Daliah Lavi was born in Palestine in 1942. She made her film debut in 1960 and her first international was “Two Weeks in Another Town” with Kirk Douglas in 1962. Three years later she was Peter O’Toole’s leading lady in “Lord Jim” and then went to Hollywood to make “The Silencers” with Dean Martin. Her last major film role was in “Catlow” with Yul Brynner in 1971. In recent years she had established herself as a very successful singer in Germany. Daliah Lavi died in 2017.
With the huge success of the James Bond film franchise, starting with Dr No in 1962, a plethora of spin-offs appeared throughout the 1960s. They followed the original recipe of exotic locales, an evil genius who wishes to take over the world, a laidback, oversexed super spy hero and a bevy of (mostly treacherous) beautiful women. Among the actors portraying the last of these was Daliah Lavi, who has died aged 74.
Almost all Lavi’s film career took place in that swinging decade during which she was most likely to be seen in miniskirt and kinky boots, or displaying her underwear. The multilingual Lavi (born in the British Mandate of Palestine) had already made several French, German, Italian and Hollywood films before she starred as a sexy double agent opposite Dean Martin in The Silencers (1966), the first of the “bosoms and bullets” Matt Helm series.
Continuing in the light-hearted parodic tone was The Spy With a Cold Nose (1966) – the title refers to a bulldog with a microphone implant – in which Lavi as a Russian princess slips into the bed of a British counterintelligence agent (Lionel Jeffries), something he has long dreamed of. Lavi, with her tongue firmly in her cheek, was one of the plethora of 007s in Casino Royale (1967) and, her dark hair in a high beehive, was an alluring and mysterious woman who runs a gambling house in London in the cold war thriller Nobody Runs Forever (1968). The run of spy spoofs ended with Some Girls Do (1969), in which she was a villain, opposing and attracting “Bulldog” Drummond (Richard Johnson).
She was born Daliah Lewinbuk in the village of Shavi Zion in what was to become Israel. Her Jewish parents, Reuben and Ruth, were Russian and German respectively. When Daliah was 10 years old, she met the Hollywood star Kirk Douglas, who was making The Juggler near the Lewinbuks’ village.
Discovering that she wanted to become a ballet dancer, Douglas arranged for her to get a scholarship to study ballet in Stockholm. However, after three yearsshe was advised to give up dancing because of low blood pressure. It was then that she switched her ambitions to acting, making her first screen appearance while still a teenager in Arne Mattsson’s The People of Hemso (1955), a Swedish production based on the August Strindberg novel.
She had an uncharacteristic part in Violent Summer (Un Soir Sur La Plage, 1961) as a girl found murdered on the beach after a fleeting sexual encounter. For her role as the beautiful Italian woman causing friction between a washed-up movie star (Douglas) and a temperamental newcomer (George Hamilton) in Vincente Minnelli’s Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) – shot in Italy – Lavi won a Golden Globes award as the most promising female newcomer. One of her rare straight dramatic roles was as a young woman who brings comfort to the complex eponymous hero (Peter O’Toole) in Lord Jim (1965), Richard Brooks’s sluggish epic based on Joseph Conrad’s novel, and shot in Cambodia and Malaysia.
She is survived by her fourth husband, the businessman Charles Gans, and their three sons and daughter.
Gary Brumburgh’s entry:
This ravishing, raven-haired Israeli beauty was a star in Europe long before she made a dent in Hollywood in the late 60s. Along with other tasty foreign imports at the time, such as Brigitte Bardot, ‘Ursula Andress’, Elke Sommer, Ewa Aulin, Senta Berger, Rosanna Schiaffino, Shirley Eaton, Sylva Koscina, Barbara Bouchet, et al., she pursued sex symbol status via spy spoofs, erotic thrillers, tongue-in-cheek comedies and rugged adventures. In retrospect, however, she fell quite short of her pedestal amid the large crowd of sexy luminaries at the time. Born Daliah Levenbuch, she began training as a dancer and bit part actress before she abruptly halted her career to serve with the Israeli army. In the early 60s she returned to acting and began to figure in prominently with a host of French, Italian, German and English productions being offered. Daliah reached her film crest withLord Jim (1965), The Spy with a Cold Nose (1966), and the wild and wooly Bondian spoofCasino Royale (1967), which had American male audiences noticing her for the first time. Decked out in tight mini-skirts, thigh-high go-go boots and a helmet of black hair, Daliah fit in perfectly with the times, a swinging chick of the psychedelic 60s. Her last film was the very mediocre Catlow (1971) with Yul Brynner and she quickly abandoned films. Ms. Lavi pursued a singing career back in Europe with little fanfare and only recently has been glimpsed on German television in the 90s.