Zelda Barron

Continuity girl turned director
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The Independent Online

Zelda Ruth Solomons, producer, screenwriter and director: born Manchester 31 March 1929; married 1953 Ron Barron (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved); died 14 August 2006.

There are many routes to film direction and few of them involve graduating from film schools. Practitioners have invariably risen from a previous career in film: editors, cameramen, assistant directors, screenwriters; even actors and producers. Of continuity clerks (the director's veritable right hand), only one in the UK has ever become a director in her own right: Zelda Barron.

She was born Zelda Solomons in Cheetham, Manchester, the fifth child of six, to a family that comprised a Jewish Russian-born tailor father and an extremely left-wing mother from a well-off northern English family. Zelda was smitten by the cinema from a very early age, and used to read film magazines under the bed-covers by torchlight. She wanted to go to university, and perhaps write or act, but her parents terminated her schooling in order to enlist her at Pitman's Secretarial College.

After several secretarial jobs, including briefly in New York with a film company, Zelda's socialist leanings found her in 1953 at Unity Theatre in London, where she met and married the actor Ron Barron, and had two children by him. Eventually they would divorce, but in 1960 the family decamped for Israel, where Zelda Barron worked with the documentary film-maker Lionel Rogosin on What Now My Little Man? (1960).

Back in London, she managed to secure secretarial work at the Soho office of the film directors Karel Reisz and Lindsay Anderson, then on the crest of the British New Wave. She moved from the production office to the set, alongside Reisz, who was directing Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966) and this led to a début as continuity girl on the romantic featurette Les Bicyclettes de Belsize (1967), on which she met and fell in love with the actor Anthony May, with whom she eloped.

She also carried out uncredited continuity work on Our Mother's House (1967) starring Dirk Bogarde, and worked again with Bogarde on Sebastian (1968). Uncredited both as personal assistant to Karel Reisz on Isadora (1968) and as production co-ordinator on John Boorman's Notting Hill-set Leo the Last (1970), she was finally credited, and started her career proper, with continuity on A.I.P.'s horror flick Cry of the Banshee (1970). Many British films followed, including Yanks (1979) for John Schlesinger.

Zelda Barron had already decided for herself that she wanted to direct, but in the meantime was looking for a vehicle that she could produce, to star Anthony May. Teamed with Graham Cottle, she chose the H.E. Bates novel The Triple Echo (1972) but the director Michael Apted selected Brian Deacon for May's role. Barron nevertheless took on the roles of Associate Producer and Continuity on the film and began a fruitful relationship with Apted, who would later accord her Associate Producer credits on two of his American films, The Coal-Miner's Daughter (1980) for which Sissy Spacek won the Best Actress Oscar, and the John Belushi vehicle Continental Divide (1981).

Returning to England, Barron made a tremendous invited contribution to Warren Beatty's Reds (1981), a film whose subject was close to her socialist heart. Beatty sought Barron's aid on choice and selection of takes, which on occasion numbered no fewer than 80. Beatty won the Best Director Oscar, and thanked Barron in his acceptance speech (as Sissy Spacek had done the previous year). Reds became Barron's own favourite among her own work, whilst Beatty recommended her to Barbra Streisand, about to embark on her own directorial début in the UK with Yentl (1983).

But Barron was still anxious to direct. For a new company she had instigated with partners, she wrote a screenplay based on a Janice Elliott novel called Secret Places (1984), which became Skreba Films' second production, this time with Zelda Barron herself in the director's chair: an auspicious début; not exactly a commercial smash hit, it nevertheless led to further offers to direct.

Her next film was the appallingly titled Shag (1988 - the title referred to a dance), a slight teenage romp that didn't dent the box office, and after that she swiftly accepted to direct the Robin Hardy-scripted The Bull Dance (1989; US title Forbidden Sun), on the grounds that, in her own words, "It's eight weeks in Yugoslavia - the money's good and the sun's shining." But the money ran out, and the film's completion was a struggle.

In a difficult climate, directing work became harder to come by. Barron busied herself in England, establishing the UK branch of Women in Film. Her son and daughter mooted her as a director of pop videos, and she helmed a series of them for Culture Club, despite Boy George's initial suspicion of her.

But Beatty kept calling, and in 1994 Barron accepted his offer to work on his production of the Robert Towne-scripted remake of Love Affair starring Beatty but, this time, not directed by him. It went nowhere. Barron's on-screen credit was as Production Consultant, and the credit was reprised for Beatty on Bulworth (1998) - this time directed by, and starring, Beatty, from an original story by him.

Barron's credit as Production Consultant conceals more than it reveals: once again, as on Reds, she was Beatty's indispensable right hand, but shortly after completing Bullworth she began to display symptoms of Alzheimer's, and she returned home, not to work again.

Tony Sloman

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