April 1974: Silver Screen

The Agonizing Choice Diana Rigg Is Forced To Make

'Diana', the TV show that couldn't miss, is off the air and Diana Rigg, the girl who couldn't miss, is back in London mulling it all over and trying to figure out why her sure-fire show just didn't make it with American viewers.

The show that was supposed to be hotter than 'All in the Family' fell on its nose right out of the starting gate. 'Diana' was supposed to be a breath of fresh air for American television, a bit of lively British wit and beauty in place of the same usual old stuff.

We haven't had a really sexy lady on TV yet, the producers said, so Diana is bound to be a smash. But she came off more like Mary Tyler Moore, the All-American girl to whom sex is something you do with your husband in order to have babies, and there just wasn't room for two Mary Tyler Moore shows on the air.

All that tremendous talent she has was just somewhere else when she started filming 'Diana'. And almost everyone who had a part in the flop is sure that "somewhere else" was with Diana's brand new hubby, 43-year-old Israeli painter Menachem Gueffen.

There were hints quite awhile ago that Diana Rigg was so swept off her feet by the dominating Gueffen that her head was still spinning when she arrived in New York to begin taping the series. Diana and Menachem were married on July 6th, 1973, and after a short honeymoon she had to go to work. She wasn't able, however, to tear herself away from her husband long enough to concentrate on her work, and as a result she looked as if she was simply walking through her roles, zombie-like, with her famous intelligence gone absolutely astray.

"Diana Rigg," according to an assistant director whose own career is a bit shaky following the disaster, "is going to have to make a choice. Either that guy goes or her career goes straight out the window."

The word is that Menachem is just making it impossible for Diana to act. Despite all her insistence that she is an independent woman who would never be dominated by a man, Diana seems to have given up all control of her life to Menachem.

"When he says jump, she jumps," says a set director who is still disgruntled over his brief employment on 'Diana'.

"I've never seen a woman so much on a string to one man. I don't know this for a fact, but I'll swear Menachem Gueffen had final approval of all the scripts and all the scenes for that show. And he was just incredibly jealous. Anytime we wanted Diana to act the least bit sexy, he'd go off into a rage. it was like he couldn't stand the thought of any man looking at Diana as something sexually desirable. He wanted her to be Little Miss Muffet.

"So the public, who expected to see this super-kinky, intelligent and very sexy English lady, got this straight-laced, empty-headed little girl instead. I don't blame them for switching channels. We deserved it."

It's really too bad about 'Diana'. For a situation comedy, it had all the makings of a really fine show. Diana played the part of a London dress designer named Diana Smythe who has just come to New York to shake off the effects of her divorce.

"It will be made by Talent Associates in Hollywood and will resemble the Marlo Thomas and Doris Day shows," Diana said, before the series went on the air. "I'm sure my eyelashes will be just as long."

The kind of wry intelligence Diana demonstrated in that remark, however, was just not present on the show.

"I'd cut my throat if I thought the TV show was forever," Diana said before the season started. "But I'm trying to create a perfect balance between commercial and classical acting and I plan to return to the stage in six months."

As it turned out, Diana got her chance to go back to the stage much sooner than she expected, and she certainly didn't have to cut her throat.

But there were many doubting voices who suggested that unless she figures out what to do with Menachem, Diana is going to have as disastrous a time on the stage as she had on television.

With her jealous husband around, Diana is certainly not going to be able to do any more scenes like she did in the play 'Abelard and Heloise'. On the stage, Diana and her co-star Keith Michel embraced in the nude in a dimly-lighted scene, the sort of scene that would probably have Gueffen tearing the theater apart if Diana tried to do it today.

In fact, with her relationship the way it is now, Diana would not even be able to do a role like Emma Peel in 'The Avengers', the TV series from Britain that made her famous. The kinky, black-leather-clad karate expert she played in that series is just a little too sexy for Gueffen's tastes.

Following the failure of 'Diana' series, it is perhaps ironic to note that Diana insisted before the series opened that she didn't want to be taken seriously - because of course she wasn't.

"Because I did Shakespeare for five years, I was always taken seriously," she said then.

"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 Theater.

"I don't mean to sound arrogant but it gets back to having that sense of value. American actors let anxieties creep in. They must learn their value."

"I must say Diana is the last woman I expected to see this happen to," says one British critic who has known her well since the "Avenger" days.

"I don't think I ever met a more strong-willed or independent than Diana. She is, or was at least, absolutely clear-headed. And she had no respect at all for those women who meet some man and just want to be his slave for the rest of their lives. In fact, I used to think Diana didn't care much for men period. Some of us were talking the other day about the possibility that this Gueffen used hypnosis or something on her.

"Whatever he did, it certainly changed her overnight. Now she seems more like the good little housewife than ferocious Emma Peel who drops the biggest strongest fellow with a karate kick."

Diana Rigg is now 35. If her career takes a major dip at this point it could mean she will never recover. Her newest plans are apparently to act in 'Phaedra', at London's famous Old Vic theater.

But reports from London indicate that Gueffen is even trying to convince the director to change this respected old play so that Diana doesn't have to do any love scenes.

"I heard that people down at the old Vic are just furious with him," says the British critic. "They say they've never seen such a conceited, arrogant, jealous man in their lives. Most men who are married to an actress get used to the idea that she is going to be working with a lot of other handsome men and even doing some very passionate love scenes with them.

"But Menachem is determined that Diana isn't going to do anything heavier than Snow White, whether it's on TV, on the stage or in the movies. I heard that George C. Scott, who starred with her in 'The Hospital', asked her to appear in a film he's directing, but that Menachem forced her to turn it down because he was afraid she had a secret crush on Scott."

Obviously, Diana Rigg has her problems. But she and Menachem are in love, and they are still convinced that love can overcome all obstacles. Perhaps Menachem's jealously is only the jealously of a newlywed groom with a beautiful bride and it will fade in time.

Diana has even hinted that she may like to have another try at American TV. If she does, we hope that this time she'll leave Menachem in London and apply all her vast talents to the project at hand. If she does, it can't help but succeed.

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