Actress and icon of cool Diana Rigg was born on this day in 1938 in Doncaster, England.
After a childhood spent in India, in 1957 Diana Rigg landed on the York Festival stage as "Natasha Abashwilli" in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art production of Bertolt Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle. Soon afterward, she became a fixture of the Royal Shakespeare Company (e.g. as "Cordelia" in Peter Brook's production of King Lear), seemingly destined for a career of prestigious literary revivals.
When she left RSC in 1964 for a job on a jokey TV crime-fighter adventure series (replacing future Bond girl Honor Blackman), eyebrows raised. Critics sniffed, but with Rigg on board The Avengers (co-starring Patrick Macnee as "John Steed") became one of the most popular British entertainment exports of the 1960s. As "Mrs. Emma Peel," Rigg had "a disarming sexiness, the best leather wardrobe in the history of television and a mean karate chop" (R. Dougherty, Salon). She was a TV revolutionary, too, in the sense that she was a charming woman with a piercing intelligence, acting in a man's world and frequently bettering men at their own games, a woman whose judo moves and physical prowess enabled her to make an impact with her body without merely being a slinky sex kitten. Steed and Mrs. Peel also captured the essence of 1960s London as stylish, eminently civilized, sophisticated crime-fighters who traded clever bon mots and toasted their successes with champagne.
After The Avengers, Rigg made other passes at pop culture (as James Bond's only bride in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 1967, with George Lazenby, and in her own NBC sitcom, Diana, 1973-4), but also cycled easily back from pop icon to the stage, always with that cool, rich voice and indelibly acute intellect -- starring, for example on London and/or on Broadway in Abelard and Heloise (1971, Tony nomination), Phaedra Britannica (London Theatre Critics best actress, 1975) and Medea (1994, best actress Tony). She returned to series television as the host of Mystery!, the PBS anthology series (replacing Vincent Price), in 1989, and did star turns in the miniseries Mother Love (1990) and Rebecca (1996, best supporting actress Emmy).
Categories: TV, Classic-Cinema, Theater