Blonde woman with prominent breasts
Source: Triumph Sports Car Club of South Africa

Norma Ann Sykes (19 May 1936 – 24 November 2016), better known as Sabrina or Sabby, was a 1950s English glamour model who progressed to a minor film career. She was best known for her hourglass figure of 42.5-inch (108 cm) breasts coupled with a tiny 19-inch (48 cm) waist and 36-inch (91 cm) hips.[1]

Sabrina was one of “a host of exotic, glamorous (British) starlets … modelled on the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Lana Turner”; others included Diana Dors, Belinda Lee, Shirley Eaton and Sandra Dorne.[2] According to Su Holmes, Reader in Television Studies at the University of East Anglia, Sabrina was the visible focus for contemporary debates about the cultural decline associated with fame: “The press marvelled at how she had achieved fame ‘without professional experience or training’, and they wondered if she was a ‘bosomy Frankenstein-style construction produced in the BBC workshops and stuffed with old scripts’ ”.[3]

Early life


Sabrina was born on 19 May 1936 at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport, Cheshire, to Walter and Annie Sykes. She lived in Buckingham Street, Heaviley, for about 13 years and attended St George’s School there, before moving with her mother to Blackpool. At the age of 11 she contracted polio, which resulted in two years in hospital and some scarring on her leg. After reaching the age of 16 Sabrina moved to London, where she found work as a waitress and did some nude modelling,[4] posing for Russell Gay in a photoshoot that led to her appearance on the five of spades in a deck of nude playing cards.[5]

Career


In 1955 Sabrina was chosen to play a dumb blonde sidekick in Arthur Askey’s new television series Before Your Very Eyes (BBC 1952–1956, ITV 1956–1958). The show ran from 18 February 1955 until 20 April 1956, and made Sabrina a household name.[1] She was promoted by the BBC as “the bosomy blonde who didn’t talk”, but surviving episodes show quite clearly that she did.[6] Askey, who in his autobiography claimed to have chosen the stage name “Sabrina”, explained how she was chosen for the part in his TV series:

We held auditions for a suitable dumb-cluck and found one in Norma Sykes. She had a lovely face and figure, but could not act, sing, dance, or even walk properly.[7]

The critic Cosmo Landesman has referred to Sabrina’s appearance in Askey’s show as “a pivotal point in Britain’s postwar cultural history”. Despite her perceived lack of talent she was soon receiving fan mail at the rate of 1000 letters a week, and her personal appearances often degenerated into near riots. On one occasion 4000 people turned up to watch her open a shop in Sheffield, for which she was paid £100, more than twelve times the average weekly wage of the time.[8]

Sabrina made her film debut in Stock Car in 1955, followed by a small role in the 1956 film Ramsbottom Rides Again. In her third film, Blue Murder at St Trinian’s (1957), she had a non-speaking role in which, despite sharing equal billing with the star Alastair Sim on posters and appearing in many publicity stills in school uniform, she was required only to sit up in bed wearing a nightdress, reading a book, while the action took place around her.[9]

Sabrina’s penultimate film role was in the western The Phantom Gunslinger (1970),[a]Although it was not released until 1970, the film was produced in 1967.[10] in which she starred alongside Troy Donahue. Her final film was the horror movie The Ice House (1969), in which she replaced Jayne Mansfield, who had died in a car crash two years earlier.

Later life and death


On 27 November 1967 Sabrina married Dr. Harold Melsheimer (born 11 June 1927 in Germany), a Hollywood gynaecologist/obstetrician. They divorced ten years later.[11]

In 2002 an article in the Daily Mail claimed that Sabrina was living “a lonely and sad existence” in Los Angeles. The paper later issued an apology, stating that “allegations in the article were untrue and that she lives in a desirable residence in West Toluca Lake”.[12] In 2007 however, there were further newspaper reports that Sabrina had become a hermit, “living in squalor” in a Spanish-style house on a street known as “Smog Central”, under the flightpath of Burbank Airport.[11]

Having suffered from chronic back problems for many years, towards the end of her life Sabrina became paralysed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. Her mother moved to Hollywood to care for her in 1990, but died five years later. Sabrina died of respiratory failure on 24 November 2016, at the age of 80.[8]

Acting credits


  • Stock Car (1955)
  • Ramsbottom Rides Again (1956)
  • Blue Murder at St Trinians (1957)
  • Goodnight with Sabrina (1958)
  • Make Mine a Million (1959)
  • Satan in High Heels (1962)
  • House of the Black Death (1965)
  • The Ice House (1969)
  • The Phantom Gunslinger (1970)

External links


Citations



Bibliography


BFI. (n.d.). The Phantom Gunslinger (1967). Retrieved from https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b7f655810
Citation errors. (n.d.). <em>Malformed citation</em>.
Cook, P. (2002). The Trouble with Sex: Diana Dors and the Blonde Bombshell Phenomenon. In B. Babington (Ed.), British Stars and Stardom: From Alma Taylor to Sean Connery (pp. 167–178). Manchester University Press.
Davenport-Hines, R. (2012). An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo. HarperCollins.
Encyclopedia Sabrina. (n.d.). Sabrina’s life 1936–1954. Retrieved from http://nylon.net/sabrina/pages/sabrinalife-1936.htm
Encyclopedia Sabrina. (n.d.). The Sabrina Nudie Card Saga. Retrieved from http://nylon.net/sabrina/pages/nude.htm
Holmes, S. (2015). Entertaining Television: The BBC and Popular Television Culture in the 1950s. Oxford University Press.
Holmes, S. (2011). Whoever heard of anyone being a screaming success for doing nothing? Media History, 17(1), 33–48. https://doi.org/10.1080/13688804.2011.532376
Staff writer. (2013, February 7). Fifties pin-up star now living in squalor. Manchester Evening News. Retrieved from https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/local-news/fifties-pin-up-star-now-living-1176601
Staff writer. (2005, January 16). Sabrina. Daily Mail.
Staff writer. (2017, October 7). Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes): Actress once hailed as a British Marilyn Monroe. The Times. Retrieved from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sabrina-norma-ann-sykes-0n9pc8t6t

Notes

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a. Although it was not released until 1970, the film was produced in 1967.[10]