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David Hemmings

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David Hemmings Life story

David Edward Leslie Hemmings was an English actor, director, producer, and singer-songwriter. He co-founded the Hemdale Film Corporation in 1967.

David Edward Leslie Hemmings (18 November 1941 – 3 December 2003) was an English actor, director, producer, and singer-songwriter. He co-founded the Hemdale Film Corporation in 1967.

Considered an icon of the Swinging London pop scene, Hemmings is best remembered for his roles in British films and television programmes of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly the 1966 mystery film Blowup, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Early in his career, Hemmings was a boy soprano appearing in operatic roles.


Early life

David Hemmings was born in Guildford, Surrey, England, to a biscuit salesman father.

Benjamin Britten

His education at Alleyn's School, Glyn Grammar School in Ewell, and the Arts Educational Schools led him to start his career performing as a boy soprano in several works by the composer Benjamin Britten, who formed a close friendship with him at this time. Most notably, Hemmings created the role of Miles in Britten's chamber opera Turn of the Screw (1954). His intimate, yet innocent, relationship with Britten is described in John Bridcut's book Britten's Children (2006).

Although many commentators identified Britten's relationship with Hemmings as based on an infatuation, throughout his life, Hemmings maintained categorically that Britten's conduct with him was beyond reproach at all times. Hemmings had earlier played the title role in Britten's The Little Sweep (1952), which was part of Britten's Let's Make an Opera! children's production.

Britten's interest in Hemmings ceased very abruptly, from the moment his voice broke, which occurred unexpectedly while singing the aria "Malo" during a performance of The Turn of the Screw in 1956 in Paris. Britten was furious, waved Hemmings away, and never had any further contact with him.

Child actor

Hemmings then moved on to acting in films. He made his first film appearance in the drama film The Rainbow Jacket (1954). He could also be seen in Saint Joan (1957).

Hemmings had bigger roles in Five Clues to Fortune (1957), The Heart Within (1957), and No Trees in the Street (1959), directed by J. Lee Thompson. He could also be seen in Men of Tomorrow (1959), In the Wake of a Stranger (1959), Sink the Bismarck! (1960), and The Wind of Change (1961).

Teen idol

Hemmings began to be known for playing young men, for example in The Painted Smile (1962) and Some People (1962).

Hemmings' first lead role was in the low budget teen musical Live It Up! (1963). He went back to support roles for Michael Winner's The System (1964), then starred in a sequel to Live It Up!, Be My Guest (1965).

Hemmings had a role in Two Left Feet (1965) with Michael Crawford.

Blowup and stardom

Hemmings luck changed when he was cast in the lead of Blowup (1966). It was directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, who detested the "Method" way of acting. He sought to find a fresh young face for the lead in the film. He found Hemmings, at the time acting in small stage theatre in London, although at their first meeting, Antonioni told Hemmings, "you look wrong. You're too young". Hemmings was offered the part of the protagonist after actor Sean Connery turned the role down because Antonioni would not show him the full script, but only a seven-page treatment stored in a cigarette packet.The resulting film was a critical and commercial sensation for MGM which financed it, helping turn Hemmings and co-star Vanessa Redgrave into stars. "I've been discovered half a dozen times," said Hemmings. "This time I think I've made it."He accepted an offer from Warner Bros to play Mordred in the expensive musical Camelot (1967). He also had another supporting part in the thriller Eye of the Devil (1966), playing the brother of Sharon Tate.

Hemmings was then cast as Louis Nolan in the expensive epic The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), which, like Camelot, was widely seen but failed to recoup its cost.

Around 1967, Hemmings was briefly considered for the role of Alex in a planned film version of Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange (1962), which was to be based on a screen treatment by satirist Terry Southern and British photographer Michael Cooper. Cooper and the Rolling Stones were reportedly upset by the move and it was decided to return to the original plan in which Mick Jagger, the lead vocalist of the Rolling Stones, would play Alex, with the rest of the Stones as his droog gang; the production was shelved after Britain's chief censor, the Lord Chamberlain, indicated that he would not permit it to be made.In 1967 Hemmings released an album, "Happens" on M.G.M. Records E/SE 4490, in September 1967, both in Mono & Stereo. It flopped and after that he forsook his recording career.

Hemmings co-starred with Richard Attenborough in a comedy, Only When I Larf (1968), then was the sole star of an anti-war film, The Long Day's Dying (1968). Both films flopped.

More financially successful was Barbarella (1968) in which Hemmings had a key role. He played the lead in two period films for MGM: a comedy, The Best House in London (1969), and the historical epic Alfred the Great (1969), in which Hemmings had the title role. Neither film did well at the box office, with Alfred the Great being a notable flop.

Hemmings managed to be cast in some star roles: The Walking Stick (1970) with Samantha Eggar, for MGM; Fragment of Fear (1970), a thriller; and Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971).

Hemmings went to Hollywood to play a supporting role in The Love Machine (1971). Back in Britain he starred in a horror film, Voices (1973).

He went to Spain to appear in Lola (1974), and in Britain supported Richard Harris in Juggernaut (1974).

Hemmings appeared in the Italian giallo film Profondo Rosso (also known as Deep Red or The Hatchet Murders) (1975) directed by Dario Argento. Back in England he supported Anthony Newley in Mister Quilp (1975).


Hemmings directed the drama film The 14 (1973), which won the Silver Bear at the 23rd Berlin International Film Festival.

Character actor

From this point on, Hemmings was really a supporting actor. In 1977 he appeared as Eddy in the film Islands in the Stream, an adaptation of Hemingway's novel of the same name, starring George C Scott.

He had support roles in The Squeeze (1977), The Prince and the Pauper (1977), The Heroin Busters (1977), The Disappearance (1977), Squadra antitruffa (1977), Blood Relatives (1978) and Power Play (1978).

Hemmings directed David Bowie and Marlene Dietrich in the drama film Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo (also known as Just a Gigolo) (1978). The film was poorly received, with Bowie describing it as "my 32 Elvis Presley films rolled into one".He had a support role in Murder by Decree (1979).

Australia and New Zealand

Hemmings received an offer to play a supporting role in an Australian vampire film, Thirst. He starred in a TV film, Charlie Muffin then returned to Australia to feature in Harlequin.

Hemmings then received an offer from Ginnane to direct the Australian horror film The Survivor, based on James Herbert's 1976 novel of the same name, starring Robert Powell and Jenny Agutter. Hemmings directed Race for the Yankee Zephyr shot in New Zealand.

While in New Zealand Hemmings played roles in Prisoners and Beyond Reasonable Doubt.


Hemmings then relocated to Hollywood. He played supporting roles in Man, Woman and Child (1983) and Airwolf (1984).

He also worked extensively as a director of television programmes including the action-adventure drama series Quantum Leap (e.g., the series premiere); the crime series Magnum, P.I. (in which he also played characters in several episodes); and two action-adventure series The A-Team and Airwolf (in which he also played the role of Doctor Charles Henry Moffet, twisted creator of Airwolf, in the pilot and the second-season episode "Moffett's Ghost" – a typographical error by the studio's titles unit). He once joked, "People thought I was dead. But I wasn't. I was just directing The A-Team."

Hemmings also directed the puzzle-contest video Money Hunt: The Mystery of the Missing Link (1984). He directed (and acted in) the television film The Key to Rebecca (1985), an adaptation of Ken Follett's 1980 novel of the same name. He also briefly served as a producer on the NBC crime-drama television series Stingray.

He directed the drama film Dark Horse (1992) and as an actor returned to the voyeuristic preoccupations of his Blowup character with a plum part as the Big Brother-esque villain in the season-three opener for the television horror anthology series Tales From the Crypt.

Later years

In later years, he had roles including appearing as Cassius in the historical epic film Gladiator (2000), with Russell Crowe, as well as appearing in the drama film Last Orders (2001) and the spy film Spy Game (2001). He appeared as Mr. Schermerhorn in the historical film Gangs of New York (2002), directed by Martin Scorsese.

His final screen appearances included the science-fiction action film, Equilibrium (2002), shortly before his death, as well the superhero film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), with Sean Connery and as Frank Sinatra's attorney in the 2003 Australian film The Night We Called It a Day, a comedy based on true events. He also appeared in the horror film Blessed (2004) with Heather Graham, which was dedicated to him in his memory after a fatal heart attack while on set.


In 1967, Hemmings recorded a pop single, "Back Street Mirror" (written by Gene Clark), and a studio album, David Hemmings Happens, in Los Angeles. The album featured instrumental backing by several members of the Byrds, and was produced by Byrds' mentor Jim Dickson.

In the 1970s, he was jointly credited with former Easybeats members Harry Vanda and George Young as a co-composer of the song "Pasadena". The original 1973 recording of this song – the first Australian hit for singer John Paul Young – was produced by Simon Napier-Bell, in whose SNB Records label Hemmings was a partner at the time.

Hemmings also later provided the narration for Rick Wakeman's progressive-rock album Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974) – an adaptation of Jules Verne's science-fiction novel A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) – which was recorded live.

He starred as Bertie Wooster in the short-lived Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Jeeves (1975).


After his death his autobiography, Blow Up... and Other Exaggerations – The Autobiography of David Hemmings, was published in 2004.

Personal life

He was married four times: to Genista Ouvry (1960–1967), actress Gayle Hunnicutt (1968–1975), Prudence de Casembroot (1976–1997), and Lucy Williams (2002 to his death). Hemmings met Hunnicutt while he was in America promoting Blowup, by which time his marriage to Ouvry was over. At their outdoor wedding, Henry Mancini conducted an orchestra and the Mamas and the Papas performed next to a swimming pool filled with doves dyed puce. Of his relationship with Hunnicutt, Hemmings remarked, "We were the poor man's Taylor and Burton". Their marriage ended when Hunnicutt discovered Hemmings' affairs with actress Samantha Eggar, his co-star in The Walking Stick (1970), and his secretary Prudence de Casembroot.During his subsequent marriage to Prudence de Casembroot, Hemmings continued his infidelities with, among others, Tessa Dahl. Hemmings had six children; he and Ouvry had daughter Deborah, he and Hunnicutt had actor son Nolan, while he and de Casembroot had sons George, Edward and William and daughter Charlotte.

Hemmings was an active supporter of liberal causes, and spoke at a number of meetings on behalf of the UK's Liberal Party.


Hemmings died in 2003 at age 62 of a heart attack, in Bucharest, Romania, on the film set of Blessed (working title: Samantha's Child) after he had performed his scenes for the day.His funeral was held at St Peter's Church, in the hamlet of Blackland near Calne, Wiltshire, where he had resided in his final years. He was buried in the church's graveyard.



Running Scared (1972)

The 14 (1973)

Just a Gigolo (1978)

Race for the Yankee Zephyr (1981)

The Survivor (1981)

A-Team (9 episodes) (1983/1987)

The Key to Rebecca (1985)

Down Delaware Road (1988)

Dark Horse (1992)

Passport to Murder (1993)

Christmas Reunion (1994)

Lone Justice: Showdown at Plum Creek (1996)


Hemmings, David (2004). Blow Up... and Other Exaggerations – The Autobiography of David Hemmings. Robson Books (London). ISBN 978-1-86105-789-1.

See also

List of British actors

List of British film directors

List of film producers

List of singer-songwriters


External links

David Hemmings at AllMovie

David Hemmings at the BFI's Screenonline

David Hemmings at IMDb

David Hemmings at the TCM Movie Database

Works by or about David Hemmings in libraries (WorldCat catalog)

A collection of pictures taken on the set of Blowup at the Wayback Machine (archived 5 April 2004)

Pulleine, Tim (5 December 2005). "David Hemmings – Gifted Actor, Director and Producer Who Successfully Outgrew His Iconic '60s Image in Antonioni's Blow Up". The Guardian

David Hemmings Photos

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