Shirley Corrigan survived a troubled upbringing to emerge as one of the sexiest stars of 70s European cinema, working with Fellini and playing Fanny Hill! Then a tragic accident cut short her promising career. Allan Bryce met up with Shirley to learn the full, fascinating story.

Shirley Corrigan is hardly a superstar of world cinema. In fact this is just about the first time she has ever been interviewed anywhere. Even her inevitable IMDB entry has no background facts about her career, and offers an incomplete list of her movie work. But any fan of the wilder side of exploitation cinema will no doubt have encountered this lovely lady's screen work at some stage. Remember The Devil's Nightmare? She was the gorgeous blonde who had a lesbian encounter in the first reel and went on to share an equally saucy encounter with a snake!

In The Crimes of the Black Cat she was slashed to death in the shower in a sequence that made Hitchcock's Psycho look pretty mild by comparison, and in Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf she played the wife of El Hombre Lobo himself, Paul Naschy. Oh, and in the unforgettable Around the World With Fanny Hill, she made an excellent Fanny in every way.

Nowadays Shirley is somewhat bemused that anyone remembers her at all. She quit movies in the early 80s after a serious road accident, and her life took her on a dramatically different course. A devout Catholic, she even found herself working with Mother Teresa, who dubbed her 'Shirleybelle,' a name she still prefers to use now.

When I arrived at Shirley's small but cosy South London home I was immediately struck by the lack of videos and DVDs in evidence. She's obviously a 'book person' and a highbrow one at that. None of your two-for-seven-quid Tesco bestsellers here, but rather works on philosophy and religion, and a signed Mother Teresa tome on the coffee table!

While a gentleman such as myself would never ask a lady her age, I think it's safe to say that Shirley could be described as 'well preserved.' Still glamorous, still very blonde, she's also incredibly well spoken in a Joanna Lumley way that would make her a natural for voice-overs. Ironic really, when you consider that just about every one of her movie roles was dubbed! She's single, but still has men running around after her. such as the clearly smitten neighbour who dropped in to change a light bulb during our chat!

Shirley tells me she was born on a yacht on the way to Sweden, and that her early life was quite a trial. "I have a brother and sister and we lived in Sweden. But my mother was rather poorly. She had something called manic depression, though they didn't know what it was in those days. So my parents separated and we three little children were taken to a children's home in St. Albans. From there we were fostered out. Eventually we were sent to a lady named Mrs. King who lived in Tring. Mr. and Mrs. Sterling Moss lived opposite us in a place called Cloud Farm, and I used to go on the tractor with Pat Moss. She taught me how to drive it."

But despite these diversions, life in the King household was not pleasant. "She had a lot of other children there, and I very quickly understood that she went through my drawer in the dressing table. I thought that was terrible. I was about seven years old and I realised immediately that was very wrong.

"On one occasion I didn't have any toothpaste in the bathroom. I was sleeping in a room where there were other beds and I don't know where my brother was. I remember going downstairs to the drawing room where Mrs. King and her husband were reading the newspaper. I knocked on the drawing room door and said, 'Please may I have some toothpaste?' And she said, 'But there's toothpaste in the bathroom.'

"But it was that Gibbs flat toothpaste that used to come in a tin. Do you remember it? It was in a tin and you had to open it and scrape it off. I said, 'I'm sorry, but we don't have that where I come from. We have real toothpaste, soft and white, not pink and hard!' And she was so angry with me that she chased me up the stairs! I was terrified of her. I didn't know what I'd done wrong because I'd knocked at the door and was very polite and that was the beginning of realising what sort of a person she was. I only found out years and years later that my father used to write us letters and put money in them, and we never received them!"

NO PLACE LIKE ROME

When she was 16, she studied choral singing, poetry and drama, and joined an amateur dramatics society. "We did lots of musicals like The Belle of New York and Oklahoma," she recalls. "I had a nice singing voice." Then she auditioned for a travelling theatre company called The Marlowes at Cambridge University. "They were looking for somebody who was very nice looking - as I was at that time! - and I auditioned for them and sang in the Sound of Music. We worked for the British Consul and travelled all over the world."

And so it was that a young Shirleybelle arrived in Rome at the end of the 1960s. "We were told that they were going on to Australia and New Zealand," she recalls, "but I said, 'No, I don't want any more sleeping in ghastly beds. I want to stay in Rome and I'm going to be an actress in the cinema and television. So I found an agent and I started to work. I worked with Fellini in The Clowns (1971), but I didn't have a credit so you won't find it on the Internet. It was an extra part and I had an incredibly tight costume on, with a hat and a wig, so I don't know if even I'd recognise myself in it now!"

Shirley met Fellini many times. "I adored him and he was in awe of me," she recalls. "He kept saying I looked like Sandra Milo, and I kept saying 'Maestro Fellini, please, I am Shirley Corrigan!'

His wife was Juliet Massini, as you know, and she was absolutely delightful. One day while making The Clowns I got sunstroke, and Mr. Fellini took me back to his house and looked after me for the weekend. At the time I was living in an apartment by myself. An admirer of mine owned it, but he didn't interfere with me at all. He had lots of other women much more beautiful and adventurous than me!"

The actress is not exactly forthcoming on the subject of her love life. When I state that I find it unbelievable such a gorgeous blonde could live in Rome and never even get her bottom pinched, she responds by saying: "I never found anybody good enough for me. I did have a few affairs later on but they were all such terrible disappointments, not only standing up but also laying down!

She stresses that she never had an affair with Richard Burton or Marcello Mastroianni, her legendary co-stars in the movie Massacre in Rome. But she says she read to Richard daily and that Liz Taylor came onto the set every day to make sure he wasn’t messing aound with ol’ Shirlybelle! She considers this one of the highlights in her career!

"I fell very much in love with a French man at one point," she continues, "but unfortunately he was very clumsy and got another girl pregnant and that just killed me... I was going to marry him!

"It is true to say that I never had my bottom pinched! I did have some affairs, but they were not anything to do with the cinema. I fell very much in love with a French man at one point, but unfortunately he was very clumsy and got another girl pregnant and that just killed me. I was going to marry him! In Rome I eventually met a man named Andre who I did fall in love with. He was a French film director, but he turned out to be a conniving trickster and stole a lot of my money. He was producing some films and they never sent the money so I was meeting all the costs with my hard-earned money from Fanny Hill. I believed in him because he was so charming."

Shirley's relationship with Andre did at least allow her to meet some very interesting people, including the legendary director Pier Paolo Pasolini, who of course met an untimely end in 1975, beaten to death (supposedly by rent boys) after completing the much-banned Salo: 120 Days Of Sodom. "Pasolini was a great poet," she recalls. "He was a genius. He came to lunch a few times and once you got into a conversation around the table about anything intellectual he was a brilliant speaker. He had very strong values. He wrote the best article I have ever read against abortion. it was so deep. I kept it for a long time.

"He had quite a retinue of writers around him, and of course he took a lot of actors from the street, making use of those lovely Roman faces. I could never understand the dark side of him though. why he didn't have a permanent boyfriend and liked to go out cruising. All I can say is that when I read his articles you'd have thought you were reading the words of a devout Catholic. Yet some of his films were a bit strange and controversial. We weren't allowed to see Sodom in Italy. Is it very graphic?" Er, yes.

SNAKE CHARMING

Shirley's first feature role was in The Devil's Nightmare (1970), a creepy chiller made in Belgium in which a bunch of tourists arrive at a spooky old castle and get bumped off according to the rules of the Seven Deadly Sins. "The producer came to Rome and my agent put me forward for the film," the actress recalls. "The producer said, 'I need to talk to you privately. I'd like to come to your home.' I thought that was wrong, but I let him come because I wanted to do the film.

"He said, 'There is a scene that is not written in the script. It's a lesbian scene.' Well, it is very soft isn't it? But it was still very difficult for me to do. However, once I decided I wanted to be in the film, I knew it was just something I had to do. He said, 'How do I know that you will do it?' I said, 'I'll do it now for you if you like.' So I just got on the floor and did it. There was a big mirror in my old fashioned wardrobe, so I could see myself. I used a pillow and pretended it was the other girl. I had no idea what it was going to be about and I didn't know what lesbians did, but I just did it! Mind you, he didn't tell me about the snake scene until I arrived in Belgium!'

When it came down to the actual filming of the lesbian scene, Shirleybelle got another surprise. "When the other girl turned up, believe it or not she was Ivana, my neighbour from down the road! Anyway, we just got on and did it and it was fine. It was all filmed in a real castle in Belgium. I stayed in this rather charming hotel with the other girls, Ivana and Erika Blanc."

Though Shirleybelle concedes that Erica Blanc was very good in The Devil's Nightmare playing a sexy succubus, she doesn't have find memories of her as a person. "She wasn't particularly friendly, and I thought she was a bit of a tart, quite frankly. She was furious when I told her about the snake scene. 'No way would I do that! You must call your agent immediately!' All that kind of talk. But I said, 'I've promised now and I do not want to go back on my word.' When it came to the filming I wasn't at all frightened because the trainer was there. I just held my breath and got on with it."

Any other memories? She nods. "Do you remember the scene when we come in that old bus at the beginning of the film? This is where we drove every day to the castle along that long road. It's strange because watching the film on DVD the other day, in the beginning when we were going along the long lane to the castle I suddenly saw myself looking down the aisle of the bus to see what the director was doing and they left that in - which was a mistake."

She maintains that she never saw any of her films way back then. "Not one! I didn't know where they went to. I was in London and went past a cinema showing Around the World with Fanny Hill but I wasn't going to go in and see that! The poster was offensive to me. showing my boobs on a poster without asking my permission!"

The only time that she did show off a bit was in the mid-70s when she was on the cover of Vogue! "I went to buy a copy of the magazine and I asked if I could buy the poster by the newsstand, then I did a dance round it with this taxi driver!"

MEET THE WOLF MAN

In 1973 she went to Madrid to play Paul Naschy's wife in Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf, another film that she has just seen for the first time on DVD. "You know the scene where I'm talking to my lawyer with my hat on? It's a beautiful shot of me, even if I say so myself!" She says she signed up for the movie with only the vaguest of ideas what it was about. The director, Mr. Leon Klimovsky told me the story when I went to Madrid and I thought, 'This is too easy for words I'm not going to have any challenge here at all.'"

On working with the legendary Spanish horror star she says: "Paul was very serious man. He was an introvert, always practicing his lines, his faces and his makeup. He spent more time in makeup than me! He was very close to the director, they had a very strong friendship and would always be talking business together.

"Mr. Klimovsky was a great director. He'd be shouting on his megaphone all the time. We were in the mountains and doing a lot of long shots, and Paul Naschy had his own megaphone too and was shouting back so it was quite funny really! Paul was such a perfectionist that he didn't have a stand in, even for the lighting. He did everything himself."

Shirley didn't realise how famous her co-star was until she got some first hand experience.

"When I first arrived in Madrid and was getting to know Paul Naschy, we would go to his house where he invited me to meet his family - they were all very lovely, and very hospitable. Then we decided we would go out together and talk about the script, but it became impossible because there were about 300 people waiting outside the restaurant for autographs! It was like a stampede, He kept saying to the public: "This is Senorita Shirley Corrigan, a beautiful girl from England. She's bringing me good luck. He was such a generous man. I liked working with him, he was very respectful to me and always said, 'You're much too good!'"

Another movie of hers that Shirleybelle recently rediscovered on disc is Secrets of a Call Girl.

"It's considered to be a B film," she notes, "but it's very good and the storyline is very sad. It is about this girl who falls in love with this man and she finds out too late that he is in the Mafia and he just dominates her and sends her out as a call girl. There are no explicit sex scenes in the film. She can't get out of it, and all he wants to do in the end is to kill her because she knows too much. It was an education for me watching it. At the time we were making it I kept asking for the script, but I never got one because they told me they were always changing it!"

Her memories are somewhat vague of other movies such as Four Flies on Grey Velvet, where she was an extra in a party scene, Crimes of the Black Cat and Syndicate Sadists. The latter was directed by Umberto Lenzi, notorious for making the much-banned Cannibal Ferox aka Make Them Die Slowly. "All I remember is, they're all so ugly these men," she grimaces. "That's the problem, nobody's good looking. They were so vulgar too. Carlo Ponti offered me a seven-year contract and he put his hand on my crutch. I should have rung his wife, Sophia Loren, and told her!"

STALKED AND SMASHED

As the 80s dawned, Shirley started to cut back on her movie work. She was working as a PA to a petroleum company in Rome, but her movie past was still haunting her because she was being stalked by an obsessive fan. The guy had been on her case for two years and she had been forced to go to the police and take out a restraining order against him. His obsessions had now turned to hatred and, as the actress travelled a lonely road at night he smashed into her vehicle from behind.

"There was a combine harvester coming from the side," she recalls. "My car missed it, but went down the hill. I remember I saw all my life going towards me, like a film. I broke my sternum and I smashed my face very badly on the steering wheel, and the glass from the window was in my head for a long time.

"I actually signed myself out of the hospital and got a lift back to Rome. I went to look for the doctor and he said to me, 'I can't do anything for you now but I can help you this evening. Go home and get a bottle of vodka out of the fridge and lie on it to keep your face cold until 5 0'clock, then come back and I'll sew your face up for you. I didn't go into shock until six weeks later and then it was terrible. I was shaking all over. That car accident changed my life. I was ill for two years, losing my memory and my speech."

Shirley returned to London and did theatre for a while, but she had lost her confidence. She took a tourism course and became an International guide. Then the Iraq War began and Americans stopped coming to Europe, so that job went by the wayside too. It was after this that she decided to devote her life to helping others, spending some time working with Mother Teresa.

She recently signed on to a casting agency and is looking for voice-over work, and it was here that she met 'Coxy,' the young guy who contacted me to arrange this interview - thanks very much, Coxy! He also showed Shirley some of her movies on DVD, finally enabling to appreciate some of her celluloid achievements. "I had no idea people were interested," she says. "It's very exciting. I can't believe it."

We can't believe that this lovely lady is on her own, but she says she's still looking for Mr. Right. "When you haven't had love as a child you're out on a limb," she sighs, "but I'm a very happy person. I love my life and I couldn't be happier." And we are happy to report that our favourite snake lady is still in there fighting.

The actress is not exactly forthcoming on the subject of her love life. When I state that I find it unbelievable such a gorgeous blonde could live in Rome and never even get her bottom pinched, she responds by saying: “I never found anybody good enough for me. I did have a few affairs later on but they were all such terrible disappointments, not only standing up but also laying down!”
She stresses that she never had an affair with Richard Burton or Marcello Mastroianni, her legendary co-stars in the movie Massacre in Rome. But she says she read to Richard daily and that Liz Taylor came onto the set every day to make sure he wasn’t messing aound with ol’ Shirlybelle! She considers this one of the highlights in her career!

"I fell very much in love with a French man at one point," she continues, "but unfortunately he was very clumsy and got another girl pregnant and that just killed me… I was going to marry him!"

Interview reproduced courtesy of DVD World.
Thanks to Mark Cox at UGLY models.