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Exotic British model-turned-actress Caroline Munro enjoyed enduring cult status for her appearances in 1970s-era horror and fantasy features like "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" (1971) and "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" (1974). Munro's roles were largely decorative and hinged on her ability to wear as little costuming on her voluptuous frame as possible, but she captured audiences' attention, which led to a modest film career that reached its apex with a brief but memorable turn in the James Bond adventure "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1976). The decline of U.K. horror sent her to America, where she languished in violent slasher pictures like "Maniac" (1980) before ending her career in bottom-of-the-barrel European genre films. But her movie roles, as well as her prolific career as a print and advertising model, afforded her a sizable fan base, which in turn assured her permanent status as a guest at conventions around the world. Though never quite a star, Caroline Munro's abundant physical charms made her a much-loved, or lusted after, figure in horror and fantasy circles.
Born Jan. 16, 1940 in Windsor, England, Caroline Munro came to modeling and acting largely by accident. While attending art school in Brighton, she posed for a friend who needed a subject for a photography class. Unbeknownst to her, the pictures were then submitted to a photography contest sponsored by a major London newspaper. Her pictures were selected as the winning entry, which led to modeling offers for fashion magazines and print advertisements. After making her debut in a layout for Vogue at the age of 17, Munro moved to London, where appearances in television advertisements preceded background roles in "Casino Royale" (1967). In 1969, she earned a one-year contract with Paramount, which resulted in her turn as Richard Widmark's daughter in "A Talent for Loving" (1969). That same year, Munro began what would eventually become a decade-long stint as the model for Lamb's Navy Rum, which made her one of the most recognized faces in England.
The exposure afforded by the advertisements led to an uncredited turn as Vincent Price's deceased wife in Robert Fuest's cult horror favorite "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" (1971). Though her role required her to remain motionless in a coffin for the entirety of the film, Munro was brought back for the sequel, "Dr. Phibes Rises Again" (1972), which led to more roles in horror-themed features. England's Hammer Films, which specialized in Gothic horror and genre films, signed Munro to a one-year contract, which resulted in a minor role in "Dracula A.D. 1972" (1972), a half-hearted effort to update their long-running vampire franchise starring Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as his nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing. Munro's second picture for Hammer was "Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter" (1974), an action-horror hybrid by "Avengers" (ITV/Thames, 1961-1969) producer Brian Clemens about a sword-wielding vampire hunter (Horst Jason) aided by an alluring gypsy girl (Munro). Though a failure upon its release, the film would later enjoy cult status among horror fans. Munro was offered leads in other Hammer productions, including "Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde" (1971), but turned them down due to required nude scenes
However, her work on "Kronos" led to one of her most popular films, "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" (1974), which featured a script by Clemens. He also recommended her for the role as the slave girl that aided Sinbad (John Philip Law) in his adventure, which, while still largely decorative, further advanced her film career. Roles in minor U.K. genre films, including "At the Earth's Core" (1976) with Peter Cushing, preceded her most widely seen film appearance as the alluring but deadly helicopter pilot who pursued Roger Moore's James Bond in "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1976). Munro turned down the role of villainess Ursa in "Superman" (1977) to take the extended cameo, which proved to be one of her more popular features. Producer Cubby Broccoli encouraged Munro to take advantage of the international exposure afforded by the film and move to Hollywood, but the actress demurred, preferring instead to remain in England with her husband, producer Judd Hamilton. The decision would largely undo whatever traction her career had gained by her turn in the Bond film, and by the end of the decade, Munro was logging time in low-budget European features like the miserable "Star Wars" (1977) carbon "Starcrash" (1979). The following year, she appeared as a fashion photographer who developed a wholly implausible fascination for character actor Joe Spinell's slovenly psychopath in William Lustig's gruesome "Maniac" (1980).
Her work with Lustig led to more work in low-budget horror in America and abroad, including the vicious holiday-themed slasher film "Don't Open 'Til Christmas" (1984) and "Faceless" (1988), the umpteenth gory reworking of "Eyes Without a Face" (1960) by relentlessly prolific European director Jesus Franco. Munro attempted to launch a pop music career in 1984 by signing with Gary Numan's Numa Records label, but her debut single, "Warrior of Love," went unreleased. She soon found regular work as the host of a popular British game show "3-2-1" (ITV, 1978-1988). There were also appearances in music videos with Adam Ant and Meat Loaf and regular work as a model, but by the end of the decade, Munro had largely retired from acting to focus on her family. Bit roles in low-budget features like "To Die For" (1994) were few and far between, though she became a favorite guest at autograph conventions around the world.
By Paul Gaita
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