The most beautiful star of the greatest horror masterpiece of
Italian film, "Black Sunday": Barbara Steele was born on December
19, 1938 in Birkenhead, Cheshire, England. Barbara is loved by her
fans for her talent, intelligence, erotic sexuality, and a
mysterious beauty that is unique; her face epitomizes either sweet
innocence, or malign evil (she is wonderful to watch either way).
At first, Barbara studied to become a painter. In 1957, she joined
an acting repertory company. Her feature acting debut was in the
British comedy "Bachelor of Hearts" (1958). At age 21, this
strikingly lovely lady, with the hauntingly beautiful face, large
eyes, sensuous lips and long, dark hair got her breakout role by
starring in "Black Sunday," the quintessential Italian film about
witchcraft (it was the directorial debut for cinematographer Mario
Bava; with his background it was exquisitely photographed and
atmospheric). We got to see Barbara, but did not hear her; her
voice was dubbed by another actress for international audiences.
After its American success, AIP brought Barbara to America, to star
in Roger Corman's "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1961); (though the
film was shot entirely in English, again Barbara's own voice was
not used). By now, Barbara was typecast by American audiences as a
horror star. In 1962, she answered an open-casting call and won a
role in Federico Fellini's "8 1/2"; she only had a small but
memorable role. Reportedly Fellini wanted to use her more in the
film, but she was contracted to leave Rome to start work on her
next horror movie, "The Horrible Dr. Hichcock" (1962). Being a slow
and meticulous director, Fellini's "8 1/2" was not released until
1963. (Later, when Barbara was cast in lesser roles in lesser
movies, she would tell the directors: "I've worked with some of the
best directors in the world. I've worked with Fellini!") More
horror movies followed, such as "The Spectre" (1963), "Castle of
Blood" (1964), "An Angel for Satan" (1966) and others; this success
led to her being typecast in the horror genre, where she more often
than not appeared in Italian movies with a dubbed voice. The nadir
was appearing in "Curse of the Crimson Altar" (1968), which was
mainly eye candy, with scantily-clad women in a cult.
Unfortunately, Barbara got sick of being typecast in horror movies.
One of the screen's greatest horror stars, she said in an
interview: "I never want to climb out of another freakin' coffin
again!" This was sad news for her legion of horror fans; it was
also a false-step for Barbara as far as a career move. Back in
America, she met screenwriter James Poe; they got married, and
remained together for many years. James Poe wrote an excellent role
for Barbara in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" (1969). The role
ended up going to Susannah York, and Barbara wouldn't act in movies
again for 5 years. Barbara returned to movies in "Caged Heat"
(1974); she was miscast: a few years before, Barbara would have
been one of the beautiful inmates, not the wheelchair-bound warden.
In 1977, she appeared in a film by Roger Corman, based on the true
story of a mentally ill woman, "I Never Promised You a Rose
Garden." Unfortunately, her scenes wound up on the cutting room
floor. (The movie itself is vague. I read the book-- the main
character gets the insight that Lactamaeon is based on a large
illustration in their family Bible, that scared her as a child. It
depicts Archangel Lucifer being thrown from heaven: falling,
falling endlessly. This fear of falling from grace in large part
caused her own mental illness.) Again, trying anything but horror,
Barbara appeared in "Pretty Baby" (1978), but she was in the
background the whole time, and her talents wasted. Barbara would
appear in 2 more unmemorable movies. She and James Poe got
divorced, (he died a few years later). Barbara did "Silent Scream"
(1980). Maybe because her ex-husband was now dead, or because her
acting career was going nowhere, Barbara retired from acting for a
decade. However, she had a lot of success as a producer. She was an
associate producer for the TV mini-series "The Winds of War"
(1983), and produced "War and Remembrance" (1989), for which she
got an Emmy award. Her horror fans were delighted when Barbara
showed up again, this time on TV in "Dark Shadows" (1991), a
revival of the beloved 1960s supernatural soap. The still-lovely
Barbara acts occasionally, her latest film was "The Prophet"
(1999). Even past 60, Barbara is still beautiful and her fans love
Biography courtesy of the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com).