Kamala Devi (actress)
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Kamala Devi is...
Kamala Devi was the first Indian actress to play the female romantic lead in a non-Indian film—and apart from Freida Pinto the only one so far to have played a non-Indian character in the female romantic lead. Geronimo (1962) was a major Hollywood film, in which she portrayed Teela, an American (‘Red’) Indian princess. Though other Indian actresses followed, they mostly played Indian characters, e.g. Simi Garewal in Conrad Rooks’ Siddharth (1972). Aishwarya Rai Bachchan played the European detective Sonia in The Pink Panther 2 (2009) and was the main female lead of the film, but not the female romantic lead.
Kamala Devi’s was born in Bombay (on 1934-04-03: in US numericals that probably means April 3)(imdb gives her date of birth as 8 October 1933), where her father, Chandulah Amesur (perhaps Chandulal; Amesur sounds very Mauritian), was a famous surgeon. Her mother, according to the Jan. 1962 issue of Photoplay magazine, was English.
A foothold in Anglo-American cinema
The Stewart Granger-starrer Harry Black and the Tiger (1958/ UK) was a big-budget Technicolor/ 4-Track Stereo British film shot and set in India. Kamala Devi made her film debut in the film in a small role as Nurse Somola.
Having got a foothold in Anglo-American cinema, she next played Dara in Tales of the Vikings (1960/ USA), a TV series produced by Kirk Douglas. The episode that she acted in was called ‘The Harem Dancer’ and was telecast on 2 Jun. 1960.
Kamala Devi’s debut in her own country was in a small role in Aas Ka Panchhi (1961), arguably the only Indian film that she ever acted in.
William Wyler, Ben Hur and the Hollywood big league
The Jan. 1962 issue of Photoplay magazine wrote about her, “It is a strange fact that the two men who predict Kamala Devi will be a top screen actress were unable to use her in their films.
“They are William Wyler [the maker of the biggest budget films of the time, e.g. Ben Hur ] and Mervyn Le Roy- both powerful men in Hollywood.
“Le Roy wanted Miss Devi for his picture, The Devil At 4 O'Clock. He even tested her for a part. But then he turned her down- she was, he decided, too beautiful for the role he had in mind.
“Wyler signed her for Ben-Hur. Miss Devi played a character called Iris-but you didn't see her in the film because the part was cut out.
“The role turned out to be too sexy for the progress of the story,” the publicity people explained. However, Wyler said: “Miss Devi is the most exciting star material I have seen in years.” And Le Roy added: “She has tremendous impact. She is bound to become an important actress.” ”
Photoplay wrote, “She has liquid brown eyes, dark brown hair and a smile that would send any man's pulse racing.” Indeed, most American magazine articles about Devi during her early career made it a point to mention her beauty. A 21st century online comments reads, “I can see why Chuck found her so beautiful. They complimented each other as man and wife.” (Soquilii: themccainranch)
“I was very disappointed about the part in Ben-Hur," Miss Devi told Photoplay. "It would have meant alot if I'd been seen in that picture. Christopher Fry had written a terrific script. I was suppose to have a yen for Ben-Hur. However I had to agree it was not absolutely essential to the story, so when they found the film was a bit lenghy it was only right I should be the one to go.”
“Never mind,” Photoplay consoled its readers, “Miss Devi has a starring part in a new picture, Geronimo. “
Geronimo: The big break
Geronimo, a Western, was Kamala Devi’s breakthrough into international stardom. Though it was her fourth film, the film’s credits read ‘and introducing Kamala Devi.’
“I play an Indian school teacher,” Kamala Devi said about her role in a 1962 interview to Photoplay . “But that doesn't mean I am going to be typed. I turned down several contracts because I fear I would be pushed into roles I didn't want. I believe I can play any part- and it's variety I want. Another thing I want to avoid is being called a second someone. I know it must be nice for Claudia Cardinale to be called a second Brigitte Bardot but if I was her I would rather get along without that kind of tag. The important thing in show business is to be different-and, if nothing else, I hope I am that!”
Career after Geronimo
In international films Kamala Devi almost invariably played non-Indian characters. Because of her features she would mostly act as an East European, a Hispanic or even an African.
She was Glana Lupescu in The Rogues (1964); Tezra in The Brass Bottle (1964); Sandra in Arrest and Trial (1964); Deirdre Purbhani in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1965); Felicitas in I Spy (1966); Laurette Lansing in Branded (1965–1966) and Broken Sabre (1966); M'Koru in Cowboy in Africa (1967); and Sallah in The Rat Patrol (1967).
In January 1961 Kamala, by then in Hollywood, was ‘seen around’ with actor Jeffrey Stone, a.k.a. John Fontaine Stone, who had just been divorced from Corinne Calvet/ Dibos and who had been expected to marry Michele Triola ‘when he was free.’ (glamourgirlsofthesilverscreen) Such sightings led to some gossip about a quadrangule.
Kamala Devi settled in the USA and, in 1963, married Chuck Connors, the male lead of Geronimo and many other films that she acted in. This, as imdb points out, made her the stepmother of Mike Connors, Jeff Connors, Steve Connors and Kevin Connors. However, Chuck Connors and she divorced in 1972.
She married Wallace Guberman on April 28th, 1978; the marriage ended in a divorce on May 5th, 1983 (5 years) (omnilexica)
Wallace Guberman was a Canadian Jewish businessman (born 1921) twelve or thirteen years Devi’s senior. In 1958 he opened Canada’s first Original Pancake House on Pembina Highway, Winnipeg. By the time he met Devi the restaurant had turned into a small chain. When he died (in 2004 in Los Angeles) his obituary pointedly referred to ‘his first wife Eleanor, who held a special place in his heart’ (and whom he had divorced). There was no mention of Devi.
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