Lynne Frederick was a promising and ascending British actress of the 1970s. For ten years she captivated movie goers with her perfect combination of girl next door beauty, an angelic smile, an ethereal charm, and a classic fairy tale princess look that was all put into one gifted package. Although best remembered as the fourth and final wife of British comedian, Peter Sellers, Frederick has started gaining a cult following in recent years. Before Kate Winslet and Emma Watson, there was Lynne Frederick; the original English Rose.
Lynne Wagner Harding Frederick was born in Hillingdon, Uxbridge, United Kingdom to Iris and Andrew Frederick on July 25, 1954. Frederick’s father walked out of her life when she was no more than two years of age and she was raised by her grandmother and mother, who worked for Thames Television. Growing up Lynne attended Notting Hill and Ealing High School, and originally intended to become a teacher of physics and mathematics with no intentions of working in Hollywood. In much the same manner as Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner, Frederick was plucked from obscurity when she met film director, Cornel Wilde, at Thames Television Studio as she was posing for some color camera test shots. Wilde was immediately smitten by Lynne’s youthful and dramatic beauty, and after interviewing hundreds of girls, decided that Lynne would be perfect for his up and coming film project. The next day, while she was at school preparing for her Latin exams, she had received a phone call from her mother stating that Wilde wanted her for his film and that she had two hours to decide if she wanted to take the role and leave school to peruse an acting career. After much thought and consideration, she had decided to take a shot at the chance of a lifetime and accepted the role. Despite no previous experience (in theater, commercials, or films) she got her very first acting job at her first audition.
Her debut role came in the 1970 British-American apocalyptic science fiction film, No Blade of Grass (1970). Her next, and more prestigious role, came as Tsar Nicholas’s second eldest daughter, Tatiana, in the 1971 Oscar winning British biographical film, Nicholas and Alexandra (1971). In her next film, Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972), she played another royal figure, the ill-fated fifth wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Howard. Her adaptation as Howard made Tudor cinema history as Frederick was the first actress to portray Howard in a historically accurate and sympathetic point of view.
She continued in films with a supporting role in the now cult film, Vampire Circus (1972). Her most well-known screen role came in the 1972 family film, The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972). For this role she garnered the very first London Evening Standard British Film Award for ‘Best New coming Actress’. She followed in films with the 1974 science fiction thriller, Phase IV (1974), for which she was required to appropriate an American accent. Although not a success during its initial release, Phase IV gained a cult following in the years that followed due to its airings on late night television.
Frederick co-starred with the Italian Casanovian actor, Fabio Testi, in two films back-to-back as his love interest. The first was the very graphic Italian spaghetti western The Four of the Apocalypse… (1975) which was followed by Red Coat (1975). Frederick then starred in two romantic Spanish films, El vicio y la virtud (1975) and Largo retorno (1975). But her acting credits were not limited to just movies. She also had a long running television career starring in various shows and films made for television. Frederick returned to the horror film scene with her leading role in the 1976 slasher film Schizo (1976). Her most triumphant film role came in the Oscar nominated historical drama, Voyage of the Damned (1976). A year later she married fellow actor, Peter Sellers, and would make her final theatrical role alongside him in The Prisoner of Zenda (1979).
Lynne Frederick and Peter Sellers’ relationship was good in the early stages but eventually turned destructive and tempestuous. Their marriage was often tampered with rumors of Frederick being a gold digger, drug use by both parties, and Sellers’ health issues. Much public scrutiny fell upon Frederick for marrying the much older Sellers, and she often became the target for negative press and tabloids. Further controversy followed after Sellers’ tragic death on July 24, 1980 (one day before Frederick’s twenty-sixth birthday) when Frederick was named the beneficiary of nearly his entire will and estate while his children (whom Sellers had never gotten along with and had been estranged from for many years) had gotten hardly anything. Despite pleas from Sellers’ friends, Frederick did not give Sellers’ children any further settlements due to her rocky relationship with them. It was then that the whole British public and film industry began to turn against Frederick, and her career started to plummet. Despite the blacklisting that followed Sellers’ death, Frederick was very protective of his name and reputation. She even won £1 million in a lawsuit against the makers of the Trail of the Pink Panther (1982), a film of Sellers released posthumously, claiming the film tarnished her late husband’s memory.
Lonely, depressed, and desperate for companionship, the young widow married the charismatic British media personality, David Frost, six months after Sellers’ death. Frederick’s supposed eagerness to remarry shortly after her first husband’s death virtually robbed her of any last shreds of dignity in the public eye and it was then that Hollywood closed its doors to her forever. Although Lynne and David appeared to be a happily married couple to the public, their marriage was destructive and turbulent behind closed doors. While married to Frost, she suffered at least one miscarriage which put a strain on their already rock marriage. Ultimately their marriage ended in divorce after seventeen months.
Following her divorce from Frost, Frederick fled from Britain to America where she met surgeon and heart specialist, Barry Unger, whom she married on Christmas Day in 1982. The following year Frederick bore her only child, Cassie Unger, whom she had a very close relationship with. Her marriage to Unger ended in divorce in 1991. In the later years of her life, Frederick resided in Los Angeles, California where she lived in a spacious house with her daughter, whom she had joint custody of, and they spent most of their days hanging out by the family pool or cooking meals together.
In the final years of her life, Lynne Frederick’s health spiraled downward as she struggled with alcoholism and bouts of depression. Rumors of chronic drug addiction, clinical depression, failed rehab treatments, and suicide attempts where common news and tabloid reports of Frederick in the later years. The wear and tear of the struggles in life took an obvious toll on her appearance as her weight ballooned, her face became sunken and bloated, and her hair now cropped short and vitiated. Rumor has it that when the paparazzi stood outside her house attempting to get photos of Frederick, there where several occasions where she would walk past them unnoticed as the photographers did not recognize her drastically different appearance in contrast to that of the beautiful English rose that once stole the scenes of films she starred in.
On the morning of April 27, 1994, Frederick’s lifeless body was discovered by her mother, Iris, in her home. Immediately following Frederick’s death, the media engaged in a firestorm of negative press accusing Frederick of being an alcoholic and cocaine addict. They even went as far as reporting her cause of death due to cocaine and alcohol binging. Although the exact cause of Frederick’s death has never been disclosed to the public, the common belief is that she died of alcoholism. A year after Frederick’s death, her mother revealed in an interview with ‘Hello Magazine’ that her daughters death had been brought about by natural causes due to a seizure in her sleep, although this has been disputed by some people.
For many years, Lynne Frederick’s legacy remained poisoned and she was seldom ever talked about. But in recent years, her films have resurfaced to a new generation of cinema buffs where she has been given a whole new fan base and cult following. Although she may not be remembered as a superstar or big name in Hollywood, her heartbreaking good looks, glowing beauty, and the riveting appeal in her lively yet soft essence holds an enduring fascination to the community of cinema fans. She is an emblem of beauty that was here for a moment, and then disappeared forever in the harsh world of show business.
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