Gloria Paul is synonymous with glamour - as the three distinctive pieces belonging to her in the upcoming Fine Jewels sale (20 March, London) testify. An accomplished dancer, actress and singer, Paul was a distinctive favourite on The Benny Hill show, which proved popular with audiences around the world. Notable big screen appearances included Morecambe & Wise comedy caper The Intelligence Men and Blake Edwards’ Darling Lili, in which she starred alongside Julie Andrews and Rock Hudson. In total Paul acted in some 25 films from the 60s onwards.
Her exotic, sophisticated looks and long dancer’s legs made her seem the kind of woman who should wear the finest jewels. Indeed, Paul loves them.
“Everything about jewellery is fascinating,” says Paul. “I love admiring it, imagining how it was created and how the goldsmith to brought it to life. Jewellery for me is memories.” For Paul, they are evocative of an extraordinary life and career.
Born in England, Paul started dancing at the age of three. An award winning performer, she danced professionally with the famous Tiller Girls and at the storied Paris Lido. Once arriving in Rome, she became a fixture of feature films, television and theatre.
Perfectly photogenic, Paul was once described as having “arrogant good looks”, but she is far from arrogant. Whether cast in spoofs or spy films, Paul’s elegance and professionalism outshone middling material. A disciplined dancer, her beauty was matched by an uncanny knack for accents, comedic timing and dramatic acting.
Q: What was it like working with Benny Hill?
Gloria Paul: It was just like going on holiday. I was on his show several times and he would do impromptu things in the middle of filming. In one scene I was drinking a glass of red wine (it was really Ribena) and he nudged my elbow. It spilled all over me and we both couldn't stop laughing. That was kept in the sketch. What fun I had working with him! He was a genius in his comedy.
Q: As Crepe Suzette, the romantic rival to Julie Andrews in the film Darling Lili, you did a famous pseudo-striptease with an enormous hat and jewelled outfit and you made it look easy.
Gloria Paul: It wasn’t easy. The coat was so heavy and to throw it on the right beat was quite difficult. The hat was so heavy too, but it was the most beautiful hat in the world. Darling Lili’s dance scene was four minutes long, but it took three days to shoot. I was in Hollywood for three months before we actually got around to shooting it. It was wonderful to work with Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire’s choreographer.
Q: What can you tell us about the jewellery that features in the Fine Jewels sale?
Gloria Paul: The necklace is Italian. It was a gift from my husband. As I don't have a daughter to give my jewellery to – although I do have a lovely son who keeps me going - I decided that it was time to let somebody else have the pleasure of wearing it, because it's rather lovely. I have warm memories of wearing it in summer time in beautiful Sardinia, enjoying an aperitivo in the Piazzas of Porto Rotondo and Porto Cervo. The panther ring is also so pretty, it has ruby eyes and a perfectly sculpted little diamond head which glistens and gleams… And the compact, well, in those days, you never really went out without your compact. It feels comforting and solid to hold with two compartments inside, each gold flap cover has little hinged handles so you don't have to break your nail to lift it up. The maker is the famous Italian goldsmith Ilario. This was a gift from me to myself. And I enjoyed it every time I took it from my evening bag. All memories of happy times, of beautiful places, and yes, of love.
Q: Is it true that you were almost a Bond girl?
Gloria Paul: Almost, yes. There again, that's another story which is not told correctly. Director Terence Young wanted me to test for the role of Fiona and not that of Dominique. After a week I was told I had the part. I was very happy and excited. There were three of us, the new Bond Girls, Claudine Auger, Martine Beswick and me. We were going to shoot in the Bahamas. After various requests from my agent, they never got back to me. That was the end of the story. Till this day I never knew why suddenly another actress stepped into my role, however, the rest of my career made up for that!
Q: Rock Hudson and you got along famously during the filming of Darling Lili?
Gloria Paul: He loved entertaining and always invited me with his friends to his house for casual dinners and to watch his Doris Day and Pillow Talk movies … he was so kind and gracious and just absolutely wonderful. I have a beautiful large photo of Rock ‘To Gloria, with all my best wishes on your’ underlined, ‘new career’. He told me, “You've got to come back to America now, because this is going to be good for you." But as always I followed my heart, and not my head. The same with my jewels: I always followed my heart.
The pieces that feature in the Fine Jewels sale are tokens of an extraordinary life and career, evocative of an era of exceptional glamour.