spy, socialite, film producer and author
After reading it, he offered an introduction to his reissue: “She grew up in a house full of life; a house full of life. In this nest of gentlemen…there was drama on every level. No wonder she spent so much time in and around theaters: she was born in one.
Born in Sydney on December 22, 1920, young Robin Eakin, an only child, absorbed everything. She was enchanted by the cries of the pies in the street of the “30 bob – strip to the earrings”. By age 12, she had read most of Hardy and Meredith. At eight years old, she had written a book, My relationships (1929), a work of “fiction about relationships I never had”, with observations such as “She means well, I’m sure, but she doesn’t mean much”.
As the Telegraphof Elizabeth Grice said it in a spirited profile: “Rather untamed by school, Robin embraced the outbreak of war as an adventure: it spared her the boredom of having to finish her studies in Lausanne. Instead, at 18, she married 31-year-old lawyer John Spencer, who turned out to be an abusive alcoholic. He abused her and then divorced her after five months, citing her adultery.
He falsely named three co-defendants, although local legend upped the postings to 11. Sydney’s press headlines screamed: ‘Young socialite: Army husband finds telltale newspaper flat. Robin joked, “I took the war off the front page.”
Released from Spencer, she learned to type and took a job as secretary to the commander of the Department of Artillery Pacific Southwest – working for the Americans by day and partying with them by night. Then she met and fell in love with David Mountbatten, 3rd Marquess of Milford Haven, Prince Philip’s best friend and first cousin.
She joined David Milford Haven in London, where austerity and rationing were oppressive, but for Robin, post-war London was paradise. With an allowance from her father and some money writing for newspapers and magazines, Robin plunged into a beautiful world of aristocrats, artists and socialites. “With David, I met quite a few kings, ex-kings and near-kings.” John F. Kennedy became a friend.
When he was announced as Philip’s best man on his marriage to Princess Elizabeth in 1947, the attention on the eminently eligible young Marquess and his own personal life was intense. As the best man and groom moved into Kensington Palace until the wedding, Robin climbed the stairs to the servants’ attics to spend nights with David.
Of course, she couldn’t attend the wedding, but she still found David’s father’s family, the Mountbattens, charming and friendly. The couple would spend five years together and remain friends until David’s death.
Finally, she met the love of her life, Emmet Dalton, a handsome young Irish doctor. As Robin told in An incidental memoir (1998), Emmet had subaortic stenosis. The other hurdle for devout Catholic Emmet was Robin’s status as a divorcee.
She described their wedding day in 1953: “My husband left his home and his weeping Catholic mother and his unspoken Catholic father at 9 a.m. one morning, to meet his future divorced Presbyterian bride at Caxton Hall. .
While on her honeymoon in Cornwall, Robin was approached by her friend Prince Chula of Thailand to become an intelligence officer for the kingdom. Officially, she was a publicist. “What happened taught me that every crazy thing you see in a spy movie or book is true.”
She was wonderfully happy with Emmet. He fell seriously ill during his first pregnancy with their daughter Lisa but recovered. Seamus was born, but a sudden collapse and an unsuccessful heart operation led to his death at age 33. This is told harrowingly in An incidental memoir. “Without the blessing of having been married to Emmet, I would be a different, indifferent person.” She said in her 90s, “He is still my anchor in life, the measure by which I judge everything.”
Less than a day after Emmet’s death, Lisba (Princess Chula) had offered to pay for Lisa’s education and Sir Steven Runciman, the Byzantine and great friend of Emmet and Robin, had pledged to make even for Seamus. He would later give her the lease of his house in St Johns Wood in London. The Savoy delivered baskets and her old friend, the US President, sent Lisa a beautiful coat. An envelope of banknotes was stuffed anonymously into his mailbox.
Somehow, this mighty spirit rallied, and Robin became a literary and theatrical agent. Soon she had a list of legendary clients – John Osborne, Edna O’Brien, Iris Murdoch, Sonia Orwell, Margaret Drabble, Arthur Miller, Peter Weir, Arnold Wesker and Joan Collins – most of whom became good friends.
She absolutely wanted to see one of the books of her writers, that of Bernice Rubens Mrs Sousatzka, turned into a movie. She said she believed in it so much that she decided “I’m damn good going to buy it myself”. That’s what drove her to produce.
The result, in 1988, won Shirley MacLaine a Golden Globe and the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival; a Golden Lion nomination for director John Schlesinger, a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Peggy Ashcroft and a Golden Globe nomination for Robert Gouriet for Best Original Score.
Robin also produced or co-produced Emma’s War with Miranda Otto and Lee Remick (also released in 1988); country life in 1994 with Sam Neill; and that of Peter Carey Oscar and Lucinda in 1997 with Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes.
Her third and last marriage was to screenwriter William Fairchild. He had entered her life in 1963, but they did not marry until 1992, after three decades together. Bill died in 2000. Robin recalled “37 years of real company, laughter, shared interests and the luxury of a shoulder to lean on”.
In 2013 Robin published the booklet “Death” is a 4 letter word: Living life at 92 look death head on. To Robin, the grim reaper was a hooded jester to be laughed at and not to be afraid of.
In 2017, she published a brochure One Leg Over, an abridged version of An Incidental Life (she had wanted to call it No Hard Shoulder). The title did not refer to the libidinous evidence but to the struggle to get an aging body out of the bath, one leg at a time. And yet she continued to surf from her holiday home in Biarritz for decades – “We have really good surfing there. It’s almost as good as Bondi’ – until she dislocated her shoulder at 96.
Robin reflects, “If you believe in reincarnation, I must have been pretty good in my last life. And I’m terrified of what’s next.
Her children and grandchildren increasingly became the center of her life. Robin lived happily, without fear; email friends and take calls in his 101st year. As she said, “The reason I’ve had a great life is that I never say no.”
She is survived by her daughter, Lisa, an artist, and her son, Seamus, a doctor from Sydney.