The Vanishing: Part Two

Lynne Sue Moon’s filmography is brief, though interesting. Asian actors at the time usually had short careers, and all too rarely played lead roles. There was the occasional breakthrough to a moment in the limelight, such as when Nancy Kwan starred in The World of Susie Wong. However for the most part, opportunities were pretty scarce. In the 1960’s, major asian roles were still being given to western actors, and with horrible results. (Mickey Rooney giving an unspeakably xenophobic performance as the Japanese Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.)

Though Lynne made a bare handful of appearances, they were all in films that were at the very least, interesting. Moreover her roles in them were supporting ones, and so it’s to her credit that she made such an impression given the limited opportunities she had.

To Sir With Love (1967) is the film that has best survived the tests of time, and everyone remembers the closing moments of it, when Lynne emerges shyly from the crowd to offer Sidney Poitier’s teacher the pupils’ farewell gift to him.

To Sir With Love

Marco the Magnificent (1965) starring the darkly handsome Horst Buchholtz, has a cast that includes a token blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance by Orson Welles. There’s also Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn and Akim Tamiroff to beef things up on the poster, though don’t be taken in by their presences, because the film is a mess. Lynne appears as Princess Gogatine, though bewilderingly her name when the credits roll has been changed to Lee Sue Moon.

Lynne Sue Moon with Horst Buchholtz in Marco the Magniificent

55 Days in Peking, inflated epic though it is, has to be my favourite of Lynne’s  films. That tender scene with Charlton Heston breaks my heart, every time.

Lynne Sue Moon and Charlton Heston

Below: in this photograph taken in Madrid, Heston is in costume, though Lynne is wearing her own clothes and so clearly isn’t about to go before the cameras.

Below: a publicity image for the film taken on set.

13 Frightened Girls is notable mainly for the fact that it was directed by schlockmeister William Castle, better known for his horror films, though he’s in a restrained mood in this weird ‘espionage/girls’ finishing-school’ mash-up.

13 Frightened Girls

Lynne Sue Moon Filmography

To Sir, with Love: 1967. Miss Wong

Marco the Magnificent: 1965. Princess Gogatine (credited as Lee Sue Moon)

55 Days at Peking: 1963. Teresa

13 Frightened Girls!: 1963. Mai-Ling

So, two ‘epics’, a romp by a cult-director and a film with the great Poitier featuring a title-song and Lynne’s scene with the gift, that can make strong men weep. (This grown-man, at any rate!) Just four films, and in all of them, Lynne Sue Moon is memorable. Is it because she was a great actress? Well, no, probably not. But then a lot of great film-stars have been not so much great actors, as individuals who we feel compelled to watch. Lynne had a look that drew attention, and there was something about her that the camera loved. An intensity, a stillness and receptivity that made her mesmerising when the right ingredients came together, as they did in 55 Days in Peking. In the face of all that is less than perfect, or even downright bad in the film, Lynne Sue Moon’s Teresa is its beating heart. Her screen-time is brief, and yet she was what I carried from the film before ever I knew her, and one can’t help but wonder what else she may have been capable of, had the opportunities come her way.

As far as can be told at this distance from events, Lynne Sue Moon disappeared from public life shortly after what seems to have been her last film, To Sir With Love. I’ve never been able to trace her through people we mutually knew at school, neither have I found anything of her on the internet, save the references to that small handful of films. There could be any number of reasons why she appeared to effectively vanish. She may have married and changed her name. She may actively have sought to leave her past life behind, or given that today she would be in her sixties, there is the undeniable possibility that she is no longer with us.

Whatever the answers, it’s quite difficult to vanish in today’s world unless you want to, and moreover are determined not to leave any internet pathway that could trace your work as an actor active in films in the 1960s, to your present whereabouts. Nevertheless, that seems to be what Lynne has managed, whether by intention, or because of accidental circumstances. If she is out there, she remains silent in the face of those film-goers who are curious as to what became of her. I can understand that. I’m quite familiar with the feeling of wanting to set the past aside in a room that is closed and locked. (Though later in life, when I was secure and confident in a way I once hadn’t been, I unlocked my own closed door and gave the room behind it a damned good airing!)

There’s one last, small mysterious reference I found on the web. This photograph with a caption suggesting that it’s a portrait bust of Lynne Sue Moon by an artist called Drago Djurovic. The link led nowhere, and so I haven’t been able to verify anything. But it looks like her. It looks a lot like her.

I think about Lynne a great deal, and I don’t even really know why. She had an effect on me, and to this day it troubles me that I can’t account for what happened to her. I regularly dream about her, and always have. I remember the conversations we had, and I can hear her quiet voice in my head. I have moments of what almost feel like grief for something I valued and lost. I don’t expect ever to have an answer to the mystery of why the girl I once knew as Lynne Sue Moon disappeared not just from my life, but from public life, too. But if she’s out there still, I hope with all my heart that she found happiness.

UPDATE: I thank the correspondent in Germany who contacted me to suggest that the portrait bust by Djurovic was almost certainly produced at the time Marco the Great was being filmed in Yugoslavia. 

 

The Vanishing: Part One

I don’t very often share anything on this blog about my distant past. The Artlog has essentially been an informal platform where I show my work and share my day-to-day life in the studio. Occasionally I profile the work of artists I admire, or offer accounts of influences on my creative life, such as the three-part paean to Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film, La Belle et la Bête. There have been the Artlog ‘Open Exhibitions’, of which the recent Puppet Challenge has been the biggest. (Of course there is much of puppetry on the Artlog, because I’ve long been fascinated by it as a performing art.) I have even been persuaded by Artloggers to write about what I did before my career as a painter, and there are posts here, if you if you dig deep enough, on design work for long-forgotten stage-productions of Robin Hood and Little Shop of Horrors.

However, what I write today touches on quite another matter, and I’ve hesitated a long time over posting it because there can be many reasons why people drop out of sight, and sometimes it’s because they simply don’t want to be found. That may be the case here, and I need to apologise now if writing about it is something that the person concerned wouldn’t want. Our lives intersected relatively briefly, but she made an impression on me that is as intense today as it was at the time. I liked her enormously.

Lynne Sue Moon was a pupil at the Italia Conti Stage School in the mid nineteen-sixties, as was I. We weren’t in the same classroom. I was in the class called Stratford, and I don’t remember which one she was in. That said she seemed infrequently at lessons, though absence wasn’t unusual at a stage-school that also ran as a child-actor agency, because many of us were out working a lot of the time.

In the mid-sixties Italia Conti wasn’t a big school. It operated out of Avondale Hall, Landor Rd, not far from Clapham North station, and the headmistress was the wonderful… if daunting… Ruth Conti. It was Ruth Conti who announced quite early in my time there that I mustn’t hope for a career playing ‘robust, outdoorsmen type roles’, but she could see me doing quite well in parts that required ‘inner torment’, such as… say… the consumptive son of a famous violinist. (She plucked this notional role from the air above her head with a sense of triumph!) I was fourteen at the time.

Above: Ruth Conti

The academic classrooms were crammed up under the eaves, small, chalk-dusty and interestingly-shaped rooms reached by a single, narrow staircase. The school was not known for its academic successes, and there was a sense that we were all biding our time while we waited to launch careers at the Royal Shakespeare Company! It felt quite cosy up there in the attics of Avondale Hall, and quiet, apart from the faint sounds of the rehearsal pianos below. I enjoyed my time studying. The teachers, who in my day were all women, were rather interesting. Unlike at my previous school in Newport… a huge comprehensive which I’d hated, along with the too-many obnoxious teachers there… I recall a complete absence of scorn in the Italia Conti classroom staff. They may occasionally have become exasperated with their inattentive pupils, but there was always an underlying kindness and concern for our well-being.

I knew Lynne from around the school. We attended some of the same dance classes. You couldn’t miss her. She was the only anglo-asian at Italia Conti, and as a glance at the photographs here will show, she was beautiful. I remember her as small, incredibly shy, and with a walk like no-one else I knew. A soft, slightly sashaying dancer’s gait, and a physical grace that was mesmerising. There was a delicacy about her, not just in the sense that she was quietly spoken and elusive, but because she appeared to be self-effacing in a way that most of the girls at the school were not. Always with Lynne the head would be dipped, turned aside, veiled in a curtain of hair as she slipped by on soundless feet. I never heard her voice raised. She came and went like a shadow. But her smile, when offered, was mischievous, and I made it my job to elicit it whenever I could, even if I had to turn myself into a clown to see it.

Lynne Sue Moon

I don’t know how we came to know each other. I’m pretty certain I must have approached her, because she wasn’t a girl to make overtures. By the time we met, she’d already appeared in 55 Days in Peking. I’d seen it, but hadn’t made the connection between the girl in the film and the one in dance-class, until she told me she’d been in it, and I realised with a thud of embarrassment where I’d seen her before. Lynne laughed. She didn’t expect to be recognised. The film was what in those days came billed as an ‘epic’, and was lavish on a scale that included even its length, requiring an ‘interval’ when playing. (Remember those?) It starred Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner and David Niven. Looking at the film today there is little to recommend in it, with clunking dialogue and western character actors cast in the key Chinese roles. (Flora Robson as Dowager Empress Yzu-Hsi, Leo Genn as General Jung-Lu, and Robert Helpmann mugging unforgivably as Prince Tuan.) But Lynne is wonderful, memorable in her role as the mixed-race, orphaned daughter of a soldier, and her big scene with Charlton Heston is heart-wrenching. She’s pitch-perfect against the seasoned Hollywood veteran.

55 Days at Peking: 1963

I never met Lynne outside school. She lived at home, and I lodged with an uncle and aunt in Dulwich. In fact I very rarely met up with any of my friends from school outside of school hours. That’s just the way things seemed to be. Most of the pupils at Italia Conti were from London, and weekends for them were taken up with their families. Though my weekends were pretty solitary, I’d take myself off to London’s museums, my favourites being The British Museum and the V&A. To this day I make for the British Museum to soothe the troubled breast. I love the place.

Lynne and I were never bosom buddies. We never swopped addresses or telephone numbers. We just liked each others company, and shy though we both were, we’d often meet and talk in the school’s hallways and rehearsal rooms, and occasionally in the canteen… over what laughingly passed for lunch in that grim cellar. (The delights included grey boiled-mince, fish fingers and watery, unseasoned mashed potatoes!) At some point we were both more absent from school than present, probably because we were both working (films for her and mostly tv for me) and it was some months after I’d left the school for good, that I realised I hadn’t seen Lynne to say goodbye. No-one I knew had a contact for her. I should probably have just asked in the school office, but I didn’t.  I figured that I’d run into her somewhere, sometime. I really believed that our paths would cross again. 

Part Two, tomorrow,