Constance Smith

Constance Smith

Birthday: January 22, 1928
Born Place: Limerick, Ireland

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Strikingly attractive, but troubled Irish leading lady of the 1950’s, born to a struggling family in Limerick. Constance’s is, perhaps, one of the more lurid and tragic tales of a promising career ending up on the skids. It began with her winning a 1946 look-alike competition in a Dublin movie magazine, touting her as a dead ringer for Hedy Lamarr. A successful screen test with the Rank Organisation followed. In the process of being groomed by the Rank ‘charm school’, Constance first demonstrated her fiery temperament and unwillingness to tow the line. This quickly got her fired. Moving to London, she made ends meet by appearing in supporting roles in several British films. A small part as a maid in The Mudlark (1950) got her noticed in Hollywood and she was signed, with much fanfare and publicity, under contract to 20th Century Fox. Again, Constance clashed with producers and executives, starting with her refusal to change her surname from ‘Smith’ to something, presumably more memorable to movie-going audiences. She later claimed to have been the victim of casting couch politics — an assertion, which, given her looks, and the fact that Darryl F. Zanuck was Fox’s head of production at the time, is not entirely implausible.

Briefly in the limelight as a presenter at the 1952 Academy Awards, she was featured in a string of B-movies, including Red Skies of Montana (1952), Treasure of the Golden Condor (1953) and the thriller Man in the Attic (1953). Whether too emotionally frail to mount the pressures of stardom, or simply not talented enough to be thought of as star material, Constance never made it beyond leading lady status. By the time her contract expired in 1953, she had undergone an abortion forced upon her by the studio, and the first of her three marriages was on the ropes. As the years went on and she failed to get the parts she felt were commensurate to her abilities, she began an embittered descent into a life of drugs and alcohol. Constance last acted in a brace of minor films made in Italy between 1955 and 1959, including a role as Lucretia Borgia in Conspiracy of the Borgias (1959). None of these did anything to resuscitate her failing career. During her time in Rome, she first attempted suicide by overdosing on barbiturates.

Worse was to come: in 1962 and 1968, she was twice sentenced to brief prison terms for attempting to stab her partner, documentary filmmaker and film historian Paul Rotha. She also tried several more times to kill herself. Her last decades were spent, dissipated, in and out of hospitals. When able to get herself together for brief periods, she worked as a cleaner. Constance died, in obscurity, as an alcoholic on a street in Islington, London. As Irish author and blogger Sharon Slater wrote of Smith, ‘a sadder end is hard to imagine.’

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