When Sir Roger Moore passed away in May this year at the age of 89, much was written about the four-times-married James Bond star’s dazzling life and all the glamorous women who featured in it.
But now the discovery of an old box of letters, photographs and papers belonging to Moore’s first wife, Doorn van Steyn, is offering a fascinating glimpse into the British actor’s life before he was famous, as well as the romantic and sexual shenanigans that dominated his volatile first marriage to an older woman.
The documents, found in a Forties laundry box, also reveal the extraordinary devotion the teenaged Moore showed to van Steyn’s toddler son while the three of them lived in a tiny attic bedsit in Streatham, South London.
The discovery of an old box of letters, photographs and papers belonging to Roger Moore’s first wife, Doorn van Steyn (pictured together), is offering a fascinating glimpse into the British actor’s life before he was famous
It is that stepson — now 73 years old — who stumbled across the metal box while looking through his late mother’s possessions.
‘It was like finding a treasure trove,’ says Shaun van Steyn. ‘Sorting through the contents has been like looking through a window on to the past.’
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Along with a marriage certificate and divorce papers detailing slapstick antics that could have come straight out of an Ealing comedy are passionate letters the besotted 19-year-old Moore wrote to Doorn while on National Service.
A taxi driver’s daughter whose real name was Lucy Woodard, Doorn was a 25-year-old divorcee and single mother with a blossoming career as a circus ice skater when Moore met her at drama school RADA towards the end of World War II.
Box of secrets: The documents, found in a Forties laundry box (pictured), also reveal the extraordinary devotion the teenaged Moore showed to van Steyn’s toddler son while the three of them lived in a tiny attic bedsit in Streatham, South London
Along with a marriage certificate and divorce papers detailing slapstick antics that could have come straight out of an Ealing comedy are passionate letters the besotted 19-year-old Moore (right) wrote to Doorn (left) while on National Service
Policeman’s son Moore fell passionately in love with the hot-headed blonde, even learning to ice skate so he could spend more time with her.
But the letters he wrote to his ‘darling Doornie’ while on National Service in 1946 also reveal his insecurity.
‘Darling, I feel so miserable as I haven’t heard from you yet,’ Moore writes from Blenheim Camp, near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, where he was sent for his six weeks’ basic training in September 1946.
He continues: ‘God! I’d so love to hug you and kiss you and feel your baby body in my arms you snooky little angel puss!’
Moore married Doorn during his first home leave in December 1946 at Wandsworth Register Office with just a few family members present. Doorn felt confident enough about her burgeoning career to write ‘film actress’ in the ‘occupation’ box on their marriage certificate, while Moore merely wrote ‘2nd Lieutenant, RASC’ [Royal Army Service Corps] in reference to his National Service role. There was no time — or money — for a honeymoon.
In another letter to Doorn, sent in 1948 from Germany, where he served with the British Army on the Rhine, he writes: ‘Dear heart I love you more than anything else in the world! But how I would like to spank your wonderful dimply (goose-flesh) bottom! Ours will be a perfect and terribly happy marriage, as long as we are together! Mr and Mrs Roger Moore! I think it sounds wonderful — don’t you?’
But he clearly felt threatened by his wife’s desire to travel abroad.
‘Can’t you wait for my release from the bloody Army — and then start trying to break my heart? I know that you’ll probably turn me mental if you keep up this correspondence cattishness.
Policeman’s son Moore fell passionately in love with the hot-headed blonde Doorn, even learning to ice skate so he could spend more time with her. Pictured: The couple playing cricket in 1953
‘I love you darling. And if it is true, as you say it is “that you love me”, then why the hell don’t you stop this silliness?’
Even after Moore was demobbed, Doorn’s increasing success as an ice-skating star on international tours meant he was often left behind in the Streatham bedsit at the top of a Victorian house belonging to his wife’s sister.
While failing a string of auditions, he worked as a dish-washer and a waiter and took on small jobs arranged by his wife — as a knitwear model and as the romantic hero in women’s magazine true-love photographic stories. Later, the couple moved to a Thirties mansion block in nearby Wavertree Road, Streatham.
Shaun van Steyn, an artist and photographer who now lives in the city of Falls Church in Virginia, U.S., vividly remembers the time spent with his stepfather between the ages of three and ten.
Born during the war, baby Shaun had his eardrums damaged by the shockwaves from one of Hitler’s V2 rockets, leaving him with severe hearing problems.
But Moore, he says, was gentle and patient, often using hand signals to communicate. Sometimes caring for him single-handedly while Doorn was away, Moore even took him to stay at his own parents’ home in Stockwell.
Eventually, Moore and Doorn’s diverging careers and bitter rows tore them apart. Pictured: Roger Moore in 2016
‘In many ways he was more of a parent than my mother. He was the only father I ever knew,’ says Shaun. ‘I remember him taking me to the funfair at Battersea Park in South London and to sail my toy yacht on Clapham Common Ponds. He was kind and loving and funny.’
When surgeons managed to restore Shaun’s hearing when he was nine, it was Roger who was at his hospital bedside when he came round, holding a stamp album he had bought for him.
‘Looking back now, it was pretty extraordinary how kind and patient he was with me given how young he was. Most men wouldn’t want to be saddled with another man’s son but I only have wonderful and warm memories of Roger.’
Eventually, Moore and Doorn’s diverging careers and bitter rows tore them apart.
Moore wrote about the collapse of the marriage in his 2008 autobiography My Word Is My Bond, blaming the amount of time the couple spent apart, money worries and his wife’s lack of faith in him.
He recalled collecting Doorn from Victoria station after one of her tours in the early Fifties and her telling him: ‘You’ll never be an actor. Your face is too weak, your jaw’s too big and your mouth’s too small.’
Shaun vividly recalls some of the dreadful rows his mother and stepfather had.
On one occasion, he says, Moore was wearing only his underpants when his mother dumped all his clothes in the bath, turned on the taps, then ordered him out of the house. Moore had to don wet clothes before leaving.
Moore (pictured as James Bond) wrote about the collapse of the marriage in his 2008 autobiography My Word Is My Bond, blaming the amount of time the couple spent apart, money worries and his wife’s lack of faith in him
Another time, his volatile mother dumped the lukewarm contents of a teapot on Moore’s head before throwing it at him. She then picked up a whip and used it to strike Shaun across the legs. It was Roger, he says, who rescued him.
‘He picked me up and carried me outside away from her,’ he says. ‘We went for a walk together until she had calmed down.’
In My Word Is My Bond, Moore claims he was the one who wanted a divorce. ‘At first Doorn disagreed and, in that painful way of all broken marriages, ours descended into bitter recrimination, culminating in a very heated argument one evening.’
That ‘heated argument’ in May 1952 took place outside the Lyric Theatre in London’s West End, where Moore was an understudy in a play called The Little Hut.
But a dog-eared legal document found by Shaun in the old laundry box tells a rather more lurid story about that night.
Part of Doorn’s divorce petition, it includes a witness statement presented to the High Court recalling how she and her mother waited outside the theatre and watched Moore get into a car belonging to the glamorous Welsh singer Dorothy Squires.
Squires, who was 13 years older than Moore, later became the actor’s second wife. In his autobiography Moore insisted they met only after he and Doorn had divorced. But according to Doorn’s statement, she confronted Moore after seeing him get into Squires’s car.
‘I went up to the car and opened the door, and said: “Now I have caught you red-handed.” ’
Moore, she said, told her to: ‘Get away from this car. Leave it alone.’ The statement adds: ‘He tried to push me out of the car and I bit his hand.’
In his autobiography, Moore implies he played the gentleman by allowing Doorn to divorce him. He describes smoothing the way by booking into a hotel room with a professional co-respondent — ‘a kind lady who had offered to help’ — and waiting until morning when a maid walked in on them. The maid’s statement and the hotel register provided Doorn with the necessary evidence.
Speaking of the ‘kind lady’ who shared his bed, he said: ‘That obliging lady was not Dorothy Squires, but I did meet Dot shortly after this fateful night.’
But Doorn’s divorce statement tells a different story. She recounts how, in October 1952, she and two men hired by her mother as witnesses followed Moore from the theatre in a car to Dorothy Squires’s house in Bexleyheath, South-East London. The scene that followed was farcical indeed, with Doorn crouching in the garden in the middle of the night with the two men and spying on Moore and Squires.
‘We were able to see my husband actually go into her bedroom, as there is a big landing window with no curtains,’ she said in her divorce petition.
One of the men, she claimed, took a ladder, placed it against Squires’s balcony window and ‘saw them on the bed embracing’.
Doorn then tried to have a look for herself. ‘I was beginning to climb up when I saw Miss Squires’ face at the window as she was pulling the curtain aside and looking very frightened.
‘Then my husband came out in nothing but a shirt. He said: “Oh, it’s all right, it’s only someone left a ladder and it’s banging on the window”.’
Ladies man: Roger Moore as James Bond in Live And Let Die with actress Jane Seymour
This, it seems, was the evidence that ensured the couple were granted a divorce in June 1953 on the grounds of Moore’s infidelity.
Afterwards, Doorn married an Israeli army officer and converted to Judaism. She moved to Israel, leaving Shaun with her parents for two years before he joined her. That marriage ended in 1961 and she moved to Washington DC, where she married for a fourth time.
She penned a ‘tell-all’ book about her marriage to Moore, entitled A Saint He Ain’t!, but the manuscript was burnt in a house fire in the 1970s. She died in 2010.
Moore went on to marry three more times. His second marriage, to Dorothy Squires in New York in 1953, lasted nine years and was equally tumultuous.
He left her for Italian television presenter and actress Luisa Mattioli, whom he met on the set of the 1961 film Romulus And The Sabines. They married in 1969 and were together for nearly three decades, during which time they had three children, Christian, Deborah and Geoffrey. He married his last wife, Swedish-born Danish socialite Kristina ‘Kiki’ Tholstrup, in Denmark in 2002. She was at his side when he died in Switzerland after a short battle with cancer.
Shaun says that despite the acrimonious split from his mother, Moore kept in touch. As a teenager, he used to watch him filming The Saint at Elstree Studios. Later on they exchanged sporadic letters and emails.
In an email sent after Doorn’s death in August 2010, Moore wrote: ‘She was an extraordinary lady and certainly enriched my life during our few short years together. One thing I know is that she must have been tremendously proud of you and your success.’
And in one sent just six months before his death and signed ‘love Roger’, the Bond star alluded to his tempestuous past.
‘We were very young. I guess that wisdom comes with age.’
Moore acknowledged that one day his former stepson would have his own story to tell. Sending him a signed copy of his autobiography in 2008, he added an inscription that read: ‘I think you have a better book in you, Shaun.’
The laundry box in which the letters were found is a piece of history in itself.
The lid is marked with the address of the laundry in Tooting, South London, where Doorn used to send the family’s clothes to be washed. The laundryman would return them, washed and folded, to the bedsit.
Back then, of course, none of them had any idea that the box would one day be filled with the ‘dirty linen’ of their marriage, recalling a colourful chapter in the life of a man who became one of Britain’s best-loved stars.