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Tale of Limerick actress Constance Smith's Hollywood tragedy revealed in TV4 documentary

Spotted in a photographic competition for a lookalike to Heddy Lamarr, Constance Smith was offered a screen test for the Rank organisation

THE tragic tale of actress Constance Smith, born in poverty in Limerick who achieved Hollywood success only to die destitute on the streets of London, was recounted last night in a TG4 documentary.

Smith was born the eldest of 11 children in 1928, living in Wolfe Tone Street in the city before moving to Dublin when her father died.

The documentary outlining her life, 'Constance Smith-Hollywood Tragedy', features interviews with her family and contemporaries, was screened in Limerick in October and was a highlight of the Richard Harris International Film Festival.

Spotted in a photographic competition for a lookalike to Heddy Lamarr in the 1940s, and she was offered a screen test for the Rank organisation, which her mother convinced her to take.

According to Limerick genealogist and historian Sharon Slater, during grooming by the Rank 'charm school' in London, Smith demonstrated "her fiery temperament and her unwillingness to toe the line" and was quickly sacked.

After bit parts in several British `B' films, she came to the attention of the big Hollywood studios in 1950 after playing an Irish maid in The Mudlark and was offered a contract by 20th Century Fox.

A year later producer Darryl F Zanuck cast her opposite Tyrone Power in `I'll Never Forget You', but she was later replaced with Ann Blyth.

She appeared in Hollywood features over more than 30 films and was a presenter for the Academy Awards ceremony in 1952.

She went on to work in over 30 films, however, regularly fought with the studios and producers, refusing to change her name to a more memorable one.

In 1951, Constance married English film director, actor and writer Bryan Forbes.

When her acting contract expired in 1953, she had undergone an abortion at the demand of the studio.

Two years later she divorced Forbes on the grounds of desertion. He married fellow British actress Nanette Newman the same year.

Forbes described Hollywood as crushing her by lifting her up and then pushing her down to "the status of a Hindu road-sweeper", said to be the inspiration of his later direction of `The Stepford Wives'.

She turned to drugs and alcohol by the mid-50s, attempting suicide in 1958.

In 1962, Constance was sentenced to three months in prison for stabbing (boyfriend and later husband) Paul Rotha, a documentary maker and film historian.

Her last decades were spent as an alcoholic, working as a cleaner for brief periods before dying on a London street in June 30, 2003, aged 75.

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