"We women need to stand for each other. Women need to stand up against the things holding other women down."
All photos by Darragh Dandurand
Tracey Crisp, born Vivienne Rose, in project housing outside of London, is now tucked away in New York City. Once she was an aspiring actress in England's own 1960s version of Hollywood. She never became a household name like Brigitte Bardot or Marilyn Monroe; she never won the hearts of millions like either of the Hepburns did, nor was recognized as a sex symbol comparable to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor or Sophia Loren, but she tried.
"Only recently I realized I had a story to tell," Crisp says. "Living [in New York City], where everything is changing all the time, it made me realize that people are open to hearing about stories like mine." At age 73, she's starting her first book, detailing all the experiences she's endured—from sexual assault to more mundane forms of industry sexism—in her attempt to end up on the silver screen.
As she speaks, Crisp fiddles with the sleeves of her metallic gold topcoat. It rustles as she shifts her body and moves her legs delicately on the wide couch on which she's perched. Her Manhattan apartment feels like a museum dedicated to her own youth. It's decorated mostly by headshots and "cheesecake" prints of a big-eyed, black bikini-clad Tracey. In various boxes scattered throughout her home, she keeps a meticulously curated collection of newspaper clippings and posters featuring her face, accompanied by a few family photos and illustrations of horses and dogs here and there on surrounding shelves.
In her early 20s, Tracey worked as a secretary, "filing mail and typing notes," as she describes it. She had never considered modeling until a friend suggested it, and she quickly gained a modest degree of success. At age 22, she landed her first three supporting roles in motion pictures: The Projected Man, The Sandwich Man, and Press for Time, preparing her for what she dreamed would launch a fruitful career. Her perky, undeniably British accent does nothing to hide her disappointment when she says, blankly, "I try not to, but I have so many regrets."
Tracey begins leafing through unburied photo negatives, large-scale headshots, and scribble-covered manuscript pages, letting them all pile up on the coffee table before her. With a perfectly manicured blue nail, she points to one of the largest images: a slightly yellowed advertisement for Casino Royale from 1967. Her name is billed on the original poster about three-quarters of the way down.
While Tracey was working on Casino Royale, the original James Bond series comedy, she says a high-profile executive known for directing and producing several Hollywood classics began paying her unwanted attention. Time and again, she continues, she found herself singled out among the numerous women that paraded on set each day; the executive made it a routine of inviting Crisp on long drives after the shoots wrapped, took her out to dinner, and eventually invited her to his private home on a holiday weekend between location changes. "I still think that, if I had gone, he would have made me the leading lady in his next film," she says.
Sexual harassment like this was rampant, Crisp says, but it was normalized at the time. "People are speaking up now," she explains. "It didn't used to be like this. I don't even know how many times I got a pat on my bum, told I have a nice ass, kissed on set, groped at a dinner, pushed up on a wall, tried to be seduced."
In her late 20s, Crisp got married, and then again, a decade later, shortly after her first husband died. After her first marriage, she never went back to school, never professionally pursued acting or modeling again, and eventually wound up moving into New York City a short while after the death of her second husband. She wishes she had done more in the arts, something she's hoping to remedy by writing on her debut book as a septuagenarian. She also recognizes that there is instructional value in her story: "I just want it better for women," she says earnestly. "We women need to stand for each other. Women need to stand up against the things holding other women down."