My grandparents lived in Dagenham and my grandad worked at Fords until he retired. Whilst working there a charity boxing match was held between a professional boxer called Freddie Mills and an actor called Stewart Granger.
The photo below is of the two ‘boxers’ strutting their way to the boxing ring! My grandad is on the left hand side of the picture (wearing a trilby hat), he is with his brother-in-law Bob and his sister Betty (sitting to his right). My Uncle was a little boy then and you can just about see him peeking into the picture (sideways on the left hand side). The boxing match was for charity and I should think it was a real treat for the people in Dagenham to attend such an exciting event!
Frederick Percival Mills (more commonly known as Freddie Mills) was born in Bournemouth on 26 June 1919 and died in London on 25 July 1965. He was an English boxer who was the world light heavyweight champion from 1948 to 1950, however he sometimes fought as a heavyweight. Freddie lived in Denmark Hill, South London until his death. He boxed a total of 101 times and won 76 of these matches, 49 of which were by KO and he drew 7 times.
When Freddie retired from boxing he became an actor and appeared in a number of films, he was also a presenter on a BBC music show called Six-Five Special (1957). He ran a nightclub until he died under mysterious circumstances. During his retirement in the early 1960s he taught boxing classes at Streatham youth centre.
Freddie was also a co-owner of a Soho restaurant with an actor called Andy Ho, which later became a nightclub. He was friends with the Kray Twins and they regularly visited his club. The nightclub was initially successful but later on its popularity waned and he ended up with severe financial problems. He sold a lot of his property but could not find a buyer for his nightclub.
On 24 July 1965 he was found dead in his car which was parked behind his nightclub, he had been shot in the head. A couple of weeks before this event he had borrowed a rifle from a friend who ran a shooting gallery. The rifle was not in working order when he borrowed it, but it had been repaired and was found in the car next to him. The coroner’s inquest held that the shot had been a self-inflicted wound and ruled that it had been death by suicide. He was heavily in debt to a crime syndicate which led him to be depressed and frightened for his life. There were several theories, such as he was married with children but had been arrested in a public toilet and charged with indecency, or that Chinese gangers staged his suicide so that they could take over his club. It was also claimed that he was going to be exposed as a serial killer known as ‘Jack the Stripper’ who had been responsible for eight Hammersmith naked murders in 1964-65. It was also alleged that he had a homosexual relationship with singer Michael Holliday and was possibly sexually involved with infamous gangster Ronnie Kray.
Freddie was buried in Camberwell New Cemetery in South London. One of the pallbearers was Jack Solomon who was a boxing promoter and another was Henry Cooper who was the British heavyweight champion.
Stewart Granger was born James Lablache Stewart in Old Brompton Road, Kensington on 6 May 1913 and he died on 16 August 1993. Stewart was an English actor who appeared in many films and he was associated with heroic and romantic leading roles.
His film debut was in a film called The Song You Gave Me in 1933. He appeared in theatre for several years, initially at the Hull Repertory Theatre and then later at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. He met his first wife, Elspeth March here. He began to get stage work in London and appeared in The Sun Never Sets in 1938 at the Drury Lane Theatre and in Serena Blandish opposite Vivien Leigh.
When the Second World War began he enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders and then transferred to the Black Watch and became a second lieutenant. In 1942 he was invalided out of the army due to stomach ulcers.
His first starring film role was playing Rokeby in the Gainsborough Pictures period melodrama, The Man in Grey in 1943. He became a box office name along with his co-stars, James Mason, Phyllis Calvert and Margaret Lockwood.
He appeared in other Gainsborough Pictures, such as The Lamp Still Burns (1943) and Fanny by Gaslight (1944). The New York Times reported that he was “a young man worth watching. The customers like his dark looks and his dash; he puts them in mind, they say of Cary Grant”.
He appeared in the hit film Love Story in 1944 and played a blind pilot who falls in love with terminally ill Margaret Lockwood. He was also in Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945) and Caesar and Cleopatra which co-starred Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh. In 1945 he was voted the second most popular British film star and the ninth most popular overall by British exhibitors. The Times reported that “this black-visaged ex-soldier from the Black Watch is England’s Number One pin up boy. Only Bing Crosby can match him for popularity”.
Granger moved to Rank studios and made a series of historical dramas including Captain Boycott (1947), Blanche Fury (1948), Woman Hater (1948), Adam and Evelyne starring alongside Jean Simmons who went on to become his wife. Howard Hughes organised their wedding and Michael Wilding was his best man.
In 1949 he joined MGM in Hollywood and starred in an Allan Quatermain film version of King Solomon’s Mines. The film was successful and he signed a 7 year contract with them. He appeared in other MGM films, such as Soldiers Three (1951), The Light Touch, The Wild North (1953), The Prisoner of Zenda and many others.
In 1952 Stewart starred in Scaramouche and his co-star Eleanor Parker said she did not get on with him, she said "Everyone disliked this man.... Stewart Granger was a dreadful person, rude... just awful. Just being in his presence was bad. I thought at one point the crew was going to kill him."(“Eleanor Parker: Incognito, but invincible”, Noir City Sentinel summer 2010). However the resulting film was a notable critical and commercial success.
Stewart and his wife Jean Simmons sued Howard Hughes for $250,000 damages due to an alleged breach of contract and the case was settled out of court.
In 1953 Columbia studios borrowed him to star opposite Rita Hayworth in Salome.
Stewart purchased land in New Mexico and Arizona and became a successful cattle rancher and he acted to finance this venture. In 1960 he starred in North to Alaska and by this time his marriage to Jean Simmons had ended.
He starred in several films in the 1960s but was not proud of them and in 1970 said they were “movies not even I will talk about” (“Granger comes to Shiloh” Los Angeles Times 8 June 1958). He estimated that he had earnt more than $1.5 million in the 1960s but had lost it all.
In 1964 he married Caroline LeCerf and they had a daughter called Samantha.
Stewart made a TV film for US television called Any Second now in 1969 and in 1971, The Virginian and in 1972 he played Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. In 1982 he played Prince Philip in The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana.
In the 1970s he retired and moved to Estepona, Malaga in Southern Spain. He invested in real estate and development with James Todesco of the Eldorado TV series.
He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1980 and was given three months to live. He had been a heavy smoker and his doctor said that if he had an operation there may be a chance to prolong his life. During the operation he had a lung and a rib removed and was then told he did not have cancer, but tuberculosis.
He published his autobiography called Sparks Fly Upwards in 1981 and spent the last 10 years of his life appearing in television roles.