Barbara Steele life and biography

Barbara Steele picture, image, poster

Barbara Steele biography

Date of birth : 1937-12-29
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Birkenhead, Merseyside, England
Nationality : English
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2011-07-20
Credited as : Actress, horror film Black Sunday, Dark Shadows

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Barbara Steele is an English film actress. She is best known for starring in Italian gothic horror films of the 1960s. Her breakthrough role came in Italian director Mario Bava's Black Sunday (1960), now hailed as a classic.

Steele was training to become a painter when she became interested in acting, joining an English repertory company in 1957. She began in small parts in mostly forgettable films (e.g., "Bachelor of Hearts" 1958; "Your Money or Your Wife" 1960) and only gained notice when she landed the starring role in the Italian horror film "Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan" (1960). The directorial debut of cinematographer Mario Bava, this genre classic was an exquisitely photographed and atmospheric story of a witch who vows to return for revenge before having a spiked mask hammered onto her face. Subsequently burned at the stake, the witch returns over a century later to possess the soul of a young princess. Steele was mesmerizing in both roles and a genre star was born, despite her voice being dubbed by another actress for international audiences.

Steele came to America in Roger Corman's rousing take on Edgar Allen Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum". Though the film was shot entirely in English, again Steele's own voice was not used. It was as if horror filmmakers were afraid of presenting her power in an undiluted form. Federico Fellini had no such fears, casting Steele in a small but memorable role in his acclaimed "8 1/2" (1963). She made the most of the role of Gloria, the mistress of one of the filmmaker protagonist's friends. Reportedly Fellini wanted to further utilize Steele's strange charms but she was contracted to leave Rome to start work on "The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock" (1962), in which she played the unfortunate wife of a necrophiliac doctor. The latter's success led to her typecasting in the horror genre and she more often than not appeared in Italian productions in which her voice was dubbed. A change of pace came with German filmmaker Volker Schlondorff's "Young Torless" (1966), in which Steele played what is said to be her favorite role, a prostitute visited by a young boarding school student in turn-of-the-century Germany. American TV also afforded her some less gruesome assignments with guest shots on "Secret Agent", "I Spy" and "Night Gallery".

For many years, Steele was married to screenwriter James Poe ("Around the World in 80 Days"; "Lilies of the Field) who wrote an excellent role for her in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" (1969). Reports vary as to whether the role ended up going to Susannah York or was whittled away by director Sydney Pollack. The end result was that Steele was unable to escape the genre that had won her a devoted following. Among her fans was neophyte filmmaker Jonathan Demme who lured Steele back to the screen after a six year absence with an oddball role in his directorial bow, the superior exploitation flick "Caged Heat" (1974). Steele was a campy wonder as McQueen, the wheelchair-bound, repressed lesbian, sadistic warden of a women's prison. Her dream in which she stars in a sexy cabaret act remains a standout. David Cronenberg also used her well in "They Came From Within" (1975), in which she does her part to spread virulent sexually transmitted parasites. Steele wandered back to the mainstream for "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" (1977) but her scenes landed on the cutting room floor. Louis Malle's "Pretty Baby" (1978) put her back in the brothel while director Joe Dante cast her in a more heroic role in the witty John Sayles-scripted thriller "Piranha" (1978). Steele retired from features after the death of her by then ex-husband Poe in 1980.

Steele resurfaced as both associate producer and performer in producer-director Dan Curtis' hugely successful miniseries "The Winds of War" (ABC, 1983). For the comparably ambitious sequel miniseries "War and Remembrance" (ABC, 1989), she signed on as producer in addition to her acting chores, earning an Emmy for her efforts. Having apparently enjoyed working with Curtis, Steele joined the cast of his lavish but short-lived primetime revival of the beloved 1960s supernatural soap "Dark Shadows" (NBC, 1991). She returned to the horror genre in memorable style playing Dr. Julia Hoffman, the doctor devoted to curing Barnabas Collins (Ben Cross) of the affliction of vampirism. She also donned period garb to play Countess Natalie DuPres for the time travel sequence. It was nice to have the "Scream Queen" back--if only for a short while.

Upstairs and Downstairs (1959)
Your Money or Your Wife (1960)
Black Sunday (1960)
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
8½ (1963)
Lo Spettro (The Ghost) (1963)
White Voices (1964)
Castle of Blood (1964)
Terror-Creatures from the Grave (1965)
Nightmare Castle (1965)
The She Beast (1966)
Young Törless (1966)
Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)
Caged Heat (1974)
Shivers (1975)
Piranha (1978)
Silent Scream (1980)
Dark Shadows (TV series revival) (1991)

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