❉ An appreciation of the ‘English rose’ on the 50th anniversary of her acting debut in No Blade Of Grass.
In 1970, Lynne Frederick, debuted on the streets of tinsel town with her breakout role in Cornel Wilde’s production of No Blade of Grass. Watching the film 50 years later, it’s hard to imagine that this modest, shy, and charming 15-year-old schoolgirl from Market Harborough, was on the brink of stardom and would have a long and lustrous career throughout the ‘70s. Although her unjust blacklisting from Hollywood and premature death in 1994 robbed her of greater career success, Frederick left behind a trove of work in films and television where she is permanently preserved as the beautiful and talented English Rose she was.
Lynne’s story began when she came to work with her mother, Iris Frederick, at Thames Television Studios. Although her mother was a casting director, Lynne was not at the studios for an audition. Instead, she was there for a photographer who needed a model for some colour camera test shots. At that time Lynne was a student at Notting Hill & Ealing High School and had aspirations of becoming a schoolteacher. Such modest ambitions where later thwarted when she was offered the chance of a lifetime.
In the late 1960s, MGM acquired the rights to the 1956 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel The Death of Grass by John Christopher. By 1969, pre-production of the film was greenlit, and American-Hungarian actor turned film director, Cornel Wilde, was set to direct the film. He spent much time searching for an unknown teenaged actress to play Mary Custance, the daughter to the main protagonist, John Custance (played by Nigel Davenport). Wilde interviewed over 300 young actresses but found none that he fancied for the role. When Wilde encountered Lynne being photographed at Thames Television Studios and learned that her mother was an acquaintance of his, he decided to offer the role to Lynne without an audition and no previous experience in films, commercials, or even theatre.
The next day, Lynne returned to school and had her sights set on studying for her upcoming Latin exams when she was abruptly summoned out of class to the office for an urgent phone call. Her mother told her that Wilde wanted her for his film, and she had two hours to decide if she wanted to leave school to star in the film and pursue a career as an actress. In that two-hour time period, Lynne made up her mind to take a leap at this once in a lifetime offer.
No Blade of Grass was released in theatres on October 23, 1970. Although the film received mixed reviews from critics, it instantly made Lynne famous. Like Hayley Mills and Olivia Hussey before her, she was appearing in magazine spreads, newspaper articles, talk shows, and public events. Her natural beauty, on screen charisma, and long brunette hair earned her a contract deal with Protein 21 Shampoo, for which she became the face and spokesperson by starring in a television commercials and print ads. She also appeared in fashion magazines as a model and cover girl; most notably the September 1971 issue of the British Vogue. According to a movie press-book for the film Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972), she was even named by a top British national newspaper as its “Face of 1971”.
Over the next 10 years more acting offers came pouring in, and Lynne starred in more than thirty film and television productions. What was most impressive about her acting resume was the wide range of film genres she did. Although Frederick was frequently type cast as the girl next door, she played that prototype in everything from horror flicks, gonzo Sci-Fi films, Spaghetti Westerns, period dramas, and even in a few Oscar films… She did it all. According to IMDb, Frederick even auditioned for the role of Alice in the 1972 adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and was said to be first runner-up for the role of Saint Claire of Assisi in the Franco Zeffirelli film Brother Sun, Sister Moon.
But what was perhaps the biggest highlight of her career was in 1973. For her performances in The Amazing Mr. Blunden and Henry VIII and His Six Wives, she was awarded the very first Best New Coming Actress award from the Evening Standard British Film Awards. As of 2020, she is one of only eight actresses to have received this award. Three years later she gave an Oscar worthy performance in the historical drama Voyage of the Damned (though she was not nominated) holding her own opposite star actors such as Malcom McDowell, Sam Wanamaker, Lee Grant (who got an Oscar nomination for her performance), and Faye Dunaway.
Tragically Lynne’s career came to an abrupt and unjust end after she married Peter Sellers in 1977, which was followed by his death in 1980, controversial will, feud with her stepchildren, a speedy re-marriage (and almost as quick divorce) to David Frost, and more tabloid drama. All this eventually led to her early death from alcoholism at the age of 39. It’s clear that Lynne had the potential to achieve success equivalent to that of Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, and Julie Walters. But the opportunity was stripped away amidst her blacklisting. Although there has yet to be an actress to name Frederick as someone who influenced them, there are several contemporary British actresses (e.g. Emma Watson, Kira Knightley, Kate Winslet, Gemma Arterton, and Charlotte Riley) who have the same English Rose beauty, natural acting talent, and that special “je ne sais quoi” that mirror Frederick.
In recent years her work has been re-evaluated by film scholars, and she has begun to establish a whole new fan base and cult following. In December 2019, Second Sight Films re-released a limited special edition of The Amazing Mr. Blunden on Blu-Ray. Other films of Frederick’s (such as Vampire Circus and Phase IV) have also received similar remastering on DVD/Blu-Ray in the past decade, opening the window of opportunity for her legacy to reach new fans and re-connect with old ones.
❉ ‘The Amazing Mr Blunden’ LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY is out now from Second Sight Films on 9 December 2019. Cat.No.: 2NDBR4104 Running Time: 99 mins. Check out Second Sight Films’ new website for new release info and for consumers to buy direct at www.secondsightfilms.co.uk
❉ Follow @LynneFrederick – The Unofficial Lynne Frederick Fan Page.