Hollywood star unmasked as duchess's 'headless man'

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The Independent Online
DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS Jnr, the Hollywood film star, was named last night as the mystery 'headless man' who appeared naked with Margaret, Duchess of Argyll in photographs used in one of Britain's most sensational divorce cases.

The revelation follows the death of the duchess on Sunday night aged 80, after a fall at a nursing home. She gained worldwide notoriety during the divorce in 1963 from her second husband, the Duke of Argyll, who cited four men for adultery.

The case against her included two Polaroid pictures, one showing the duchess performing fellatio on a man, the second of the naked couple standing side by side with the man's head cut off the top of the photograph.

The judge, Lord Wheatley, in his 50,000- word ruling against the duchess, described her as a 'highly sexed woman who has ceased to be satisfied with normal sexual relations and has started to indulge in disgusting sexual activities.'

Rumour was rife as to the identity of the headless man. The duke, and Winston Churchill's son-in-law Duncan Sandys, Secretary of State for the Colonies, were both photographed and examined by a doctor before their names were eliminated.

Lord Denning, the then Master of the Rolls, who at the time was carrying out an inquiry into the Profumo scandal, also compiled a report on the 'headless man'. He said yesterday he identified the man by comparing the handwriting on the two photographs with that of various interviewees. Among those questioned was Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. Lord Denning refused to confirm or deny that Mr Fairbanks was the man in the picture.

However, a source involved in the inquiry confirmed that the photograph was of Mr Fairbanks.

Michael Thornton, who will name the man in his forthcoming book Argyll v Argyll, also declined to confirm it was Mr Fairbanks, but said it was a 'very promising' suggestion. 'I won't disagree,' he added.

Mr Fairbanks, 83, who has appeared in 75 films including the swashbuckling classic The Prisoner of Zenda, denied yesterday that he was featured in the photographs. 'It makes good scandal sheet stuff,' he said, adding that he had met Lord Denning.

The divorce began the decline in the fortunes of the duchess. Her house in Upper Grosvenor Street, Mayfair, was sold in 1978 and 12 years later she was evicted from a hotel suite because of pounds 33,000 unpaid rent.

In 1990 she moved to St George's nursing home in Victoria, central London, where she died. Westminster coroner's court heard yesterday that she died of a brain haemorrhage following a fall. The inquest was adjourned until 1 September.

Diary, page 29

Obituary, page 30

(Photograph omitted)