Although she can be regarded as one of the glamorous ‘dolly bird’ British
film actresses of the sixties, along with Charlotte Rampling, Sarah
Miles, Julie Christie, Susannah York and several others, in ‘Poor Cow’
she was deglamourised. She appeared as Joy, an inarticulate housewife
whose husband (John Bindon) is jailed for burglary. She drifts aimlessly
from job to job, from barmaid to nude photographic model, giving birth,
setting up house with another criminal (Terence Stamp), an ex-thief
mate of her husband, just out of jail – and fated to return to prison.
She has her brief moments of happiness in this rather bleak film which
featured music by Donovan. ‘Poor Cow’ received good reviews on both
sides of the Atlantic and Hollywood beckoned after she’d appeared in
‘I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Is Name.’
At the time she was riding the crest of a wave and a decision at this stage of her career was crucial – she took the wrong one. She turned down the role in Ken Russell’s acclaimed ‘Women In Love’ opposite Glenda Jackson to appear in a lacklustre American potboiler called ‘Daddy’s Gone A Hunting.’ Another chance to shine came along when she was offered ‘The Grasshopper.’ However, when she had an affair with her co-star Paul Burke, Burke’s wife tried to commit suicide and it became the talk of Hollywood. Levine said that she had contravened a clause in her agreement and the role then went to Jacqueline Bisset – and it made her a star. American films such as ‘Something Big’, with Dean Martin, did her reputation no good and it took films made in Britain such as ‘The Man Who Had Power Over Women’ and ‘Dulcima’ to stretch her as an actress.
‘The Man Who Had Power Over Women’ was offered as the first of a three-picture deal by producer Joseph E. Levine, guaranteeing her a million dollars. Her American advisers said she didn’t need to be tied to such a contract and advised against it. She didn’t get to make any more films for Levine, missed out on earning the million and never again received another offer as lucrative. Before, during and after her various marriages, she had affairs with a host of celebrities including Richard O’ Sullivan, Adam Faith, Richard Todd, Peter Sellers, Ian Hendry, Eden Kane, Oliver Reed, Terence Stamp, Chris Stamp, Little Tony and Warren Beatty. (She appeared with Faith, Todd and Sellers in the film ‘Never Look Back ‘and slept with all three of them and she slept with Beatty while he was still involved with Julie Christie).
Carol was dubbed ‘the Battersea Bardot’ while she was filming ‘Up The Junction’ - ironic because Bardot had been her idol and a great influence on her early acting career. Carol was 13 when she was given a small role in ‘Doctor At Sea.’ She recalled, “Brigitte kept very aloof from the rest of the cast, but I must have showed by my wide eyes and
divorced Lerner and married Mike Arnold, a carpenter. He proved to be
a volatile partner who often beat her and cost her film roles due to
his aggressive nature. The couple split up in 1984. Carol’s most memorable
performances were in ‘Up The Junction,’ ‘Cathy Come Home’ and ‘Poor
Cow’. In 1982 her career turned full circle when she appeared in the
West End play ‘Steaming’, which had been written by Nell Dunn and directed
by Roger Smith, the story editor of ‘Cathy Come Home’ and ‘Up The Junction.
She arrived in Miami in April 1991 and lodged in a cheap hotel room at Ocean Grande. She hadn’t worked for nine years. She’d left California haggard, her stomach distended through alcohol and cocaine use and her looks had completely gone. She began living with nurse Sue Robbins in a room with two beds, a TV, a cooker and a fridge. Her son Steve moved from Los Angeles to join them. He found her coughing up blood in the mornings. She then began coughing up blood by the bucketful and was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital with a massive ruptured oesophagus and died on 16th September. Sean had arrived to join Steve and when he saw her in the hospital, hooked up to a life support machine, he said, “I couldn’t believe it – such a beautiful woman – what happened to her?”
Carol had wanted to be buried alongside her parents in Mortlake Cemetary, London, but it would have cost $8,000 to freight her body there and her sons had no money, so she was cremated and her ashes were sent by mail. They were buried in her parent’s grave, but her sons were unable to attend the ceremony as they didn’t have the money for the air fares. During her career Carol’s other films included: ‘Circus Friends’, ‘Moby Dick’, ‘Bon Voyage’, ‘An Alligator Named Daisy’, ‘Carry On Teacher’, ‘Carry On Doctor’, ‘Carry On Nurse’, ‘Prize of Gold’, ‘Beat Girl’, ‘The Boys’, ‘Never Let Go’, ‘Surprise Package’, ‘Linda’, ‘All Night Long’, ‘Jailbreak’, ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, ‘The 39 Steps’, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, Slave Girls’, ‘The Fixer’, ‘Made’, ‘Some Call It Loving’, ‘The Squeeze’ and ‘Nutcracker’.