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A Showgirl’s Scandal Is News Once More

April 16, 1989

LONDON (AP) _ Christine Keeler recalled explaining events more than a quarter-century old to her teen-age son, Seymour.

″Years ago, I did say to Seymour, ’You know, when I was younger, I was more beautiful, and I did some naughty things occasionally, if I wanted to. And I let somebody manipulate me, if I wanted them to. But I knew that was wrong, and I didn’t do it for very long.‴

But history has a tenacious memory, and Keeler is once again big news. The former British showgirl whose liaisons with war minister John Profumo and a Soviet naval attache rocked Harold Macmillan’s government in 1963 is at the center of a new movie and book, both called ″Scandal.″

″I’ve finally got the truth out, which I’ve been trying to do for a long time,″ said Keeler, who was 19 when osteopath Stephen Ward, then her friend and mentor, introduced her to Profumo at a party at Lord Astor’s Cliveden estate in July 1961.

A short affair ensued, as did a complex scenario mixing sex, race, spies, and politics that made the working-class Keeler an enduring household name.

Twenty-eight years later, Keeler’s notoriety is undimmed, even if her black hair has started going gray and her skin now looks dry and parched. She went unrecognized during a lunch interview with The Associated Press and requested that no photographer be present.

The film ″Scandal,″ directed by Michael Caton-Jones, closes the American Film Institute/Los Angeles 1989 festival on April 27 and opens commercially across the United States the following day.

Joanne Whalley-Kilmer plays Keeler opposite John Hurt as the doomed Ward, who died of a drug overdose in 1963. That was the same year Profumo, played by Ian McKellen, resigned from Macmillan’s Conservative Cabinet, helping to ensure the party’s subsequent loss in the 1964 elections.

Keeler’s book ″Scandal″ has its American publication in late May or early June by St. Martin’s Press.

In conversation the day prior to a two-week promotional tour of the United States, Keeler expressed mixed feelings about living off her past.

″I don’t want it to come across that I did it all for the money, the film and everything. I’m right in the middle of (the story), aren’t I? I can’t just suddenly stop.″

But minutes later, bitterness set in.

″I’ve had it here (in Britain), I tell you. I seem to have taken all the shame and the blame,″ she said, picking at her avocado and bacon salad and smoking cigarettes. ″I owe this country nothing for one reason: What have they ever done for me?″

Keeler was once a darling of high society, watched over by Ward and adored not only by Profumo but by Soviet Navy Capt. Eugene Ivanov and two rival lovers, Johnnie Edgecombe and Aloysius ″Lucky″ Gordon.

Now, she lives in low-income, high-rise housing. She is desperate to move, perhaps to Australia.

She has one son by each of her yearlong marriages: Seymour, 17, a student and would-be actor; and Jimmy, 23, a computer engineer who lives with Keeler’s 65-year-old mother in Wokingham, west of London.

Keeler said she was glad about the movie ″Scandal″ because it provided a platform for her book.

″I’d never have gotten the book out if there hadn’t been a film being made. To me, it’s an umbrella to be able to come out with the truth. It protects me, that film... It has put me up the social ladder a couple of rungs.″

She spoke admiringly of 25 year-old Joanne Whalley-Kilmer: ″I couldn’t take my eyes off Joanne not because she was playing me - I’ve heard other people say that - but because she’s so brilliant; she was so good.″

But Keeler said she was ″just a bit disappointed″ by John Hurt’s widely acclaimed performance as Ward: ″He was too good-looking; Stephen was more pompous.″

She rejected claims that Ward was a scapegoat, a victim of the establishment that resented his pretensions.

″Stephen shouldn’t have died in such a terrible way; he should have gone to prison for being a spy,″ she said. ″He was up to no good ... he was a very dangerous man.″

And she dismissed sentimental notions of the swinging 1960s.

″It’s rubbish: My mother in the war (World War II) had a ball; my son Seymour, he has a ball. It really makes me laugh the way people say the swinging ’60s.″

″It’s still going on,″ she said.

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