Edit
David Hemmings Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (4) | Trade Mark (2) | Trivia (15) | Personal Quotes (5)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 18 November 1941Guildford, Surrey, England, UK
Date of Death 3 December 2003Bucharest, Romania  (heart attack)
Birth NameDavid Leslie Edward Hemmings
Height 5' 8" (1.73 m)

Mini Bio (1)

David Hemmings, one of the great English cinema icons of the 1960s, was born in Guildford, Surrey, on November 18, 1941, to a cookie merchant and his wife. He was educated at Glyn College, Epsom, but while still a child, Hemmings made his first forays into the world of entertainment. An accomplished singer, he toured as a boy soprano with the English Opera Group, famed for his performances of the works of Benjamin Britten. Britten, who befriended the youngster, wrote some roles specifically for Hemmings, including that of "Miles" in "The Turn of the Screw". Hemmings subsequently took up painting after his career as a soprano was ended by his transit through puberty. He studied painting at the Epsom School of Art, where he staged the first exhibition of his work at the school when he was 15 years old.

Hemmings made his film debut in 1954, with The Rainbow Jacket (1954) for Ealing Studios. He also had bit part in Otto Preminger's 1957 version of Saint Joan (1957). In his 20s, he returned to singing, appearing at nightclubs before concentrating on the stage and the cinema. As the youth culture hit Britain in the late 50s (the Notting Hill race riots of August 1958 limned in Julien Temple's 1986 film Absolute Beginners (1986) being a kind of bookmark signaling its arrival), Hemmings was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on his skills and looks. Boyish-looking, with large, protuberant blue eyes covered with heavy lids, his face was at once startling and decadent while simultaneously conveying an air of fragility. He starred in pop music movies Sing and Swing (1963) and Be My Guest (1965), as well as co-starring in one of Michael Winner's first films, The Girl-Getters (1964), with Oliver Reed.

The 24-year-old Hemmings desperately wanted what would become his career-defining role, as the morally jaded fashion photographer Thomas in master-director Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966). He was up against the crème of British actors, including Terence Stamp, who already had an Oscar nomination under his belt and was conventionally handsome.

Hemmings thought he had blown his audition as Antonioni shook his head constantly throughout his audition. However, he later found out the great director had a mild form of Tourette's which caused him to move his head from side to side.

The role made him a star and, for a while, a darling of the pop culture filmmaking that was expected to revolutionize the English-speaking cinema in the 1960s, after the 1964 Best Picture Oscar-win of Tony Richardson's Tom Jones (1963). He was cast as Mordred in the big-screen adaptation of Lerner & Lowe's musical Camelot (1967) with Richard Harris and Hemmings Blow-Up (1966) co-star Vanessa Redgrave to critically panned results. The same year that "Camelot" was released (1967), he put out a pop single ("Back Street Mirror") and an album, "David Hemmings Happens", recorded in Los Angeles. His album was produced by Jim Dickinson, the early producer of The Byrds, and featured instrumental backing by several members of group. It was re-released on CD in 2005.

In 1968, he appeared as Dildano opposite Jane Fonda (in her incarnation as a sexpot) in Roger Vadim's kitsch klassic Barbarella (1968).

However, to reduce stereotyping and his identification with pop culture filmmaking, he took on the role of the anti-hero Captain Nolan in Tony Richardson's masterful satire The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) and later, the eponymous role in Alfred the Great (1969). While both films were imbued with the counter-cultural attitudes of their times, the roles themselves were rather straightforward. Hemmings had reached the summit of his career as an actor. These were the heights he never reached again.

As the quality of his roles declined, Hemmings turned more to directing. He had directed his first film in 1972, helming the thriller Running Scared (1972) which starred Gayle Hunnicutt, his wife from 1968 to 1974. Hemmings also co-wrote the script. In the 1970s, he had relocated to Malibu, California to live with Hunnicutt, and the fabled beach community which was his home for the next generation. In 1975, he starred as Bertie Wooster in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, "Jeeves", one of Lord Webber's few flops.

Hemmings formed the independent production company Hemdale Corp. with his business partner, John Daly, in the early 1970s as a tax shelter. He was able to use Hemdale and his role as a producer to vivify his directing career. In 1979, Hemmings the director first attracted major attention with Just a Gigolo (1978), but the film was a flop in spite of its interesting cast. After directing the 1981 adventure film Treasure of the Yankee Zephyr (1981) and an adaptation of James Herbert's novel "The Survivor", he focused on TV directing. He soon became one of the top directors of American action TV programs, including The A-Team (1983), Airwolf (1984), Magnum, P.I. (1980) and Quantum Leap (1989).

However, in the nineties, he abandoned directing, and returned to live in the UK. The role of "Cassius" in Gladiator (2000) heralded his full-time return to acting. He was also memorable in a small role in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002). But it was his last major role, in the cinema adaption of Graham Swift's Last Orders (2001), that showed Hemmings at the top of his talent. Unrecognizable from the boy-man of 1966-70, he was memorable as the ex-boxer who ruefully remembers the past with his remaining buddies as they travel to throw the ashes of a departed friend into the sea. That two of the other major roles were filled by Michael Caine and Tom Courtenay, two other British actors whose careers first flourished in the 1960s, added to the poignancy of this tale of men trying to recapture lost time. He also appeared, less memorably, in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) opposite the ultimate 60s male British cinema icon, Sean Connery.

David Hemmings died of a heart attack on December 3, 2003, in Bucharest, Romania, on the set of Blessed (2004), after playing his scenes for the day. He was 62 years old. His autobiography, "Blow Up... and Other Exaggerations" was published in 2004.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (4)

Lucy Williams (18 October 2002 - 3 December 2003) (his death)
Baroness Prudence de Casembroot (19 March 1976 - 1997) (divorced) (4 children)
Gayle Hunnicutt (16 November 1968 - 1975) (divorced) (1 child)
Genista Ouvry (1960 - 1967) (divorced) (1 child)

Trade Mark (2)

Deep, slow voice
Amazingly bushy eyebrows (in later life)

Trivia (15)

Father of actor Nolan Hemmings
Started his career as a boy-soprano of some note. Benjamin Britten composed some of his most important child parts for him, i.a. Miles in "The Turn of the Screw". He was renowned for his mature and intelligent vocal interpretations of these parts and many have never been bettered since.
Father of six children - one daughter by his first wife, one son Nolan Hemmings by his second wife, Gayle Hunnicutt, and three sons and one daughter by his third wife.
He had just finished filming scenes for the movie, Blessed (2004) (aka Samantha's Child), when he suffered a heart attack and died.
As a teen he left home and headed for Austria where he performed magic and played the guitar in nightclubs.
Most people who knew him as the handsome leading man from Blow-Up (1966) didn't recognize him as the stocky character actor from the films he was in later in his career.
A professional singer by the age of 9.
An exhibited painter by the age of 15.
1967: Co-founded the HemDale Corporation with John Daly. However, he left the company in 1970.
Recorded a pop album, in Los Angeles in 1967, titled "David Hemmings Happens", backed by several members of The Byrds and produced by The Byrds' mentor Jim Dickinson. A single was released, "Back Street Mirror", written by the former Byrd Gene Clark (who never recorded it himself).
Father-in-law of Nikki Grosse.
Stanley Kubrick reportedly wanted him to play the lead role in an epic biography of Napoleon which was planned, but never filmed, in the early 1970s.
Told movie critic Roger Ebert in a February 1967 interview that he was going to appear in a movie adaption of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (1971), with a script by Terry Southern, in 1968. Hemmings did not mention Stanley Kubrick to Ebert. Southern gave Kubrick a copy of "A Clockwork Orange" but the director ignored it as he was working on developing a biography of Napoléon Bonaparte after finishing 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Reportedly, one of the actors Kubrick considered to play the French soldier and emperor was Hemmings.
Ex-fiancé of Jane Merrow.
Is mentioned by name in episode 6 of season 1 of 'Monty Python's Flying Circus'.

Personal Quotes (5)

I quite like being mobbed. After all it is extremely nice to be recognised. That's what acting is all about - being recognised.
Producing is a thankless task akin to hotel management. Unfortunately there are not too many good hotel managers.
I don't mind autograph hunters when I go down the fish and chip shop. As long as I get my chips.
Look at the film buyers and sellers in Cannes any year and you're basically looking at a lot of shoe-salesmen working out whether it should be sneakers or lace-ups next year.
"People thought I was dead. But I wasn't. I was just directing The A-Team (1983).

See also

Other Works | Publicity Listings | Official Sites | Contact Info

Contribute to This Page