Italy's Lost Bellissima Actress, Margie Newton, Re-Appears in The Next Reel
Just before rising Italian star Margie Newton was set to take on Hollywood, she vanished from the public eye. What happened? Where did she go? Is she coming back?
Do you recognize the name Margie Newton? In the USA only a select number of film fans would likely respond in the affirmative. Even fewer would know her beyond the few films she starred in that have made a splash on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Newton is an Italian actress, model and sex symbol, who has graced the cover of many magazines and has starred in over 30 movies and television shows in multiple countries. She is also a musician, visual artist, animal lover, yoga instructor and the thing she is most proud of, a mother.
Newton's career and personal life have both had some remarkably strange ups and downs. She starred in both a-list and b-list films, far beyond her upstaging role in Virus (1980) and her part opposite Lou Ferrigno in The Adventures of Hercules II (1985). Italian films led to English language films, including her role in 1990's Quiet Days in Clichy, opposite Andrew McCarthy (just after his turns in Less than Zero and Weekend at Bernie's). Then, almost as soon as she moved to America to try her luck in Hollywood, she inexplicably disappeared from the public eye. Current information on this multi-talented lady has been scarce since she, as she puts it, “withdrew” from film. I recently caught up with Newton to ask for her story in her own words.
I first became familiar with Newton from her lead role in the Italian Zombie Horror movie, Virus (released in the United States as Hell of the Living Dead) once the wonders of Digital Versatile Discs or “DVDs” (I'm sure your parents or grandparents can tell you what those were) made that possible after its release in 2002. Hell of the Living Dead is not exactly what you would call an “excellent movie” (though it has become a cult classic for B-Movie aficionados). Its saving grace, however, was its star, Margit Evelyn Newton, who made her character Lia a bright spot in a dark film. Sure, she was beautiful, but beyond this, she was acting, and acting very well. In a cast full of over-the-top and even clowning performances, Newton was subtle, even in her moments of comic relief, direct in her dramatic scenes and convincing in her sequences of abject terror.
The good acting wasn't limited to this surprise achievement in an unlikely film. In fact, the actress who was also credited as “Margi Newton”, “Margi Evelyn Newton”, “Margi Eveline Newton” and “Margie Moreau” always delivered a quality performance in any film by any name. “Those are all names that had been given to me by my agent,” Newton says. “At the beginning I wasn't sure what stage name to take.” Much like The Beatles, Newton found a revelation on a trip to India in 1982. “An Indian that knew how to read the name advised me to call myself Margie Newton. He told me I would have success worldwide.”
This prediction came true after a time; however, success wasn't immediate for the middle class daughter of two working parents. One of five children, Newton was born in the Northern Italian town of Bolzano and was sent to boarding school where she was treated as “just a number”. Although she describes her childhood as “not easy”, it was during this time that she first fell in love with the Arts. At eight years of age, she discovered what she calls “my first love”, the drums. Newton played percussion in a band from age 15 to 18, and even appeared on television, performing for viewers of channel Rai 1. “The cinema arrived after. I really miss the drums. You never forget your first love.”
While attending both the Academy of Fine Arts and the Academy of Costume and Fashion in Italy, Newton was invited to join the fashion models being presented for advertisements. This led to her first modeling jobs which, in turn, led to the beginning of her movie career. “I was very lucky that I immediately began as a co-star in La vedova del trullo”, a 1979 Italian comedy. As lucky as she considered herself to be, this wasn't enough for her to catch the acting bug. Devoting herself only to acting took time and for the first four years divided her time between work in movies and in both fashion shows and advertisements. ”I said that [La vedova del Trullo] was my first and last film in this business. Then I continued and I made about thirty or so between film and television films.” Famous last words.
In 1980, Newton starred in three films beginning with the crime drama Mafia, una legge che non perdona (The Iron Hand of the Mafia) in which she choreographed her memorable fight scene with co-star Malisa Longo (along with director Gordon Mitchell and Longo herself). This was followed by her first English language film The Last Hunter, where she played the pivotal supporting role of Carol. “I remember this film with great joy because this [co-starred] Tisa Farrow. My favorite actress at the time was her sister Mia Farrow.” Although she was later dubbed, Newton spoke all her lines in English on set in both The Last Hunter and her last film of the year, the film she would become most famous for in the United States: Virus.
Virus (or Hell of the Living Dead) is a gory zombie apocalypse movie that borrows heavily from 1978's Dawn of the Dead. Newton's role of reporter Lia Rousseau might have been intended by writer Claudio Fragasso and director Bruno Mattei (both of whom are now well known for their exploitation films) to be the damsel in distress who added little more than screams and gratuitous nudity to the film. Newton, however, played the role as a professional reporter, not as “eye candy”, and delivered the best performance of the film. In her words, “I tried on all my films to give the maximum, to work with passion.” This includes a scene in which Lia removes her clothing, applies aboriginal body paints, and meets with the natives of New Guinea in order to secure a place for her team to hide from the zombie hoards. This was not her first nude scene on film, but this scene was filmed outdoors and took up a relatively large amount of screen time.
Margie Newton in Virus (1980)
“I was very young when I appeared in Virus. It was the first time that I had a responsibility so great. I was the protagonist,” Newton recalls. “I remember that I was very timid in the scene with the indigenous people. Because of this I did have everyone removed from the set, and only the indispensable people remained. We shot [that scene] in one day. My boyfriend at the time was on set with me and helped me to ward off the curious.“
In spite of her shyness about this scene, Newton has fond memories of the action-packed film. “It was a wonderful experience, very intense. I went as much as 48 hours without sleep, day and night. In some of the scenes it can be seen that I had shadows under my eyes and I was very tired.” Newton is realistic, but kind about the final product. “Obviously seeing it now, I would change some things. But that is okay. Virus has helped me get more work.”
In fact, the exploitative zombie film helped Newton to secure the role she is perhaps best known for in her home country. “I realize that Virus has given me great popularity abroad. In Italy I am known more for the film with [actor and director] Alberto Sordi: In viaggio con papà.”, from 1982. Not released in the USA, the film's title is best translated as “Journey with Dad” and features Newton as Billy, a healer who works with the deaf. “Billy was very fun role. The great Alberto Sordi chose me to do this dubious role. It took a great deal of emotion to work with the deaf and I kind of consider [Sordi] my teacher. Even though the role was not large, I was on the set for almost the entire film and I learned a lot. Obviously I prefer lead roles but I also grow [my career] with minor parts.”
“Grow” may be the operative word in one of the strangest stories of Newton's career. It started with her next movie, L'Ultimo Guerrio (aka: The Final Executioner), a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller from 1984. As in all her performances, Newton gave her all as the villainous “Diane” and the movie made a minor impact. Five years later in 1989, The Final Executioner “grew” into another film, Il giustiziere del Bronx (The Bronx Executioner). No, this was not a sequel, but almost the exact same movie released again with a few newly shot scenes and a new, silly subplot relating to the entire cast being Terminator-like androids.
The only performer that appeared in both the new and old scenes was Newton, thus making her character (now renamed “Margie” for an overdose of obviousness) the lead. However, Newton had a drastically different hairstyle and different makeup and even a slightly different weight in scenes that were purported to take place seconds apart. Literally 1989 Margie would walk across the room and 1984 Margie would take over in a single camera cut, amounting to a second of story time. This happened not once, but through this entire continuity challenged film.
Although the spritely and optimistic Newton generally says “I love all my films,” her memories of this experience points to a very rare exception. “I learned about this many years later, because in Italy they weren't released. I am a a little bit angry for this.” Newton explains. “I know that from one film they made two. I didn't agree [with this decision]. They had asked me to shoot some close-ups because they wanted to do the second film.” A small amount of footage of Newton was shot, but soon the deal turned rotten when she realized what the actual plan was. As Newton remembers, “It did not seem right that the manufacturer with one day of close-ups, plus without paying me, would make another movie. Unfortunately, it was done without my permission.”
Ironically, it is this second, humorously inconsistent version that is more easily obtainable. The Bronx Executioner is available on both DVD and is streaming online now. This B-Mystery is solved, but far too late for Newton to benefit from it. “I have never seen either of these movies,” she says.
Luckily her career pressed on in the meantime and after the Bronx started showing. The internationally distributed (but critically reviled) sequel The Adventures of Hercules II (in which she played the goddess Aphrodite) literally put her name up in lights in 1985. The 1989 Italian comedy Ho vinto la lotteria di Capodanno (“I Won the New Year's Lottery”) in which Newton played Arcangela, was mostly seen in Italy, but has such a large following there that it remains another of her best known works.
Also in 1989 came La Puritana (aka: Act of Revenge and Scorpion's Kiss). No longer the young actress she was in La vedova del trullo and Virus, the still-beautiful Newton plays a Annabella Allori, widowed vixen who takes revenge on the people who caused her husband's death. Newton gives one of her best performances here as the wounded, deceptive huntress who cries real tears in her private moments, but puts on a range of emotions to entrap and punish each villain in turn. Unfortunately, La Puritana never received a proper release in the United States. But Newton was on her way there, anyway.
Newton starred opposite Andrew McCarthy in Jours tranquilles à Clichy (aka: Quiet Days in Clichy), the 1990 French art film in which McCarthy played writer Henry Miller. “I did scenes with Andrew McCarthy, beautiful memory. My scenes were filmed in Tuscany. We did scenes of courtship and sex but made with a lot of class.” At the time, Clichy seemed to be the stepping stone to America that the Italian press had speculated that she would take for some time. As early as her July 1984 interview with Italy's Playmen, Newton was pressed for confirmation that she was to go to California. At that time she remained secretive of her plans “to avoid bad luck”.
For years the tabloids and other Italian press had run stories on \Newton from the usual celebrity coverage to the hyper-sexualized articles in men's magazines to some of the most extreme speculations. The February 1987 issue of Italy's Gin Fizz went so far as to link Newton to a Saudi Arabian arms-dealer and businessman Adnan Khashoggi, claiming that he was funding an English language remake of the Marilyn Monroe film Niagara with Newton in the lead. Newton denies the connection. “It was not that I knew Khashoggi but Lory Del Santo.” Newton explains. Del Santo was the Italian Actress and Television personality who dated both Khashoggi and rock star Eric Clapton (and was the mother of Clapton's son Connor). “Do not be confused,” Newton adds politely.
While the magazines did confuse facts much of the time, their speculation was correct on her Hollywood ambitions, albeit not for the length of time they, or Newton might have expected. “After [Quiet Days in Clichy] I went to America,” she admits, but elaborates on why the move was cut short. “I was already engaged to the man who became my husband and because of this, we returned from America after two months and I gave up my career in America.“
It wasn't just America that Newton disappeared from, but from Italian screens,as well. After a 1991 episode of the TV series Classe Di Ferro, the actress completely retreated from acting, leaving those who discovered her career after her retirement wondering why. Even interviews with her colleagues reflected a mystery. In the 2002 documentary Hell Rats of the Living Dead, director Bruno Mattei indicated Newton was no longer acting but that “we still talk.” In an interview with the online magazine Terrorverlag from the same year, co-star Malissa Longo said of Newton, “I don't know what she does now.”
The answer was not burnout, problems in Hollywood or a lack of opportunities (Newton indicates that she still received offers during this time). The answer was her newest love. “I decided to become a mother in 1992 and thus was born my daughter Valentina. I was always with her and I grew up,” Newton tells me with great pride. “I am a very protective mommy towards my daughter Valentina. I try to educate my daughter right by setting a good example with my own behavior.”
The Margie Newton of today has shifted her interests but has not slowed down or become any kind of recluse. She is playful and friendly in her conversations and is surprisingly much more open about her past, present and future than I would have expected from an actress who withdrew from the public eye so entirely. However, while Newton withdrew from acting for her little girl, she certainly did not withdraw from the Arts entirely. “I love Art in all its forms,” Newton says. In fact, her hiatus from film allowed her to resume her love of painting (she studied Art History and Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts before her career started). This is no mere hobby for her spare time. The paintings she has shared with me are professional, impressionistic and surprisingly out of the ordinary, reflecting her observant and worldly view, partially informed by her love of Yoga. “In 2007 I made the Academy of Ananda Yoga and I became teacher of Yoga. As you can see I do not get bored.”
Newton is currently “very happy single” and is “very selective” in her private life, where Valentina still comes first. When it comes to her career, she has never regretted her hiatus. “Even though my marriage failed, I am glad I made this decision because I have a marvelous daughter.” But with her daughter growing up and delving into modeling herself, Newton admits “I really miss the cinema and I hope that I get the opportunity to start all over again.”
While never second guessing her time away from the screen, Newton does look back on her career with a certain longing nostalgia. “All the actors and actresses with whom I worked were wonderful. When you make a film one can become [part of] a great family and each time that a film ended I was saddened.” Still, she is quick to add “I want to look forward because the movies that I will see there are the ones that I will make in the future.”
DVD, Blu Ray and streaming video are all less expensive to make and distribute than VHS or film, and this new boom has made more and more films available to new audiences. Margie Newton, the actress who gave her all to every role, regardless of the size of the role or the genre of the film, now has more fans worldwide than she did at her most prolific. I sought her out because I knew she had stories to tell that many of us wanted to hear. I'm pleased to report that her passion is still there and there are new chapters to her story still being written. If you are still unfamiliar with the name, take a look at some of her films. The rest of us will be looking to see her in the Next Reel.