Remembering ‘Girly’ – Vanessa Howard (1948 – 2010)

Posted in Remember by - December 02, 2013
Remembering ‘Girly’ – Vanessa Howard (1948 – 2010)

“Nasty Nanny is no good! Chop her up for fire wood!” – Vanessa Howard as Girly in ‘Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly’


With her cheerful demeanour and boundless energy, the much under-rated Vanessa Howard had an acting career lasting barely six years, yet her small filmography includes one or two cult favourites, worthy of rediscovery.

Born Vanessa Tolhurst on October 10th 1948, in Shoreham-by-Sea, UK, Vanessa made her movie debut in Vernon Sewell’s shoddy horror ‘The Blood Beast Terror’ (’68), playing Meg Quennell, the innocent young daughter of Peter Cushing’s Scotland Yard detective. Howard followed this with a small but memorable part in the excellent swinging Sixties comedy ‘Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush’ (1968), which starred likable Barry Evans alongside a bevy of glamorous British actresses, including Judy Geeson, Angela Scoular, Sheila White and Adrienne Posta. The movie was a hit and Vanessa followed it with another Peter Cushing film, the much-censored and highly sought-after shocker ‘Corruption’ (1968), where she played a party-loving model.

The following year Vanessa had the minor role of a young wench, in the Tom Jones knock-off ‘Lock Up Your Daughters!’, a saucy comedy starring Christopher Plummer and Susannah York. After a brief bit as Robot No.7 in the Bulldog Drummond spy spoof ‘Some Girls Do’ (1969), 21 year old Vanessa got her juiciest part to date in what would become her signature movie. Directed by renowned cinematographer Freddie Francis, 1970’s wickedly delicious ‘Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly’, is perhaps the movie that Vanessa is most fondly remembered for. She certainly gives her best performance in this bizarre black comedy, acting wonderfully psychotic as Girly, the teasing teenager who lures her new ‘playthings’ back to the old manor house she shares with her oddball family. Unfortunately the movie received negative reviews in the UK where it was soon forgotten (it fared better in the US where exploitation was taking off in a big way). Thankfully, due mainly to word of mouth and a nice looking DVD release, people are now appreciating what a one-of-a-kind movie this is, and why the dream project of director Francis was to become his own personal favourite.

1970 saw Vanessa in three more movies, all comedies of varying quality. First was Derek Ford’s mediocre sex comedy ‘This, That and the Other!’ with Dennis Waterman and Victor Spinetti, followed by a better role in the satirical farce ‘The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer’, as would-be politician Peter Cook’s wife-to-be. Vanessa was on even better comedy form in the little seen ‘All the Way Up’, co-starring as Warren Mitchell’s newlywed daughter.

In July of 1970 Howard married American movie mogul Robert Chartoff, after which she made only two more screen appearances. Her last film role was in the 1972 psycho thriller ‘What Became of Jack and Jill?’, playing the girlfriend of Paul Nicholas, as they both scheme to murder Nicholas’s grandmother (Mona Washbourne), so they can collect on her will. Vanessa’s final performance was in the 1973 Dan Curtis TV production of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. As the tragic Sybil Vane, Howard was ideal for the role of the poor, naive yet talented young actress who falls in love with Shane Briant’s disturbed Dorian Gray.

Retiring from acting when she was just 25, Vanessa moved to America with her husband, where she raised their son (and Robert’s 3 children from his first marriage), while Chartoff would go on to produce the ‘Rocky’ movies and (among others) ‘Raging Bull’ (1980). The couple later separated though, and little is known of Vanessa’s intervening years. What is known is that sadly on November 23rd 2010, Vanessa passed away in Los Angeles, California. She was 62 years old.

An under-appreciated actress with a mischievous streak and fine comic timing, the beautiful Vanessa Howard certainly enjoyed her brief time in the sun, and did at least leave behind a handful of memorable movies, and one or two terrific performances.

Favourite Movie: Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush
Favourite Performance: Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly

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