Barbara Steele

Active - 1958 - 2014  |   Born - Dec 29, 1938   |   Genres - Horror, Comedy, Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Exotic, voluptuous, nostril-flaring British actress Barbara Steele originally aspired to be a painter. At 20, she was sidetracked into acting, and within a year she made her film bow in a one-line bit as a student in Bachelor of Hearts (1958). Most of her roles were nondescript until she moved to Italy and launched her horror-film cycle with her performance as a resuscitated witch in Black Sunday (1961). Throughout the next fifteen years, Steele thrived as an internationally popular "scream queen," undergoing the usual ordeals of being whipped, strangled, dismembered and set ablaze, but also dishing it out as well as taking it -- especially in the role of a demonic woman's prison warden in Caged Heat (1974). Steele attracted the attention of the movie cognoscenti when she answered an open call posted by director Federico Fellini, who promptly cast her in a flashy role in 8 1/2 (1963); fourteen years later, she appeared as Violet in director Louis Malle's controversial Pretty Baby (1977). For many years, Steele was the wife of screenwriter James Poe, who wrote a good part for her in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), only to see the role whittled into oblivion by director Sydney Pollack. Steele remained close to Poe even after their divorce, retiring from the screen when Poe died in 1980.

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