May Britt, born Maybritt Wilkens, is a Swedish actor who began her career with Italian films and later starred in some of the most notable Hollywood films, such as ‘War and Peace.’ Born and raised near Stockholm, Sweden, she initially worked as a photographer’s assistant. Italian producer Carlo Ponti and director Mario Soldati chose her for their next film, and she moved to Rome to work in the Italian film industry. Later, she relocated to Hollywood. During the late 1950s, she starred in films such as ‘The Young Lions,’ ‘The Hunters,’ and ‘The Blue Angel.’ Her marriage to Sammy Davis Jr. proved quite controversial, as interracial marriages were still considered illegal in 31 states at that time. Later, she stopped working in films and devoted her entire time to her family and children. Britt made a comeback in 1976, with the horror film ‘Haunts.’ She then guest-starred in a few TV series. Britt married thrice. Her third husband, Lennart Ringquist, died in 2017. She currently stays in California and spends her days indulging in hobbies such as painting.
Childhood & Early Life
Britt was born on March 22, 1934, in Lidingö, Stockholm County, Sweden, to Ernst Hugo Brigg-Wilkens, a postal clerk, and his wife, Hillevi Adela Valentina Wilkens. She has a younger sister, Margot.
During her teenage years, Britt began working as a photographer’s laboratory assistant in her native Stockholm suburb. Italian producer Carlo Ponti and director Mario Soldati needed a blonde girl for their next movie. Thus, they visited the photographer’s studio in search of pictures of models. Instead, they selected Britt for the role. She thus moved to Rome with her mother.
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Britt made her film debut in 1952, with the film ‘Yolanda/Jolanda, the Daughter of the Black Corsair.’ Some references record ‘Le Infideli / The Unfaithful’ as her debut film. The two initial movies were followed by several Italian films, which were released during the early 1950s. Most of these were ‘Cinecittá Productions’ films, such as ‘Fatal Desire,’ ‘La Lupa’ (1953), ‘The Ship of Condemned Women’ (1953), ‘L’ultimo amante’ (1955), and ‘Revelation’ (1955).
In 1956, Britt appeared as ‘Sonia Restova’ in her first English-language movie, the American–Italian war epic ‘War and Peace.’ During the latter part of the 1950s, she moved to Hollywood and signed a contract with ‘20th Century Fox.’ She starred as a leading lady in several of their productions, such as the World War II film ‘The Young Lions’ (1958, with Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift), another war movie named ‘The Hunters’ (1958, with Robert Wagner and Robert Mitchum), and the gangster film ‘Murder, Inc.’ (1960, with Stuart Whitman and Henry Morgan).
Britt starred in the 1959 remake of ‘The Blue Angel,’ in which she portrayed ‘Lola-Lola,’ a character essayed by Marlene Dietrich in the 1930 original. She faced a lot of criticism for her audacity to step into the legendary actor’s shoes. Later, in 1959, she refused an offer to work in ‘The Seven Thieves.’ The role then went to Joan Collins.
Reportedly, after her marriage to Sammy Davis Jr., her contract with ‘20th Century Fox’ was terminated. She quit her career to focus on her family and children.
In 1976, she was cast in the role of ‘Ingrid’ in the horror movie ‘Haunts.’ Britt made a few guest appearances in TV series such as ‘Mission Impossible’ (1969), ‘The Partners’ (1971), and ‘Probe’ (1988).
Family & Personal Life
In 1957, Britt met Edwin Gregson, who was then a student, at a party organized by his father. The two dated for a while before getting married on February 22, 1958, in Tijuana, Mexico. After 19 months of marriage, she filed for divorce in September 1959.
She began dating entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. in 1959. Both Britt and Davis faced a lot of criticism and insults for planning an interracial marriage, which was still illegal in 31 states at that time. Her divorce from Gregson was finalized in September 1960. She began taking religious instructions in Judaism from Davis’s rabbi.
Allegedly, presidential candidate John F Kennedy had conveyed a message (through Frank Sinatra) to Davis to postpone the controversial wedding until after the 1960 presidential elections. On November 13, 1960, Britt and Davis were married at his Hollywood home by Rabbi William Kramer. After their wedding, their invitation to the US president’s inaugural function was canceled. Their daughter, Tracey Davis, was born on July 5, 1961. Later the couple adopted two sons, Mark Sidney Davis and Jeff Davis.
Britt and Davis divorced in 1968 (allegedly, over his infidelity). Following this, she worked in some TV series and learned to paint. On May 20, 1993, she married Lennart Ringquist. The two remained married till his death in January 2017.