One of my hobbies is watching old movies and television shows and googling the key players to see 1) how old they were when the project came out 2) whether they’re still living and 3) if not, how they died. This admittedly morbid pastime combines my love of classic film, dead celebrities, and sometimes (when I’m lucky), true crime. I know you also love these things (even if you won’t admit it), so I thought I’d compile the information here.
YIELD TO THE NIGHT/BLONDE SINNER (1956)
Mary Price Hilton (Diana Dors) has been convicted of murder and sentenced to hang, and she spends what might be her last days in a cell in a British women’s prison. Much of the story is told in a series of flashbacks, in which we learn she killed her boyfriend’s mistress when she finds out he’s been cheating on her. In the present-day scenes, she struggles with the knowledge she’ll soon be executed for her crime, afraid to hope for a last-minute reprieve from the home secretary. A nifty twist adds depth to the story and forces the viewer to look at her and the murder differently than they might otherwise.
The movie was released in Great Britain as YIELD TO THE NIGHT and it’s based on a novel of the same name. It was released as BLONDE SINNER in the U.S. which might have a bit more commercial appeal but does little to convey the actual tone of the film. Ultimately, it’s a quite serious and even powerful story.
The film was positively received by critics, particularly for the unexpectedly skilled acting of Dors, who had typically been cast as a British version of the “blonde bombshell. The movie was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.
I didn’t intend to write about this film until I read up on Diana Dors, England’s answer to Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. She was born Diana Mary Fluck (who wouldn’t change that name–Dors was her maternal grandmother’s surname) on October 23, 1931, making her 25 when the film was made.
There are a few things I find intriguing about Diana. She married her first husband, Dennis Hamilton Gittins five weeks after they met and though there were some infidelities (one with Rod Steiger) and separations along the way, they remained so until his death at age 35 in 1959. I scoured the internet for his cause of death–35 is young and I need an explanation, natch–but came up with nothing. I’m especially curious because he didn’t come off as the best husband. He exploited Diana’s sex symbol status as much as possible not only to further her career but to enrich himself. Although this is rather brilliant: In 1954, 3D printing technology was new and Hamilton hired a photographer to take seminude photographs of Diana which he subsequently published in a set DIANA DORS 3D: THE ULTIMATE BRITISH SEX SYMBOL, which came with a pair of 3D glasses.
The two of them reportedly hosted lavish “adult” parties which Diana continued until a few months before her death. Alcohol, drugs, and beautiful women were on the menu, and Diana gave her celebrity guests full access to the entire house, which was equipped with several 8mm movie cameras. The starlets who attended were aware of this and made sure their celebrity partners performed at the optimum angles for filming.
When she needed money after filing for divorce from Hamilton in 1958, Diana gave an interview in which she described the parties in full and frank detail. As a result, the Archbishop of Canterbury denounced her as a “wayward hussy,” which is kind of awesome.
After Hamilton’s death, she married Richard Dawson, of Family Feud fame. He was famous for other things but as a Gen Xer, this is how he’ll go down in history for me. They had two sons together, Mark and Gary, and Dawson gained custody of both children when they divorced. According to an article in People Magazine in 1977, Diana walked out on him ten years earlier, leaving him with the boys. Dawson was devastated by the loss of their marriage, but grateful she allowed their sons to remain with him in Los Angeles, calling it an act of “sheer kindness.”
Diana returned to England and met Alan Lake, nearly 10 years her junior) in 1968. They married six weeks later and had one son, Jason, in 1969. As age and weight gain made her appear more matronly, her public image became less scandalous and more endearing (in spite of those sex parties she was still hosting). She emerged as a character actress of considerable talent and she appeared regularly on television and radio. She was voted Television Personality of the Year in 1983.
In June 1982 Diana was rushed to the hospital with severe stomach pains, the result of a ruptured ovarian cyst. It was malignant. She underwent chemotherapy at Charing Cross Hospital and though the treatment seemed to work, by September 1983 malignant cells had spread to her stomach. Her doctors put her on a course of oral medication, but in April 1984 she began to experience what she called the “nasty side effects” of the treatment and the terrible stomach pains returned. Doctors discovered the cancer had spread throughout her body, including her blood marrow.
Diana quickly deteriorated over the next few days and in the early hours of Friday, May 4, a priest was called. She died later that evening. Her last words to Alan were reportedly, “I love you and the boys, look after them for me, I love you.”
But Diana’s story doesn’t quite end here. After her death, Alan burned all of her clothes and fell into a deep depression. On October 10, 1984, five months after her death and the sixteenth anniversary of the day they met, he locked himself in a bedroom and blew his brains out with a shotgun. He was 43.
Before she died, Diana claimed to have hidden away more than £2 million in banks across Europe. In 1982, she gave her son Mark Dawson a sheet of paper on which, she told him, was a code that would reveal the whereabouts of the money. His stepfather Alan Lake supposedly knew the key that would crack the code, but he apparently never revealed it to Dawson before his suicide.
Dawson hired computer forensic specialists who were able to identify the encryption as the Vigenère cipher. Using their own cryptanalysis software, they determined a decryption key, and along with a bank statement found among Alan Lake’s papers, they were able to reveal a list of surnames and towns. From this, they surmised there was a second page that would reveal first names and bank details, but it’s never been found. The money, if it exists, remains hidden away.
Sadly, Diana’s home, Orchard Manor in Sunningdale, Berkshire, England, was sold and the house’s contents were bulk-sold by Sotheby’s, including her jewelry collection. in an auction. After all outstanding debts were paid, Diana and Alan’s combined estate left little for the upkeep of their son, Jason. After Alan’s death, Jason was made a ward of the court to his half-brother, Mark.
Where she is now: Diana converted to Catholicism in early 1973 and her funeral service was held at the Sacred Heart Church in Sunningdale on May 11, 1984. She’s buried in Sunningdale Catholic Cemetery.
Michael Francis Gregson, known as Michael Craig professionally, was born on January 27, 1928, in what was then British India. His father was a captain in the 3rd Indian Cavalry. As you can see, he’s not a bad looking bloke, and he’s particularly attractive as Diana Dors’s love interest in YIELD TO THE NIGHT. Maybe not attractive enough to kill for, but I can see the appeal. He was 28 when the film was made.
There is little in the way of juicy tidbits about Michael on the Internet. He wrote an autobiography called THE SMALLEST GIANT: AN ACTOR’S LIFE in 2005. He’s been married twice and was Natalie Wood’s brother-in-law for a time. Though he’s unfamiliar to American audiences, he’s had a long and distinguished career in England and Australia. His most recent work was on an Australian television show called DOCTORS in 2011.
Where he is now: Now 90, he lives in Australia.