The Mondo Esoterica Guide to:

Hazel Court

  About Hazel Court:

Born in Birmingham in 1926, Hazel Court took an interest in acting from an early age and was soon appearing in school and local plays. Looking to make a full career out of performing she attended and graduated from the London Academy of Dramatic Arts. The move into films came by chance in 1944 when her sister Audrey showed off a photograph of Hazel to Norman Loudon, the owner of Shepperton Studios. He encouraged her to appear in films and she got her first credit with a speaking line in Ealing Studio’s music hall comedy Champagne Charlie (1944). She became the first woman to be contracted by Rank Studios and a selection of productions followed with Hazel reaching progressively higher billing and attracting more attention, particularly with the film Carnival (1946) where she won a Picturegoer magazine award for her portrayal of a crippled girl. In 1948 she narrowly missed out on what would have been her biggest film role to date in the Powell and Pressburger ballet fantasy The Red Shoes (1948). The key role of Vicky Page had been initially promised to ballet dancer and actress Moira Shearer but when she was unwilling to take the role they looked to cast Hazel with a body double being used in the dancing scenes but ultimately Moira Shearer relented and took the role.

In 1948 Hazel met Irish actor Dermot Walsh on the set of My Sister and I (1948) and the pair were married the next year. She took some time off from the screen during which time the couple had a daughter, Sally. Hazel returned to the screen a few years later alongside Dermot in the small British horror film Ghost Ship (1952) from director Vernon Sewell. She worked for him again in Counterspy (1953) and began a short run of low budget British films including the perfectly titled sci-fi shocker Devil Girl from Mars (1954) and a selection of crime and mystery films. Her best known role came in 1957 with a return to horror in Curse of Frankenstein (1957). The British Hammer Films company had evolved from a quota quicke production firm in the late 1940s to a major player in the British cinema scene with the success of their Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and its follow-ups. Looking for a new project they settled on the classic Frankenstein tale and cast Peter Cushing in the lead role with the then little known Christopher Lee as the creature, Hazel was offered the major role as Elizabeth and played it with some real conviction and her young daughter Sally gave a brief appearance as a younger version of the character at the film's start.

However, while this appearance gained Hazel a cult following in years to come, it was a television part that secured her short term recognition as she played the co-leading role alongside Patrick O'Neal in Dick and the Duchess, an American sit-com set and filmed in Britain. For the next two years Hazel would appear in a variety of television shows, from ATV’s early sci-fi series Invisible Man (1958/9) to the action packed Danger Man (1960-2) with Patrick McGoohan. Across the Atlantic as well she appeared in the highly popular Western adventure Bonanza (1959-73), an episode of the classic Boris Karloff hosted Thriller (1960-2) series and in four stories from Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62).

With the success of Hammer’s Curse of Frankenstein now evident the studio quickly began work on a number of similar projects. Hazel was invited back to star in The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) which was to be another Cushing and Lee partnership under the helm of Hammer’s expert horror director Terence Fisher; however Peter Cushing opted out of the production before filming started and the leading role was taken by the German actor Anton Diffring. As part of the film Hazel gave her only on-screen nude appearance, a brief topless scene which she herself described as being very tastefully done, although it still fell foul of the British censors and only appeared in prints of the film used in Europe. Two smaller British films followed, the independent horror Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961) a Frankenstein-style story set in Wales and the sex comedy Mary Had a Little... (1961) which foresaw the soon-to-be popular comedy format of the Carry On films.

The impact of the Hammer film was being felt around the world and the sudden demand for gothic horror inspired the American director Roger Corman and his producers American International Productions (AIP) to stop making low budget sci-fi double-bills and pool their resources to make some big looking horror films. House of Usher (1960) set the scene and sequels quickly followed. Hazel was invitied to play the female lead in Corman’s third film Premature Burial (1962) a solid effort although the film is now better remembered for being the only entry in the series not to star Vincent Price. In interviews at the time she emphasised how important it was to take the parts seriously despite their often rather daft nature but her next role required quite the opposite – The Raven (1963) was another Corman production, this time uniting Price with Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff in a semi-comic take on the Poe films with Hazel in the all important role of Lenore. Corman found her very good to work with and cast her again in his penultimate Poe film the serious and often surreal Masque of the Red Death (1964) where she played the devil worshipping Juliana who clashes with the na´ve young Francesca (played by Jane Asher).

During this time Hazel decided to make a permanent home in the States and left Walsh to marry the actor and director Don Taylor whom she had first met on the set of The Crocodile Case an episode in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. After Masque Hazel continued to work in a variety of television roles including The Wild Wild West (1966-8), Mission: Impossible (1966-73) and a five episode stint on Dr. Kildare (1961-5). By the end of the decade she all but retired from television work to raise the couple's two young children and discovering a talent of painting and sculpture - she made one final appearance a decade later in her husband's project Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981) in an uncredited small role. As the Hammer and Poe films were rediscovered with the rise of home video Hazel became active on the fan circuits and frequently gave interviews about the films. She passed away in April 2008 shortly after completing work on her autobiography Hazel Court - Horror Queen.

   DVD Reviews: Films starring Hazel Court
Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
UK Warner Brothers Region 2 DVD
Hazel Court has an important part to play in Hammer's first horror film that would inspired a decade of gothic horror around the world.
Highly recommended.
Masque of the Red Death (1964)
MGM Region 1 DVD
The highlight of the AIP horror cycle, Hazel Court has an unusual role as a willing disciple of the devil.
Highly recommended.
Premature Burial (1962)
MGM Region 1 DVD
An interesting story is let down by a poor climax but Corman is solid as usual and Ray Milland makes an interesting lead in this AIP horror.
Partly recommended to fans of the series.
The Raven (1963)
MGM Region 1 DVD
A light hearted take on the classic poem provides the story for this well directed film with a well played performance from Hazel Court.
Recommended to fans of the AIP horror series.

   Television Episodes starring Hazel Court

The Invisible Man: Season 1 (1958)
Episode 8: The Mink Coat
Network UK R2 DVD
An early British sci-fi show of rather varied quality that included a variety of familiar British character actors in major roles.
In The Mink Coat, Hazel Court plays an entertainer who gets drawn into a conflict with dangerous smugglers. 


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All text in this site written by Timothy Young - April 2008.
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