Many notable film roles followed, Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951),which was temporarily banned by the American Board of Film Censors on account that Diana’s navel was deemed too risqué. There followed another brush with the censors when she was filming My Wife’s Lodger in 1952 in which had to have one scene shot twice - once for a British audience where Diana was allowed to show her navel, and again for the American audience with Diana wearing a shirt to cover up.
US Version (covering the navel)
A further 10 films later, it was not until the highly acclaimed Yield to the Night in 1956, that Diana was fully able to demonstrate her ability to act. Casting off her sex symbol image, Diana portrayed Mary Hilton who, in the care of Her Majesty’s Prison, was awaiting a reprieve from her sentence to be hung and the film’s publicity asked, “Would you hang Mary Hilton?”
Diana went to America in the mid 50’s in a blaze of publicity only to have it all go disastrously wrong with the gossip of affairs and poor behaviour by her then husband, Dennis Hamilton. At a pool party full of Hollywood A-list celebrities, Diana was pushed fully clothed into her swimming pool. Hamilton then proceeded to punch the photographer thought to have pushed her into unconsciousness. The celebrities fled and the headlines the following day were “Ms Dors go home and take Mr Dors with you!”. Her three movie deal with RKO ended after they cancelled the contract on a moral clause in the contract after only The Unholy Wife (1958) and I Married a Woman (1958) were completed.
During her career spanning nearly four decades, Diana was much-revered and loved by the British public, and her life, both professional and personal, was followed in a whole new way. Through the media, Diana’s life was made accessible to the British public warts and all. Previously stars had been just that, high in the sky and inaccessible, deemed to be living perfect lives, not ordinary people with ordinary lives. With Diana’s stardom came an accessibility; she was down to earth, made mistakes, had a vulnerability about her and the British public followed her ups and downs through the many daily newspapers and magazine articles.
Hamilton looked for any opportunity to get Diana’s name in the press. Not only was Diana’s image constructed by her on screen persona, but also by her fascinating and often more titillating off-screen life. The British public loved the ‘rags to riches’ story of a Swindon girl made good, from her early days as a plain brunette in late 1940’s post-war austere Britain, to the platinum starlet of the 1950’s which mirrored the country’s new, modern and progressive image.
By the mid 1950’s the press had began to wrestle with the publicity machine that was Diana Dors Ltd, with questions being asked in the House of Lords regarding her extravagant lifestyle and how she was earning more money than most at the time including the majority of the cabinet ministers! Diana was open and honest in her dealings with the press. On one occasion, when asked about a leopard skin rug seen in a photograph in her house, she had no qualms in telling reporters it was a second hand bargain.
Dors name was inextricably linked with those of other sex symbols of the time - Monroe, Bardot and Russell, and she was often seen as Britain’s answer to them. The sex symbol image has its emphasis on glamour, wealth, sensuality and the knowledge of how to portray sex with an image. Diana was photographed on many occasions with her eyelids half closed, her sensuous lips pouting and often slightly open. To men this was the ‘come to bed’ look of desire. To women it was a look to aspire to; the glamorous dresses, often showing more than an acceptable amount of cleavage, always pushing the boundaries of the time, the hour-glass figure, along with the amazing jewellery and the perfect hair and make up.
When Diana had separated from Hamilton, he still owned or managed most of her assets, so in order to fund her independence from him, whilst the lawyers sorted out the mess that was Diana Dors Ltd (properties, mortgages, a coffee bar etc), Diana entered the lucrative world of cabaret and toured The Diana Dors Show around Britain’s variety theatres. Diana’s boyfriend at the time, Tommy Yeardle, put forward the name of a comedian they had recently met, Dickie Dawson, and the show, managed by Joe Collins (father of Jackie and Joan), went on the road. The show was a great success and once again the British public warmed to her, seeing a different side of the tarnished star. Diana had recreated herself once more, this time she was funny, she sang and was entertaining, Dawson had written much of the material and they had a wonderful chemistry on stage together. He was extremely funny and quit-witted and Diana fell head over heels in love with him, and the relationship with Yeardle was suddenly over. Yeardle was heart broken, and having the key to a Harrods’ safety deposit box in which Diana had deposited a large amount of cash, he helped himself. More negative publicity followed, but the story also alerted the tax man to the fact Diana was storing vast sums of cash not previously declared!
Diana’s trust in men who took advantage of her was well documented, and both Hamilton and Yeardle are examples. Towards the end of their marriage, Hamilton had forced Diana at gunpoint to sign over the majority of her assets to him. Hamilton spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of Diana’s money. After he died (from tertiary syphilis) whilst Diana was touring the cabaret show, he left Diana nothing but thousands of pounds in debts. Amazingly his business partners did rather well, one even having ownership of Hamilton’s yacht in the South of France! Diana was then pursued by another man wanting money from her - the tax man - and not for the first or last time.
Diana and Dickie Dawson wedding photos (Courtesy of Mark Dawson)
Diana married Dickie Dawson whilst in New York making an appearance on the Steve Allen Show in 1959, further promoting her cabaret persona. Back in the UK her new husband was busy writing the script for the television debut of The Diana Dors Show, bringing Diana to a whole new and wider audience. The TV show was a huge success and a second series was quickly commissioned.