Diane Cilento: Actress who won Oscar and Tony nominations and was married to Sean Connery and Anthony Shaffer
Saturday 08 October 2011
The striking blonde, Australian-born actress Diane Cilento was nominated for an Oscar for her lusty performance as village floozy Molly Seagrim in Tom Jones, and won a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Helen of Troy on Broadway in Jean Giradoux's Tiger at the Gates (1955).
The second of her three husbands was actor Sean Connery and she was the mother of actor Jason Connery. Three years ago she and Sean had a highly publicised disagreement when she accused him of leaving Jason out of his will because he wants his son to make his own living. With her third husband, writer Anthony Shaffer, whom she met on the set of The Wicker Man (1974), Cilento founded an open-air theatre in Queensland, where she lived for the last 36 years.
The fifth of six children of two distinguished doctors, Sir Raphael and Lady Phyllis Cilento, she was born in 1933 in Queensland, Australia. Four of her siblings became doctors, and the fifth was an artist. Diane lived for several years with her father in New York, studying at the city's Academy of Dramatic Art before winning a scholarship to Rada in the early 1950s.
She made her film debut in a minor thriller starring Zachary Scott, Wings of Danger (1952), and had small roles in Moulin Rouge (1952) and Meet Mr Lucifer (1953). In 1953 she made her stage debut playing Juliet in Romeo and Juliet at the Library, Manchester, and other stage roles included Louka in Arms and the Man at the Arts Theatre (1953), movie starlet Dixie Evans in The Big Knife at the Duke of York's (1954) and Helen of Troy in Tiger at the Gates (1954). She repeated the role of Helen on Broadway.
Her first starring role on screen was in the whimsical tale The Angel Who Pawned Her Harp (1954), in which she played an angel who comes to the Angel district of Islington to sort out people's lives. She then played a voluptuous governess given passage on a merchant boat and causing friction between martinet captain Peter Finch and crew member Anthony Steel in the lively Passage Home (1955). In the off-beat circus melodrama The Woman for Joe (1955) she was top-billed as a girl who sings to lions in their cages and is loved by a midget, and her vocal of the song, "A Fool and his Heart", was issued as a single.
The same year she married Andrea Volpe, a second-unit director, with whom she had a daughter. Her career continued to flourish with her appealing "Tweeny" (the between-stairs maid) who pines for butler Crichton in The Admirable Crichton (1957), and in the same year she starred in a TV production of Anna Christie and played the title role in the musical Zuleika at Manchester Opera House.
She and Volpe divorced in 1960, and she married Sean Connery in 1962 (the year he made his first appearance as James Bond, in Dr No). Her performance in Tom Jones (1963) won her an Oscar nomination, even though her role was truncated during editing. Cameraman Walter Lassally: "[Director] Tony Richardson became very depressed because he thought none of the jokes worked, so he speeded it up with freeze frames and tricks. The first half was very roughly, even violently, re-edited because of this fear that it wasn't working, and some of Diane's best scenes were cut entirely – at least half of them."
She had great success as the warm-hearted Soho hostess who develops a tentative relationship with a virginal football fan from Manchester (Harry H Corbett) in a film version of Charles Dyer's play Rattle of a Simple Man (1964), after which she played an old flame of Michelangelo who helps the penniless artist while he paints the Sistine Chapel in the lavish but ponderous The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965). In Martin Ritt's sombre tale of prejudice, Hombre (1966), she was the worldly manager of a boarding house inherited by a white man (Paul Newman) raised by Apaches.
After the birth of her son Jason in 1963 Cilento seemed to pursue her career with less vigour, though she made occasional television appearances, notably as the unscrupulous Lady Sarah Bellasize in the boisterously lascivious series about Newgate Prison, Rogue's Gallery (1969). In 1973, the year her marriage to Connery ended, she met writer Anthony Shaffer, author of the screenplay for The Wicker Man, in which she played the schoolteacher who avidly instructs her pupils on phallic symbolism.
Shaffer joined her when she returned to Queensland in 1975. They married settled in Mossman, north of Cairns, where Cilento built an outdoor theatre, The Karnak Playhouse, in the Daintree Rainforest, specialising in experimental drama. In 2001, the year Shaffer died, she was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal for "distinguished services to the arts, especially theatre". She wrote an autobiography, My Nine Lives, in 2006, having earlier written two novels.
Diane Cilento, actress: born Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia 5 October 1933; married 1956 Andrea Volpe (divorced 1960; one daughter), 1962 Sean Connery (divorced 1973; one son), 1985 Anthony Shaffer (died 2001); died Cairns, Queensland 6 October 2011.
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