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Monday, 17th December 2007
Chili Bouchier: Died September 1999

Rothmans Beauties of the Cinema (1939) 40 unnum

A well known decision making technique is to try to step outside your predicament and look upon your situation in the manner of an outsider. The idea being all the personal stuff can be left behind.

I am not sure what it must have been like looking at the world through the eyes of Dorothy Irene Boucher but I know looking at her world through my eyes is a painful and depressing experience. I only hope it was not as grim as the sum of its parts.

Chili Bouchier was discovered dead in her council flat in Edgware on 10 September 1999 in conditions of poverty. So at the age of 89 another British sex symbol of the British silent movie age ends her journey.

So far so normal, but it was the road she took which sets the story apart.

Firstly she was born September 12 1909. The daughter of a builder and decorator.

During World War One she went to the cinema with her mother. Later she recalls, "I wanted to become an actress, not for the fame or the money, but to make fairy stories and take people out of their tiresome everyday lives.'

At the age of 10 she took lesson in drama. She left school at 15 and took a job as a mannequin modelling clothes for Harrods. She thoroughly enjoyed the experience and one day after consuming a little too much alcohol she jumped upon a table and declared, 'I love all men.'

That she might but a trainee manager with the nickname Slushy took the opportunity to seduce her. She was then sacked.

She replied to an advertisment promising to make her a film star for 3 guineas.

A life with lessons for us all.

What little luck there was to be in this woman's life was played out at this point. Work came in. In 1928 she appeared in Anthony Asquith's, Shooting Stars [1928]. The same year saw her appear in, Maria Marten, one of several silent adaptations of the 'Murder in the Red Barn' case.

A few days before her 21st birthday she made her West End debut, Open Your Eyes. Often she would appear in some pretty daring outfits. To go along with this she decided a hotter name was required and so adopted, Chili.

This was taken from the popular song, Chili Bom-Bom. She went back to Dorothy for a period of time but in 1936 the name change stuck.

The press in the meantime was giving her names like, 'Baby Vamp' and Britain's 'Girl with It.' We all knew what It was, Clara Bow had it in America (later we found out just how much of it she was getting just proving we are more interested in guessing than knowing.) Clara Bow was also known as the Brooklyn Bonfire just proving The US are always better at handing out the nicknames.

Chili was big in UK but nowhere in US. Herbert Wilcox directed her in a number of films perhaps most notably in Carnival, 1931. They went on to make a series of films with one another.

Chili remembered his advances could only be fended off by 'an undignified struggle' in his office. Chili might have remembered all this and the films might still exist but for some reason the entire period slipped Herbert's mind when he was writing his autobiography.

Chili may not have been immune to writing her own reviews either. She had been married to Harry Milton since 1929 and claimed that it was out of loyalty to this fellow she had turned down two marriage proposals from Howard Hughes.

The London stage was to be her bread and butter for the next 50 years. Trouble was it was only bread and butter and might have been alright if that is what she had tried to live on.

Chili remained centre stage of the British film industry. By 1935 she did have a 7 year contract with Warner and things looked rosey.

In 1938 she went to Hollywood.

On the day of her arrival a failed actress, Peg Entwistle, threw herself from the giant Hollywood sign. She sat in her hotel room waiting for the call to the movie block but it did not come. After a couple of weeks she grew board of turning down the fumbling bell-boys and went back home.

That was the end of any Hollywood career. All her movies (50, maybe 60) were made in Britain.

By the time the Second World War broke out Chili was divorced from her husband who had fallen for Jessie Matthews. He had taken to drinking Brandy before breakfast. Chili was depressed and attempted suicide but did get over the issue.

His acting career faltered and he had to take up a job as a caretaker before killing himself.

Chili now lived with Teddy Joyce the bandleader. She remembered him as being very promiscuous. He died, aged 36 of meningitis, 1941.

Penniless she had to seek a back-street abortion which had complications nearly killing her.

In 1946 she married Peter Greedd the British actor 12 years her junior. They were formally divorced in 1955 but not before their combined drinking had ensured everything she owned was pawned.

She continued to grind out the work until a late blooming of her career in the 1970's. She played Mrs Boyle in the endlessly running Mousetrap for a number of years and then in 1975 appeared opposite James Stewart in the stage version of 'Harvey'. In this he played a charming alcohol (you know it is a fiction from that point on).

In 1977 she married a retired Australian film director, Bluey Hill, and just to prove class finds itself he too was an alcoholic. Having lost all his money he died of cancer in 1986.

In 1991 she appeared, at the age of 82, as Lady Pinkington Powell in the TV series Flip.

In 1968 she published 'For Dogs and Angels' an autobiography which was followed in 1996 by Shooting Stars. Perhaps not the lightest reading in the world.

Towards the end of her life she lived in a council flat off the Edgware Road in London, drinking.

A life with lessons for us all.