Audrey Charteris

April 14th, 1922 - September 19th, 2014

My dear friend the actress Audrey Long, also known as Audrey Charteris, has passed away. It won’t come as any surprise to those of us who were lucky enough to know her, for she had been ailing for quite a while and at age 92 she’d had a long and good life, but I already miss her.

She was born on April 14th, 1922 in Orlando, Florida. Her father, Reverend Doctor Christopher S. Long was an Episcopal minister who had emigrated from England and become a naturalized American. He was appointed a US Navy Chaplain and consequently the family—including Audrey’s younger brother John—moved around a lot including spells in Canada, Honolulu and San Francisco. Her education started in Virginia and ended in Los Gatos, California, where she graduated from the local High School.

Roles in school plays generated an interest in acting and she began studying the craft with Dorothea Johnson, an acting coach whose previous students had included Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland. Well received performances as Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and other roles with the Saratoga Players led to a scholarship with the Max Reinhardt Drama School in Hollywood. She was still a teenager and on graduation was signed by Warner Brothers.

She made her screen debut in 1942, playing a student in The Male Animal and that same year appeared as a receptionist in Yankee Doodle Dandy. When that contract wasn’t renewed she went to work as a Power’s model. As a model she was sent on a drive to sell War Bonds and thus got plenty of coverage when she did such a drastic things as change her hairstyle. Witness this, from the front page of the Edwardsville Intelligencer, May 4th, 1943 edition:

 “Power’s model Audrey Long, whose shoulder length blond hair attracted many purchaser’s whilst she was on a recent War Bond selling tour was one of the first to switch to the short wave style…”’It’s not only easy to manage’, Audrey says ‘but it looks so right with the kind of clothes we wear and life we lead today.’”

Later that month she appeared on Broadway opposite Gregory Peck in the play Sons and Soldiers and in further stage plays before being signed to a contract with RKO in December 1943.

Her first film for them was the 1944 suspense film A Night of Adventure, in which she co-starred alongside future radio Saint Tom Conway. That same year she made what is perhaps her best remembered film, Tall in the Saddle,  starring alongside John Wayne. Radio work was also plentiful, including an episode of Lux Radio Theater alongside Bette Davis.

She married  Edward Rubin, then a production assistant at RKO, in January 1945 in Beverley Hills, postponing their honeymoon as she was hard at work on another film (Pan-Americana). The sole attendant at the wedding was Ginger Rogers, a friend of the couple.

Almost two dozen films followed over the next five years, perhaps shedding some light on the reasons for her divorce in April 1951. She was so busy making movies that she turned down three offers to return to the stage.

She moved in to an apartment building on West Norton Avenue in Hollywood, where she discovered her neighbour was the author Leslie Charteris, also recovering from a failed marriage. They fell in love and married in April 1952, spending the next couple of months honeymooning around Europe.

When they met Charteris was giving serious thought to retiring; with three failed marriages and stagnating book sales the work involved in writing a new Saint adventure held diminishing appeal. That there are more than just 28 Saint books is in large part down to Audrey; she inspired in Leslie a fresh joie de vivre and encouraged him to continue writing. As they travelled, the Saint followed, taking in literal and fictional adventures around the world.

I first met her when I was still a teenager. Invited to lunch with Leslie and Audrey at the Four Seasons in Mayfair, London I was way out of my depth but she was kind and considerate, especially when the dessert trolley put in an appearance. Naturally most of the conversation, initially at least, was based around Leslie but she wasn’t averse to a little gentle teasing of us both at times.

Around the same time I met one of the first Saint hagiographers, an elderly American by the name of Paul James who had also come to know Leslie and Audrey. Almost the first thing he told me was how, on a visit to London, he’d become frustrated by the lack of iced tea available to buy in the shops and he’d shared his frustrations with the couple, feeling that a couple of ex-pat Americans might understand. A few months later, when they next met, Audrey brought him a flask of iced tea. Like I said, considerate.

Perhaps unsurprisingly I got to know her better once Leslie had died. They both enjoyed their privacy and without Leslie, Audrey’s social circle shrank noticeably. Throughout the years I knew her, and I’ll get very depressed if I go back and actually figure out how many that was, I came to value her counsel and wisdom. She was both encouraging and critical, indeed even just a few weeks ago when I sent her the first chapter of a Saint novel I’ve been writing (just to see if I could do it), she made some very valid points but was also very encouraging.

She was, I think, equally horrified and fascinated by what I could unearth about her film career, feeling, understandably, that it was a life time ago. But she wasn’t shy about mentioning the time—in the 1970s or 80s--she’d been out somewhere with Leslie when they were approached by autograph hunters who ignored Leslie and headed straight for her.

I last saw her a few weeks ago and although neither of us would admit it at the time, I think we both knew it was goodbye. We had a good chat, not just about how things were progressing with various Saint projects, but about her life, health and how we were both doing. I took the opportunity to tell her how much I valued her friendship over the years, and if I can have those conversations with everyone who means something to me, then I’ll be a very lucky man.

I have no doubt that she would hate me writing this, but sometimes the world needs to know what it’s lost, and with her passing goes a degree of class, grace, elegance and wisdom that seems sadly lacking nowadays.

 

 

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