Jill Townsend was an Anglo-American actress active during the 1960s and ’70s who became a journalist after she quit acting in 1979, became a teacher and is now a spiritual healer. She was born in Santa Monica, California on January 25, 1945, the daughter of business executive and author Robert Townsend, who was hired out of American Express to become the CEO of Avis Rental Cars in 1962 and built it into an industry powerhouse, second only to Hertz, during the Sixties. He wrote the management book “Up The Organization”, which became a best-seller in 1970. Jill, who inherited his intelligence and organizational acumen, typed the manuscript for him.
The daughter of a top executive, she was part of New York’s High Society and was a debutante. Raised in Locust Valley, Long Island, she graduated from The Master’s School in Dobbs Ferry, New York in 1963. She eschewed attending college to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Show business was in her blood: Her mother’s father was Frank Tours, a composer and conductor who sat in with the Algonquin Roundtable and served as musical director for some of Irving Berlin’s Broadway shows.
In 1971, she was married the Scottish actor Nicol Williamson, with whom she had a stormy relationship due to Williamson’s volatile temperament. They had first met in 1965, when she played his daughter in John Osborne’s Inadmissible Evidence (1968) on Broadway. Within a fortnight of their meeting, he asked her to marry him then and they wound up living together, but she left him after 21 months cohabiting together. She starred in the TV western Cimarron Strip (1967) and wound up marrying the stunt-man and horse-wrangler Tom Sutton, who was Stuart Whitman’s stand-in on the series. In the late ’60s, she starred in many American TV shows, primarily Westerns.
She and Williamson got back together after her divorce, with her initiating their rapprochement, and she moved to England. The couple were married in 1971 and their son Luke was born two years later. They appeared together in Bertolt Brecht’s The Gangster Show: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1972) for the BBC and in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) on the big screen, in which she played his mother. He also directed her in a 1975 Royal Shakespeare Co. production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya (1957), in which he co-starred.
She made her own bid for movie stardom as the female lead in 1976’s Alfie Darling (1975), the sequel to Alfie (1966), the movie that made Michael Caine an international superstar. It was a critical and commercial flop. She appeared in many roles on British TV, including a starring turn in the TV mini-series The Golden Bowl (1972) and on the TV series Poldark (1975).
The marriage of Jill and the infamously tempestuous actor broke up in 1976, ironically the same year “People Magazine” carried an article “Who’s Afraid of Nicol Williamson? Everyone but His Spouse, Jill Townsend.” The break-up was bitter on Williamson’s part, and Paul Rudnick, author of the Broadway play “I Hate Hamlet” (which was closed prematurely early due to Williamson’s bad behavior), later remembered the actor insulting his ex-wife in his dressing room, 15 years after the break-up.
In 1979, Townsend quit acting to study at the London School of Journalism and became a financial columnist for The Daily Mail. From 1979 to 1981, she worked on developing environmental legislation to prevent the dumping of toxic and nuclear waste. She ran for office as an independent candidate, which was illegal as she was still an American citizen, but lost by 80 votes.
In the 1980s, she was assistant to the chair of Windsor Cable Television, overseeing marketing, public relations and program development for Brtain’s first cable TV franchise. Between 1981 and 1989, she studied international relations at the University of Surrey. In that period, she temporarily returned to the U.S. to work as a teaching assistant focusing on negotiation Harvard Law School. Townsend became Deputy Director of the Geneva-based Foundation for International Conciliation
Jill Townsend permanently moved back to the U.S. in 1989 and settled in California. From 1989 to 1995, she taught at many schools, including the Crossroads School in, Santa Monica, The Ojai Foundation, Highland Hall School, the Los Angeles and Santa Monica Zen Centers, and the UCLA Extension School. Starting in 1993, she was the director of Leadership Directories, Inc.
She and her third husband sustainability designer and environmental advocate Bob Sorel, live in the Los Padres National Forest outside Ojai. Steeping herself in Native American ceremonies and folk medicine, she became a spiritual counselor, minister and a ceremonialist who performs readings and energy healing. She founded the Council of Grandmothers with the with Ann Stein and Marilyn Salas, an organization of “WisdomKeepers”, women over the age of 52, who can provide counsel that comes comes from their many years of experience and knowledge.
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