Stephanie Beacham: The actress on Marlon Brando's animal magnetism, changing sexual mores and why Joan Collins will never visit her

 

Is it true you've seen Marlon Brando in his Y-fronts and Wellington boots?

That was protection for me. Michael Winner was the most wonderfully funny, delightful man. But Marlon reckoned he didn’t have integrity. I said, well I’ve signed a nudity clause, I have to do naked scenes. And he said, well I haven’t. He turned up on the set in the biggest Y-fronts you’ve ever seen and wellington boots and he wouldn’t take them off so Michael could only shoot us from the waist upwards. He did it for me and I called him Wellington.

Was he very charming?

I loved him. He wore some really thick old make-up on The Nightcomers. One day I had a question and I knocked on his dressing room door and I went in. He was putting on his own make-up with his great big farm labourer’s hands and his make-up man Phillip was reading him poetry. I just thought, ‘yeah, why not’.

And you've worked with Charlton Heston…

He was another really dear friend. Again, someone who protected me and made me feel like a prima ballerina. Alright, how do I put this? He was a man of the most enormous talent. But - he was the first to say it - no imagination.

What sets such iconic leading men of Hollywood apart?

Chuck had a gentlemanly unselfishness. And Marlon had an animal quality that I’ve only experienced in one very, very senior sportsman and a king.

Will you name names?

No. But it was something Marlon couldn’t help. It was of his essence. He was also an enormous joker and it was lovely to laugh with him. He came over to England to make a movie and you know how a female star brings more Louis Vuittons than one can ever dream of. Well, Marlon brought a brown paper bag. And he wore his costume the entire time.

When did he wash it?

This was a bit of a worry. But I think they snuck it away from him. Although I did notice sometimes there was a bit of make-up on the collar. He was so honest about so many things. I said, ‘when do you do your best acting, Marlon?’ And he said ‘oh, in the car going home’. You know, when you realise what you could have done with a scene.

That’s a nice way to look it. And…

Then, other people. I co-starred with Ava Gardner on my first film. Now, there was an extraordinary woman. You knew that she had danced barefoot on tables with matadors! It was there in her laugh. She was also a divine believer in marriage, although she didn’t manage to do it too well. 

And…

You know Frank Sinatra kept her to the very end? When she came up to Scotland, she drove. She doesn’t like flying. She came up with her little doggy. All she had in the car with her was a record player and all Frank’s music.

You've got some stories to tell. Do you feel nostalgic for those times?

If you notice, I keep current. I said ‘what do you mean I’m doing Coronation Street?’, and my agent said ‘You’ve got to keep current. Every year you will do a television series.’

You played the love interest of Ken Barlow, Bill Roache’s character. Was it sad following his trial for sexual offences, for which he was finally acquitted?                                    

It was awful. I emailed and phoned; I gave support. I’ve got a few theories about that. I’m not talking about Jimmy Savile. That’s just horrific nonsense. Awful, awful awfulness. But I do think there’s a witch hunt that has gone a little overbalanced.

Well, you might say that with the recent convictions, Yewtree had proved itself…

In a way. And I’m not talking about Bill now. But I think back to those years. They were so different. You’d be offended if you hadn’t had a wolf whistle when you walked down the road. You knew that if you were alone with a guy, you would be running the other way around a desk so they couldn’t get at you. You would think ‘oh lord, they’ll stand in that doorway and I know I’m going to get a slap on my bum as I leave’. It was every girl for herself. I had a five pound note sewn into the lining of my fur jacket just in case I had to make a dive away from somewhere and grab a taxi.

Why would you have to make a dive away?

Because someone was going to attack you. And once you’d kicked, you’d run. That was the reality of life as a young, pretty girl.

What do you think about ageism at the BBC and ITV?

Considering I’m in my late 60s and one of the stars of a new television series, I’m going to say ageism doesn’t exist. But maybe that’s my little bit of fantasy. Ageism is not so much a political thing on the telly as the fault of high definition. You have to be an infant to play a teenager. And if you weren’t kind with your camera, I would only be fit to play a 90-year-old.

Has Joan Collins been out to visit you in Spain?

Oh, no no no. She would absolutely loathe it. Are you kidding? You’ve got to wear sort of lesbian sandals to be in this part of the world.

Biography

Born in Brent, Stephanie Beacham began her career in modelling and then TV, film and theatre acting. She starred in ‘The Nightcomers’ alongside Marlon Brando in 1971 and in the final series of ‘Dynasty’ with Joan Collins. Beacham, 67, now lives near Girona in Spain. ‘Boomers’, in which she stars, will air on BBC1 from Friday at 9pm

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