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Charlotte Rampling Moves from An S-M Shocker to Stardom

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It is a schoolyard and pop psych assumption that ministers’ daughters have an insatiable need to become notable or notorious, but what about military brats? The oncoming movie stars of today include Army offspring like Faye Dunaway and Valerie Perrine, and, from the Air Force, black pictures’ Pam (Coffy) Grier. Now a British colonel’s daughter, Charlotte Rampling, has become the hottest star in Europe and has her gray-green eyes fixed on the States.

Charlie, as her friends call her, was Lynn Redgrave’s bitchy roommate in Georgy Girl and the doomed wife of one of the decadents in The Damned. But it was not so much a film as a publicity still that has finally established the name of Rampling in America. The photograph shows her sporting a Nazi cap and black leather gloves cupping her bare bosom in the most provocative movie poster since the 1950s, when Brigitte Bardot turned bottoms up for And God Created Woman. This time the promoter is Joe Levine, and the picture is his latest Italian import, The Night Porter. In it Rampling plays a former concentration camp inmate who postwar resumes a sadomasochistic affair with her ex-SS officer guard (Dirk Bogarde). The movie is rated “R,” only because “X” does not stand for exploitive or execrable. But standards aside, Night Porter has become the No. 1 grosser in Europe and, in the U.S., the latest Tango at the turnstiles.

Though even the Playboy reviewer said “Yecch,” Rampling found that since the picture, “I’ve been offered a variety of extraordinary women’s roles. Perverse, degenerate, frightening.” She also got her first truly respectable lead—in a picture once consigned for Audrey Hepburn’s comeback, Jackpot, opposite Richard Burton and James Coburn. It is being shot in Nice.

“Now that success is here,” Charlotte philosophizes at 29, “I’m more mature and developed than I might otherwise have been.” Part of the maturation came following her father, whose NATO career carried the family all over the continent and forced her to learn five languages. The real emotional turning point came one tragic day when her younger sister died of a brain hemorrhage in Argentina and her mother suffered a stroke in England. “I had to regain my faith in normality so I decided to go to the other side of the world,” recalls Charlotte. She dropped out of films for almost a year, meditating in Afghanistan and the East, eventually ending up in a Tibetan-style monastery in Scotland.

When she returned to England and films, Rampling moved in with her present husband, Brian Southcombe, a press agent, and his roommate, a well-known British male model, Randall Lawrence. “I’d gone through an unhappy love affair and didn’t have anything—no clothes, nowhere to live. Brian was about my only friend and he took me in,” Charlotte explains. “It’s not easy in this business to have friends, because everybody is on the make.” The ménage à trois became a bit much, even for swinging London, when Charlotte announced to the press she had decided to marry but had trouble choosing between Lawrence and Southcombe. As it evolved Lawrence became godfather to Charlotte’s son, Barnaby, born six months after her marriage to Southcombe. “I needed both of them at the time, which is difficult to explain, though I didn’t mean to shock,” confesses Charlotte. “I was just being honest with myself.”

Charlotte hopes to find time to write a book about her child, explaining how even an apparently barren woman—she had not menstruated for five years and was told she could never conceive—can sometimes manage to become pregnant through sheer willpower and self-psychoanalysis. “My difficulty was probably all in the mind,” Charlotte believes. “I knew that the only way to have a complete relationship with my husband was to make it a threesome again, not with Randy but with a child. We are both intensely independent, and we needed a baby to keep us together. A woman in the unfortunate position I was in then must want a baby more than anything else in the world. I did.”

Clearly, for all her new maturity, Charlotte has been a troubling child to her pukka parents. Her dad (who prior to his military career won a gold medal on the 400-meter British relay team in the 1936 Olympics) has boycotted her films. Her mother has loyally tried to see them all and in a perhaps inappropriate but affecting Anglo expression concludes, “Charlotte is holy good.”