Belinda Lee was a British actress who worked in British and European films, predominantly in leading roles, between 1954 and her premature death in 1961.
She was born on June 15th 1935 in Budleigh Salterton, Devon, England, the daughter of hotel owner Robert Esmond Lee and his florist wife, Stella. She began studying drama at the age of 12 at the Tudor Arts Academy in Surrey and later gained a scholarship at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she made her first appearances on stage.
Val Guest, the director of Britain’s Rank Film Organisation, saw her performing on stage and found her a role in The Runaway Bus (1954) opposite Frankie Howerd and Margaret Rutherford. This resulted in her being signed to a contract and being groomed as a rival to Diana Dors. At Rank she met one of the studio’s top photographers, Cornel Lucas and on June 4th 1954 they were married. Thanks to her husband she became very well publicised (he allegedly took 10,000 photographs of her!), finding 4 further supporting roles in British features in 1954, before rapidly graduating to leading lady status by the following year in a succession of mostly low-budget comedies and crime films, none of which really showed her potential. Despite the shortcomings of her roles she was nevertheless voted 10th most popular British film star in 1957 by British exhibitors. She also gained plenty of publicity by regularly attending Europe’s major film festivals throughout the late 50’s, particularly Cannes and Venice.
In late 1957, now estranged from her husband, she made her first film in Italy, La Venere di Cheronea. While there she met and began an affair with Prince Filippo Orsini, which caused quite a scandal since both parties were married and ended with them being condemned by the Pope and both making much-publicised failed suicide attempts. Before long they were reconciled. Far from harming her career, the international notoriety following the scandal made producers see her in a new light. She made her final film for Rank in 1957, after which she embarked on the next phase of her career, playing a succession of vamps and tramps (including some of history’s most notorious such as Messalina and Lucretia Borgia), appearing in leading roles in films shot in France, Germany and, especially, Italy, where she now made her home. Meanwhile in 1959 her divorce with Lucas became final and in 1960 she announced her affair with Orsini was over and she was rumoured to be seeing Walter Chiari.
In 1961 Belinda was dating mondo movie producer, journalist and playboy Gualtiero Jacopetti and she accompanied him on a trip to the US. While driving between Las Vegas to Los Angeles on March 12th 1961 they were involved in a car accident. Tragically Belinda was killed when she was thrown from the car, from a fractured skull and broken neck. She was aged just 25. Belinda’s ashes were later returned to Rome and placed in the Campo Cestio Cemetery.
At the time of her death Belinda was working steadily, getting top billing even above other star names, and her name could pretty much guarantee a film she appeared in getting an international release, so I think it would be fair to say that she died a star.
- Life with the Lyons .... Violet Hemingway (credited)
- Meet Mr. Callaghan .... Jenny Appleby (credited)
- Murder by Proxy .... Phyllis Brunner (credited)
- The Belles of St. Trinian's .... Amanda (credited)
- The Runaway Bus .... Janie Grey (credited)
- Footsteps in the Fog .... Elizabeth Travers (credited)
- Man of the Moment .... Sonia (credited)
- No Smoking .... Miss Tonkins (credited)
- Eyewitness .... Nurse Penny Gladstone (credited)
- The Big Money .... Gloria (credited)
- The Feminine Touch .... Susan (credited)
- Who Done It? .... Frankie (credited)
- Dangerous Exile .... Virginia Traill (credited)
- La Venere di Cheronea .... Aphrodite (credited)
- Miracle in Soho .... Julia Gozzi (credited)
- The Secret Place .... Molly Wilson (credited)
- Nor the Moon by Night .... Alice Lang (credited)
- Brevi amori a Palma di Majorca .... Mary Moore (credited)
- Ce corps tant désiré .... Lina (credited)
- Die Wahrheit über Rosemarie .... Rosemarie Nitbritt (credited)
- I filibustieri della Martinica .... Marie Bonnard (credited)
- I magliari .... Paula Mayer (credited)
- Le notti di Lucrezia Borgia .... Lucretia Borgia (credited)
- Les dragueurs .... Ghislaine (credited)
- Der Satan lockt mit Liebe .... Evelyn (credited)
- Femmine di lusso .... Adriana Bressan (credited)
- La lunga notte del '43 .... Anna Barilari (credited)
- Messalina Venere imperatrice .... Valeria / Empress Messalina (credited)
- Costantino il grande .... Fausta (credited)
- Fantasmi a Roma .... Eileen Charm (credited)
- Giuseppe venduto dai fratelli .... Heneth (credited)
- Il sicario .... Ileana Torelli (credited)
- La donna nel mondo (1963) contains a dedication to the memory of Belinda
- The Case of Canary Jones (1954) short film
- Film Fanfare (1956) TV series - Belinda should appear in at least 3 episodes from that year
- Reflets de Cannes (1960) Documentary TV series - Belinda should appear in the May 9th episode