in a good week, and more where that came from. . . .

Only what happened next? Was you supposed to go on being the girl with the sensational statistics till you was ninety? Miles kept saying she was doing all right; then why was it they never offered her a proper part in a decent picture? Plenty of those second feature chappies was asking for her, but only ’cause they wanted to stick Tess Nightingale on all the posters. Nobody’d asked her to do no proper acting.

Still, like Miles said, once you got your break, all those critics would fall over themselves to “discover” you all over again. The girl can act, Tess Nightingale is an actress, they would write in their papers. That’s what Miles said. . . .

But why think about Miles? She’d never get to sleep that way. Mum always said the only way to fall asleep was to think about something nice you’d like to do. . . . Now what was it she wanted to do? . . . Go to sleep. ... Or if there was some fellow in the dark who didn’t ask or anything. . . .

The image she thought eluded her. Instead she found herself thinking about Sally Garland again. Meeting her like that in the Ladies at that party. Her face all smeared, and her language! And only a couple of years ago she’d been all the rage, Sally Garland, Miss Great Britain, and everybody wanting to use her. “Don’t give yourself any airs, Tess Nightingale,” she’d said. Just like that. “They’ll get tired of you like they got tired of me. One day they’ll find themselves a girl with a bigger pair of charlies and you might as well go back to your grocer’s. Only you can’t go back, can you, Tess Nightingale? ” she’d said. “You make hay while the sun shines, my girl,” she’d said. “Now you can’t do wrong, only you wait till your turn is over and you’ve said O.K. to too many of them wolves in sheep’s clothing what promised you the earth and came up with s.f.a.” And then she’d been sick all over the floor of the Ladies, and the woman had told her off.

Well, more fool her for popping into bed with every Tom, Dick, and Harry what asked for it, and not putting her cash in the bank. . . .

You ought to take your clothes off. You’ll ruin your dress if you don’t. You ought to be like Marilyn Monroe, just wearing Chanel No. 5 in bed, lying between soft sheets, all naked and smelling lovely to yourself. . . .

That image, hot and tiring, like a Turkish Bath, finally did the trick. The purring had stopped and she was breathing evenly.

*I've checked and the real Sabrina never appeared on Desert Island Disks

Page Created: 29 November 2011

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