Pamela Green: Actress and model best known for her role in 'Peeping Tom' who also helped start the 'top-shelf' tradition
Saturday 12 June 2010
The actress and model Pamela Green had a short but striking role in Michael Powell's controversial thriller Peeping Tom (1960), in which she portrayed a scarred model who becomes the murder victim of a psychotically voyeuristic photographer.
It was the first time that a woman had been seen stripped down to a G-string in a mainstream British feature film, and thus a noteworthy contribution to cinema history, but for many Pamela Green will be remembered as an iconic glamour figure of the late Fifties and the decade that followed, the most beautiful and famous nude model of the day, known particularly for her collaboration with the photographer Harrison Marks.
Green starred in his film Naked As Nature Intended (1961), one of the most successful exploitation films of its time. It took advantage of a loophole in the censorship laws that permitted a film to be shown if it was a "serious" depiction of life in a nudist colony. Several film-makers rushed to exploit the opportunity, though by today's standards even the term "soft porn" is too strong for the comparatively mild eroticism displayed.
The daughter of an English architect and his Dutch wife, she was born Phyllis Pamela Green in Kingston-upon-Thames in 1929. Her education was erratic her parents moving frequently between the UK and the Netherlands, and she left school at 14. In 1945 she enrolled at the Gloucester School of Art, and two years later moved to London, where she studied art and painting at St Martin's School of Modern Art, paying for her tuition by posing for life classes, for which her parents had to give their consent because she was under 21. "I don't think my mother minded in the slightest," she said. "My family was very open. My father was a very good artist and loved drawing nudes. He later did a wood sculpture of me in the nude."
At night she worked as a dancer, and made her West End stage debut in Bernard Delfont's Paris to Piccadilly (1953), a Folies Bergère-type revue starring Norman Wisdom. A marriage to a stagehand proved brief due to his drink and drug addictions, which unleashed a violent nature. In 1953 she met George Harrison Marks, a theatrical photographer with a studio in Soho's Gerrard Street who was taking publicity shots for Delfont; she persuaded him that he would make more money photographing nudes.
Green had posed for such noted photographers as Bill Brandt, Zol-tan Glass, John Everard and Angus McBean, and was a shrewd businesswoman aware that there was a gap in the pin-up market. She chose the models, showed Marks how nudes should be posed and lit and even designed the sets and costumes, utilising her art-school training. Soon they were selling nudist postcards "under the counter" in Soho shops, and in 1957 they launched a pocket-sized magazine, Kamera, which was an immediate hit.
Censorship proved a challenge, but the quality of Marks' photography, the beauty of the models and their glossily provocative appeal, while staying within the bounds of the era's acceptability, resulted in Kamera's initial print-run of 15,000 being sold out within two days. It has since been credited with starting the "top shelf" tradition in newsagents' shops. Ultimately, 150,000 copies were sold in five weeks and the pair set up Kamera Publications. Her relationship with Marks was intimate, but she did not want to risk another marriage so changed her name to his by deed poll.
Kamera's success prompted their entry into 8mm films – shorts featuring striptease for men to watch at home – with Green appearing under her own name as a platinum blonde, as well as several aliases. She proved particularly popular as the glamorous redhead Rita Landre.
It was as Landre that she attracted the attention of Michael Powell when he was casting the role of a model in Peeping Tom. He appeared at their studio searching for "Rita Landre", and Green recalled that after explaining her identity, she posed for him in a setting already constructed in the studio. "It was a Parisian street scene, which consisted of a brick wall, with an arch over an alley, an old street lamp, a pavement and cobbled street. I was particularly pleased with the set as I had not only designed it but also painted it, brick by brick... Powell was fascinated by the set. He asked if he could copy it for the film."
Powell cast Green as the model and murder victim Millie. Peeping Tom, with its protagonist, a sadistic photographer who impales women on a leg of his tripod, disgusted audiences and virtually ended Powell's career in the UK. "Powell was a strange man to work with," Green recalled. "He was cold, somewhat remote; a sarcastic tongue. He seemed to enjoy humiliating the actors, and certain ones would be his whipping boys."
Green was shocked at the reaction to the film: "The critics panned it, using such terms as 'violent' and 'pornographic'. My nude scene was cut out and an alternative version used... Twenty years later, Martin Scorsese saw the film and arranged for it to be shown at the 1979 New York Film Festival, and through his efforts the film has been restored to its rightful place in movie history. It was a startling treatment of voyeurism and the mechanics of cinema, wrapped in the clothes of a lurid thriller." Despite Scorsese's efforts some remain to be convinced of its merits.
In 1961 Green had a small role as a nurse in the disaster movie The Day The Earth Caught Fire, and in the same year starred in Marks' notorious Naked As Nature Intended, the most successful of the films that rushed to circumvent censorship. With virtually no plot, it featured Green cavorting on beaches with four other girls, playing with a beach ball which keeps blowing away, finally discovering the delights of a nudist camp, where everyone carries baskets or towels strategically positioned. Despite its lack of plot (the only line was, "Hello, do you come here often?") the film broke records, with a five-year run in London.
Shortly after the film's release, Green and Marks split up and Marks found another muse, Mary Millington, though he always stressed the part Green played in his career. In 1964 she was at the centre of a television storm when as part of an investigation into erotica This Week showed Green performing a striptease, the first time a naked woman had been seen on British TV. Associated Rediffusion was rebuked by the ITA.
Green had long been a friend of the photographer Douglas Webb, a war hero who took part in the Dambusters raid. He had been the stills photographer on Naked As Nature Intended, and after modelling for him and working as his assistant, she moved in with him in 1967. In 1986 they moved to the Isle of Wight, where they ran a photographic studio until Webb's death in 1995.
In recent years Green was an active member of the Yarmouth Women's Institute on the Isle of Wight. The members were aware of her past, and even the fact that some of their husbands had been fans. She maintained a sense of humour about her career, and made an autobiographical video, Never Knowingly Overdressed.
Phyllis Pamela Green, model and actress: born Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey 28 March 1929; married 1951 Guy Hillier (divorced 1951); partner to Harrison Marks, partner to Douglas Webb; died Isle of Wight 7 May 2010.
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