I recently managed to get hold of a copy of “The Naked Truth About Harrison Marks”, the 1967 biography of everyone’s favourite alcoholic, cat lover, glamour photographer and reluctant pornographer. Rather like Mary Millington’s late 1970s biography, its a famous mixture of fact and fiction and best approached by having more credible sources at hand to divide the two, in the case of the Marks book I used Matthew Sweet’s Shepperton Babylon, the biographic piece at the Marks estate's website and the pieces on Naked as Nature Intended and Kamera from Pamela Green’s website, all of which are well worth a read.
I’ve already been able to document Marks later career, but the book, at least when its being honest, does offer valuable insights into the background, music hall days and eventual success in the glamour industry, of the man who would be king of the camera.
I’ve worked my transcriptions of the book into the “Naked World of Harrison Marks” article,
but for anyone who doesn’t want to go through all of that again (it is becoming a bit of an epic) the information I’ve extracted from the book appears below, along with some pictures from it.
Marks the Playboy
Marks and Stuart Samuels
A heavy drinker with a vivid imagination, Marks was not always the most reliable of source for information, especially about his own life, later admitting that his 1967 biography “The Naked Truth About Harrison Marks” was a hodge-podge of fact and fiction.
“George Harrison Marks collects women like other men collect porcelain, paintings, cigarette coupons or trading stamps” claimed the book’s blurb.
Marks came into this world at 4:30pm on Friday the 6th of August 1926, in Tottenham North London, his father Moss Marks, nicknamed “Mossy”, had seen action in WW1 suffering a horrific mustard gas attack, after the war Mossy tried to get into show business, eventually finding work as an actor’s agent. Marks’ family were a tight knit Jewish community under the control of a domineering Aunt, a woman dubbed within the family circle “Sergeant Major”. Marks’ most happy childhood memories were the Sunday trips to the local variety club that his father was a member of, and where the young Marks could sit at the feet of passing music hall acts, memorizing their routines religiously in order to later re-enact them for family members. Marks liked to emphasize (and more than likely exaggerate) the fact that his family had a show business background, even claiming in later years to be distantly related to blackface comedian G.H. Elliott, who Marks had seen as a kid and much to his mother’s horror, later tried to emulate by daubing himself in indelible ink.
Tragedy would strike the family in 1930, when Mossy died prematurely as a result of the mustard gas inhalation (Marks rewrites his father’s death in “Naked Truth” claiming he died from pneumonia). Marks was left devastated by his father’s death. School was a chore to be endured, but mostly just avoided, it was during his schooldays however that Marks would form a lifelong friendship with Stuart Samuels, who over the years would play a variety of roles in Mark’s life from music hall co-star, to general manager of Marks’ studio, to helping cover up Marks’ marital infidelities. Marks and Stuart also hung out with other local boys, including future double act Mike and Bernie Winters, although Bernie “became something of a hindrance, and we would contrive numerous ways to lose him if he tagged along with us”.
The teenage Marks and Stuart decided to go into business together, embarking on many farcical get rich quick schemes, the first and surely most unglamorous being stealing shit left behind by horses, and attempting to sell it to the locals as manure. When this failed Marks decided to use the cart that he and Stuart had used for shit shifting, to sell rides to their school friends, an idea that predictably resulted in a queue of angry parents knocking on the Marks family’s door to complain.
When WW2 came, a 13 year old Marks sought escape from the worry of German invasion, and school attendance officers, by working as a projectionist’s assistant at the Regal Cinema, Wembley. From there Marks went on to work as a tea boy at a local film studio, eventually graduating to even more menial jobs like a clapper boy. Marks claimed to have received tuition in filmmaking from George “Percy” Mumford, a near blind cameraman “really, I shouldn’t have been doing half the things I did, but the war was on and staff was short.”
At 17 Marks discovered the opposite sex, and much to his family’s surprise married Diana Bugsgang, a woman several years his senior. It was around this time that Stuart Samuels came back into Marks life, Marks version of how he and Stuart Samuels became a double act has it that the pair were enjoying a night out in their local pub, where their joke telling, banjo playing and lively banter was overheard by an agent who suggested a career on the stage and gave them his card. On a whim, they took him up on the offer and soon made their stage debut at the bottom end of a variety bill at the Granville Theatre in Walham Green. Their hastily put together routine, which aside from a pinch of original material, was mostly stolen from other performers, was something they learned to perfect in the trial by fire experience of appearing in front of a demanding music hall audience “the difference between entertaining a gang of friends at a party and keeping a fee paying audience happy for eighty minutes is the difference between two worlds, and bridging the gap between the two can only be done with a lot of experience and heartache.”
In his biography Marks describes the music hall life in vivid, but unsentimental terms, as a life of crummy digs, constant traveling, and where younger acts like himself and Norman Wisdom attempted to establish themselves in the business, while sozzled old timers like Frank Randall and Tod Slaughter appeared drunk on stage nightly, and those sober enough to realize it could see that TV and nudie revues were about to bring the curtain down on this ancient form of entertainment. Marks and Stuart finally called it a day in Hull in 1951, afterwards Marks went solo attempting to gain work as a theatrical photographer, but was soon skint again.
Marks finally got a job taking portrait shots of Norman Wisdom while Wisdom was appearing at the Prince of Wales theatre in Bernard Delfont’s “Paris to Piccadilly”, a British version of Folies Bergere, and a sort of predecessor to Paul Raymond’s saucy stage farces. At the time Wisdom was perfecting his so-called “Gump” persona, ultimately Paris to Piccadilly would lead him on the road to success after many years on the road as a struggling comedian, for Marks too the production would have life changing effects, when taking pin-up type shots of the Prince of Wales’ showgirls Marks met, and fell deeply in love with a showgirl girl named Pamela Green. At the time Green was in the process of separating from her violent, drunken first husband Guy Hillier, and although Marks could offer her little financially, she soon moved in with him, sharing his bed, at least until Marks fell behind with the payments and the bed shop repossessed it. Marks himself was a free agent, having drifted apart from Diana Bugsgang, and he and Green soon developed a deep bond, Marks described the pair of them as being almost “telepathic”. Bernard Delfont was impressed by Marks work, and soon more commissions came Marks way, allowing him to photograph some of the biggest names in show business including Jack Benny, Nat King Cole and Laurel and Hardy. There were a few oddballs as well like the crazy drag act who made Marks wait two hours while he got into costume, then emerged wearing gloves, a suspender belt, stockings and little else “he had the sagging breasts of a middle aged woman and below the genitals of a very well developed man”. While Danny Kaye sniped at Marks “you sure must be a stinking lousy photographer” during a second sitting, after Kaye’s cranky demeanor had caused Marks to botch the first. Marks most proudest achievement as a theatrical photographer was taking pictures of Bela Lugosi during the actor’s British tour as Dracula in 1951. Marks admired Lugosi greatly, and sat through matinee and evening performances of Dracula in order to soak up the atmosphere he would later try and capture in photographs “it was an astonishing performance, when he made his entrance through the French windows upstage it was fantastic and dramatic… he really looked as if he had just flown down from his castle”. The Hungarian actor wasn’t without his eccentricities though, which included going into a trance like state before performances, while on another occasion Marks had been speaking to the star for around half an hour when Lugosi suddenly blurted out “vat is dis man sayinck? I don’t oonderstant von word of it”.
By this time Marks and Green had moved into a studio located on Gerrard Street. It was a move that would put Marks and Green right at the heart of 1950s Soho, a pre-Wolfenden Act era where prostitutes walked the streets, and where some of the most vicious gangland fighting London had ever seen would be played out. It was not uncommon for Marks to spot a bloody corpse lying in the gutter on his way to the studio, corpses that would mysterious disappear by the time a policeman came along.
Adding to the carnage was the fact that Marks’ studio was located above a drinking haunt that had been taken over by the mob, and where bottle and fist fights were the order of the day, wisely Marks invested in a steel reinforced door and a sword for his protection.
One of Marks’ most dangerous and out of control acquaintances was a former bouncer Marks only refers to in his biography as “My Slasher Friend”, more than likely My Slasher Friend was a member of Jack Spot’s gang and was a man who lived for violence. Marks’ nickname for him was no exaggeration, “I’ve seen some of the people he had cut up, he really mutilated them in a matter of seconds”. My Slasher Friend was fond of Marks, and would regularly question whether anyone had annoyed or crossed Marks that week, quickly followed by matter of fact offers to murder them. The majority of their conversations would end in goodbyes followed by My Slasher Friend asking “sure there’s no one you need fixing, Mr. George.?” Once Marks and Stuart Samuels were enjoying a drink in a pub when My Slasher Friend turned up with his usual routine, Marks joked that Stuart was starting to annoy him, at which point My Slasher Friend lunged at Stuart without realizing Marks was having a joke, Stuart probably didn’t find it too funny either.
It was in this seedy, violent environment that Marks and Green would effectively birth the glamour industry in Britain. As well as her stint as a showgirl, Green had been modeling nude, for both life classes and photographers, since she was sixteen (at the time needing her fathers written permission for such work), and suggested Marks try his hand at shooting some tasteful nude shots of her, this eventually led to Kamera, a modest pocket sized magazine of nudes, being published in 1957.
Kamera was an overnight sensation selling its print run of 15,000 copies in a matter of days, followed by reprint after reprint “until the arms all but fell off the printing press”. Though history gives much of the credit for Kamera to Marks, a peek into the workings of the magazine suggests Green was its driving force, lending her face and body to the magazine, as well as designing the sets and costumes, retouching the photos, and selecting the other models, some of whom had been sent by Paul Raymond. “Pam set me up, she started it all, in many ways I owe much to her” acknowledged Marks in his biography, in which he also refers to her as his “anchor rock”.
Having previously led a bohemian lifestyle, it was around this time that Marks’ playboy persona started to emerge, he spent the money that was rolling in from Kamera like crazy buying clothes, fast cars and yachts, while lavishing Pam with expensive jewelry and furs. Pam was soon on her way to being recognized as Britain’s most famous nude model, and naturally the sight of the glamorous blonde being driven around in a Cadillac by a goateed, cigar chomping Svengali looking type who took pictures of nude women for a living, turned heads and generated tabloid interest.
Perhaps inevitably Marks’ private became the source of much press and public speculation, amusingly off the mark rumours began circulating that he was in fact a “pansie and a raving queer”, something that forced Marks into admitting to having had affairs with several of his models, though he was quick to equally downplay a seedy casting couch image, claiming that these were “deep emotional affairs” and that “I work with them so closely, its only natural. The conditions we work under are probably ripe for an affair”.
Naked as Nature Intended and Beyond
Naked as Nature Intended was the brainchild of Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger a pair of canny Jewish businessmen from the East End. A master of publicity Tenser had honed his showmanship skills working as head of publicity for Miracle films, a popular distributor, before hooking up with Klinger, a former strip club manager with an ambition on becoming a movie mogul. Between them they had discovered a loophole in the law that allowed them to show uncensored European and American sex films under club conditions, and thus had opened up the Compton Cinema Club, one of the first membership only cinema clubs in Britain.
Tenser and Klinger were keen to get into film production, and the exploitation savvy Tenser had his eye on the burgeoning nudist film genre, which had already spawned Traveling Light, directed by authentic nudist Michael Keating, and other less credible productions like Charles Saunders’ Nudist Paradise and Michael Winner’s Some Like It Cool. Klinger had first met Marks several years earlier when Marks had been hired to photograph several of Klinger’s strippers, and Tenser and Klinger correctly thought that having London’s most notorious photographer and his pin-up girlfriend as director and star would give their production the edge in a crowded nudist market. Marks was initially unsure about directing a feature film until Tenser and Klinger took him to their cinema club and showed him a typical example of the sort of tacky sex film they were playing, after which Marks vowed “if I couldn’t make better (films) than those then I would give the whole racket up”.
For Marks’ core audience Naked as Nature Intended’s big appeal lay in seeing their favourite A5 sized fantasy figures projected as giant sized living, breathing nudes on the silver screen, a famous shot on a beach opens the film with Pamela Green taking a slow walk towards the camera with a towel to protect her modesty. Pam looks every bit the blonde goddess who has just emerged from the sea, an effect undiminished by the obviously breezy British weather. Equally memorable is Marks’ directing credit, which plays over a shot of the debuting feature film director puffing away on a cigarette on the same windy beach. Shot under the title “Cornish Holiday”, the bulk of the film offers up just that, with Pam cast as a Windmill girl, who along with Marks models Petrina Forsyth and Jackie Salt, travel around Cornwall in Petrina’s American Buick. The film gives the impression the crew just filmed whatever attractions they came across as the girls venture around the Minack Open Air Theatre in Porthcurno, Stonehenge, and various seaside towns, with narration that sounds suspiciously like its been quickly transcribed from tourist brochures with a few corny lines from Marks’ music hall days thrown in for good measure “that reminds me of that definition, even a girl who can’t add up can certainly distract”.
To liven things up Stuart Samuels appears in a variety of wigs and funny mustache guises throughout the film playing a series of bumbling authority figures the girls encounter. After around 40 minutes of travelogue and Stuart Samuels falling over, the audience’s patience is finally rewarded when the girls innocently trespass onto a nudist beach and are converted to the cause, soon deciding that “there is nothing shocking about enjoying the feeling of complete physical freedom that nudity brings”, a philosophy they put to the test by sunbathing, gardening and playing table tennis in the nude. To give the film some censor appeasing credibility Marks shot this section of the film in a genuine nudist camp, Spielplatz Sun Club owned by a bearded old codger named Charles Macaskie. Macaskie and his wife even have bit parts in the film, welcoming Pam and the girls into the nudist camp fold. Macaskie and his wife were elderly and out of shape, but then the difference between those who are the genuine nudists in the film, and those who are especially brought in nude models sticks out as obvious as a hard-on in Spielplatz.
Naked as Nature Intended was as badly reviewed as any other nudist film, but was still a massive hit when it opened in November 1961 at the Cameo Moulin cinema in Windmill Street “there were queues along both pavements, one stretching down to Shaftsbury Avenue”. In a curiously mainstream nod the Cameo Moulin’s marquee for the film can be spotted in the opening credits of The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963), a reference explained by the fact that that film’s star Anthony Newley was a friend of Marks, while its director Kenneth Hughes had been photographed by Marks, back when Marks was making his living as a theatrical photographer, and Hughes was a budding actor.
True to his reputation Tenser devised a fantastic campaign for Naked as Nature Intended billing it as “the greatest nudist film ever”, while capitalizing on the fame of its director and star by billing Green as the “Queen of the Pin-Ups and Marks the “King of the Camera”. The publicity seems to have gone to Marks’ head a bit “they came because my name is so well established in this field- and for no other reason.” he claimed.
By the time of Naked as Nature Intended’s release Green and Marks’ romance had come to an end. In his biography Marks sites a plethora of reasons for the break up, was it Pam’s jealously of the other models?, was it the money that came between them? was it that Pam didn’t want children?, or was it his difficulties with having the same woman in both his private and professional life?, Marks doesn’t seem so sure himself. Other sources suggests she left because of his drinking, either way their telepathic link had been broken, although as a business partner in Kamera, Green continued to model and supervise the magazine as well as appearing in Marks films, and Marks resisted My Slasher Friend’s offers to have her killed.
1963’s The Chimney Sweeps which Marks produced and starred in, was devised as a comedy vehicle for himself and Stuart Samuels as well as a chance to put their old routine on screen. Several other characters from Marks’ musical hall past were also cast in the film, which sees two chimney sweeps (Marks and Samuels under heavy theatrical make-up) foil the plans of two comic gangsters, even Pamela Green did a cameo in the film, which required her to be buried under around eight sacks of soot, and blown up along with a piano. The lack of any nudity however, meant The Chimney Sweeps was hardly going to equal the success of Naked as Nature Intended, and it remains one of the least seen of Marks films, though recently unearthed evidence suggests the film played as far a field as Turkey where it popped up as the bottom half of a double bill with an old Laurel and Hardy film, a pairing Marks would no doubt have approved of. One rumour has it that the film was specially shot as a second feature in order to con money out of the Eady tax fund of the time, which gave a percentage of the box office takings back to the filmmakers if one half of a cinema programme was British.
Free of Green’s influence, Marks drank, womanized and partied hard during this period. A private joke between himself and Stuart Samuels was that the more Marks partied the older Stuart, who in contrast led a sober existence, appeared to get. Stuart suggested that like the picture in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, he was aging on Marks behalf, indeed captured on film during this period Samuels looks more like a reanimated cadaver than a one-time music hall comic.
The second Mrs. Harrison Marks blew into his life sometime in 1964, Vivienne Warren remains perhaps the most complex, fascinating character in Marks’ story, even if she only puts in the briefest of appearances. She’d been recommended to him by a model agent friend, and insisted on being paid to come to his studio, whether he wanted to use her or not. Things got off to a shaky start when she arrived on one of Marks’ so-called “Hangover Days”, when he’d arrive in his office still recovering from the night before and ask his secretary not to forward on any visitors or phone calls. Still Vivienne demanded to be seen, intrigued by her attitude, Marks finally stumbled bleary eyed out of his office and was immediately taken by her beauty. Sobering up on the spot, soon he’d be snapping nude shots of her in his office, completely enraptured by her.
Vivienne was cool, analytical, and had an other worldly quality about her, to the degree that one of Marks’ friends compared her to a Midwich Cuckoo, a reference to John Wyndham’s novel about “children of a village who were created by beings from outer space”, later adapted for the screen as Village of the Damned. They married in November of that year, in an age twist on Marks’ first marriage to an older woman, she was 17 at the time and he 35. Despite her tender age Vivienne did her best to play the domestic housewife, insisting on Marks investing in a virtual library of cook books. For all her best efforts, Vivienne, who had been raised in an orphanage, remained a fiercely independent spirit, an attitude that clashed with Marks who’d grown use to getting his own way. Theirs was, as he described it, “a devastating, traumatic and searing love”, only a few months into the marriage both parties were heading for a nervous breakdown. After a brief reconciliation Vivienne could take no more and coolly and calmly walked away from the marriage. Later Marks admitted his dictatorial streak had been a major problem in the marriage, a lesion he’d learn from, but too late to save that relationship.
After his split with Vivienne, Marks drowned his sorrows drinking heavily while holidaying on the continent before returning to London and devoting all his energy into making his next film The Naked World of Harrison Marks.
After making The Naked World of Harrison Marks, Marks hooked up with Robert Hartford-Davies, the director of exploitation wonders like Corruption and The Yellow Teddybears. Between them they came up with a plan to move to Hollywood where Hartford-Davies would direct films and Marks would star in and produce them. Their first Hollywood film was going to be a Mondo Cane variant entitled “A Climate of Lunacy”, but while Hartford-Davies would finally end up directing films in Hollywood in the early Seventies, A Climate of Lunacy never materialized and Marks imagined future as the toast of Hollywood couldn’t have been more wrong.