Goldfinger's Golden Girl, Then And Now: Shirley Eaton Lives!
Shirley Eaton with Sean Connery on the set of 'Goldfinger' (1964), and on the cover of Life magazine. Source: IMDB; Amazon
In Goldfinger, Shirley Eaton's gold-painted character Jill Masterson is discovered dead by James Bond, played by Sean Connery. It's one of the most memorable screen deaths in 007 movie history (and there have been many) -- but don't believe the urban legend associated with it. Eaton herself did not die; she survived the scene, and is alive and well. Even though her character died 20 minutes into the 1964 film, she's a perennial favorite Bond Girl among fans of the series. She's even said to outshine (sorry) Honor Blackman, who as Pussy Galore is the "main" Bond Girl of Goldfinger.
With her blonde good looks and her Cockney English accent, Shirley Eaton was a sex symbol in the ‘50s and ‘60s. She is best known for her role as one of the Bond girls, although she did make a few movies before and after that career-defining role. The fact that Shirley Eaton retired from acting at a young age only fueled the rumors of her exaggerated death.
The Early Years
Shirley Eaton was born in England on January 12, 1937, and went to dance and drama classes prior to her stage debut at age 12 in Set To Partners. She appeared on live television shows such as The Royal Variety Show prior to being cast in small roles on film in several comedies. She quickly rose to co-star status in films such as Three Men In A Boat (1956) and Your Past Is Showing (1957).
The Creation Of An Iconic Image
Real fame came with her death as “Jill Masterson” in Goldfinger, a character who died about 20 minutes into the film. Her gold-painted image became iconic as it appeared everywhere, including on the cover of Life magazine.
According to urban legend, Eaton died after being covered with gold paint for Goldfinger. This urban legend grew from a belief in the possibility of skin asphyxiation, as convincingly explained by James Bond. The image from Goldfinger was just that: an image. It may not have caused her death, but the gold paint was difficult to remove. The legend of her death persisted in part because people did fear that painting the skin would clog the pores and eventually would deprive people of oxygen. It's said that cabaret dancers, when they paint their bodies, leave a patch of skin unpainted to ensure they got enough oxygen -- although this too may be an urban legend.
Know Your Golden Girls
Shirley Eaton wasn't the only golden girl in Goldfinger. The opening credits sequence, which has been hailed as the best of the Bond series and one of the best in film history, also features a gold-painted woman, onto whose glistening body scenes from the film are projected. That was Margaret Nolan, not Shirley Eaton. Nolan also appeared in the movie as the character Dink, who gives 007 a brief massage and then exits.
Last Films And Retirement
Although Eaton is still alive at 82, her career did not last long, which may have helped to perpetuate the urban legend. She completed a total of 29 films over the course of her career. She did have some film roles around or after her “death” in Goldfinger, appearing opposite actors such as Robert Culp in Rhino! (1964) and Hugh O’Brien in Ten Little Indians (1965). She starred as Sumuru in two films, The Million Eyes Of Su-Muru (1967) and The Girl from Rio (1969). Her character was a beautiful but evil woman who sets out to destroy the men and replace them with an army of women. In 1969, At the age of 32, only five years after her role in Goldfinger, she decided to retire. The decision came after the premature birth of her second son, Jason.
Life After Film
After retirement, she settled into family life with her husband Colin Rowe, a building contractor whom she had married in 1957, and her two sons, Grant and Jason. She went to art school, where she learned painting and sculpting. She was happy to produce art, photography, and write. In 1987, she moved to the south of France, where Roger Moore was her neighbor.
After her husband died in 1994, she returned to London and began doing film memorabilia shows in America and the U.K.
She did appear in a 2003 episode of MythBusters to help dispel the urban legend of her death.
Where Is Shirley Eaton Now?
She is the grandmother of five and published a memoir, Golden Girl in 1999, as well as Golden Girl Shirley Eaton: Her Reflections, a collection of images from her films throughout her career. Her book, Shirley Eaton, Bond’s Golden Girl, Her Own Art Gallery is a collection of images of her paintings and sculptures. She has also written a diary of poems.
Tags: Career-Defining Moments | Goldfinger | James Bond | Ladies | Sean Connery | Shirley Eaton
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