The Writings of Ingrid Pitt

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Ingrid's Obituary


Now you see it.....

John Frankenheimer was a great collector of model cars. When someone pinched them that was the end of my film.
John Frankenheimer

The late, great, John Frankenheimer

It’s funny how other peoples obsessions are the basis for boredom. Most of the time. Especially in high profile jobs like acting. It is very hard to get your head around the idea that some folk actually get a buzz out of accountancy or that creating a perfect hair-style turns a hair dresser on. It’s a sort of myopia that can cause a lot of problems if you aren’t careful. I had a mini-row at a party when somebody told me he was a solicitor and the wrong expression turned up, unaided by a thought process, on my face. He made a nasty crack about a ‘vacuous actress’ and flounced off. I would have been annoyed if I knew what he meant. I even find the people involved in motor racing a mite strange and I’ve been hanging around with that lot since before they made round wheels compulsory. I can even remember appearing on a TV show when Tyrrell brought out a six wheeler in the early 70’s and twatting on about ambient temperatures and surface temperatures and tyre wear. I must admit I had a racing bloke with his hand up my back, working my lips and talking out the side of his mouth. But I was into it then - motor racing that is - and wanted to give my two pennorth.

I met five times World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio way back at a race meeting I attended in Oulton Park with the Cultural Attache of the Argentinian Embassy, Alfonso Van der Becke. Fangio was there doing the visiting dignitary act and Alfonso introduced me to him. Juan Manuel didn’t speak English and I was coming off a six year sojourn in Spain so we got on like smoked salmon and scrambled egg. He told me about a circuit that was being built in his honour in his home town of Balcarce and I whinnied on about what a fan I was and the upshot was I received an invitation via Van der Becke to attend the opening of the Circuito Juan Manuel Fangio. It was a figure 8 cut out of a mountain. The best seats were on the high cliffs which buttressed up against the side of the track. The opening race was proceeded by a mass of costumed dancers who looked as if they had just escaped from the Rio Carnival. I felt sorry for them when a sudden storm blew up out of nowhere and ruined their plumage.

Afterwards we all went back to Fangio’s quinta for a barbecue. I decided I needed some sleep and prepared to duck out. Juan Manuel told me he had something to show me and took me along the road for a couple of hundred yards to a little boliche. It was the home of his parents. They were wonderful. They invited me in and I was amazed. Every inch of space in the tiny house was filled with pictures and mementos of Fangio’s time on the circuits. Of particular interest was a sort of cut-down, extended Welsh Dresser. This had hundreds of miniature cars all with one theme; Juan Manuel Fangio. Some of them were professionally made models but by far the most were lovingly constructed by Juan Manuel’s millions of fans around the world. I could see why Mum and Dad Fangio were so proud of the display and listened attentively while they explained what the most important cars represented. Fangio’s favourite was a green Maserati 4cl/48, about a foot long, carved out of a block of wood and perfect down to the smallest detail. Juan Manuel asked me which one I liked and I opted for a little BRM made out of tin about four inches long. Juan instantly gave it to me. I found out later I couldn’t have made a better choice. Even Fangio hadn’t been able to conjure any magic from the tank-like BRM. I regret to say that somewhere along the way I mislaid it. A shame really. Juan Manuel died a couple of years back and it would have been something to remember him by. We had been corresponding for twenty odd years. I actually received a letter from him on the day he died. It was very poignant.

Grand Prix Film Poster

Poster for Frankenheimers hectic Grand Prix film.

Another time I was introduced to a collection was in Paris. I had gone to the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) headquarters in the Place de la Concorde on a bleak December night to attend some sort of ceremony. Way back then these sort of things were very casual. I can’t remember much about it except that David Purley was up for some sort of award, probably to do with his heroic, but unsuccessful, attempt to save Roger Williamson from his burning car in Zandvoort. Dave’s father was hidden behind the stage and was supposed to come out and greet David when the curtains went back. Unfortunately Dave’s dad dropped off to sleep and when he was revealed he was slumped in a chair innocently knocking out the zeds.

Once the awards had been made we all wandered out into the freezing wind that swept across the Concorde. I found myself standing next to Claude Leguesec who was at that time the Secretary of the FIA. I had met him the previous year when I was on holiday in Cannes. He had the sort of accent that Maurice Chevalier would have had a larynx transplant for. He agreed with me that it was not a night for brass monkeys to venture out on and invited me back to his place ‘up the Champs Elysees’ for a drink. I accepted gratefully.

Claude lived in a beautiful old French house built in the nineties. The 1890’s that is. His wife CloClo met us at the door with some brandy and we were soon chatting away like old friends. I told Claude about Fangio’s parent’s collection and he jumped up immediately and ordered me to follow him. We went into a room on the first floor. Claude waited until I was well into the room and then dramatically switched on the light. I was standing in the middle of a large room that was lined with glass, hermetically sealed, display cases. In the cases were thousands of miniature cars. “One thirty-second scale” he assured me solemnly - and who am I to argue with that? I forget how many thousand cars he had collected but his position as secretary of the FIA assured that it was still growing - rapidly. Unlike Fangio, Claude wasn’t about to let me get my sweaty paws on any of the precious models but instead started a long and exhaustive commentary on what the cars were and how he had come into possession of them. I tried to stay with him - I really did. But the brain was getting foggy when he began to eulogise on a model of a Type A Auto Union in which Hans Stuck went to Avus and broke the one hour speed record by 2 mph in 1934. I just gave him one of my best wan smiles and suggested that, after the cold night air, I was finding the heated room pretty suffocating. I think he sensed my boredom. When I said I had to go he called a cab instantly and didn’t even give me a balloon and a piece of cake to take home with me.

Juan Manuel Fangio

Juan Manuel Fangio, fives times Grand Prix World Champion.

It was a few years before I hit the miniature car obsession again. I was writing a script for John Frankenheimer called The Peking Man. Nothing to do with cars - just a collection of old bones. Frankenheimer, you may recall, directed. among a multitude of other films, Grand Prix, reshown on TV quite recently. Collaborating on the script necessitated going round to his place in Eaton Place for bone gnawing sessions. In a break I mentioned that I was up to play the bimbo part in the Steve McQueen film, Le Mans, but had to pull out because I was working on Countess Dracula and it over ran. This little snippet brought the conversation around to Grand Prix and naturally I told him about Fangio’s collection of miniature racing cars. He did the Leguesec thing, jumped out of his chair and commanded me to follow him. His treasure trove was down in the basement but I had the same dramatic build-up with the lights. The cellar was lined with the same sort of display cases as well. I’m not sure if they were hermetically sealed. John started to explain the significance of some of the cars. I wanted to impress him. Luckily, at that time, I had a pretty good memory and, by selecting cars I knew, was able to come across like an expert. I think he was impressed but a bit deflated not to be able to give me the full itinerary.

The script was almost ready when John decided it was time to head on home for the States. We were to have one more meeting before he left. The next time we met we would be in production. I arrived at his house to find a couple of police cars parked outside. Inside John and his wife were doing their respective nuts. When I at last managed to get a word with him he told me what had happened. He had engaged a specialist firm to catalogue and pack his precious collection of miniatures. When they were finished he invited the packers in for a cuppa before they set off for the airport. Ten minutes later they went outside and found the van long gone. John didn’t take it too well. Somehow he seemed to equate me with the loss of his collection. He went back to the States and a month or so later I had a letter from his wife saying that John was sorry but he was retiring from film making and I should look elsewhere for a director for The Peking Man.

Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron and John Frankenheimer

Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron and John Frankenheimer on the set of Deception.

Needless to say my brush with famous collections - or the collections of the famous - didn’t pass me by entirely. I’ve picked up the occasional bargain here and there and hope to extend it even further. My collection might not merit an hermetically sealed glass display case or a hollowed position on a Welsh Dresser at the moment but the card board Chinese Takeaway box has a certain je ne sais quoi. And the models are fairly unique if rather eclectic. I’ll specialise later. For starters there is the Willys Street Rod, paint work a bit garage rashed but for me that adds to the charm. The Pi-eyed Piper looks quite tasty in blue, well what paint there is left is definitely blue - sort of. The London Taxi with the opening side doors and little plastic seats inside should be quite appealing - if I could replace one of the missing wheels. Then there is the monoposter, complete with driver. That is really unique. It was knitted for me by an elderly uncle when he was in hospital. I’m not sure what I should insure that for. And, of course, the motor-cycle and sidecar from 101 Dalmations. Good provenance that. My niece got it from McDonalds. Finally there is the fully mechanised canoe with two penguins in it. with yellow paddles. I’m not sure where that takes me but I did say the collection, at the moment, is fairly eclectic.

Nothing to do with cars but it could be of interest if you collect authentic film memorabilia. The Dress (dirndl) I wore in Where Eagles Dare is going up for auction on Ebay from the 10th-18th. September. It’s in excellent condition and is just the thing for the office party. OK Arthur - not for you but.........

Model Mart 3

The Writings of Ingrid Pitt