Carol: Irv Levin & Women in Love
There was one man who played a huge part in Carol’s decision to go to Hollywood rather than stay in England. That was a man whose name was Irv Levin.
She met him first at a press conference given by herself. ‘A display of flashing camera bulbs blinded me for a second,’ she later wrote, ‘but when I opened my eyes I had the surprise of my life. Irv Levin was at the far end of a long, highly polished table.’ They were not introduced but, Carol felt, this was not necessary since ‘the vibes and chemicals that sparked between us were both very animal and basic’.
Irv Levin, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, was not as she had imagined him. ‘He was a slim, handsome man in his early forties. He was immaculately dressed, perfectly composed, with even features and jet black hair. As I answered the questions, those dark, blue-brown eyes glittered their secret code and I felt like the sacrificial virgin going happily to the altar stone; a symbol of fertility, everything woman, everything that’s steeped in danger. My Mary Quant blouse was tight and revealing, but before those motionless dark eyes, I felt naked. I knew then that my promise to Mike King would be broken.’
That promise to Mike King, her husband, was presumably to be faithful to him.
Irv took her out to dinner and afterwards they went up to his apartment in the Dorchester Hotel. Irv now appeared to Carol to be ill at ease and at a loss. Suddenly, ‘I’m sorry, Carol, we shouldn’t have come here,’ he blurted. ‘Let me take you home.’
But Carol, curled up on the sofa, replied ‘Don’t be sorry. There’s nowhere else in the world that I would rather be.’
After that ‘floodgates of passion were let loose’. Next morning after breakfast, they walked from the Dorchester to Park Lane. Irv stopped and looked at a row of new cars in a show room.
‘Which one do you like?’ he said.
Carol said that her favourite was a navy blue Mercedes. They went into the showroom and Irv said, ‘We’ll have that one,’ as if it were a cauliflower they were buying. He signed a cheque and the salesman said that Carol could drive it away that afternoon. The previous summer she had passed her driving test, and the sleek 280SL was her first car.
The feeling that she’d strayed into ‘wonderland’ didn’t end there. Carol had told Irv over breakfast that her marriage to Mike King had been finished for a long time and that they only stayed together because of the children. ‘It wasn’t strictly true, but after such a romantic night it seemed like a nice thing to say.’
‘Do you have any money pressures?’ he asked.
‘That goes without saying,’ Carol replied with a laugh. ‘We’re not all millionaires you know.’
Irv laughed too. Leaving the car show room, he took Carol to a small bank next door to the hotel.
‘I’ve got some money from my Swiss bank account that I can’t use,’ he explained. ‘Would you like to keep it in a safety deposit box and use it if it becomes necessary?’
The suggestion, Carol felt, was ‘pointed and dangerous’, but without hesitation she nodded her head and replied, ‘That’ll be great!’
Irv paid for the box, there was a key for each of them and he paid in $20,000 in American currency, so that Carol ‘would have no money worries’.
There was one more unexpected development that morning. Trying to explain it to herself later, Carol described how she
‘was suddenly a greedy child, taking all that I had been given as if it were my right and then wanting more. At least, that’s what I think was the case.’ The alternative, she realised, was that what followed next ‘was totally shrewd and calculating’. She told Irv that I had a girlfriend who was selling a sable fur for £750.
‘It’s really fab,’ she said, using the latest slang word ‘popularised by John Lennon’.
‘Then buy it, I’ll give you the money,’ he replied. ‘You’re a star, you should have nice things, and anyway, it’s winter and you need a warm coat.’
They collected the Mercedes, and Irv gave her the cash for the sable fur, leaving the dollar bills undisturbed.
She talked Irv out of joining her on the fur buying mission because, so she believed, he was ‘a man of unswerving honesty’, and buying the coat ‘wasn’t quite as straightforward’ as she had made out. It was brand new, it was worth £3,000 and it was being sold, not by a girlfriend, but by ‘a shady character from the back streets of my childhood’.
If she had asked him, she later explained, she was sure that Irv would have bought her a new coat, but ‘buying hot goods was an adventure’ and, she felt, ‘kept me in touch with my roots’.
So on that March evening in 1968, wearing her newly acquired sable coat and ‘a crochet-work mini-dress that showed that I had a great figure’, her long blonde hair falling heavily into the upturned collar of the sable and her hands gripping the wheel of the gleaming Mercedes, she watched the mileometer moving from 12 to 13 as she edged the gleaming navy blue car into Park Lane and headed for a second rendezvous with Irv in the Dorchester.
Such was the fame that she’d acquired through ‘Up the Junction’, ‘Cathy Come Home’ and ‘Poor Cow’ that the obvious next place to go was the film festival at Cannes. A group of Italian and French photographers invited her to a photo opportunity on a small pier. Carol wore ‘skin-tight jeans and a white shirt without a bra’ and ‘made everybody’s day by falling into the sea’. The photographers were delighted as Carol appeared from the water ‘with my hair over my face and my clothes stuck to every curve’.
One person in particular, however, was worried about the direction that her career was taking and that was her agent, Jean Diamond. ‘What do you think this sort of thing is going to do to your career?’ she said. ‘You’re an actress, not a glamour girl.’
It was Carol’s misfortune, so Jean Diamond felt, that despite her immense talents as a serious actress, what she ultimately wanted to be was a sex Goddess and that, beautiful though she was, she didn’t ultimately possess the sexual frisson and charisma of a Brigitte Bardot or a Marilyn Monroe.
Irv came out and joined her at the film festival. They went to premieres and receptions together and then took a plane from the airport in Nice, flying south for Naples. As she climbed onto the plane, Carol fancied she heard Jean Diamond’s words still ringing in her ears, ‘I’m warning you Carol, you’re playing a dangerous game.’
Carol later claimed that she didn’t know at that time what her agent meant, but also that she didn’t care. ‘I was happy to be with Irv Levin, flying south to Naples and on to a small village where we found a secluded hotel on a deserted beach. The week that followed was one of the happiest of my life, long hours of sunbathing and swimming and warm nights shared in the arms of a man who loved me.’
Carol would have been happy for it to last forever, but ‘the house of playing cards we built came tumbling down when responsibilities called from the outside world.’
Carol telephoned Mike to inquire about her children and he threatened to take them away with him. Irv telephoned his wife and ‘the picture became even blacker’. She had apparently guessed that Irv was with Carol and had tried to kill herself.
That was the end of the ‘secret holiday’ for Carol and Irv. They left immediately for Rome, Irv flew to Los Angeles and Carol returned to London to start divorce proceedings.
It was not only her holiday with Irv, but Carol’s marriage to Mike was at an end, and also her life in England and her career as a serious actress. She had decided to go to Hollywood.
It was not only Irv Levin’s pampering. There was also money involved. Ken Russell had offered her £10,000 to appear in ‘Women in Love’. Her new Hollywood employers, National General, were ‘talking of a three picture contract’ and she was being offered $150,000 to appear in ‘Daddy’s Gone a Hunting’ which, in 1968, was a staggering amount of money.
It was the wrong decision and it is not too much to say that she would later pay for it with her life.
Later she had this to say about her decision to ‘leave Cathy behind’ and move her career to Hollywood; ‘life is a continual process of change, of doing one thing and then moving on to the next. All that we do becomes the sum total of what we are.’ To Carol it seemed that ‘ultimately, destiny carves the path and there is nothing for us to do but follow it.’ Destiny came in part, however, in the form of Irv Levin and he was an extremely persuasive person.
‘I wasn’t Cathy,’ Carol explained, ‘I was Carol White, putting my soul into the part. That’s what acting is all about.’
Carol felt that, sooner or later, her role in socially committed drama would come to an end and that her film successes would lead her to ‘the world of fame, fortune and the easy life’. It was a complete contrast, but being able to encompass those opposites is what marks people for stardom. In a world where everyone is ambitious, nothing and no one are how they first appear.
However, she admitted, ‘for all the acclaim and all the appreciation, there is a price that has to be paid. That price,’ she felt, ‘is demanded by the men who mould your personality for the movie screen, and in asking you to be something that you are not, often precipitate the mental problems which result from living a double reality.’
This degree of self knowledge, she later explained, ‘took a long time coming’, and only crystallised during the crisis of her ‘second nervous breakdown’. This was when she was committed to a hospital in California. ‘Being screamed at by people who had totally flipped and going through pathetic tests that caged mice would scorn was enough to drive anyone crazy, but when I woke one night to find a man urinating over me, I knew it was time to cling on to my sanity and get out.’
Carol needed a court order before she was allowed to leave the hospital.
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