Saturday, October 12, 2013

WICKER MAN: BRITT'S BUM IS NOT HER OWN


I have to admit, the first time I watched the original version of THE WICKER MAN (1973) -- and, yes, there have been other times -- it left me with a number of indelible images. One was Christopher Lee sans Dracula ensemble and instead decked out in his best Druid duds. Another was the horrifying ending, which was, indeed, horrifying, and the single strongest element, I think, that qualifies it as a "horror film". Last, but certainly not least is what I call "Dance of the Drum", performed with a primal grace (and stark naked, no less) by Willow, the proverbial svelte and seductive innkeeper's daughter, played by Swedish beauty, Britt Ekland. And, as a result of this one scene, Miss Ekland was an automatic candidate to be ushered into the hallowed halls of the Horror Hottie Hall of Fame. Truthfully, that honor could technically go to not one, but two people!

What's that, you say? Am I committing horror hottie heresy here? Not at all. You see, during the notable, aforementioned scene when we watch Ekland prancing and swaying with naked abandon in the room next to the prudish and stuffy police inspector from the mainland (played to a tee by Edward Woodward), we are actually watching two individuals. It is when we see Willow turn her bottom to the screen, it is not Britt's bottom in view . . . it's someone else's.

I am sure that you are familiar with the concept of using a body double. The practice has been around for a long time. Well, that's exactly what's going on here. Ekland, who was 30 and pregnant at the time, said she would only allowed to be filmed from the waist up (and for me, that's enough!), so, to complete the intended effect, a body double was used for "the rest" of her.


So, who was the bodacious body double who wiggled her bottom to the secret delight of many 'a red-blooded movie-goer? Reports vary, but perhaps the most reliable source comes from the film's associate musical director, who writes about it rather authoritatively on his website:

"There was not a little of the mischievous about Paul [the film's composer - MMW]. Realising that it would bore him to death whilst at the same time I [21 years old, remember] would probably quite like spending some time alone with Britt Ekland, I was charged with insuring that Britt could mime Willow's Song accurately. So I would happily pop into Britt's room, where she would lie in bed [this, at the time, seemingly starry affectation has of course since been explained by her then pregnancy] and I would teach her the song - and since you ask, she was always very polite, kind and friendly. The extension of this 'care and attention' to detail was that Paul felt it necessary [after a lot of pleading on my part!!!] that I be on the set for the now infamous shoot of Willow's Song, thumping a drum to keep her in time with the playback when she danced and helping out with the lip-synch when she 'sang'. The shoot was tiresome - a 13 hour day by my reckoning. One of my other little jobs [invented out of sheer boredom and hard to find in any job description] was whipping Britt's towel away before each take. The much noted complications arose because of the need to covertly slide the 'bum'-double in, which was usually preceded by make-up asking for a small adjustment that needed Britt off-set. Actually, all the subterfuge was hokum, really. The story at the time was that the day before the shoot, the publicist distributed a note to each room at the Kirroughtree Hotel announcing that a body-double was being used and that on no account should Ms Ekland be informed. Sadly, he did not exclude Britt's room! I can categorically affirm that Lorraine Peters was the body-double - and if you are interested in comparing body-types, she is also the naked woman weeping on the grave, and credited as such. And if you wanted absolute proof of this, it happens that Ms Peters was having her period on that day and the camera angle, as is clear in the film, militated against the use of a tampon. Consequently, and despite the best efforts of the crew to swab up after each take, DNA evidence probably survives at the location to this day! As to Jane Jackson, who has it on record that she was filmed by a man in a sheepskin coat as the body double, I would venture to guess that her footage now resides safely in someone's private collection!"


The tale of Britt Ekland's body double (stand-in is an incorrect term if you ever see it used in this case) is not the only one where a mystery surrounds an actresses' baring her all on the screen. If we go back 13 years earlier, to the filming of Hitchcock's PSYCHO, we also later learned, long after its release, that the bare skin shots we see during the famous flash-cut edited shower scene were not Jane Leigh's at all, but a body double. Miss Leigh even mentions in her 1995 book, Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller (with Christopher Nickens) that it was her all the way.

But, according to investigative journalist and author Robert Graysmith, in his colorful book, The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock's Shower, it was a little known photographer's model  and Vegas girl (and avid nudist) by the name of Marli Renfro that was Leigh's body double in the shower scene. Leigh mentions Renfro in her book (pg. 75), acknowledging her hiring at $400 a week and presence on the set, but says she was only a stand-in, and denies that she was in the film at all. In Graysmith's book, it is mentioned that Hitchcock wanted the mystique of PSYCHO (he even had his staff go out and snatch up all the copies of Robert Bloch's novel on which the movie was based so the public was kept in the dark about what would eventually become one of the most famous few seconds in movie history) to endure at least through the production, and it was implied that Janet Leigh, in respect for Hitch, never gave away the "secret". Renfro, of course, in her moment of fame gushes, and gives her side of the story in detail. Her version is quite believable.



Robert Graysmith's self-admitted obsession with Marli Renfro began when he first saw her on the September 1960 cover of PLAYBOY (just three months after the premier of PSYCHO). Much like the literary technique used in Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, in his book he parallels two stories, Renfro's and the man who for many years was thought to be her murder. It turns out to be a classic case of mistaken identity, as Renfro turns up alive and well and living in California's Mojave Desert.


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