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Five Real Life People And The Actors Who Played Them On Screen

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Biopics have always been a staple of Hollywood and cinema in general and over the years hundreds of movies have been made about historical figures and sometimes, as is the case with Jean Harlow, movies about movie stars. This is a list of five of our favourites.

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THOMAS A’ BECKETT (1118-1170)
Archbishop of Canterbury in twelfth century England, murdered by soldiers in his cathedral on the orders of his former friend King Henry The turbulent relationship between Becket and Henry, from the time they drank and whored together, to their clash of wills over matters of state, was examined in Peter Glenville’s version of Anouilh’s 1959 stage play. Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole (Henry) both received Oscar nominations for their portrayals.

Played in the movies by
Father John Croser in Murder In The Cathedral (1952)
Richard Burton in Becket (1964)

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ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL (1847-1922)
Scottish-born American physicist whose invention of the telephone in 1876 brought him wealth, fame and a posthumous Hollywood biography starring Don Ameche!

Played in the movies by
Don Ameche in The Story Of Alexander Graham Bell (1939)
Jim Ameche in The Story Of Mankind (1957)

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JEAN HARLOW (1911-1937)
MGM’s most glamorous sex symbol of the 30s, a ‘blonde bombshell’ who co-starred with many of the studio’s leading actors, especially Gable, before meeting a tragically early death at the age of 26. Neither of the screen biographies produced during the 60s was satisfactory, although the opening scenes of studio activity in Gordon Douglas’ film remain some of the most realistic ever put on celluloid.

Played in the movies by
Carol Lynley in Harlow (1965)
Carroll Baker in Harlow (directed by Gordon Douglas) (1965)

Note: Carroll Baker’s Rina Marlowe in The Carpetbaggers (1964) was also fashioned after Harlow. Paul Bern, Harlow’s husband who committed suicide shortly after their marriage, was played by Hurd Hatfield in the Alex Segal film and by Peter Lawford in the Douglas movie.

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T.E. LAWRENCE (1888-1935)
Enigmatic British soldier and scholar who during his two years in Arabia in the First World War succeeded in uniting the Arab tribes against the Turks and became known as the legendary ‘El Aurens’. Once described by Winston Churchill as ‘the greatest living Englishman’, he died in obscurity in a motor cycle accident in Dorset after serving in the RAF under the name of Shaw. Peter O’Toole’s performance as Lawrence in David Lean’s film turned him into a major star; Albert Finney, first choice for the role, turned the part down.

Played in the movies by
PeterO’Toole in Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)

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JOE LOUIS (1914-1981)
Real name, Joseph Louis Barrow. Prior to the rise of Muhammad Ali, Louis was the most famous of the modern American heavyweights. Known as The Brown Bomber’, he reigned as world champion from 1936 to 1948 and defended his title 25 times. He won 68 of his 71 fights. A minor screen biography was produced in 1953, two years after Louis had retired from the ring.

Played in the movies by
Coley Wallace in The Joe Louis Story (1953)

Bernie Casey played Louis in the 1978 TV film Ring Of Passion which centred on the two prewar Louis/Max Schmeling fights and the way both boxers became symbols of political ideologies Stephen Macht featured as the German Schmeling.

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife

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McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Tragedy?
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal

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The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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