Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Margaret Lee

Just over a decade ago, when I was carrying out research for an abandoned book project entitled "Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered" (which ultimately morphed itself into a DVD released by my former business partner, Mike), I made an attempt not just to find individuals who had worked with Lucio Fulci on his horror films (despite the title "Paura", which means "fear" in Italian) but also on his thrillers, comedies and musicals.  During that time, and thanks to various online resources as well as the help of various agents in Rome and Paris together with the Rome/Italian telephone guide, I managed to locate and speak a number of individuals, some of who questioned my sanity as to why on Earth I was seeking to discuss a director such as Lucio Fulci (numerous ‘Why Lucio?’ and ‘Lucio? Perché Lucio?’ were the responses I garnered.   Despite a lengthy career that spanned, as a director, from 1957 to 1991; most of the individuals I located and spoke to considered Fulci to be at best a B-movie director and in certain cases, well below in some cases even below that (!)... 

Over the passage of time, I managed to speak to locate and speak to a number of people in Europe, and the United States.   When they were now located in the United States, or on the other side of the ocean, I left the honours, and the phone bill to Mike.  One such individual was Tisa Farrow, younger sister of Mia, whom I managed to locate with a little detective work, and the help of her late brother, Patrick, a sculptor from Vermont.  Patrick I managed to ‘uncover’ from a death notice for the matriarch of the Farrow family, viz.  Maureen O'Sullivan.  However, there was one Stateside find I made, which delighted me above all others, and she is the subject of this article; a beautiful British actress by the name of Margaret Lee, more on which below.

Whilst attempting to track down and locate these people I managed to encounter and meet some fascinating souls, some extraordinary individuals, and admittedly a couple of true divas, but equally so some wonderful people.  I feel blessed, as following our meeting, in certain instances I managed to find a connection with the people I met, and was fortunate enough to befriend in the process, in certain cases a friendship which has lasted to this day.  Whilst making my calls, in certain cases, and in particular some of the actresses, there was a degree of hesitance on their part, nervousness and/or even reluctance to talk or 'concern' over being 'found'.  Outside of the actresses who worked for Fulci, I uncovered a number of other (mostly) actresses who had fascinated me over the years.  Since 1998, I had located and spoken to some elusive actresses (such as Brigitte Skay, Flavia Fabiani, and Lea Lander).  I had contacted them mainly for another project, a biography of Mario Bava, by the American writer Tim Lucas.  The book, by the time I offered help, had already been long in the making and was/is entitled All the Colors of the DarkIt remains to this day the definitive work on Bava, the ne plus ultra,  and doubtless shall never be surpassed for all the information and hard work therein.   In my quest for people for Paura, it must be said that most all of the people I contacted, were delighted and delightful, happy to talk and were more than willing to meet.  Some did seem highly sceptical.  However as I have said, a good number turned out to be genuine, kindly gracious, friendly from the off,  and our friendship grew and flourished so much so I feel I could consider them to be friends to this day.

Returning to the subject,  British actress, Margaret Lee, had long been a fascinating and enigmatic figure for both myself and a fellow film enthusiast, Julian.  At the time of my research Julian worked for the British Film Institute in the research  and filmographic unit.   I felt the need to locate Margaret as she was also relevant in terms of the “Paura” project inasmuch that she had made three films for Lucio Fulci.  My research on Lee had not turned up much really, and what I could find was patchy to say the least.  Very little appeared to have been reported, even in the Italian press about her origins other than she was English, and there was a lot of speculation and rumour surrounding her and her celebrity lifestyle.   However in respect of actual facts, a film dictionary proclaimed that her real name was Margaret Mellors-Box, and she had been born in c.1939 in London.  Another (German) source said she had been born in Manchester in 1940.  

However, in one of the interviews in an Italian magazine (Tempo I think), she told her interviewer that her birth name hasn't been Lee at all, but that in fact was a short and ugly name, but refused to disclose it.  On a press sheet for a film (‘Our Man in Marrakesh’ I believe) , in the biographical information, I read that Margaret had been born on  August 4 (no year given) and was married to a film producer, Gino Malerba, and that together they had a son named Roberto.  Julian used his resources at the British Film Institute to research all the Margarets born on August 4 between 1938 and 1942 in the UK, however, such labours bore no concrete fruit and nothing conclusive came up.

Research on the Internet proved equally fruitless aside from links to films and the usual nonsense links offering to see Margaret Lee naked.  This was the case with every actress one researched at the time, I swear there were promises to see Margaret Rutherford, or Thora Hird naked.  Thankfully my curiosity never got the better of me.  In the midst of my searches however, on a forum I found a request from one of her childhood friends named Lorraine, who had been to school with Margaret in the late 1950's in Greenwich.  Lorraine had been trying to track her down after seeing one of her films on television.  Since living in London, Lorraine had immigrated to Canada in the late fifties.  I contacted Lorraine with the hope of getting some dates or information.  Soon after writing, Lorraine kindly responded to my message, despite having posted the request in 1998.  She wrote telling  me how she and Margaret had been good friends at school, and how as teenagers they had chased a young Mick Jagger on the trains.  Lorraine told me that  Margaret's surname at the time had been "Box", and that her nickname had been "Boxy".   I tried contacting the Italia Conti drama school which the press sheet advised me that Lee/Box had attended in her youth, but again this was to no avail and they had no information of any use, nor photographs.  Contacting the British actors union Equity again was pointless,  nothing could be found on their records.

So I decided to follow another trail, and to see if I could find anything of her son, Roberto. I made an educated guess that generally if father and mother work in film, that the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree.  I discovered that there was indeed a "Roberto Malerba" who was (and still is) active in film productions; including various movies directed by Ridley Scott, so I made an educated guess he possibly lived in either the USA or in Italy.  My hunch proved correct and I found an address for him in Los Angeles.  After summing up the courage, I rang the number I had found.  Roberto himself was not available when I called.  However, I spoke to his wife Paula, who confirmed that it was the Roberto Malerba I was seeking and yes, he was Margaret's son.  I explained to Paula that I was hoping to contact Margaret rather than Roberto, and was told that she too was now living in California.  Paula also kindly gave me an email address, a telephone number and an address to write to her.  I felt I had struck gold, I was on cloud nine!  I called Julian at the BFI, advising him that la Lee had been found by yours truly.  After hanging up the phone, I promptly despatched an email to the long elusive Margaret Lee. 

To my pleasure and delight, she responded a few days later.  In her short friendly response, she appeared to be most delighted to hear from me and most curious as to me and my projects.  In replying, I confess, my first questions admittedly (at risk of sounding un-gentlemanly) were to ask her real name (Margaret Gwendolyn Box), and date (4th, August 1943) and place (Wolverhampton) of birth, so as resolve the questions that had been perplexing me for years.  To which, thankfully, Margaret responded to without hesitation.  A couple of years later, I found these facts reproduced in an excellent book on a number of the starlets of the 1960s.  I had the pleasure to meet the author, Tom Lisanti, whilst in New York and confirmed them as being true as I was in fact in touch, at that point, with Margaret and probably, indirectly, where Tom had learned these biographical details.

After having exchanged a few emails (or "e-letters") as Margaret charmingly named my correspondence, she agreed to answer some questions and talked about her life both as an actress but also away from the limelight of Rome.  Early on, I told her that one of my friends had interviewed Harry Towers (a producer) as Margaret said she would very much like to know what had happened to Towers' wife, the Austrian actress Maria Rohm.  Margaret described Maria as being an old friend, and the two women had appeared in various films together in the late sixties.  After Towers' initial hesitation to divulge any contact details for Maria, I was contacted out of the blue, and given Maria's contact details to hand on to Margaret.

As time passed, Margaret and I exchanged an email every few weeks and eventually,  whilst I was in California working on a number of interviews in 2002, I plucked up courage and called her for the first time.  Admittedly I entertained a school boy's hope that we could meet whilst I was there, but that was not to be as Margaret was busy with a local theatre project, however Margaret requested that we stay in contact and continue to exchange "e-letters".  Having broken the ice with speaking on the telephone, and owing to the time difference and at an agreed time, we would also speak on the phone from time to time.  Over time and during our conversations, Margaret talked some more about her life.  She opened up and was more frank.  We also spoke on subjects more personal than just her movie career.  Margaret spoke of her hopes for the future, how she missed Europe, and some of her issues in California, to which I listened and tried my best to listen and be supportive from afar.  Over the years, Margaret recorded some tapes of sonnets and poems as gifts for my birthday or for Christmas.  She also designed some astrological birth charts for me (I still have them), and we remained in contact until Christmas 2005.  I received a card from Margaret that year but after that I sadly never heard from her again.

Piecing together Margaret Lee’s life is like having a 500 piece jigsaw in which one only has about 120 of the pieces.  By my own admission, it is frustrating when you actually know the person and sometimes, when you don’t want to risk damaging the trust of the person you genuinely like, yet you seek information and the truth.  It makes it all the more difficult when you have sometimes heard bad things, tales involving various scandals as well as quite probably malicious gossip.  Gossip which isn’t true and doesn’t represent the facts.  Rumours abounded in the 1980s as to why Margaret had vanished in the 1970s when she returned to England to raise her second son away from the bright lights of Rome.  From time to time, glossy gossip supplements and magazines still surface on Ebay or elsewhere,  and though they provoke more questions, I never felt comfortable nor my place to ask such questions of my friend.  To me, it was difficult, the researcher in me was intrigued yet at the same time, I was honoured that Margaret could talk to me and felt at sufficient ease to talk about the here and now, not just about her past, not just the movies she made, but seemed to respect me as a person and not just as a fan, a writer, a journalist.  Some of what Margaret told me in confidence I wouldn’t want to share and have respected that ever since.  It is a difficult situation, but ultimately, one day, I hope to hear from Margaret again, and that she is well, and maybe one day I will find out if there was any truth in what was claimed, but if I don’t ever know the whole truth there is part of me doesn’t care.  It is a true dilemma to find myself in.  A quest to find the truth, yet respecting and valuing friendships and trust.

Over the years since then, I have considered trying to contact Margaret once more, but I confess that I do so with trepidation , as I feel really rather nervous in doing so once again.  I did speak to her younger son, Damian, in 2007, on the phone when he was living in Rome.  He came across as being extremely affable and a most friendly fellow on the phone and we planned on meeting for a drink, but again, that has yet to happen.  Never say never!   I think he was rather surprised when I said that I was around his age (I believe he is about 6 months older than me), but advised me that his mother was well and still in California.   Sometimes I think of contacting him through Facebook to ask after his mother and have considered making my introductions once again, yet somehow I always lose my nerve at the last minute as I start to hesitate, and then I hesitate some more and put it off.

I do truly hope she is well and happy, and I do truly miss our lively, friendly correspondence.  I do think of her from time to time, and worry about her and her welfare.  I liked talking to her and appreciated and enjoyed the friendship we had started to cultivate on the lines of those I had made previously whom I had met in person.   For me, the best thing to come out of those days creating DVD extras/interviews/documentaries, call them what you will, has been the lasting friendships I have enjoyed as a result.

Before she vanished once again, Margaret was kind enough to send me an up to date photograph of her as I confess that I was intrigued to see how she looked after the two decades (now nearly three) since she had last been seen on screen.  I had sent her a photograph so she could see the face of the person with whom she was engaging in so much correspondence with.   To which, she kindly sent me a photograph of herself, albeit in stage makeup, when she had played the Yama in a production of the Bhagavad Gita, in a small local theatrical production near where she lived.  Looking at the photograph, and although she is older, Margaret continues to retain her allure, and beauty, and in my eyes, is very much recognizable from the glory days in her youth as a beautiful starlet and actress, both of cinema and television.


  1. Thanks for the great post!
    I always wanted to know more about the beautiful Margaret Lee.
    Do you know if Gino Malerba and Luigi Malerba are one and the same person?

  2. Hi Alex. Thanks for the compliments, much appreciated!
    As for Malerba, well, 'Gino' tends to be how the names "Luigi Antonio" are abbreviated in Italy, so yes, it is a strong possibility. Gino Malerba started his career as a choreographer, then became an agent (representing the likes of Margaret and Klaus Kinski), and also worked as a film producer.

  3. I am curious about him. As a kid I read a short satirical book about the adventures of an Italian tramp called Mozziconi. It was written by a Luigi Malerba. So it could be that this multitalented person is also a writer.

  4. Cerdo, I am the Lorraine noted in your story. Contact me

    1. Hello Lorraine, what a most pleasant surprise! I do hope that you are well. I am unsure of the best way to contact you so I would ask if you could write to me at With many thanks and I look forward to hearing from you soon.