If I still consider Raquel Welch as my favorite starlet of the sixties, I must admit that Ursula Andress is somewhere in the Top 5. Maybe her icy distance will always be responsible for not reaching numero uno. But do YOU care about my feelings? Everyone can recognize Ursula and men don't care if she's friendly or not: we just want to see the pictures! Like Raquel, Ursula didn't make a career of shooting fantasy pictures, but her small contribution remains memorable. Where to begin? Her birthday? How original! Let's go:
Ursula was born in Berne, Switzerland, on March 19th, 1936. So she recently turned 71 and can now benefit from reduction prices to any theater showing her movies. She has six siblings. Her wandering spirit came alive very quickly and at the tender age of 17, she went AWOL with a French actor, who took her to Rome. Her parents, fully Protestants and of Germanic origin, called Interpol to the rescue! But when sanity finally prevailed, Ursula's movie career began in the prestigious Cinecitta studios, as an extra for some minor films, mainly light comedies on the saucy side.
An unexpected meeting would take place with none other than Marlon Brando. The future Colonel Kurtz advised her to take a chance in Hollywood and even contacted some studio big cheeses for her. It's in London that Ursula obtained a studio contract, which shipped her to the U.S. Oddly, she seemed more or less inclined to follow in the then star-system of Hollywood, as young actresses were trained in diverse aspects of movie work. Also, Ursula didn't seem to bother in learning the full subtleties of the English language. Before returning to Europe, she heard that Columbia was interested in her. Oh, and there's even an alleged liaison with James Dean... it was whispered that she was with the future doomed star when he bought the car that would cost him his life...
Soon after, Ursula met John Derek, an actor ten years her senior. She stopped any professional activity after their marriage in 1957, buying out her Columbia contract, even if she hadn't shot any picture for the studio. To this day, it's still astonishing to admire Derek's taste in women, as his two future wives (Linda Evans and Bo Derek) looked almost exactly like his first one, by their figures and features. Hum... He was considered as a "Tony Curtis/Cornel Wilde" type, an handsome actor that never became a major star. But he was one of the first actor to became a director, mostly working out of mainstream projects.
In 1962, the first film in what would become one of the most popular movie franchise of all time arrived on the big screen: Dr. No, a James Bond adventure with Ursula as the ultimate Bond Girl, considered his best female partner to this day. The sight of her character, Honeychile Ryder, wearing that astonishing white bikini still makes hearts beat faster. There's a nostalgic nod to this scene in Bond's 2003 adventure, Die Another Day, with Halle Berry wearing a variation of that famous costume. Despite being dubbe and a false suntan (not to mention a $10,000 salary), Ursula Andress became the stuff of legends and the Connery/Andress couple the perfect one. Her name would soon be known around the world. We expected nothing less than a spectacular career. Once again, hmmmm...
Well, 1963 started well enough. No one complained to witness Ursula and Anita Ekberg sharing the screen in a western called 4 for Texas, with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as cowboys (?). Needless to say, the King would be the next logical partner as Ursula joined Elvis for Fun in Acapulco (the movie where he plays a traumatized circus acrobat!). The next year, she worked for the first time with her husband in Nightmare in the Sun (and another member of the Rat Pack, Sammy Davis Jr.).
1965 remains another excellent year. Ursula is at the top of her beauty for the comedy What's New Pussycat?, with a memorable theme song by Tom Jones and the on-screen talent of Peter Sellers, Peter O'Toole and Woody Allen. Then came The Tenth Victim (a sci-fi flick) with Marcello Mastroianni (still in a black suit and shades, wow) where Ursula wears the infamous bra that shoots bullets, a scene impossible to forget when you're an impressionable teenage boy. The same year, She appeared on movie screens, an Hammer Studios production, with the perfect choice of Ursula as Ayesha, She Who Must Be Obeyed... gaaah! To finish 1965, Ursula found a lover when shooting the French comedy Les tribulations d'un chinois en Chine by Philippe de Brocca, no less than the movie's male star, Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Consequently in 1966, her marriage with Derek became no more, as she finished working for him in Once Before I Die, Belmondo probably laughing his ass off. She would later reveal that Derek was the man of her life. A tumultuous seven-year relationship soon developed. Ursula would even hurt herself with a razor as she ran after Bebel to punish him for some alleged romantic betrayal. Who can deny that her main priority in life was not her career? Future years would prove this very fact. She would soon after flirt with Warren Beatty, Ryan O'Neal and Fabio Testi. Meanwhile, she found the time to appear in a James Bond parody, Casino Royale, and a peculiar western in need of rediscovery, Red Sun, with Charles Bronson, Alain Delon and Toshiro Mifune. The scene where she's tied up and left to roast in the burning sun remains memorable.
Ursula preferred to work almost exclusively in Europe by the mid-seventies, principally in Italy (if we exclude Stateline Motel in 1975, shot in Montreal). At 42 years of age, Ursula appeared in a cannibal horror film, Slave of the Cannibal God, but known by many other titles. You'll never be the same after seeing Ursula naked and tied up to a tree, as she is covered with some gelatinous putty for some future sacrificial rite, all this coming for Sergio Martino's camera (there's an unwatchable scene with a monkey being eaten by a snake for real, though). Believe it or not, I saw this picture on commercial TV, at a time when we weren't victims of insipid made-for-TV fare or continuous infomercials. A sudden nostalgia for this kind of late show grips me, all of a sudden.
In 1979, while shooting Clash of the Titans, Ursula fell in love with the picture's main hero, played by actor Harry Hamlin (she portrayed the goddess Aphrodite). He's 27, she's 43. Nevertheless, he's the man that gave her a child, their son Dimitri Alessandro, in May 1980. She would soon throw Hamlin out the front door, in pursuit of more short-lived liaisons. The rest of her career consists of some European productions (often for television), not well-known to her North American fans.
Ursula Andress was more often than not faking at being an actress, which didn't bother her the least. Plunged by fate in that kind of living, she used the fame as an excuse to meet numerous famous men. In the majority of her roles, she always talked softly, offering an impassive face close to being merely inexpressive. Oddly, for an allegedly "Ice Maiden", she inspired a lot of wet dreams in the last 40 years. Recent photographs proved that she can still take her place with other ageless Sirens. Is this due to the famous Ayesha legend, as she can escape the ravages of time? Or again, is it Aphrodite's doing?