Obituary: Beth Rogan, actress and socialite

Beth Rogan, actress, socialite and inspiration for classic sixties firlm Darling. Picture: Getty Images
Beth Rogan, actress, socialite and inspiration for classic sixties firlm Darling. Picture: Getty Images
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Born: 19 July, 1931, Walmer, Kent. Died: 25 November, 2015, Emsworth, Hampshire, aged 84.

Beth Rogan was queuing to get into Wimbledon when a balding stranger came out of the ground and asked if she was a film star. She was a student at the local art school. He claimed he was a film producer and gave her contact details for the person in charge of signing actors at Rank film studios, along with the Centre Court ticket he no longer needed.

Within a few weeks she had a contract with Rank, Britain’s leading film production company, and with it entrée to a whole new world.

Rogan never quite managed to become a top-line star, but she relished the hedonistic celebrity lifestyle and she had a credible claim to being the inspiration for Julie Christie’s character in the classic 1965 film Darling. It was produced by Joseph Janni, the stranger she met while queuing at Wimbledon.

An undoubted beauty, with a definite joie de vivre, Rogan married not one, but two English aristocrats – her second and third husbands.

Her second husband was the Honourable Tony Samuel, a rather eccentric scion of the family that founded the Shell oil company. They split their time between a home in London and the sprawling Arndilly estate in Morayshire, though Rogan preferred sunning herself on the French Riviera to shooting grouse in Scotland.

The daughter of a Royal Marines officer, she was born Jenifer Puckle in Walmer in Kent in 1931. She briefly taught Latin at a boys prep school, attended Wimbledon School of Art and worked both as an illustrator and model. She married one of her teachers Ted Draper, ostensibly to get away from her family.

But she soon got bored with marriage and suburbia and she jumped at the opportunities afforded by her chance meetings with Joseph Janni and with Carlo Riccono, a globe-trotting Italian journalist who she also met at Wimbledon and with whom she began an affair.

In the second half of the 1950s she began appearing in small roles in Rank films, including Doctor at Large, with Dirk Bogarde, who became a close friend and suggested the stage name Beth Rogan, though her friends always knew her as Jeni.

At Rank, Rogan got to know studio publicist Jeanne Hunter, who persuaded her that her life was sufficiently colourful to turn into a book. “She was an original wild child,” said Hunter. They sailed to the Italian island of Ischia and worked on the book every day until they had 300 pages. In between sessions on the book Rogan was courted by Tony Samuel.

Hunter left to finalise arrangements for a move to New York and the next thing she knew Rogan had married Samuel, and, much to Hunter’s consternation, had given their manuscript to Janni.

According to both Hunter and Rogan, the manuscript, Rogan’s lifestory, provided the inspiration for Darling, the Oscar-winning film scripted by Frederic Raphael and directed by John Schlesinger. Julie Christie played a young model, who is married, but bored, and her life changes after she is approached in the street by a journalist, played by Dirk Bogarde.

Hunter said: “She felt she owed Joe Janni… Trying to compensate for giving away our work, she and Tony brought me a puppy from Harrods. It was snow-filled winter and their plane was diverted to Boston. They had to ride a Greyhound bus to Manhattan and we got a middle-of-the-night call from the august Carlyle Hotel to tell us to come pick up the puppy as animals were not allowed.”

On another occasion Rogan turned up at Hunter’s home in Florida with a broken leg, sustained while sledging with the British Winter Olympics team. They flew to Barbados, borrowed the national team’s polo ponies and rode them through the sugar cane, even though Rogan had one leg in plaster.

After leaving Rank, Rogan appeared in the 1961 Jules Verne adventure Mysterious Island, playing a castaway in a fetching home-made buckskin outfit. She is terrorised by giant bees and a particularly nasty hen, animated by the legendary Ray Harryhausen.

She put her film career on hold while married to Samuel, but the marriage lasted only a few years. Samuel was much older and reputedly confided to one friend: “I always knew Jeni would have lovers, but I hoped I might be one of them.”

After their marriage collapsed, Rogan made one final film in the late 1960s. Having conquered English high society, she managed to break into the Rat Pack with Salt and Pepper, a crime caper with Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis Jr, who became a friend and introduced her to Noel Coward.

In 1971 Rogan got married for a third time, to Sir Timothy Cassel, part of a distinguished legal family and at that time heir to the Cassel baronetcy. Cassel was 11 years her junior. He had arrived at a party with a debutant, but left with Rogan. “She was absolutely wonderful,” he said, “until we married, and then the magic went.” Again the marriage lasted only a few years, though they had two children, Natalia, a communications director, and Alexander, a solicitor.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Rogan had regularly appeared in movies and publicity shots in skimpy outfits, bathing costumes and bikinis and she was still wearing bikinis to the beach in her mid-seventies – when she was not going topless.

Latterly she spent her time gardening, painting and socialising. Hunter last saw her about ten years ago when Rogan reminisced about old times while smoking cannabis and knocking back the brandy. They talked about a sequel to Darling and Hunter wrote some early pages, but that was as far as it went.

After her death, Rogan’s children discovered a crop of cannabis drying in her airing cupboard. She died of a heart attack at home, sitting in her favourite chair, after a long lunch with an old friend.