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Tributes to Sabrina

Many thanks to Countess Anastasia of West Siberia for this image

If you would like to contribute a tribute to Sabrina, please send it here.

It was one hell of a life, Sabby, and you did it in style.

She was the last of the bombshells, outlasting her idol Marilyn Monroe, competitors Diana Dors, and Jayne Mansfield. Sabby might be a little miffed that her arch-rival June Wilkinson - four years her junior - survives her.

In these days of plastic surgery, weapons-grade star-making, and instant global communications it is hard to appreciate exactly how an ill-educated polio victim could manage to become a household name and an icon in much of the western world. After a couple of lucky breaks, her rise to global celebrity was largely her own doing since she usually acted as her own agent and manager. She was a master of publicity and promotion who should be used as a template by star-makers and publicists today. She was one of the pioneers of modern stardom.

She was not well-educated because much of her young life was spent in hospital, suffering from polio, rheumatic fever, and osteomyelitis - all at the same time. As she told me in one of our interviews, "Of course I always did everything in a big way."

But while her legs were weak, and she had no show-business training, she knew how to make the most of her strengths.

Blessed with a body that would still make most modern women weep with envy, Sabrina knew instinctively how to become a star instead of just enjoying a short-lived career as a model and pin-up girl.

Guided by her mentor Arthur Askey, she probably learned lesson number 1 very soon - Work with what you've got. So for some years she was a silent eyeful of seduction on Askey's TV show 'Before Your Very Eyes'. She only had to turn sideways to the camera and 90% of the male population of Britain would be choking on their baked beans on toast. (The other 10% were gay.)

But she was never satisfied to rely solely on her 'gimmick' - a word that constantly appears in contemporary articles on her career.

She knew she was not a natural actor or singer, so she paid her dues in lessons on acting, singing , deportment, and speech. It was ironic (and infuriating to her) that after all her work to shed her Liverpudlian accent her voice was over-dubbed in her first movie 'Stock Car' because it wasn't common enough!

She had scars on her legs from the braces attached to her as a young polio victim, but artfully disguised them with unfashionably-long dresses that served to accentuate her unique hourglass figure. She could smell a camera half a mile away and was always prepared with just the right pose to show off her charms. In the past 17 years I have found about 2,500 photos of her. The camera loved her, and she loved the camera - and she fed it generously. It did not hurt that many of these pictures showed her either leaning forward in a low-cut dress, or appearing at the most glamorous events with the most dashing men - and Cuban dictators!

She could also turn problems into opportunities. As an innocent and hungry girl in London, she posed nude at the age of 16, which she regretted, but she also turned the embarrassing event into a goldmine of publicity by dramatically destroying the playing card images whenever she found them in shops. When the novel Cinderella Nightingale said that the lead character was abused by her father, Sabrina sued the author and the publisher and managed to have the offending text redacted and the book re-published. Her grand appearance at the 1956 Royal Variety Performance was cancelled because of the Suez Canal crisis, but global coverage of her heartbreak (and photos of her with star Liberace) may have eased her distress. And many other unplanned (or planned? Who knows?) events such as the gatecrashing of the royal enclosure at the 1957 Ascot races, having her dress ripped off in public, being named as the co-respondent in Paul Carpenter's divorce, proving her claim to have a 19 inch waist, and masterfully insuring her breasts against 'shrinkage' proved that she was no dumb blonde, as the press liked to believe. She had them all wrapped around her little finger.

Her career bloomed in the mid-to-late 1950s, but when the fashion moved away from big bosoms, Sabrina moved into stage plays. But in 1967 Sabrina found herself with a German husband (she told me "I couldn't believe I ended up marrying a German.") who did not want her working. The year of her marriage was also the year of her last movie, The Phantom Gunslinger (one of the weirdest movies ever made, apart from The House of Black Death). Her last ever known public appearance was on British TV in 1974 for Arthur Askey's This Is Your Life.

In her later years, she lived quietly near West Toluca Lake in Hollywood with only rare publicity, notably from the sleazy British 'Mail On Sunday' in 2003 which claimed she was 'a tragic down and out... living alone in squalor.' The event was fortuitous for this site, since it prompted Sabby to get in touch with me for the first time to set the record straight. And, of course, she threatened to sue the Mail on Sunday and extracted an apology from them.

You don't mess with our Sabrina, yet people who met Sabrina often seemed surprised about how sweet and kind and natural she was.

Sabrina's passing in November 2016 was not a surprise: she had been suffering ill-health for some time, including troubles caused by blood poisoning and botched back surgery (for which she successfully sued her surgeon, of course).

Sabrina had an amazing life that has inspired many women over the years, including young Countess Anastasia of Siberia. She dated princes, and stars. She invented and re-invented herself. She largely invented 1950s celebrity. She is memorable, and I hope her memory will live on. This site will continue its impossible mission of gathering every Sabrinafact and Sabrinaphoto.

I started this site in 2000 because I heard the name 'Sabrina' recurring in 'The Goon Show'. I did not know her - nobody did. I wondered how someone so famous across the world in 1956 could be completely forgotten less than 50 years later. That led me to see just how much I could discover about this 'Sabrina' using just the internet. And this site is the result

I am glad that this site has reminded so many people about the life and career of such a remarkable woman.

Mark Kelly

4 September 2017

 

From Countess Anastasia Arden of West Siberia. Sabrina fan #1.

"Sabrina"

How perfect she was? I can't tell
How charming she was? Nobody can tell
How pure she was? They don't tell.
How amazing she was? Only we know.
Life without her – will be hard
Life without her – still we cry
Life without her – I can't guess
Living without her – God only knows.

They said – "Sabrina? Forget her.
They said – "A Blonde? Oh, Yeah
They said – " A talent? Oh, no.
But we, we said – She was more than an idol.

"Sabrina is gone" - we hoped it was not true,
Our Lady has gone – we are crying
Our Sabby is dead – we lose our hope.
And I tell it to you – it's no time to cry

Sabrina lived a fabulous life
She had everything, and with a smile
We remember her
Our Sabby,
Goodbye.

 

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