Armand and Michaela Denis

From the Television of the mid fifties

Michaela Denis

 

Something that I did not know is that Armand and Michaela Denis travelled to Africa in 1950 to work on the feature film, King Solomon’s Mines in which Michaela acted as Deborah Kerr’s double. The film, as we all know, was very successful for MGM.

 

Michaela denis

Armand and Michaela Denis made a wildlife TV series in the Fifties –  ANGLO-BELGIAN film maker Armand Denis specialised in documentaries about Africa. He was born in Brussels on December 2, 1896, the son of a judge, and studied chemistry at Oxford after military service in World War I.

He moved to America in 1926 and invented a system of automatic volume control for radio that earned him enough money to travel and shoot movies of exotic locations.

He worked as a cameraman in Hollywood before joining forces with Andre Roosevelt to document the island of Bali in 1 9 2 8 . The pair blended documentary footage with the fictional tale of the love between a native prince and a servant girl to produce Kriss (1932) which created a Bali craze in America.

Denis subsequently married Roosevelt’s daughter, Leila, and they had four children.

 

Armand Denis then directed the 1934 African jungle adventure Wild Cargo (1934). He and Leila travelled to the Belgian Congo in 1934-35 and recorded sound footage to be used in films set in Africa, including the dances and music of t he Tutsi and Mangbetu tribes. They made documentary shorts i n the Thirties and Forties, but Denis then divorced Leila to marry English dress designer Michaela Holdsworth, whom he met in 1948.

The couple lived in Nairobi a nd c ontinued t o make documentaries. Their BBC programme Filming Wild Animals was broadcast in 1954, and  they then regularly contributed to the BBC and ITV.

Below the Sahara

ABOVE – Their much praised 1954 film ‘Below the Sahara’ filmed in beautiful colour actually onto 16 mm film which was later transferred to 35 mm for a cinema release.

The trip took us through the big-game country, down along the South African coast, then up through the equatorial Congo to the home of a gorilla-hunting tribe - like a sight-seeing tour for Michaela and also us in the audience.

Probably we all wanted to see colourful film of Africa – at that time very few of us indeed would have ventured there or anywhere near there as we just could not have afforded it.

So this film opened up at least a little bit of this beautiful land for us

Later Armand Denis suffered from Parkinson’s disease and died on April 15, 1971.

ARMAND and Michaela had settled in Kenya in 1949 and lived there together until Armand’s death. Around 1973, Michaela married Sir William O’Brien Lindsay, who had been their lawyer, but he died of a heart attack after just six weeks of marriage. Michaela stayed in Kenya, carrying on her work in wildlife conservation and as a f amily planning advocate, becoming vice-president of the Kenyan FP Association.

Michaela Denis 2

She had a wonderful sense of humour and greatly enjoyed life. She supported and assisted several local projects to help the community around her.

Subsequently, she met Major George Withey who became her constant companion until his death in 1986.

After George’s death, Michaela lived with good friends at their home  on the Kenyan coast.

For many years, Michaela dealt in property around Nairobi. Every summer she would return to her Ealing house to escape the African heat. “Not to vegetate or rot, but to make every second of this life count. Never feel self- pity – what a vice, what a bore for others!”

Following a fall in Mombasa in her 80s, Michaela broke her hip and had a replacement. Sadly, she became confined to a wheelchair, but spent many hours sitting in the garden beside the Indian Ocean. She finally died there from heart failure aged 88 in May 2003.

Following her death her ‘adopted’ family built a clinic in Shariani near Mombasa in her name (The Michaela Denis Clinic) to serve the local people of the area, and it continues to do so to this day.

 

 

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