March 1974: Movie World

The Real Reason Diana Rigg Gave Up Her Independence

She whizzed into the United States, this beautiful Britisher, laying siege to the hearts of American television viewers, and now, equally as swiftly, she is gone. Several months ago, the arrival of Diana Rigg on our shores was hailed with great fanfare. She was going to be the new Mary Tyler Moore of situational comedy; but she was going to be even hipper. In interview after interview, as the new TV season rapidly drew near, Diana came across as perhaps the most liberated lady to ever grace the little screen. Straightforward, unafraid to say virtually anything and everything that was on her mind, she had the network a bit nervous. She had a fierce and fiery independence that appealed to us all, and it was hoped that the same energy that propelled this luscious 5'10" redhead in real life would project itself into the series.

Of course, it didn't. After only eight episodes of Diana, the series had been cancelled, and Diana Rigg, with husband Menachem Gueffen, is winging her way back to Europe for a long-awaited Italian honeymoon, and then back to England where she will once again act on stage, her first love, at the new home of the National Theatre.

Diana had come to the United States in hopes that her projected series would work out, but with the cautious attitude that if it failed, she could just go back to England and to stage acting. But American television audiences don't approach new TV personalities with as light a philosophy as Diana was able to propound. In other words, when we're sold on a personality, we're sold all the way. And the American public was sold on Diana Rigg. Bright, spunky, beautiful, with a healthy sense of her own talents, we fell for Diana Rigg, and we fell hard. Yet, it is this very high-spirited that we admired in Diana that the network failed to emphasize enough in the series. Diana acknowledges that perhaps she put her opinion in a bit too late to revamp the series format. "I suppose I should have stuck my oar in earlier.," she explains. "But all my training taught me to do what I was told and keep my mouth shut." Then, of course, Diana had to adjust to the very technique of shooting a three-camera show, which was confusing enough, let alone putting in her two-cents' worth about the plot lines. "I finally spoke up," she continues, "when we were reading a script in which a woman rises from an affair and tells her lover, 'Thank you.' I said no woman would do that. We got into a violent argument, an absolute brawl, and the more we argued the funnier it got. Finally Leonard Stern, the producer, said let's throw away the script and shoot the argument..."

But the decision to get the real Diana on tape came a bit late, for after only two episodes of this spirited Diana, another decision was made - to axe the show. Yet, if the series has ended, the public interest in Diana lingers on, and this month the continuing saga of this liberated lady looks toward a bright future and, believe it or not, constant rumors that the woman who was so reluctant to become bride may just be getting ready to become a mother! One Hollywood columnist explained that he had been "tipped by a best friend of the stork that Diana and groom Menachem Gueffen... are getting the nursery ready." And it seems that our source could very well be correct, for Diana, once a staunch defender of single bliss, is now totally converted. One of the main reasons that Diana approved of wedlock is because she and Menachem both agree that children should not be reared outside of marriage. Asked several months ago whether there was a family on the way, Diana had answered, "No, not yet. But who knows? And Menachem is very old-fashioned and Jewish about children. He won't even entertain the thought of having a child without being married. So at least we agree on that.

It took awhile to convert Diana - would you believe thirty-five years? - but it seems she has really been won over by a man even stronger and more determined than she. "I need a strong man," she says, "and Menachem is strong. I battled very hard against marriage and lost. It's as simple as that. And I can tell you it was a bloody battle. Very hard fought." The battle began last spring when Diana first met and fell in love with Menachem. They carried on a long-term romance, she in England, he in Israel - some distance to commute - and ended with a battle royale in a Tel Aviv room, with Menachem declaring that if she wouldn't marry him, she could very well leave; and he would help her. He took her suitcase and her clothes and threw them out the window. That's when she knew, as she aptly put it, that she had met her match. So they married.

But unlike the reluctant bride in Taming of the Shrew, Diana seems more at home than ever that a "Mrs." has been added to her name. No, not because she ever feared being an old maid. When you're as beautiful and brilliant as Diana, that's one fear you could never have. Single, she had her pick. But marriage, and to Menachem, seems to have been just the right move...perhaps because they are both at a point in their lives when they are ready to settle down into a family situation and have children. And Diana knew that the man she loved would never consent to children without her first becoming his wife. Why, Diana has even become quite a matchmaker. While working on the film Theatre of Blood, with Vincent Price, Diana and Vincent became very good friends. Result? She introduced him to Coral Browne and now the very married Vincent - twenty-five years married - is divorcing his wife Mary and moving to London to be with his new ladylove. The whole romantic turnabout has a very definite whirlwind Diana flair, doesn't it?

Exactly what kind of man is Menachem, though, that he could subdue a fiery spirit like Diana's? Well, for one thing, he's a man who loves Diana's fiery spirit, so he didn't exactly subdue it or her. "She is an extraordinary person," he confides. "Very fiery, very tempestuous. But honest and marvelous to be with. For me it was love at first sight." Perhaps their whirlwind courtship and marriage can best be explained by Diana's philosophy of life. She's a woman who loves to hurl herself into new things; that's why she had led such an exciting life. "Anyone who leads me to new areas," she says, "I'm captured." For Diana, Menachem was an exciting adventure, opening a whole new world of knowledge to her. "Why wed?" she conjectures. "It's a question which I've profoundly asked myself a number of times. There's no facile answer at all, except I needed it. The bond, outside the sexual part, is an exchange of intellect and knowledge. I personally am in awe of things I don't understand, such as art. I can learn from Menachem."

It fits well with Diana's independence that she is ever ready to learn from people and from experiences. What you learn in life and how you put it to good use does, indeed, determine whether you'll be an independent, self-sufficient entity. Diana's training in independence came early though. Born in Yorkshire, near the misty, romantic moors in Northern England, Diana was taken to India at the age of two, where she remained for six years. Living in India can be the most eye-opening experience ever. And while it may seem that a child of two might not pick up much in that way, Diana probably did absorb a great deal of the feeling of a poverty-stricken country, where people must struggle for survival. Of course, being the daughter of an English engineer, Diana never felt in a very personal sense the kind of misfortune and deprivation these people were experiencing. But surely the impression was left even at that tender age - nothing would be handed to her; she must grown to be an independent human being, able to take care of herself. As she grew older, she saw that it would be even more difficult being a woman, that there would be things to overcome as a woman that a man might not have to fight as hard for.

At eight, she was sent to a strict girls school back in England. That too makes one a loner, self-sufficient to the core. She describes it as "very rigid, very strict, very cruel." And being the outspoken young lady she has always been, Diana attracted her share of trouble. The monotonous uniforms, the boring classes encouraged her to daydream which in turn encouraged the school authorities to punish her. "I was always working off punishments," she remembers ruefully, "for not doing what I was supposed to do. I was tall and redheaded. Tall redheads always get caught."

As a teen-ager she had her problems with authority as well. Authority often cannot tolerate extreme individualism; it tends to undermine the foundation of institutions. So at nineteen, after two years at the famous Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, she was almost expelled for her rather colorful and diverse sex life. Rather than face that, she, always a pro at one-upmanship, quit instead. For several years after that, she waited on tables, once in a tough sailors' bar, and did modeling. Then she returned to the theatre, winning acceptance into the Royal Shakespeare Company. After that, professionally at least, it's history. She starred on The Avengers for a couple of years, and that's primarily where American Audiences got to know her. Then she did some films, returned to the theater, then on to TV, and now back to the theater again.

Her life is ever changing, perhaps because she's never completely satisfied with herself. That is the distinguishing trademark of a true artist in the romantic spirit, never being totally happy with an accomplishment, always seeking to test one's metal again and again, just to make sure you still have it. She didn't look down her nose at the offer of an American TV series; nor does she look down her nose at the thought of the great Shakespearean actor doing TV commercials for Polaroid. Acting is truly a profession for her. And the series offered her more money than she could ever make in repertory in England. "I'm bred in the theater," she says. "I do my best work in the theater. But I'm in a profession that exists in many forms. I must give in them all, to keep assuring myself I can do the work."

It was a struggle, proffesionally and personally, to get to a level where she accepted herself for what she was and reveled in her own self-sufficiency and independence. Perhaps the main reason marriage eluded Diana for so long was because she had to find herself before she embarked on a long road with another human being. She lived with a married man for eight years, yet for the life of her couldn't imagine marrying him. Perhaps occasionally it had just been to knock people on their ears that Diana has always been so forthright about her life and her ideas; but primarily, it surely has been part of her quest for herself. All her life Diana has been waiting for everything to be right at the same time. "I always felt my thirty-fifth year would be the year I'd inherit myself," she says, beaming. And, of course, once it all gelled for her, she could truly begin to think about a life with another human being, or perhaps several, since children are in the offing.

"Babies? The timing must be right," she says. In this her 35th year, Diana must be doing very serious thinking about babies. In a few more years, Diana will be past child-bearing age, unless she and Menachem choose to adopt; and with such an aware couple, that might be the case. And the timing couldn't be more perfect. Far from being depressed about the cancellation of her series, Diana is all ready to return to England and the theater. She was ready to do that from the start if things didn't pan out. At any rate, a Hollywood series can run you ragged, and now that the pressure has been removed, it may just be the right time to start decorating a nursery. Diana is going to learn Hebrew, and it's said that she is considering converting. Could that, too, have something to do with baby plans in the near future?

Whether Diana and Menachem have a child soon or wait a few years just to enjoy each other for awhile, one thing's for sure. That's no baby in the world, even with all the problems that beset us day after day, that will have a better start. Psychologists tell us that children are deeply affected by the relationship their parents have. And most relationships are active-passive, one parent being more dominant and active, the other being more passive and subservient. Usually a child will take after one or the other emotionally, identify with one more than the other. Diana and Menachem, though, are both active, vital people, self-assured, independent, with a knowledge of themselves acquired the hard way, through years of experience in life an din the world. They came together late in life, and perhaps for that reason it's so good between them.

No, Diana didn't ever really give up her independence. She called a truce in the battle she's been waging for years with herself. She realized that alone there was but one human being to know and to explore; with Menachem a whole new world has opened up. Sure, the gal who got James Bond to marry her (in On Her Majesty's Secret Service) has finally been bagged herself. But she only got James Bond for six minutes. She has a lifetime of happiness and discovery to look forward to with her new husband. "...I knew that when I reached thirty-five, it would all fit together." Maybe she's a seer as well. I wouldn't be a bit surprised.

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