British leading lady of the 1940s, signed for films after brief stage experience
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Patricia Roc BiographyPretty, vivacious and charming, Patricia Roc appeared in a number of the hugely popular wartime Gainsborough costume dramas, including Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945) and The Wicked Lady (1945).
The adopted daughter of a Dutch-Belgian father (Andre Riese, a wealthy stockbroker) and a half-French mother, Patricia Roc was educated at private schools in London and Paris (such as the Francis Holland School) as well as RADA. She did not learn that she was adopted until 1949.
She began as a stage actress, debuting in the 1938 London production of Nuts in May, in which she was talent-spotted by Alexander Korda. She made her first film appearance that same year, in The Rebel Son, and went on to make 40 films, remaining in the UK’s top-ten box-office stars list for 10 consecutive years.
J Arthur Rank
She was employed by the studio of J Arthur Rank, who called her ‘the archetypal British beauty’ (indeed, her décolletage, along with Margaret Lockwood’s, in the period-costume of films such as The Wicked Lady led US censors to call for retakes to de-emphasise it) and ‘the Goddess of Odeons’, whilst Noel Coward said she was ‘a phenomenon’ and ‘an unspoiled movie star who can act’. She was a success playing the beautiful, good counterpart to the beautiful but evil, seductive and/or ambiguous rôles played by her contemporary Margaret Lockwood, often even in the same film (such as in The Wicked Lady). As Roc herself put it:
I was the bouncy, sexy girl next door that mothers would like their sons to marry, and the sons wouldn’t have minded, either.
Nevertheless, by her own choice and by that of Rank, she remained confined to these second-lead rôles and did not broaden her scope.
Her brief move to Hollywood to film Canyon Passage was a lend lease agreement between Rank Pictures and Universal Studios of British in return for American film actors. During filming, Roc was romantically linked with Ronald Reagan, while her US co-star Susan Hayward stated ‘that Limey glamour girl is a helluva dame.’
Marriage and Children
Roc married for the first time at 24 in 1939, to the 44-year-old Canadian osteopath Dr. Murray Laing – they divorced only a few years later. She married again in 1949 to Andre Thomas and moved to Paris, starting to work more and more in French and Italian cinema (along with a French-Canadian feature in Quebec, Fugitive from Montreal). Thomas was unable to have children and so, when Patricia gave birth to Michael as a result of an affair with Anthony Steel in 1952 (while they were co-starring in Something Money Can't Buy), Thomas agreed to raise him as his own. Thomas died in 1954.
Patricia Roc returned to England later in the decade following the death of her husband, and produced only three more films and made a few television appearances (including the first episode of The Saint). She married a third and final time, to Walter Reif, in 1962, and a year later retired. During her retirement, she moved to Locarno, Switzerland, where she later died of kidney failure.
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- Patricia Roc biography to be released, written by Michael Hodgson
25th September, 2010
- British actress Patricia Roc is the subject of a new biography called Goddess of the Odeons, by Michael Hodgson.
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