Celia Lipton was born in 1923 in Edinburgh. Her film debut was “Calling Paul Temple” in 1948 and “The Tall Headlines”. By 1954 she was in the U.S. mainly appearing on television. She died in 2011 at the age of 87.
“MailOnline” article on Celia Lipton:
On a summer night in 1955, an attractive young British actress, finding the lift out of order in a Manhattan apartment building, arrived panting at her friend’s front door on the top floor. It was like a scene straight out of the Hollywood classic, How To Marry A Millionaire.
She remembers: ‘I was breathing heavily and almost banged straight into a ladder standing right outside.
‘Looking up, I saw a man with black curly hair and the most expressive, brooding brown eyes that seemed to momentarily flash a sign of recognition, while he stood on top of the ladder.
A life less ordinary: Celia Lipton as a young music star
‘He was in the midst of repairing the skylight, and, noting his rolled up shirtsleeves and open shirt, I thought to myself, “What a good-looking plumber”‘.
But to her surprise, the ‘good-looking plumber’ followed her into her friend’s apartment, and was introduced as Victor Farris, a name that meant nothing to Celia Lipton, the 31-year-old West End musical star, singer, actress and daughter of Mayfair’s celebrated Grosvenor House Hotel bandleader, Sydney Lipton.
After hesitantly accepting his offer to drive her home, in ‘the most awful-looking pale blue Cadillac I’d ever seen – it bore the scars, dents and scrapes of endless battles for limited parking space on Manhattan’s streets’ – he took her for coffee.
They sat at a table facing the men’s room. ‘Every time a man came out, Victor pretended he was knocking them off with a machine gun. He had me in convulsions. Our one cup of coffee seemed to last for hours, with much laughter. We both found a new camaraderie.’
By the time Farris, divorced and 12 years her senior, dropped her off at her apartment, she was convinced he was a Mafia Don.
She never dreamed that he owned 17 companies, was a millionaire many times over and the inventor of things the world came to take for granted, including the paper milk carton, the paper clip and Farris safety and relief valves.
Celia Lipton had felt an instantaneous attraction to this ‘macho man whose toughness co-existed with humour and sweetness’.
When she had reeled off her acting credits, he had silenced her, declaring that ‘anyone can act’, a statement that outraged her.
‘All night long,’ she writes, ‘my heart pounded, and I thought, “I’m falling for a gangster! What would my father say?”
‘All these thoughts were running through my mind when the phone rang at 3am. It was Victor “Mafia Don” Farris, solicitously enquiring how I was. He called me “Puppy”. I tried to be nonchalant and said: “I’m fine.”
There was a long pause while I wrestled with my head, which told me to slam the receiver down and never talk to this gangster again. But my heart melted at the very sound of his voice.
‘A chastened-sounding Victor told me softly that he was pulling my leg. He wasn’t a gangster at all. Victor wanted to prove to me that “anybody can act”. He certainly convinced me that he could act!’
Six months later, they were married. Lipton gave up her glittering stage and screen career to become his wife – and the acknowledged Queen of Palm Beach society.
The story of their 29 turbulent, volatile, but deeply happy years together is engagingly told by Celia Lipton Farris, now one of the richest women in the world, in her new autobiography, My Three Lives.
It has to rank as one of the most extraordinary books that has ever come my way.
Lavishly produced in coffee-table format, in almost blinding Technicolor, its 344 pages feature no fewer than 408 photographs, 232 of them of herself.
We have Celia with the Queen, with Prince Philip, with the Prince of Wales, with Princess Diana, with Prince Edward, with Rose Kennedy (the mother of JFK), with Clint Eastwood, with Bob Hope, with a decidedly icy-looking Bette Davis – of whom Farris says: ‘I had the distinct impression that she was wishing I wasn’t with her on stage at all,’ – and of a legion of lesser luminaries who make up the candyfloss world of Palm Beach society.
The New York Post has described the book as ‘an ego trip that counts’. Others might describe it as an ego trip in which you count the pictures.
Yet nowhere in this strange book will you find the date on which its author was born, a matter she declines to countenance, claiming that in America, ‘if you are over 40, you are dead’.
This statement is bound to interest President Barack Obama, who is 47, not to mention Hillary Clinton, 61, and a whole roster of older star ladies such as Lauren Bacall, Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley MacLaine and Debbie Reynolds.
The reality is that on Christmas Day, Celia Lipton Farris was 85, a fact that readers of her book will find impossible to believe after studying the hundreds of photographs in which she appears gleaming, glowing, dressed to the nines, magnificently coiffured and loaded down with jewels that look as if they might have come from the collection of Marie Antoinette.
Celia May Lipton, in fact, was born on December 25, 1923, in Edinburgh, the only child of an English violinist, Sidney John Lipton – as Sydney Lipton he would become one of Britain’s top bandleaders – and of a noted Scottish beauty, May Johnston Parker.
When Celia was eight, her father formed his own band and took it to London’s Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane, where he was to remain for 35 years.
Every week, millions of radio listeners tuned in to hear the words: ‘You are listening to Sydney Lipton’s Orchestra broadcasting from the Silver Room at the Grosvenor House Hotel.’
On one occasion in the Fifties, when Lipton and his orchestra played for the Queen at Buckingham Palace, Celia’s mother danced with Group Captain Peter Townsend, the lover of Princess Margaret.
Deeply happy: With Victor Farris on their wedding day in 1956
Both parents attempted to veto Celia’s ambitions to be a performer. But unknown to them, she auditioned for another bandleader, Jack Harris.
When her father heard, he said: ‘I thought, to hell with it. If she’s going to sing with a band, she’ll sing with my band and I can keep an eye on her.’
So, in 1939, at the age of 15, she made her debut at the London Palladium with her father’s orchestra.
At 17, she was back at the Palladium in the revue, Apple Sauce, and four months later, she won her first raves in the West End revue, Get A Load Of This, in which, dressed by the royal couturier Norman Hartnell, she stopped the show every night, singing You’re In My Arms (And A Million Miles Away).
At 20, she played the title role in Peter Pan. The turning-point for Celia came in 1944, when superstar Jessie Matthews walked out of the leading role in the West End revival of The Quaker Girl.
Lipton stepped in at only ten days’ notice, and when the production reached the West End, she took 16 curtain calls and one critic hailed her as ‘the brightest of new stars’.
On the French Riviera, she rubbed shoulders with the young Prince Philip of Greece, before his marriage. ‘He said he’d like to give me a lift to the casino in Cannes,’ she said.
‘I asked him how we were going to get there and he said he’d borrowed a man’s bike and he put me on the back of it. My dress kept catching in the back of the bike – it was really a scream. I got lucky as I danced with him. He was a very good dancer.’
After several more leading roles on the West End stage, and appearances in a number of films, Celia Lipton left Britain in 1952 to try her luck in New York. And there, after two appearances on the Broadway stage, two American TV roles, and some success in cabaret, she met Victor Farris.
They were married at his home in Tenafly, New Jersey. ‘Even though Victor never once suggested that I give up my career, I knew our marriage wouldn’t work if I continued.
‘He wanted a traditional wife, actually the kind my mother was. I wanted to be that for him.’
But their first child, a girl, lived only a day. Their second, a son, was premature and died after a few hours. She suffered, in all, ten miscarriages.
‘My heart was broken,’ she writes. ‘This was a time in my life where I felt useless and inadequate’.
Fortune: Farris left her more than £100million
When, at last, she succeeded in giving birth to two daughters, Marian and Cecile (‘Ce Ce’ for short), Farris was ‘not that enamoured’, and she ‘soon learned that it’s the attention that a child requires that can make a husband irritable. Victor liked to be the centre of attention at all times’.
Although it is clear that their 29-year marriage was not always easy, her account of it, and of Farris’s death in 1985, when she fought desperately to get the paramedics to their Palm Beach mansion, is the one section where her book blazes vividly into authentic literary life.
‘I walked out of the hospital, got into my car, put my head on the steering wheel and sobbed. Finally, after what seemed like hours, I started the car and drove into the bleak, dark night across the Intracoastal Bridge, back to Palm Beach. That five-minute drive home seemed like 500 miles.’
Farris left her a fortune in excess of £100 million. By shrewd investment, she has doubled it, making her one of the wealthiest women on the planet. In widowhood, she started to display her formidable organising abilities.
She became Executive Producer of the American Cinema Awards in Hollywood, sang before the Queen at the 50th anniversary of V.E. Day in Hyde Park, made a brief screen comeback with Burt Reynolds in B.L. Stryker, and released a series of her own, self-financed, nostalgic CDs.
In 2003, she was delighted to learn that her recording of Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner was being played to the troops in Iraq. However, the song’s composer, Hubert Gregg, was less delighted.
‘Hers is the worst version of my song I have ever heard,’ he told me, ‘and that includes the Omsk-Siberian Choir – in Russian!’
Her philanthropy has become legendary. She has funded two hospital wings in her husband’s name, has worked devotedly for Aids sufferers, spearheaded a Salvation Army appeal that raised $10 million, and has given huge sums to numerous causes, sometimes with money raised from exhibitions of her own brilliantly coloured impressionist oil paintings.
The American Cancer Society has named a lifetime achievement award after her in honour of her 30 years of charitable work.
Occasionally, her judgment has failed her. Towards the end of her book, she relates that she was ‘honoured to receive a letter informing me that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth had appointed me a Dame’.
This conveys the impression that she had been created a Dame of the British Empire. Not so. In 2004, she was named a Dame of Grace of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, which entitles her to place the letters, D. St. J, after her name.
Yet she now heads her personal notepaper, Dame Celia Lipton Farris, and is announced by that style on all social occasions. But then, in the neverland kingdom of Florida’s Palm Beach, such distinctions are apt to become blurred.
Is Farris’s book the story of ‘an incredible woman who has led an inspiring life’, as one of its more gushing reviews insists?
Sadly, it could have been, had it not been written with one eye on the calendar, and the other on her socialite neighbours.
Despite that, one feels this is one genuine gutsy dame who doesn’t need a cardboard title from some venerable order of which most people have never even heard.
Nor does she need to fib about her age or assume a status she does not possess merely to impress the rich bitches of Palm Beach.
If her book proves anything at all, it is that Celia Lipton Farris is a real-life heroine who has built her own pedestal.
The above “Mail Online” article can also be accessed here.