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Sarah Douglas

Sarah Douglas

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: December 12, 1952 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Stratford-upon-Avon, England, GB Profession: Cast ... actor
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BIOGRAPHY

British actress Sarah Douglas established herself on screen in a number of memorably villainous roles. Although a classically-trained stage performer, Douglas immediately began to gain onscreen recognition in genre material like the retelling of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (CBS, 1974) and the Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp adventure "The People that Time Forgot" (1977). The following year, Douglas cemented her place as a pop-culture icon when she played the super-powered villainess Ursa in the blockbuster superhero epics "Superman" (1978) and "Superman II" (1980) opposite Terrence Stamp and Christopher Reeve. Another role as a scheming seductress for several seasons on the melodrama "Falcon Crest" (CBS, 1981-1990) further cemented her reputation as the "Queen of Mean." Firmly established as the sexy siren audiences loved to hate, Douglas was deliciously nasty as a reptilian alien invader in "V: The Final Battle" (NBC, 1984) and a power-hungry sorceress in the Schwarzenegger vehicle "Conan the Destroyer" (1984). For better or worse, B-movie sequels like "Return of the Swamp Thing" (1989) and "Return of the Living Dead III" (1993) occupied much of the actress' career throughout the 1990s. Having matured beyond her former vamp roles, she began a lucrative second career as a voice actress on animated series like "Batman Beyond" (The WB, 1999-2001) and occasionally returned to familiar territory with villainous roles in efforts like "Witchville" (Syfy, 2010). To the joy of many a convention-goer, Douglas remained eternally thankful for the genre material that had provided her with a lengthy career.

Sarah Douglas was born on Dec. 12, 1952 in the historic civil parish of Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. She was one of two daughters born to Beryl Smith, a prominent physiologist, and Edward Douglas, who had made a career for himself in the Royal Air Force. In her professional capacity, Douglas' mother often worked with members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, so it came as no surprise that her daughter was drawn to acting at an early age. However, even though she made her stage debut as a fairy in a local production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the age of nine, Douglas considered several non-acting career paths in the years immediately following her primary education at the nearby Alcester Grammar School. After contemplating careers in such varied fields as education and medicine, the call of the stage proved irresistible to the teenage Douglas, who toured with the National Youth Theatre of Britain before receiving further training at Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance. From there, the young actress launched her professional career with work on the stages of the West End in such productions as "Gomes" and as a member of a National Tour mounting of "Don't Just Lie There, Say Something!" alongside such British acting luminaries as Roy Dotrice and Jon Pertwee.

Although she had picked up a few minor television appearances - in which she was most often billed simply as a "beautiful girl" - Douglas made her feature film debut in "The Final Programme" (1973), a science fiction comedy-thriller based on a popular novel by Michael Moorcock. Her first exposure to a broader American audience came with a ghostly appearance as one of the blood-thirsty "Brides" in Dan Curtis' atmospheric adaptation of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (CBS, 1974), starring a surprisingly effective Jack Palance as the enigmatic count. While the later film, produced in the U.K., garnered considerable attention, the same could not be said for Douglas' other effort that year, the quickly-canceled U.K. drama series "The Inheritors" (HTV, 1974), on which she was a cast regular. Nonetheless, Douglas was gaining notice as an actress and soon picked up a rare starring film role as an abused wife attempting to escape her sadistic husband (Julian Glover) and maintain custody of her young son (Nicholas Barnes) in the controversial drama "The Brute" (1977). Also that year was a prominent role in the adventure sequel "The People that Time Forgot" (1977), based on the novels by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs and starring Patrick Wayne as the intrepid explorer sent to rescue Doug McClure, a friend and colleague stranded upon the lost continent in the first film.

While "People that Time Forgot" would eventually go on to achieve a modicum of cult favorite status, it was while filming the B-movie that Douglas was asked to audition for her best remembered role. Beating out more than 600 aspiring actresses, Douglas was cast as the sociopathic Kryptonian criminal Ursa, consort of Terence Stamp's brutal General Zod in "Superman" (1978). Although seen only briefly in the film's early moments, Ursa's nebulous fate within the Phantom Zone and the incredible success of "Superman" assured Douglas' return in the blockbuster sequel, which was filmed simultaneously with the first production. After a regular cast role on the short-lived naval base sitcom "Thundercloud" (ITV, 1979), Douglas returned to cinema screens in an extended appearance as Ursa in "Superman II" (1981), which climaxed with a thrilling battle between the Man of Steel (Christopher Reeve) and the vile Kryptonian super-villains (Stamp, Douglas and Jack O'Halloran). The success and recognition Douglas achieved with the Superman films soon prompted the British actress to make the leap across the Atlantic and relocate permanently to Hollywood. Sealing the deal was the offer Douglas received to take on a regular role as the trouble-making Pamela Lynch on the popular primetime soap "Falcon Crest" (CBS, 1981-1990), providing her with yet another signature character.

Embracing her growing stature as a villainess, Douglas played a member of a reptilian race of alien invaders in the sci-fi miniseries sequel "V: The Final Battle" (NBC, 1984), even as she returned to movie screens as the evil Queen Taramis opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Jones in "Conan the Destroyer" (1984), another sequel that failed live up to the reputation of its predecessor. Post-"Falcon Crest," Douglas made numerous guest appearances - typically as vampish schemers - on popular TV fare like "Magnum, P.I." (CBS, 1980-88), "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996) and "Remington Steele" (NBC, 1982-87), in addition to work in such genre films as "Solarbabies" (1986) and "Return of the Swamp Thing" (1989). A pattern of low-budget sequels emerged for Douglas in the coming decade, illustrated by appearances in "Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time" (1991), "Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge" (1991), "Meatballs 4" (1992) and "Return of the Living Dead III" (1993).

Beginning in the latter half of the 1990s, Douglas employed her coolly cultured voice to good effect with semi-regular vocal work on animated series like "Iron Man" (syndicated, 1994-95), "Gargoyles" (syndicated, 1994-96/ABC, 1996-97), "Superman" (The WB, 1996-2000) - surprisingly, not in the role of Ursa - and "Batman Beyond" (The WB, 1999-2001). After several years away from the screen, a still captivating Douglas reappeared with roles in the made-for-TV chillers "Gryphon" (Syfy, 2007) and "Witchville" (Syfy, 2010), playing imposing queens in each production. She returned two years later with a turn in the comedic hybrid offering "Stripper vs. Werewolves" (2012) and more voice work on the superhero adventure "Green Lantern: The Animated Series" (Cartoon Network, 2011- ).

By Bryce P. Coleman

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