Rachel Roberts


Rachel Roberts (20 September 1927 – 26 November 1980) was a Welsh actress noted for her fervour and passion; Roberts gave forthright performances in two key films of the 1960s.

Career
After a Baptist upbringing (against which she rebelled), followed by the University of Wales and RADA, she began working with a repertory company in Swansea in 1950. She made her film debut in the Welsh-set comedy Valley of Song (1953; directed by Gilbert Gunn).

Her portrayal of Brenda in Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) won her a BAFTA. Lindsay Anderson cast her as the suffering Mrs Hammond in This Sporting Life (1963, another BAFTA and an Oscar nomination). Both films being good examples of the British New Wave.

In theatre, she played at the Royal Court and was the life-enhancing tart Maggie May in Lionel Bart’s musical (1964). In films she continued to play women with lusty appetites (as in Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! (1973), although the haunting Australian-made Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, directed by Peter Weir) provided her with a different kind of role.

She appeared in supporting roles in several American films such as Foul Play (1978) after relocating to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, her final British film being Yanks (1979, directed by John Schlesinger), for which she received a Supporting Actress BAFTA.

In 1979, Roberts co-starred with Jill Bennett in the London Weekend Television production of Alan Bennett’s The Old Crowd, directed by Lindsay Anderson.

Personal life
She married firstly Alan Dobie (1955–1961), then Rex Harrison (1962–1971).

Illness and death
Her alcoholism and depression increased after her divorce from Harrison in 1971. Devastated over their divorce, she moved to Hollywood in 1975 and tried to forget the relationship. In 1980 a final, futile attempt to win Harrison back proved unsuccessful. Impulsive and insecure, she died after committing suicide by taking an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol on November 26, 1980 at her home in Los Angeles. Her gardener found her body in the kitchen, having smashed a glass divide between two rooms. The coroner reported the cause of death as “swallowing a caustic substance” and later, “acute barbiturate intoxication”. It was ruled a suicide. She was 53 years old.

She was cremated at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles. Her journals became the basis for No Bells on Sunday: The Memoirs of Rachel Roberts (1984).

Filmography
Film

  • Year – Film – Role – Notes
  • 1953 – Valley of Song – Bessie Lewis – Alternative title: Men Are Children Twice The Limping Man Barmaid
  • 1954 – The Weak and the Wicked – Pat, pregnant inmate – Alternative title: Young and Willing
  • 1957 – The Good Companions – Elsie and Effie Longstaff
  • 1959 – Our Man in Havana Prostitute – Uncredited
  • 1960 – Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – Brenda
  • 1961 – Girl on Approval – Anne Howland
  • 1963 – This Sporting Life – Mrs Margaret Hammond
  • 1968 – A Flea in Her Ear – Suzanne de Castilian
  • 1969 – The Reckoning – Joyce Eglington – Alternative title: A Matter of Honour
  • 1971 – Doctors’ Wives – Della Randolph
  • 1971 – Wild Rovers – Maybell (town madam)
  • 1973 – Alpha Beta – Nora Elliot
  • 1973 – The Belstone Fox – Cathie Smith – Alternative title: Free Spirit
  • 1973 – O Lucky Man! – Gloria Rowe/Madame Paillard/Mrs. Richards
  • 1974 – Murder on the Orient Express – Hildegarde Schmidt
  • 1975 – Picnic at Hanging Rock – Mrs Appleyard
  • 1978 – Foul Play – Delia Darrow/Gerda Casswell
  • 1979 – Yanks – Mrs Clarrie Moreton
  • 1979 – When a Stranger Calls – Dr Monk
  • 1981 – Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen – Mrs Dangers

Television

  • Year – Title – Role – Notes
  • 1958-1959 – Our Mutual Friend – Lizzie Hexam – Mini-series
  • 1960 – On Trial – Mrs Rogerson – 1 episode
  • 1960 – BBC Sunday-Night Play – Mrs Holyoake – 1 episode
  • 1963 – The Eleventh Hour – Mary Newell – 1 episode
  • 1966 – ITV Play of the Week – Lady Hamilton – 1 episode
  • 1966 – Out of the Unknown – Anna Preston – 1 episode
  • 1966 – Blithe Spirit – Ruth Condomine – Television movie
  • 1969 – Destiny of a Spy – Megan Thomas – Television movie
  • 1969 – Happy Ever After – 1 episode
  • 1970 – Night Gallery – Rebecca Brigham – 1 episode
  • 1971 – Marcus Welby, M.D. – Dr Victoria Thorson – 1 episode
  • 1973 – Baffled! – Mrs Farraday – Television movie
  • 1974 – Graceless Go I – Television movie
  • 1974 – Play for Today – Olwen – 1 episode
  • 1974 – Great Expectations – Mrs Gargery – Television movie
  • 1976 – The Tony Randall Show – Mrs Bonnie McClellen – 1 episode
  • 1977 – A Circle of Children – Helga – Television movie
  • 1979 – Family – Angela Brown – 1 episode
  • 1979 – The Old Crowd – Pauline – Television movie
  • 1979 – 3 by Cheever: The Sorrows of Gin – Mrs Henlein – Television movie
  • 1980 – The Hostage Tower – Sonya – Television movie
  • 1982 – The Wall – Regina Kowalska – Television movie