Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Girls of Grindhouse: Jill Ireland

"I'm in so many Charles Bronson films because no other actress will work with him".

Because it's Charles Bronson Week and we are reviewing his films all week long, I thought it would be appropriate for this Girls of Grindhouse edition to be of his second wife and regular co-star, Jill Ireland.  Although information about Jill is somewhat easy to come by, "grindhouse-y" photographs of her are not.  And like Caroline Munro, the pictures of her here do not do her justice.  She's a beauty onscreen. 

Jill Dorothy Ireland was born in Hounslow, London, England on April 24, 1936 to the manager of a chain of grocery shops.  At the age of three, her mother sent her to ballet school - a decision which would influence the direction of Jill's life.  By the age of 12 she was already an accomplished dancer and was performing professionally in stage musicals in London, and a few years later was touring Europe with the Monte Carlo Ballet.

In 1955, Jill signed a contract with British film producer J. Arthur Rank of Rank Organisation and began her movie career.  Her first film role was in Oh Rosalinda (1955) where she played, fittingly enough, a ballerina.  She would eventually appear in 16 films for Rank Organisation including There's Always a Thursday (1957), Hell Drivers (1957), Three Men in a Boat (1958), The Big Money (1958), Carry on Nurse (1959), Raising the Wind (1961), Jungle Street (1961) and Twice Round the Daffodils (1962)

 In 1957 she appeared in a film called Robbery Under Arms where she was introduced to Scottish actor David McCallum.  They played young lovers in the film and became young lovers in real life.  They were married just three weeks after they met, had two sons together and then adopted a third.

Even with her new family, she somehow found the time to continue acting.  In addition to her performances in the many Rank films, Jill also starred in two plays: Jean Anouilh's Thieves Carnival and a musical called The Dancing Heiress in 1960.  In 1961 she met Charles Bronson.

Jill accompanied her husband David McCallum to Germany where he was shooting The Great Escape with Mr. Charles Bronson, and as soon as Bronson and Ireland met, they fell in love.  Bronson even allegedly told McCallum, "I'm going to marry your wife."  However, they would not marry for another seven years.  Bronson's first marriage fell apart and he divorced his wife in 1965.  Ireland and McCallum divorced in 1967, and Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland became husband and wife later that year.

Bronson had two children from his previous marriage and Ireland had her three sons, and with such responsibility, Jill knew that her film career would have to take a back seat to family life.  They even added to the Bronson clan by adopting a little girl called Katrina, and by making another one the old fashioned way.  She was born in 1972 and they named her Zuleika.  From this point forward, whenever Jill would appear on the silver screen it would be in a movie with her husband, and during filming the entire Bronson family would come along.

Together they starred in 14 motion pictures including Riders in the Rain (1970), Violent City (1970), Someone Behind the Door (1971), The Mechanic (1972), Hard Times (1975), From Noon Till Three (1976), Love and Bullets (1979), Death Wish II (1982), and Assassination in 1987. 

In 1984 Jill was diagnosed with breast cancer, underwent a mastectomy and, in 1987, wrote a book about her experience called "Life Wish".  She also became the chairperson of the National Cancer Society.  Charles Bronson put his film career on hold during this time to be with his wife.  At the same time she was battling cancer, her adopted son Jason McCallum was battling drug addiction.  When Jill was well enough, she devoted her life to helping him recover and wrote a second book called "Life Lines" about her struggle to help her son get clean.  Tragically, he died of an overdose in 1989 and she took it hard.  Her own fragile health deteriorated and she died on May 18, 1990.   Bronson carried her ashes with him for the rest of his life and, after his own death on August 30, 2003, they were buried with him.