|Born||Anthony Maitland Steel
21 May 1920
London, England, UK
|Died||21 March 2001
Northwood, Middlesex, England, UK
|Juanita Forbes (1949-1954)
Anita Ekberg (1956-1959)
Johanna Melcher (1964-2001)
Patricia Roc (one son)Ann Hanson (one daughter)
Anthony Maitland Steel (21 May 1920 - 21 March 2001) was an English actor and singer best known for his appearances in British war films of the 1950s such as The Wooden Horse (1950), and his marriage to Anita Ekberg. He was described as "a glorious throwback to the Golden Age of Empire... the perfect imperial actor, born out of his time, blue-eyed, square-jawed, clean-cut." As another writer put it, "whenever a chunky dependable hero was required to portray grace under pressure in wartime or the concerns of a game warden in a remote corner of the empire, Steel was sure to be called upon."
Anthony Steel was born in Chelsea, the son of an Indian army officer, Edward (1897-1965), who later became an actor himself. Steel spent most of his early childhood in India (in Lahore) and was educated at Alexander House Prep School, Broadstairs, Kent until he was fourteen. He continued his studies at home with a tutor before attending Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. 
Steel had only done a year at Cambridge when the Second World War broke out. He enlisted in the Grenadier Guards aged 18 and was evacuated from Dunkirk in May 1940. He received a commission and served in the Middle East where he was badly injured on patrol. He trained as a parachutist, and made nine operational jumps. He finished the war with the rank of major.
On demobilisation Steel decided to become an actor. For a time he worked with a pick and shovel at Clapham Junction for £6 a week. He began to get some parts on stage, including appearing opposite Margaret Lockwood in Roses for Her Pillow, a stage version of the film Once Upon a Dream which was being given a special performance by Rank contract artists. He was dating a niece of J. Arthur Rank who introduced Steel to her uncle at a party. Rank subsequently signed the actor to a long-term contract with his company.
Steel was trained at Rank's "charm school" and given a slow buildup with small parts in several films, starting with Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948). He also appeared in A Piece of Cake (1948), Portrait from Life (1948), Once Upon a Dream (1949), Marry Me! (1949), Quartet (1948), The Blue Lamp (1949), Trottie True (1949), Poet's Pub (1949), Don't Ever Leave Me (1949), Helter Skelter (1949), Christopher Columbus (1949), and The Chiltern Hundreds (1949). He also acted on stage in repertory at Aldershot and Worthington.
Steel's roles up until then had been essentially bit parts. His first big break was being cast as one of three British POWs who escape from a camp in The Wooden Horse (1950). This film, based on a true story, was the third most popular film at the British box office in 1950 and established Steel as a leading man. Director Jack Lee said that the actor "was fine to work with, just a physical type, a young chap who could do certain things, though he didn't have much acting to do in this." He was paid £15 a week. "[Co star] Leo Genn was getting thousands," Steel recalled. "It made me pretty mad."
Steel was cast as the romantic male lead in The Mudlark (1950), a Hollywood film starring Irene Dunne being shot in London. He had a small part in the comedy Laughter in Paradise (1951) then supported another Hollywood name, Bette Davis in the thriller, Another Man's Poison (1951).
Steel's next big break was being cast as a game park warden inspired by Mervyn Cowie in Where No Vultures Fly (1951), shot mostly on location in Kenya. This was the most popular British movie of the year and the Royal Command Performance Film for 1951, confirming Steel's status as a genuine box office draw. In 1952 British exhibitors voted him the fourth most popular British star and he was seen as the successor to Stewart Granger.
He co-starred with Jack Warner in a thriller directed by Lewis Gilbert, Emergency Call (1952). Rank tried Steel in a comedy, Something Money Can't Buy (1952), with Patricia Roc but the public response was not enthusiastic. They put him back in uniform in The Planter's Wife (1952), set during the Malayan Emergency. It was the sixth most popular film of 1952 in Britain, although Steel's part was a relatively minor one in support of Jack Hawkins and Claudette Colbert.
He again supported two stars in a military story when he appeared in Malta Story (1953), with Hawkins and Alec Guinness. It was the fourth most popular film of the year in Britain in 1953. Hollywood called in the form of Warner Bros, who cast him in support of Errol Flynn in the British-shot swashbuckler The Master of Ballantrae (1953); it was a minor success.
Also moderately popular was Albert R.N. (1952), reuniting Steel with Jack Warner and Lewis Gilbert in another World War Two POW film. He starred in a sequel to Where No Vultures Fly, West of Zanzibar (1954). It was not as successful as the first movie although Steel had an unexpected hit record when he recorded a version of the title track.
The Sea Shall Not Have Them (1954) was another war film from Gilbert, co-starring Dirk Bogarde and Michael Redgrave. Out of the Clouds (1955) was an ensemble movie set at London airport, not was well received as Steel's war movies.
In 1954 Steel and Dirk Bogarde were the highest paid actors with the Rank Organisation with a reported salary of £15,000 a film. Still, he was not happy with his roles. "In America, they build their male stars by starring them opposite exciting women," he said. "What do they give me? Elephants, crocodiles and giraffes." However, in Passage Home he was cast opposite Diane Cilento. "At last I can prove that I have blood in my veins and can make love to a woman," said Steel. "You know how the public identify themselves with the stars. Well, they think that an actor who gets the girl all the time -- especially if she is very glamorous -- must really have something."
He was given the starring part in Storm Over the Nile (1956), an almost shot-for-shot remake of The Four Feathers (1939) but a solid hit in Britain. The Black Tent (1956) was another war movie, set in Northern Africa during World War Two. Checkpoint (1956) was a change of pace, a racing-car thriller partly shot in Italy for director Ralph Thomas.
In 1956 Steel married Swedish actress Anita Ekberg and together they moved to Hollywood, with mixed results. He broke his contract with the Rank Organisation - for whom he was meant to star in The Secret Place (1957) - received bad publicity for fighting with Ekberg and attacking paparazzi, and was arrested twice for drunk driving. During his time in Hollywood he appeared in one film, the little-seen Valerie (1957). It was announced he would be in a film to be made in Spain, Tetuan, but this did not come to fruition.
Steel returned to Britain but was unable to regain his earlier popularity. He had the lead in a courtroom drama, A Question of Adultery (1958), and supported Stewart Granger in a Hollywood-financed adventure tale shot partly in India, Harry Black (1958).
He appeared in a film directed by Michael Powell, Honeymoon (1959), but it was one of Powell's least known works. John Davis, head of the Rank Organisation was known to be furious about Steel having left the company earlier after the support they had given him, and this was thought to have harmed his chances at reviving his career. Steel was also hurt that the sort of war films in which he had made his name were going out of fashion.
In 1960 Steel moved to Rome and lived there for the next decade. He starred off appearing - like many fading stars - in a peplum, Revenge of the Barbarians (1960) - and a swashbuckler, Tiger of the Seven Seas (1962). His roles grew smaller and less prestigious, such as appearing as Sir Stephen in the Just Jaeckin film adaptation of Story of O (1975).
By the 1970s he had returned to Britain where he appeared in TV shows such as Bergerac, The Professionals, Robin of Sherwood and Crossroads. He made stage tours in the 1980s and his last role was in Cinderella, a pantomime at Birmingham's Alex Theatre in 1989. He lived for a number of years in a tiny flat in Northolt, west London. His then agent, David Daly, said that:
He was a very private man. He just decided that he would withdraw. He found a place to live and simply went into hiding. In some ways, it was not unlike him; if he decided that things weren't right, he would withdraw into himself and not contact anybody.
In 1995 John Mills tried to rehouse him through the Actors Benevolent Fund but Steel refused. Steel told a journalist in 1997:
This is a very difficult time for me. You can see that by where I'm living. I know a lot of people are trying to find out where I am, but to be honest that's how I want it. I want to be left alone. I don't want to see any of my old friends from my old life. I've been quite ill lately and it's too much for me to go back to it all now.Of course I have regrets, but there is nothing anyone can do to change the past. I just want to get on with it.
Steel was married three times:
Steel had an affair with actress Patricia Roc in 1952 while they were co-starring in Something Money Can't Buy, resulting in a son, Michael. Both Steel and Roc were married at the time, he to Juanita Forbes and she to André Thomas, but the latter was unable to have children, so Thomas agreed to bring up Michael as his own.
Steel, then 35, was engaged to his secretary, Anne Hanson, age 20, in 1954. They had one daughter, Penelope Steel.
When he wasn't drunk he was charming and cultured, intelligent, a sense of humour. Too bad he got on that road. He would start arguments with anybody after one drink too much and then he would get violent."
At the height of his career, British exhibitors voted Steel among the most popular local stars in the country.