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A PAIR OF THESPIANS

A PAIR OF THESPIANS

Diana Rigg and Natalie Wood were born on exactly the same day in history. What else do these vivacious brunette actresses have in common? Tony Barrell reports

THE SUNDAY TIMES, 2016

Diana Rigg was born in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, on July 20, 1938. On exactly the same day, across the Atlantic, Natalie Wood came into the world in San Francisco. Astrology may not be such a heap of hokum after all, because these two Cancerians both became famous, glamorous actresses who were passionate about their craft. They had several other things in common as well.

Diana Rigg was punished at school for disobedience, and after she was admitted to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (Rada) as a teenager in 1955, her behaviour continued to cause problems. She later explained that she found Rada too divorced from real life, and that she had come close to being expelled because she was “having a dose of real life on the outside”. Meanwhile, over in Hollywood, Natalie Wood was also breaking the rules. Against her mother’s wishes, she accepted the role of James Dean’s girlfriend in Rebel Without a Cause, a controversial movie about teenagers behaving badly.

The camera loved both Diana Rigg and Natalie Wood, who were both brunettes with intense dark-brown eyes. Men swooned when they saw Wood as Maria in the 1961 film West Side Story, and a few years later, in 1964, Rigg began breaking hearts with her portrayal of the secret agent Emma Peel in TV’s The Avengers. And while the emancipated Mrs Peel was leaping around, karate-kicking villains, Wood did her own bit for feminism by starring in the comedy The Great Race, in which she played a feisty suffragette and photojournalist.

In their early years, both actresses found the business of fame difficult to handle

Despite their obvious self-confidence, in their early years both actresses found the business of fame difficult to handle. Diana Rigg said that becoming a television household name was “frightening”, and she would surely agree with Natalie Wood’s statement, in an interview, that “stardom is only a by-product of acting”.

Both Rigg and Wood also have “brainstorms” in common. Wood’s final movie role was in the sci-fi flick Brainstorm, released in 1983, and Rigg played the character Lady Pagwell in the 2015 TV film Professor Branestawm Returns.

Tragically, the world lost Natalie Wood when she drowned in 1981, at the age of 43. Poignantly, she had once hoped she would “still be creaking on the stage at 80”. Diana Rigg — now a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and a highly esteemed actress — is still going strong, and achieved her calendar twin’s ambition when she turned 80 on July 20, 2018.

© 2018 Tony Barrell

 

June 6, 2018

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About the Author

Tony Barrell is a pop historian, journalist, editor and Londoner who has spent much of his life interviewing musicians. He has written many major articles for The Sunday Times and other publications. His 2017 work The Beatles on the Roof is the first book to be published about the Fab Four’s famous 1969 rooftop concert.

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