“I have met my match. We fight all the time, but it’s a marvelous, marvelous relationship,” purred British actress Diana Rigg last year when she married Israeli painter Menachem Gueffen. Then, after a slight stage pause, she added, “I give the marriage a year.”
The Tabasco-tongued star’s prediction proved as accurate as the karate chops she administered playing counterspy Emma Peel on TV’s The Avengers. After 11 months of bliss and bickering, the tempestuous couple last month publicly announced a trial separation. “There’s no rancor between us,” she declared. “I take the entire blame. I suppose it’s due to my bloody awful independence.”
The separation is more likely based on a more complicated if familiar scenario. Diana, at 35, is a theatrical superstar, and it rankled Menachem’s vain and somewhat macho 44-year-old ego to be known as Mr. Diana Rigg, especially in his profession. DIANA RIGG’S HUSBAND STAGES A SHOW, headlined Art & Antiques Weekly magazine last winter when Gueffen put on a one-man exhibit in Mayfair. “The artist is the husband of Diana Rigg,” reported a columnist, “and the sales were not altogether discouraged by the fact that Miss Rigg had her spouse’s price list tucked in her cleavage.” Menachem snorted that “more celebrities attended a show I staged before we’d even met.” And it is a fact that his oils fetch up to $5,000.
The hurricane lamps were lit even before the art opening. Diana had been on record in countless interviews over the years about her unsuitability for marriage. “Quite honestly, I’d prefer living with someone,” she would explain. “It’s a greater discipline than being married, because you know you can up and go at any time.” Diana had up and gone after living with a married man, director Philip Saville, for eight years just prior to meeting Menachem. Now that she has at least temporarily split with the artist, Philip is back on the carousel, phoning her supportively every day. “I expected her marriage to crack up,” he says. “But I’m genuinely sorry it has happened.” As for his own reemergence, Saville says, “when a woman has been in your life a long time, she never really leaves it. I hope to be seeing her often, but I have no plans to marry her.”
Rigg and Gueffen first met at a London dinner party, and Menachem recalls, “It was not an immediate attraction, as if I wanted to grab her behind the bushes. We talked about Israel and her leaky roof.” Diana was the huntress. She drove the artist home after the party, and subsequently visited Israel with him. During a lovers’ quarrel, Menachem hurled her luggage out the window of a Tel Aviv hotel and so endeared himself that she proposed to him on the return flight. And, thus, Diana, born in Yorkshire and reared in India, who planned to become a missionary, married Menachem, born of Polish parents in Haifa, who at 18 was wounded in the Jewish underground army, later studied art in Paris, and was twice previously married.
The actress and the artist moved into Diana’s semidetached in the Barnes section of southwest London. Rigg, never very domestic, continued to leave management of the antique-cluttered house and overgrown rose garden to her longtime housekeeper. Diana and Menachem generally slept to 11, read, played backgammon and watched TV. Whatever their difficulties, sexual hang-ups were likely not among them. Diana delivers bra-less obiter dicta on the subject as freely as Jane Fonda or Vanessa Redgrave philosophizes about politics. “With me,” Diana says, “intellectual excitement is the strongest attraction—next to sexual excitement.” As early as 17, as a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, she found the ambiance too rarefied, “nothing to do with real life,” and she resorted to “divers lovers” to taste reality. Gueffen—whose work reflects his Israeli and French training and the influence of art nouveau and Matisse—was fixated on one subject. “I use women,” he says, “like Cézanne used apples.” He considers beauties poor models “because they are too concerned with how they look.” He did only a few sketches of Diana.
On the subject of a family, Diana is ambivalent. “I desperately want children,” she says, “but it is important that they should have love, care and attention—and I care very much about my work. I see the guilt of working actresses with children. Some manage, but others are tugged dreadfully.” Neither party to the separation is having career problems to complicate matters. “It sounds pompous,” Gueffen says, “but I am progressing toward a new form of figurative art.” If he doesn’t make it he has a nice new sideline of shooting TV commercials for cigars. Rigg is at the top of her stage reputation. National Theatre Director Peter Hall calls her “a superb instrument who, like Olivier, has the technical and emotional equipment to jump tracks without question.” She concedes that she has been derailed to date in films (e.g., Theatre of Blood with Vincent Price) and TV (her embarrassing Diana series last season on NBC) because of her careless selection—”just doing it for a giggle and the money.”
Henceforth, she says, “I have to apply the standard of literacy of my stage work to the rest. I’ll have to be more choosy.” As for other aspects of her future, she reflects, “You learn something from every man in your life, be he a director or a lover. I hope my capacity to love and be loved is infinite. But I won’t subscribe to anything expected of me or held socially necessary. I can be myself without being a missus.”