One of my favorite Christmas presents from this past year, given to me by my in-laws, strangely enough (though I like to think my wife had a guiding hand in the selection of the gift), is my 2012 Hammer Glamour Calendar . There were plenty of raised eyebrows around the tree when I unwrapped it, to be sure—my daughters were disgusted by all the titillating pictures inside. But gee, what was I to do? Hurl it to the floor and reject it on grounds of indecency? Why, I think not. In fact, it’s now occupying a place of honor in my office, where it has not yet been discovered by my boss, who might take my daughters’ side on the matter.
At any rate, it’s a grand tribute to some of the loveliest ladies of British horror, and I decided that, rather than just keep it to myself I’d share it with you, my faithful readers. So near the beginning of each month of 2012 I’ll post the current Hammer starlet(s) featured in the calendar along with some information about them and their careers.
Ms. January Hammer Glamour just happens to be Hazel Court. Court got her start in Birmingham, England, the place where she was born and where she eventually made an impression several years later at the local school of drama. She began work in the movies as a bit player with the J. Arthur Rank Organization (gonnnng!), and soon found herself featured in a whole passel of movies that I’ve never seen, including Devil Girl from Mars (1954), before she made an impression on the young men of my generation opposite Peter Cushing in Hammer’s first foray into the world of Mary Shelley’s monster, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). It was this high-profile role which would lead her friend Ingrid Pitt, herself a Hammer icon of the highest order, to proclaim that Court was the studio’s first star. (I would have thought that honor might have gone to Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, but Ingrid Pitt’s perspective on the issue certainly can’t be discounted.)
Though she was a staple of TV in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller and Bonanza were among her early TV credits), Court went on to solidify her status as a top-notch scream queen in a series of movies adapted from Edgar Allan Poe stories by Roger Corman. She premiered for the director as Ray Milland’s ill-fated paramour in The Premature Burial (1962) and followed up that underrated gem with The Raven (1963) and Corman’s masterpiece, The Masque of the Red Death (1964). Perhaps some of the mystery she maintains for genre fans is due to her restraint in not exploiting her status as a fearsome femme fatale any further than she did. She finished her career mainly in TV (Mission: Impossible, The Wild, Wild West, Mannix and Gidget were just a few of the shows graced by her presence), and though she became a favorite at fan conventions later in her life, she never did again make the impact she would make in those Hammer films. Her final appearance was an uncredited role in Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981), which likely came about because of her relationship with director Don Taylor, who made Damien: Omen II and became Court’s second husband after meeting her on the set of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1958.
Whether or not Ingrid Pitt’s assessment is true, it is certainly entirely appropriate that the year’s first Hammer Glamour star for 2012 should be Hazel Court, who at least defined the female star, to the good, for the studio for years to come.