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Her Days as a Sexpot Done, Diana Dors Now Hopes to Become the Next Big Fitness Guru

updated 12/12/1983 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/12/1983 01:00AM

She was a multidimensional actress in her prime, and her most famous dimensions were 35-23-35. In the 1950s, when her British fellow countrywomen favored tweed suits and modest reserve, Diana Dors was a platinum blonde with enough brass to become the second-highest-paid actress in the Isles (after Vivien Leigh). Cast as England's answer to Marilyn Monroe, Dors busted through B movies with a wardrobe that featured tight sweaters and pajama tops and a face that boasted what one critic called "the most libidinous lower lip in the business." Off-camera, she projected her well-rounded parts with the savvy of a press agent, floating through Venice in a mink bikini and touring Europe in a gold-plated Cadillac. In those days, says Dors, now 52, "I was a zonking big sex-symbol star."

Dors would grow even bigger in the year's that followed but not, alas, as a star. With her professional career eclipsed by more personal concerns—including marital difficulties, motherhood and a bout with cancer—the onetime bombshell exploded from 120 to 213 pounds. "Chocolate biscuits were my downfall," she says. "Also, I'm the best gravy maker in Britain. I love potatoes, and sugar and cream in my coffee and fruit pies with that lovely Reddi Wip they sell in the States. I never knew what the word diet was. Everybody else was always watching my figure, particularly men, but the last person to watch it was me."

Hired this year as a Dear Abby-type "problem solver" on TV-am, a British breakfast show, Dors took a closer look and finally decided to act. In July she announced to viewers a plan to lose one pound for each of her 52 years, then recruited 12 fatties to join her regimen of high-fiber foods, old-fashioned calorie counting and modest exercise. The weekly television weigh-ins of "Dors' Dozen" quickly boosted the show's flagging ratings and helped sell 13,000 Diana Dors X-cel Diet kits (at $9 each) containing low-cal recipes, weight-losing tips and an exercise tape narrated by Dors' husband, Alan Lake. By October the actress had managed to shed 54 pounds, dropping to a respectable, if not quite svelte, 159.

Dors admits there is no real secret to the diet plan, which she first learned about through friends. "Not eating is what it's down to," she cautions, adding: "I was tired of being described as pleasantly plump, matronly, buxom and all the other adjectives we use to describe fat." Dors hopes American heavyweights feel the same way and she now plans a trip stateside in February to plug her program.

Her reception, she hopes, will be a bit warmer than that encountered when she was an actress. Born Diana Fluck in the British market town of Swindon, she posed for her first pinup at 13 and within two years had tumbled through four British films. After coming to the realization that Fluck was an inappropriate name for a would-be sex goddess, she adopted Dors from her maternal grandmother. She also began a series of offscreen romances with singer Anthony Newley, author Desmond Morris, actor Rod Steiger and others. First husband Dennis Hamilton, whom she wed in 1951, promoted her growing glamour-girl image with endless publicity stunts (including an eye-opening 3-D photo album) and eventually helped steer her into a Hollywood contract.

Americans, however, dismissed the actress as a talentless blonde trying to jump on the Marilyn Monroe bandwagon. Her offscreen exploits, including two abortions, finally prompted RKO Pictures to cite her as an "object of disgrace and ill will," and in 1958 her contract was canceled. A year later Dors married British comedian Dickie Dawson (later famous as TV's Family Feud-master Richard Dawson) and gave birth to the first of their two sons. The marriage lasted eight years, but Dors spent much of that time on the road appearing in low-brow cabarets and British working-class clubs. "My career," she concedes, "had hit an all-time low."

More troubles followed her 1968 marriage to Lake, an actor nine years her junior, who would undergo a long but successful battle with alcoholism. Dors bore a third son—her two children by Dawson, Mark, 23, and Gary, 21, were raised by their father in the U.S.—but then had a stillborn child, suffered a near-fatal attack of meningitis, developed thyroid troubles and in 1982 underwent surgery for ovarian cancer. This September, in the midst of her TV diet, the cancer returned, and a malignant ovarian cyst was removed. Now undergoing radiotherapy, Dors says she is confident she has beaten the disease and vows to press ahead with other projects.

There are plenty. She has recently launched a weekly advice-to-the-love-lorn column in a London paper, and in February her fourth book, The A to Z Book of Men, will hit the stores. Meanwhile, Dors is once again considering acting offers, including a West End production of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and a movie version of Steaming with Vanessa Redgrave. If the roles are character parts these days and no longer those of a sexpot, no problem. They will simply give her a chance, Dors hopes, to display yet another dimension.

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