February 1974: Screen Stars

Diana Rigg Shocks The Press, Appears Nude On Stage!

"Shine on, shine on, harvest moon up in the sky; I ain't had no lovin' since January, February, June or July. Snow time ain't no time to sit around and spoon; so shine on, shine on harvest moon." The tall, lean redhead with legs that never stopped sang her way across the stage, stretched out atop a papier-mache moon. Slowly she stripped off her clothes. By the time she reached the end of the song and the stage she lay naked and glistening under the fake moonlight.

Vaudeville? Las Vegas? Broadway maybe? No, nowehre you might guess. That eye-popping scene took place at the rather staid Old Vic theater in London and the gorgeous actress who sang and stripped her way across the stage was Diana Rigg - now starring in American TV's Diana series, but then a member of Britain's prestigious National Theatre Company. A fine Shakespearean actress, Diana also played in modern dramas like Tom Stoppard's satire Jumpers which had the titillating "Harvest Moon" scene.

That wasn't the only time Diana appeared nude on stage either. And her other strip scene was even more of a shocker - at least for the press and the theater audiences if not for Diana. For you see, it wasn't a "take it off, take it all off" kind of play.

Abelard and Heloise is the story of the twelfth-century romance between a priest and the head of a convent in France. After much secret letter-writing, the pair finally married - a shocking event in any day. When their story reached the London stage eight centuries later, the two actors cast as Abelard and Heloise - Keith Michell and Diana Rigg - appeared nude in a tender love scene.

"The press was there from all nations... panting as if I had another breast and he had two penises," Diana sighed later. "I think the controversy centered around the fact that we were the first establishment actor and actress to strip. But I believe it was germane to the plot," she said defensively.

Diana's always been known as a lady to say and do what she believes whether others approve or not. For instance, she's absolutely honest in saying why she's given up her first love, theater - temporarily, at least - to star in a situation comedy for American TV. Money, that's why. Naked or fully clothed, her salary couldn't begin to compare with what she makes for her role as Diana Smythe, English divorcee and fashion coordinator in a New York department store. At the National Theatre she made about $175 a week - as Diana NBC is reportedly paying her $2,000 a week, or about $7,500 an episode.

"I'm being absolutely practical. Your bus drivers make more than I made at the National Theatre," says Diana. While acting at the Old Vic, Diana rented a small apartment in a London suburb. In Hollywood she lives in a rented home, too - but it's a mansion atop Benedict Canyon complete with a swimming pool. She says her next step is "to buy a house of my own in London." Then, after the taping of Diana is completed for this season, she and her husband will divide their time between London and Israel.

Diana's husband is handsome Israeli artist Menachem Gueffen, whom she married last July after he supposedly said to her, "Marry me or get out!" At any rate, plenty of witnesses say it's true the forty-three-year-old painter did throw her suitcases out of the window of their Tel Aviv hotel room after she threatened to leave him. So the thirty-five-year-old Diana, who's said in a magazine interview just two weeks before that she saw no reason for getting married, did marry the man.

"Usually the men in my life beg me to stay when I threaten to leave them, but not Menachem," she said later. "I had been conquered and I knew it. For the first time in my life, I met a man who is my match."

Almost as if to prove she hasn't been completely subdued by a man, Diana added, ""We fight all the time but it's marvellous."

Menachem has only nice things to say about his bride. "She is an extraordinary person. Very fiery, very tempestuous. But honest and marvelous to be with. For me it was love at first sight." The couple met only five months before getting married and Diana claims, "I tried very hard not to fall in love with him. I battled very hard against marriage and lost. It's as simple as that."

Diana says her husband is "very old-fashioned and Jewish" - at least about children. "He won't even entertain the thought of having a child without being married. So at least we agree on that." Reports have been trickling in to Screen Stars that Diana and Menachem are getting the nursery ready in their home, so we think Diana had better hurry up and finish taping her show, at least for this season.

What Menachem thinks about his wife's appearing nude on stage we weren't able to find out, however. But he's obviously pleased with the role she's playing in her new series, and it's certainly got more sex than violence - unlike Diana's earlier TV role as the karate-chopping Emma Peel on The Avengers.

"Diana is very sophisticated, in her 30's, with lots of boyfriends. And she's not untouched by human hands," explains the leading lady with a swish of her shoulder length red hair.

In fact, it's that red hair, now one of her beauty assets, that kept getting Diana into trouble when she was a girl. At eight she began attending Fulneck Girl's School in Yorkshire. She hated it, and describes it as being "very rigid, very strict, very cruel. I was quite unhappy. We had to wear our hair cut one inch above our collar or in plaits. We wore a school uniform, thick brown stockings in winter, gymslips, blouses, ties. Classes were incredibly boring. I took to dreaming. They took to punishing me. I was always working off punishments for not doing what I was supposed to do. I was tall and redheaded. Tall redheads always get caught," she states emphatically.

Although Diana was born in Doncaster, a dreary industrial town in Yorkshire on the edge of the moors in northern England, from the age of two months to eight years, she lived in India where her father built railroads. But she was sent back to England to attend school and to live with her grandparents.

Even in dreadful Fulneck Girl's School, Diana impressed one teacher, Mrs. Sylvia Greenwood, who introduced her to poetry, elocution and the stage. "My grandfather would have me stand and say 'The Highwayman'," Diana recalls. At school she played Titania, the fairy queen in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream - "lumpish in my brown stockings." Maybe it's no wonder she thinks stage nudity at the right moments is nothing to be frowned upon!

From Fulneck, she auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and got accepted for two years' study. She eventually joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. There, she almost got fired because, she says, she had "divers lovers." These included a long affair with a married man.

It was during that time she told an interviewer, "I'm faithful to the concept of marriage but not to the necessity of the sacrament itself." Maybe Diana's old-fashioned husband will change her thinking on that score.

"'Why wed?' is a question I've profoundly asked myself a number of times. There's no facile answer at all, except that 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," says Diana.

Learning new things is almost an obsession of Diana's. "Anyone who leads me to new areas, I'm captured. This, apart from the theater and travel, is what I live for."

She defends the show, Diana, as something new to be explored and experienced. "I see the show as a progression. I don't ever want to reach a peak, because it's all down thereafter, isn't it?"

Now, Diana Rigg is one woman who's got a long way to go before she'll ever reach down! Even if the show doesn't last beyond this season - and everyone agrees that the blame cannot be placed on Diana's acting - the English lady, whom Sir Laurence Olivier calls, "a brilliantly skilled and delicious actress," has many other projects pending.

Tony Harrison, who translated The Misanthrope by French writer Moliere for the National Theatre and starring Miss Rigg, is now writing a modern version of the Greek tragedy Phaedra for Diana whenever she's free again.

Not many actresses can feel as much at home playing serious drama as on a Hollywood sound stage doing situation comedy. Some observers just don't understand how Diana does it. One commented, "If you can imagine Mary Tyler Moore doing Lady Macbeth or Sandy Duncan doing Moliere, then you can picture Diana Rigg in this silly sitcom. I can't. It's like drinking coffee in London. Worse, it's like drinking tea in the States."

He was referring, of course, to the fact that an American can rarely find what he considers a good cup of coffee in England - or that Englishmen think Americans don't know how to make proper tea.

But leave it to Diana to handle both roles with confidence and talent. "Because I did Shakespeare for five years I was always taken seriously," she says. "The parts for an actress in the theater are excellent. I was lucky enough to have people believe in me at a young age, but I must say that an actor must have a sense of personal value. I'm not talking about ego, but value of himself or herself as an actor. If my TV show doesn't go here I will just get on a plane and go back to England where my career is entirely separate. I'll go right back to the National Theatre. I don't mean to sound arrogant, but it gets back to having a sense of value. American actors let the anxieties creep in. They must learn their value."

Diana Rigg is certainly one actress who has learned her own value. And for her, things are looking brighter and brighter. "From the beginning, I always felt my thirty-fifth year I'd inherit myself. I've always been too old for my natural years. I looked older than I was. But I knew that when I reached thirty-five it would all fit together."

And it does all fit together for Diana - whether she's playing a puzzled Englishwoman trying to conquer New York or shocking audiences by taking off her clothes in the role of a nun, or getting used to her marriage.

"I want to learn and continue to learn," she says. "I have this new relationship - my marriage - and I must learn to grow in it. I'm going to learn Hebrew and I'll reas Israeli poets. Babies? The timing has to be right." Well, Diana's timing hasn't been off yet, so we doubt it will be for the stork either.

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