Obituary: Beth Rogan, actress
Rank studios starlet who sparkled in 1950s' films and was pursued by millionaires off-screen
Published 20/12/2015 | 02:30
Beth Rogan, who has died aged 84, was a Rank starlet who, in the 1950s and 1960s, appeared opposite Herbert Lom, Donald Sinden and Ray Harryhausen's animated creatures, before marrying into high society.
Lively and prone to wildness, she was reputedly the inspiration for Diana Scott, the young model in John Schlesinger's Darling (1965), a role that won Julie Christie a Best Actress Oscar. There were certainly parallels: both were headstrong ingénues who glimpsed fame and were pursued by millionaires.
One day in the mid-1950s Beth Rogan was spotted queuing at the All-England Tennis Club at Wimbledon as Carlo Riccono, an Italian television correspondent, drove past with a friend from Rank studios. The pair pulled in and invited her to join them at centre court. Two weeks later she received a contract from Rank and was immersed in the hothouse environment of the 'Company of Youth' - popularly known as the Rank Charm School - in a church hall adjacent to Rank's studio in Highbury.
Rogan and a flock of other hopefuls, including Joan Collins and Diana Dors, signed up to represent the studio at events and provide a pool of talent for casting directors. It was, a historian of the studio noted, "a sort of cross between Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio and a London finishing school for young ladies".
High on the curriculum was the art of "desirability", for which Beth Rogan had a natural talent. Her coal-dark hair, feline eyes and pillowy pout proved a winning combination.
She featured in advertisements for Disprin and Babycham, and while her acting career never truly took off she was an appealing bit-part player in several mainstream features and a capable leading lady - screaming or swooning as required - in the low-budget thrillers Innocent Meeting (1959, touted as "Teddy Boy meets girl - then hell breaks loose!") and Compelled (1960).
Her best-known role was as Elena Fairchild, a sultry shipwrecked aristocrat, in Mysterious Island (1961), a Jules Verne adventure starring Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo. During the shoot she was pitted against giant hens and bees, animated by Harryhausen, while running around in a loosely laced buckskin tunic dress.
It was enough to draw the attention of Tony Samuel, a member of the Shell oil dynasty and later publisher of PG Wodehouse. In 1962 she and Samuel married at the Chelsea register office. "I became quite a jet-setter after marrying a rich man," she said later.
She was born Jenifer Puckle (and would remain Jeni to friends and family) on July 19 1931 in Walmer, Kent. Her father Kenneth was a major in the Royal Marines who had served at Gallipoli and her mother Enid (née Gray) was a housewife. Her sister, Priscilla, married Brigadier Charles Carroll, MC.
Jenifer attended school near Farnham and taught Latin to boys at a local prep school. She then studied at Wimbledon School of Art, retaining a lifelong passion for illustration. She married one of her teachers, Ted Draper, in order, she later admitted, to get away from her family.
But life in Wimbledon bored her, the chance encounter with Riccono developed into an affair, and her husband Draper gallantly bowed out, faking an assignation at a Brighton hotel in order to expedite a divorce.
By the late 1950s she had taken the stage name Beth Rogan and her Rank contract was beginning to pay dividends. She provided a pretty face in minor supporting roles opposite Dirk Bogarde in Doctor at Large, Kenneth More in The Admirable Crichton (both 1957) and Donald Sinden in The Captain's Table (1959), and went out on the town with the playboy entrepreneur James Hanson.
She appeared en déshabillé on the cover of Picturegoer while the great Rank stills photographer George Courtney Ward captured her in frilly gingham beachware on the deck of a ship. "Coming on to rain?" enquired the publicity caption. "Don't worry, there's room for some lucky chap under Beth Rogan's parasol."
For The Captain's Table she appeared in a striking white bikini with, as she recalled, "heavily padded bosoms": "It caused quite a stir. I wore another to go swimming with a friend at Roehampton baths in Surrey and stuffed the top with some false breast enhancers, which promptly flew out as I dived into the pool."
After marrying Samuel she lived in London and Arndilly, her husband's Adam house on the River Spey. "We'd spend our summers on yachts off the Italian and French Riviera," she said. The marriage was not a success, however.
Samuel, some 17 years her senior, could be cantankerous and Beth Rogan was only partly committed to her role as chatelaine of Arndilly: she would decamp to Italy for August while Samuel hosted grouse shooting parties. The couple divorced in 1965.
Beth Rogan moved to Smith Street in Chelsea, holidayed in Morocco and cultivated colourful friends. She might get her chums into scrapes, one friend recalled, and could be "dangerous to know", but would get away with it because of her charm.
She made a final screen appearance, opposite Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis Jr, in Richard Donner's caper Salt and Pepper (1968).
Her third marriage, in 1971, was to Timothy Cassel QC. "She was absolutely magical," he recalled. Although she was by then in her forties, the couple had a daughter, Natalia, and son, Alexander.
That marriage was dissolved in 1976, after which Beth Rogan lived in West Sussex and Hampshire, where she enjoyed hosting friends, painting and gardening.
She is survived by her children; after her death on November 26, they discovered a crop of home-grown cannabis drying out in her airing cupboard.