’60s Spy Stories: Gila Golan

gilag3

Gila Golan in Our Man Flint (1966)

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: I love ’60s spy movies! They typically contain more style than substance and seem to delight in ridiculous plot lines, campy performances, sexual innuendoes and questionable morals but that’s part of their appeal. Next Monday viewers who tune into TCM in the evening hours will be treated to an assortment of “’60s Spy Stories” beginning with Arabesque (1966) at 8PM EST/5PM PST followed by The Ipcress File (1965), Our Man Flint (1966), Our Man in Havana (1959 -not exactly a ’60s production but it will fit right in), The Prize (1963) and Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead! (1966). I’ve written or referenced most of these films here at the Movie Morlocks in the past but today I wanted to focus my attention on one of my favorite female undercover agents, the gorgeous and deadly Gila Golan who takes on James Coburn in Our Man Flint.

Femme fatales are as important to ‘60s spy films as they are to Film Noir but one of the most frequent criticisms of the genre is its questionable depiction of women. While it’s true that they’re often treated as mere sexual objects in these espionage romps and are regularly introduced into the paper-thin plots to give the male leads something to ogle, the particulars are a bit more complex than that. If you watch enough of these panache productions you begin to notice how subversive many of them are. Sure, the women might dress in sexually suggestive clothing and use their feminine wiles to lure men to their doom, but they are frequently put in positions of power. They’re also regularly portrayed as being smarter or at least as capable as the men they encounter and occasionally save the day. If and when they decide to fall into the hero’s arms, they’re often the ones initiating the relationship and control much of the action.

In Our Man Flint the femme fatale is called Gila, as played by the sultry brunette Gila Golan (what a name!). We’re introduced to Gila while she’s aboard a submarine calmly watching the world slowly be destroyed by a series of natural disasters while wearing a fashionable assemble straight out of a 1966 issue of Vogue magazine. We soon learn that the climate calamities threatening the world are caused by a machine created by the nefarious Galaxy organization that employees Gila as the “Head of Section 4” and she’s been assigned to dispose of their biggest threat, “Master Spy” Derek Flint (James Coburn). As the film progresses, Gila attempts to annihilate Flint using various disguises, poisons, explosives and inept henchmen until she’s compelled to seduce him after the two secret agents finally meet face-to-face.

Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen the film you might want skip the rest of my post until you’ve had time to watch it.

Gila’s beauty and beguiling charm are her super weapon and she uses them to disarm Flint, imprison him and finally kill him. Since Flint is the suave and swinging hero of the movie he doesn’t actually die and manages to put his body in a state of suspended animation that makes others believe he’s dead. Gila is unaware of his deception but she barely bats a long eyelash at his passing and calmly reads a 008 spy novel (a parody of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books) next to Flint’s corpse while remarking on the ridiculous nature of the text. It’s all fun and games until Flint escapes from his coffin with an all-important gadget that can help him save the world from destruction. Unfortunately for our hero, he’s quickly captured again and forced to confront the male leaders of the Galaxy organization.

In the commotion that follows, one of Gila’s henchmen turns on her and claims she’s responsible for making a mess of Flint’s elimination because “she’s a woman.” Her bosses agree and decide that Gila is useless and must be transformed into a female “pleasure unit” forced to satisfy men’s desires. Naturally, Gila doesn’t appreciate the job demotion and after giving one guy a severe slap she quickly uses her wits to swipe Flint’s all-important gadget, which has been commandeered by her ex-bosses, and return it to him. Her action allows Flint to carry out his plan to destroy Galaxy but without her help it is highly unlikely that he’d be able to save the world. Gila is essential to Flint’s success.

gilag2
flint00
gilag4

Gila Golan & James Coburn in Our Man Flint (1966)

In real life, Gila Goran managed to be the hero of her own story that begins in Krakow, Poland during World War 2 where she was found by strangers at age two or three wandering the war-torn streets alone. The strangers kindly took her home assuming she must be a Jewish orphan due to her untidy appearance and hid her from German authorities. After the war they tried in vain to locate the nameless little girl’s family and finally handed her over to a Jewish organization attempting to reunite families with their lost children. Unfortunately, Golan’s family was never found (she ultimately named herself Gila Golan; Gila is the Hebrew word for joy and Golan is the name of a Levant mountain range) and she spent her youth growing up in Jewish war orphan homes in Czechoslovakia, France, and finally Israel. According to various interviews, she was a very shy and withdrawn child who preferred the company of animals to humans and enjoyed gardening. When it came time to leave the orphanage, she enrolled in a secretarial school in Tel-Aviv.

It seemed that Golan was destined to spend the rest of her life answering phones and typing memos but an encounter with a photographer changed all that. He asked if he could snap a few pictires of the pretty Polish secretary for La’Isha magazine that was sponsoring the annual Miss Israel beauty pageant. The magazine was so impressed that they asked to take more photos of Golan in swimwear and she was eventually selected to represent Israel in the 1960 Miss World pageant. Golan didn’t win but she did earn the 1st runner up spot and caught the attention of Israeli fashion designers and the Israel Trade Commission who asked her to become their model and spokeswoman in the United States. Golan spent the next four years  traveling across America working as a model and giving speeches in support of Israel. She also enrolled in drama school in New York and began studying English but she had trouble learning the language and overcoming her strong accent. Throughout all of this, Hollywood was watching.

In 1964 Golan encountered Otto Preminger after giving a speech for movie moguls and the director was so beguiled by her beauty and poise that he claimed she reminded him of Hedy Lamarr. Preminger expressed interest in working with her and asked Golan to come to his office but she declined claiming she was unprepared at the time. Opportunity knocked again when Columbia Pictures asked her to do a screen test, which caught the attention of studio executive Billy Gordon. Soon afterward Golan was featured in an issue of Life magazine, along with young Mia Farrow and Raquel Welch, as a part of a new crop of talented “Hollywood Starlets” destined for fame and fortune. The notorious gossip columnist Hedda Hopper also interviewed Golan claiming the up-and-coming actress was “the most beautiful brunette since Elizabeth Taylor.” The publicity led to hordes of fortune hunters crawling out of the woodwork alleging to be Golan’s long lost family members but none of them were able to identify her distinguishing birthmarks. This unwanted attention must have been deeply troubling and frustrating.

Golan’s first film role was in Stanley Kramer’s Ship of Fools (1965) playing a mousy young woman who worries that she’s unlovable. The Miss World contestant and high-fashion model was ill-fit for the role but she was thrilled to be working with her acting idol, Vivien Leigh, and Golan does what she can with the part. Sadly, papers reported that she was “snubbed” and “slighted” by screenwriter Abby Mann who threw an extravagant party for the cast and crew after filming ended but refused to invite the budding young actress because he “wasn’t happy with her performance.”

That’s one hell of a cold introduction to Hollywood and may help explain why Golan only made three films after costarring in Our Man Flint; Three on a Couch (1966), Catch as Catch Can (1967), and The Valley of Gwangi (1969). She also appeared in episodes of Kraft Suspense Theatre and I Dream of Jeannie but Hollywood didn’t seem to know what to do with the seductive, charming and funny young actress. Her heavy accent undoubtedly limited the roles she could take but Golan clearly had ability and the camera seemed to love her.

missworld1960
gilag00
golan0

Top: Gila Golan (far left) at the 1960 Miss World pageant
Center & Bottom: Various publicity stills

In 1969 Golan retired from acting after marrying Matthew “Matty” Rosenhaus, a member of Columbia Pictures board of directors and the studio’s biggest stock holder as well as a pharmaceuticals tycoon, well-known philanthropist, peace activist and honorary vice chairman of The Anti-Defamation League. The couple had three children together; including a daughter named Hedy (named after Hedy Lamarr?) and remained married until Rosenhaus’s death in 1980 at age 68. Since her retirement, Golan seems to have shied away from the spotlight, only resurfacing in 1984 to make an appearance in Sergio Martino’s sports comedy L’allenatore nel Pallone. I haven’t seen the film so I can’t comment on it but afterward Golan apparently started an investment business that keeps her occupied. In 2014 she resurfaced again making headlines when her New York apartment on Fifth Avenue at the Pierre Hotel sold for $10 million dollars. She currently lives quite comfortably in Florida with her third husband.

Hopefully someday a screenwriter will turn Gila Golan’s fascinating life into a movie of its own. In the meantime, don’t forget to tune into “’60s Spy Stories” airing on TCM January 25th!

Further reading:
- Spy Games: Stanley Donen’s ARABESQUE (1966)
- Spy Games: The Prize (1963)
- Spy Games: Bang! Bang! You’re Dead! (1966)

2 Responses ’60s Spy Stories: Gila Golan
Posted By Ben Martin : January 25, 2016 9:00 pm

I share your love of 60s spy movies but have a particular fondness of spoofs such as LAST OF THE SECRET AGENTS? and CARRY ON SPYING, strange foreign hybrids such as SUPER-ARGO VS. DIABOLICUS, and the wonky German-made Kommissar X films.
It’s so great to read about Gila Golan (so HOW do you pronounce that name), an actress who kind of put me off as a child after watching VALLEY OF THE GWANGI but later I realized it was the over-dubbing of her voice which mars the performance. (Probably another reason she left movies.) Now of course I am entranced by her, and even more so because of that amazing life story.

Posted By swac44 : January 27, 2016 3:50 pm

Funny, I first saw Ms. Golan in Valley of the Gwangi as well as a kid, but I guess I wasn’t overly concerned about her dubbing.

As for ’60s spy spoofs, I have a soft spot for Operation Kid Brother (a.k.a. Operation Double 007, a.k.a. O.K. Connery) which stars Sean Connery’s brother Neil, plus a bunch of 007 series actors like From Russia With Love‘s Daniela Bianchi (always my favourite “Bond girl”), Thunderball‘s Adolfo Celi, and mainstays Bernard “M” Lee and Lois “Moneypenny” Maxwell. Dopey as all get out, but hey, it’s got a great Ennio Morricone theme song, which you can hear in the background of this trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jckMZB854fs

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.