Four screen goddesses and the last woman to be hanged in Britain

Four screen goddesses and the last woman to be hanged in Britain come together in the new book by Ferring author Shar Daws.
Shar DawsShar Daws
Shar Daws

Bombshells: Five Women Who Set the Fifties on Fire, published by The History Press, looks at the careers of Diana Dors, Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Ruth Ellis and Jean Harlow.

Jean Harlow, the Godmother of Blondes, lit the torch for the blonde bombshell, creating an image that would be passed on for generations to come, Shar argues. Jean’s life was cut tragically short at the age of 26, but the flame reignited in the 1950s with the “most notorious blondes of all time”: Ruth Ellis, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Diana Dors. Each left a legacy – Shar says – that has ensured the fire will never be completely extinguished. From Marilyn’s stardom and Diana’s unwavering integrity, to Ruth’s tragic status as the last woman hanged in Britain, all of these women experienced success and tragedy, love and heartbreak and attention both positive and negative.

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Bombshells examines these five women in the context of the 1950s, the expectations and constrictions society had at the time and how they pushed through barriers and paved the way for the real sexual revolution.

For Shar, the story starts with Marilyn: “I have always first and foremost been really interested in Marilyn and more and more as I have got older. It got to the point where I became a staff member of one of the biggest American fan clubs. I went out to America and helped with the memorial week. I got to go into her home and to see her things. I went to New York and I did Marilyn in New York and all that kind of stuff.

“But one of the things that keeps coming up was that she was a victim and that she was tragic, but she wasn’t. And it seemed to me with the other blondes they come across as victims whereas they were in fact really determined, inspirational women who made some bad decisions and some had faults in their characters. Their lives were cut short, but they packed so much into them, and I wanted to look at all that, but not in a fan kind of way.”

As Shar says, Marilyn created some amazing films which have stood the test of time, great performances which are still funny today: “She was very clever and able to manipulate people, but there were also people who manipulated her and took advantage of her.”

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Diana Dors was touted as the British Marilyn Monroe: “But it was a tagline that ended up holding her back. She was always being compared to Marilyn Monroe, but she was very different. She was a great actress, but she was very straightforward. She didn’t need people to keep telling her that she was wonderful. Marilyn needed to be loved, but Diana was very confident and unafraid.”

Alongside the four actresses, Shar places Ruth Ellis who was hanged for murder in 1955: “But Ruth was perfectly suited to being a bombshell. She had all the same aspirations. She went to drama school, and a lot of her life paralleled the others. She had unsuccessful relationships. She got pregnant quite early on, but she wanted to be an actress.”

The whole idea of the book is about blondes and about how blondes are perceived, and you have also got the bad blondes and unfortunately Ruth takes that title. But she was also a victim, of her own passions. During her trial, Ellis refused to help herself. Instead, she took the view: ‘I am responsible. I am going to die.’ But there were so many things she could have done, and for somebody who did something so terrible, she was really quite ethical. She knew what she had done and that it was wrong and she accepted that she was going to die because of it.” But, Shar says, the court really ought to have taken into account that she had had an abortion (or possible miscarriage) after being punched in the stomach by the man she shot; that she feared she was losing him; and that her best friend had earlier been killed in an accident – all things which might have mitigated the sentence.

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