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Daliah Lavi

Strictly speaking, Daliah Lavi does not belong in this website. She did not aspire to be a Love Goddess; nor did she pose for many glamour photographs. However for several years, both the media and the general public found a very glamorous combination of beauty and mystery in Daliah Lavi, and in the 1960s photographs of her appeared constantly in European newspapers and magazines and frequently on magazine covers. Most of these pictures were either movie stills or impromptu shots of her in public or on location. Studio portraits of Daliah have always been a rarity.

She was born Daliah Levenbuch of German refugee parents near Haifa - in what is now Israel - and spent her childhood working on a kibbutz. Daliah was later to say that while this may have made her grow up too quickly, as compensation she learned independence and the value of freedom.

In her early teens Daliah went to Sweden to study ballet. Apart from appearing in a tiny role in "Hemsöborna", nothing seems to have come of this, and on returning to Israel she became a very successful model.

In 1960 a German movie, "Brennender Sand" (a.k.a."Blazing Sand") was being made in Israel, and, German being her mother tongue, Daliah secured a small role.

A little later she was in Italy trying to break into movies on a full time basis. Daliah played a few roles in very minor European movies, and was featured more prominently in the advertising posters than the stars.

In 1962 Daliah was given a part in a major production, "Two Weeks In Another Town". The MGM publicity department, spelling her name Dahlia, swung into action. According to MGM, several years earlier, the film's star, Kirk Douglas, had tried to adopt Daliah! (The credibility of this story is such that Kirk Douglas does not even mention it in his autobiography.) However, as directed by Vincente Minnelli, Daliah is excellent as Veronica, having a brief affair with Jack (Kirk Douglas) while being adored by a drunken movie star (George Hamilton), who carelessly gives her a black eye. This was a real Minnelli woman, elegant and chic, hair up, low but modest necklines, exuding modesty and humanity.

The following year Daliah made her name with two Italian horror movies that now have cult status.

"La Frustra e Il Corpo" (a.k.a "Whip And The Body" a.k.a "What?") was a two part story about a sado-masochistic relationship. In the first part, Kurt (Christopher Lee) returns to the home he had left in disgrace years earlier. He is not welcome. He quickly becomes involved with his brother's wife, Nevenka - played by Lavi - and takes a whip to her. She responds by writhing in sexual ecstasy! Soon after Kurt is murdered. In the second part, Nevenka is haunted by his ghost and still pines for his special treatment!

"Il Demonio" (a.k.a. "The Demon"), the first film to be directed by Brunello Rondi who previously had written screenplays for Fellini, brought Daliah international recognition. Playing a peasant girl believed by all to be a witch, Daliah again suffered severe mis-treatment, including rape, but this time her striking beauty and luminous dark eyes made a strong impression on all who saw her, including Hollywood writer/director Richard Brooks.

Now the bandwagon began to roll. Now editors realised that Daliah Lavi could sell newspapers and magazines as well as cinema tickets. Her face was displayed throughout Europe and quickly became familiar to people who would never dream of going to an Italian horror film.

Richard Brooks was preparing a large scale production of Joseph Conrad's "Lord Jim". The film was to be shot on location in the Far East and at Shepperton Studios in England with a British crew. Brooks' team included several David Lean alumni - in front of the camera Peter O'Toole and Jack Hawkins, and behind the camera Freddie Young, Eddie Fowlie, Roy Stevens, Phyllis Dalton, Geoffrey Drake - and in places the film looked like a David Lean movie.

For the crucial part of "the girl" - she is not given a name - Brooks wanted Daliah Lavi. In publicity statements, he declared that no established actress would provide the necessary fusion of East and West, and that Daliah was ideal. Brooks was right. Lit to great advantage by Freddie Young, Daliah was superb in an almost impossible part, bringing a blend of exoticism, physical stamina, humanity and facial beauty. She received considerable publicity and many journalists fell over themselves to praise her beauty.

Hollywood now was interested, and Daliah was given an important role opposite Dean Martin in "The Silencers". However she did not enjoy the experience and, on completing the movie, Daliah left Hollywood and never worked there again. Thereafter Daliah admitted openly in interviews that she hated Hollywood.

In the 1960s Daliah married and for the next few years lived in England. She had the same problems as other actresses - the lack of decent parts - but managed to keep the momentum going until she made "Some Girls Do", an unbelievably stupid movie which effectively killed the movie careers of all the main participants.

Daliah made one more movie, "Catlow", a western from a Louis Lamour novel, opposite Yul Brynner and then abruptly left the movie business.

She started a new career in Germany as a singer, with considerable success. She made many records which sold well and some have now been re-issued on CD. (An indication of Daliah's popularity in Germany is provided by the Internet auction site Ebay: the English language Ebay normally has about four or five photographs of Daliah on offer, and never exceeds one page; Ebay Deutschland normally has dozens of her records available, and is usually at least two pages.)

Daliah Lavi remains a slightly enigmatic person. An ex-model who did not bother to pose for studio photographic sessions; an actress who traveled constantly to keep working but who casually antagonised Hollywood by roundly declaring that she hated the place; a woman who twice abandoned a successful career to succeed at something different; Daliah Lavi does not fit into any conventional category.

If an enterprising journalist wants to interview retired glamour queens to get their perspective, Daliah Lavi should be high on the list.

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