Julie Ege: 'Sex Symbol of the 1970s'
Saturday 03 May 2008
In the late Sixties and early Seventies, British cinema-goers, and British men in general, had a weakness for Scandinavian women. For a time, the Norwegian actress and model Julie Ege was as ubiquitous as Sweden's Britt Ekland.
In 1969, Ege's stunning looks caught the eye of the film producer Albert Broccoli, who cast her in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the only James Bond film to feature George Lazenby as the lead. In 1971, Ege was Voluptua to Frankie Howerd's Lurcio in the first Up Pompeii film, based on the titter-heavy sitcom of the same name. Having starred in Creatures the World Forgot, another Hammer "cave girl" film in the vein of the Raquel Welch vehicle One Million Years BC, Ege was touted as the "Sex Symbol of the 1970s" by Sir James Carreras, head of Hammer Film Productions, and his son Michael.
Despite further appearances in sci-fi and horror hokum like The Final Programme (1973), Craze, Dr of Evil (aka The Mutations) and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (all in 1974), she was typecast as a glamour girl, in comedies such as The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971) and Not Now Darling (1973), both with Leslie Phillips, as well as Percy's Progress (1974) and The Amorous Milkman (1975).
Born in Sandnes, on the south-west coast of Norway, in 1943, she was a bit of a tomboy but blossomed into a teenager obsessed with Hollywood stars. Spotted by local photographers, Ege appeared in advertisements for "anything from dresses to sardines", she later recalled. Following a short-lived marriage to a major in the Norwegian army, she moved to Oslo, won a beauty contest and took part in the Miss Universe pageant in Florida in 1962. She then remarried and undertook various modelling assignments, including an appearance in Penthouse magazine.
In 1967, she made her acting début playing a German masseuse in Stompa til Sjøs ("The Sky and the Ocean"), a low-budget Norwegian film, and also had an uncredited part in Robbery, a British gangster picture about the Great Train Robbery. She settled in London, registered with various model agencies, and sent her picture to Broccoli. The Bond producer signed Ege to play the Scandinavian Girl, one of the 10 women of different nationalities being brainwashed by Blofeld, the villain portrayed by Telly Savalas in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (the English Girl was played by Joanna Lumley). Ege spent nearly three months on location at Piz Gloria, the revolving restaurant on top of the Schilthorn in Switzerland, but was disappointed to see that, in the finished film, she only appeared on screen for a few moments.
In 1970, Ned Sherrin gave her a role opposite Marty Feldman in the comedy Every Home Should Have One. "It was my first real part with dialogue. They wanted me to look and sound like a Scandinavian nanny so I gave them just that. It was really difficult," Ege joked. She had spent time as an au pair in London in the early Sixties. "Once the film opened, all the newspapers carried a photo of me with the caption 'Every Home Should Have One'. I was famous overnight and was not prepared for all the decision-making so crucial at that moment," she admitted.
Ege's subsequent career moves bore out this claim. She turned down the chance to appear with Peter Sellers in the saucy comedy There's a Girl in My Soup and signed up with Hammer to do Creatures the World Forgot. The shooting on location in Africa turned out to be something of an ordeal for Ege who had recently given birth to her first daughter. "They made me wear this awful wig and my bikini was a far cry from the one Raquel Welch wore," she recalled. "I had dirt smeared all over me. My newborn child was back in England and after a few days I got homesick."
Ege then undertook a gruelling publicity schedule which included appearances on the Johnny Carson and David Frost chat-shows and a special edition of The Money Programme documenting the amount of money Hammer was investing in her. However, Creatures the World Forgot was slated by the critics and her career lost momentum after she passed on Hammer's Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde in 1972. "I was by then very reluctant about doing nudity," she said. "Many people think I did so much nudity in my films. I did a short scene in Every Home Should Have One, and two bathtub scenes in Not Now Darling and Mutations."
Ege was happier doing comedies, including playing "the sexy wife of a mad scientist" (Donald Sinden) in Rentadick (1972), even if the project went so awry that Graham Chapman and John Cleese, the film's original writers with John Fortune and John Wells, asked for their names to be removed from the credits. In 1972, she also had cameos in The Alf Garnett Saga and in Go For a Take with Reg Varney of On the Buses fame. "They needed a pretty girl with a good attitude to play these parts," she said. "It was all a laugh and I have never seen these films since."
In the Seventies, Ege lived for several years with the Beatles associate Tony Bramwell and recorded a version of "Love", a John Lennon composition originally featured on the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album in 1970. She subsequently went back to Norway and took up photography before training as a nurse in the Eighties. She was delighted when one of her patients presented her with a video copy of The Amorous Milkman.
Over the last decade, Ege was amazed by the renewed interest in her films. "There I was on the front cover of so many newspapers as the forgotten diva of British horror and comedy films," she said in 2004, two years after publishing her autobiography, Naken ("Naked"), in Norway. In 1999, she visited Britain and took part in a reunion of Hammer alumni. In 2005, she featured in the BBC documentary Crumpet! A Very British Sex Symbol, presented by the former Daily Sport editor Tony Livesey. "To be honest, I was never really that proud of my performance in films," she said, "but I gave it my best and enjoyed the work very much."
Julie Ege, model, actress and nurse: born Sandnes, Norway 13 November 1943; twice married (two daughters); died Oslo 29 April 2008.
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