Brought to you by


Dawn Addams: the Suffolk actress who became a princess

Dawn Addams (foreground right) in A King in New York with a perplexed Charlie Chaplin and Joan Ingram.  Photo: Movie Stills Database/moviestillsdb.com
Dawn Addams (foreground right) in A King in New York with a perplexed Charlie Chaplin and Joan Ingram. Photo: Movie Stills Database/moviestillsdb.com

It’s an unusual spelling, for sure. ‘Addams’ appears just once in my trusty biographical dictionary. But then, Suffolk-born Dawn Addams lived an unusual life; a fairy tale that saw her become not just a glamorous Hollywood movie actress but a celebrity princess.

Dawn was born Victoria Dawn Addams, in Felixstowe, on September 21 1930, the daughter of RAF Captain James Ramage Addams and Ethel née Hickie. Ethel died when Dawn was young and she did much of her growing up overseas due to her father’s postings.

Looking at her pictures, it’s easy to see why she attracted talent scouts; something of a young Deborah Kerr, perhaps? She took her first screen test aged 13, but she didn’t start acting until she graduated from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Her career began on stage in shows touring Britain and Europe. It was in December 1950, aged 20, that she signed a seven-year deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), the Beverly Hills studio.

Great British Life: Felixstowe-born actress Dawn Addams. Photo: Newsquest archiveFelixstowe-born actress Dawn Addams. Photo: Newsquest archive

Dawn became a fixture of Hollywood movies in the 1950s, beginning in 1951 when she appeared as Dotty Phelps in Night into Morning. Another early film was no less than Singin’ in the Rain (1952), starring Gene Kelly, in which Dawn masqueraded as Teresa, a lady-in-waiting to the lady, Lina Lamont, played by actress Jean Hagen, in a film within a film.

In the same year she also appeared in Plymouth Adventure playing Priscilla Mullins, a film about the Pilgrim Fathers' establishment of Plymouth Colony in 1620. In a more substantial role, Dawn's character was at the centre of a love triangle of sorts and she appeared alongside the movie’s star, heartthrob Spencer Tracy. Another 1952 film was The Hour of 13 in which Dawn played the female lead opposite 'Rat Pack' actor Peter Lawford.

Great British Life: Lobby card for Plymouth Adventure featuring Dawn Addams (bottom left) in one of her early Hollywood roles. Photo: Movie Stills Database/moviestillsdb.comLobby card for Plymouth Adventure featuring Dawn Addams (bottom left) in one of her early Hollywood roles. Photo: Movie Stills Database/moviestillsdb.com

In 1953 Dawn appeared in Young Bess, a biopic of Elizabeth I in which she played doomed Catherine Howard, alongside Jean Simmons as Bess, Deborah Kerr as Catherine Parr and Charles Laughton was a suitably blobby Henry VIII.

She filled a quite different role in The Robe, an epic set in ancient Roman, in which she played Junia, with Richard Burton and Jean Simmons in the lead roles. In the same year she appeared in The Moon is Blue as the daughter of David Niven’s character, arguably her most significant role to date. In the same year, Dawn embarked on a United Service Organisations (USO) tour entertaining servicemen in Korea.

The following year she appeared in a sci-fi film, Riders to the Stars, in which opposite Richard Carlson. The film was nothing special, but Dawn's role bagged a fair bit of publicity – she dies on a perilous space mission – and any publicity is good, so they say.

The same year, Dawn set a trend for actresses marrying European aristocrats and becoming princesses when she wed Italian Don Vittorio Emanuele Massimo, Prince of Roccasecca (Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III in 1956). Dawn and the prince made the cover of Life magazine. Apparently, their honeymoon was interrupted when the prince was sentenced to four months jail for insulting a policeman. Fortunately, his appeal succeeded and the honeymoon resumed.

Great British Life: Dawn Addams looking every inch the Hollywood star in A King in New York. Photo: Movie Stills Database/moviestillsdb.comDawn Addams looking every inch the Hollywood star in A King in New York. Photo: Movie Stills Database/moviestillsdb.com

Their son, Prince Stefano Massimo, was born in January 1955 and Dawn became every inch the stylish continental princess, fluent in French and Italian. In 1957 she starred alongside the great Charlie Chaplin in his last major role in the film A King in New York. Art imitated life as Dawn fraternised with royalty in the film. Behind the scenes, perhaps life wasn't quite so rosy; she and the prince separated in 1959 and formally divorced in 1971.

As the 1960s dawned, Dawn the actress no longer commanded top dollar. She played the doctor's unfortunate wife, Kitty, in The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll, a decidedly second rate take on the Robert Louis Stevenson. Tragedy struck in 1966 when her second son died at six months old from bronchial pneumonia in.

But as Dawn's movie star descended and the glamour roles dried up, she became a staple of British TV throughout the 1960s and 1970s. She popped up in The Saint – appearing several times opposite Roger Moore – the sitcom Father, Dear Father as the literary agent of Patrick Glover played by Patrick Cargill, episodes of Danger Man, Hadleigh, the Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre and even Crossroads. Towards the end of her film career horror beckoned, with appearances in The Vampire Lovers (1970) and The Vault of Horror (1973).

Great British Life: Dawn Addams with Roger Moore as Simon Templar in The Saint. Photo: Movie Stills Database/moviestillsdb.comDawn Addams with Roger Moore as Simon Templar in The Saint. Photo: Movie Stills Database/moviestillsdb.com

In September 1974 Dawn married retired businessman Jimmy White, settling in Malta and then Florida, alternating between stage and television roles. She was a celebrity panellist on Blankety Blank in December 1981. But it was her final role that brought her back to her roots in the 1981-83 TV soap Triangle, about a North Sea ferry plying between her native Felixstowe, Gothenburg and Amsterdam.

Dawn, played Mrs Landers in 26 episodes as the series came to an end in 1983, after which she retired from a career that included more than 40 films and two dozen TV series. She died on May 7 1985, aged just 54, in a London hospital after months of illness with lung cancer. Her obituary appeared in the New York Times, lauding her for her 1950s roles with Chaplin, Spencer Tracy and David Niven. An life well lived.

Great British Life: The ship that appeared in the second and third series of Triangle. Felixstowe- born Dawn Addams made her final TV appearance in the series about a Felixstowe ferry. Photo: Louis Moutard-Martin/shipmania.jimdo.comThe ship that appeared in the second and third series of Triangle. Felixstowe- born Dawn Addams made her final TV appearance in the series about a Felixstowe ferry. Photo: Louis Moutard-Martin/shipmania.jimdo.com



BROUGHT TO YOU BY…

Suffolk Read more

Latest articles

More from Suffolk

BROUGHT TO YOU BY…

Suffolk Read more