The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon! The Doomsday Bride & Bitter Blood of Lily Mortar

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Thanks to Silver ScreeningsA Small Press Life and Font & Frock–we’re celebrating the work of Miriam Hopkins!

Miriam Hopkins

Miriam Hopkins has a luminous, quiet dreamy beauty.

Born in Savannah Georgia Oct. 18th 1902 she died Oct 9, 1972-a chorus girl in New York city at the age of 20 she made her first motion picture after signing with Paramount Pictures called Fast and Loose (1930).

In 1931, she raised some eyebrows in 1931’s horror thriller Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde directed by Rouben Mamoulian’s.

In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Miriam Hopkins portrayed the character Ivy Pearson, a prostitute who becomes mesmerized by Jekyll and Hyde a tale of sexuality in revolt. Though many of her scenes were cut from the film she still managed to get rave reviews for the mere 5 minutes she spent on the screen.

Frederick March & Miriam Hopikns

Frederick March walked away with the Oscar for Best Leading Man in that horror gem. Miriam Hopkins had been up for the part of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind being that she was an authentic Southern lady, but the part… of course went to Vivien Leigh… “As God as my witness they’re not going to lick me”

Miriam would make three pictures with  Ernst Lubitsch, The Smiling Lieutenant 1931, Trouble in Paradise 1932, and Design for Living 1933. Design for Living being my favorite!

From Wikipedia-Nevertheless her career ascended swiftly thereafter and in 1932 she scored her breakthrough in Ernst Lubitsch‘s Trouble in Paradise, where she proved her charm and wit as a beautiful and jealous pickpocket. During the pre-code Hollywood of the early 1930s, she appeared in The Smiling Lieutenant, The Story of Temple Drake and Design for Living, all of which were box office successes and critically acclaimed.[4] Her pre-code films were also considered risqué for their time, with The Story of Temple Drake depicting a rape scene and Design for Living featuring a ménage à trois with Fredric March and Gary Cooper.

William Wyler revising the film release of The Children’s Hour 1961, had been based on his original theatrical presentation with Hopkin’s in what was called These Three (1936). In the remake, she plays Aunt Lily Mortar to Shirley MacLaine’s troubled Martha, stepping into the role that Hopkins once portrayed.

Joel McCrea, Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins These Three
These Three (1936) starring Joel McCrea, Merle Oberon and our Miriam Hopkins as Martha Dobie in William Wyler’s toned down version of the Lillian Hellman play

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THE CHILDREN’S HOUR 1961

IMDb trivia: William Wyler cut several scenes hinting at Martha’s homosexuality for fear of not receiving the seal of approval from the Motion Picture Production Code. At the time, any story about homosexuality was forbidden by the production code.  

Directed by William Wyler, cinematography by Franz Planer (Criss Cross 1949,Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961) working with Wyler they used effective mood changes with his lighting, creating an often provocative atmosphere. The film showcases some truly great performances by the entire cast, Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner (who sadly passed away on July 19th of this year.) Including Veronica Cartwright and Fay Bainter. Miriam Hopkins mixes a sad yet infuriating empathy toward her flighty judgmental and often elusive tie to the theatre she harkens back to. She is incapable of being there for her tormented niece.

The story concerns the struggle of two young and independent women trying to make a go of it by running a private boarding school for adolescent girls. The intrusion of a lie, ultimately founded on a malicious rumor concocted by the spoiled young niece Mary Tilford (Karen Balkin) begins to spread like deadly poison that Karen (Hepburn) and Martha (Maclean) are having a lesbian relationship. And the lie proceeds to ruin Karen’s engagement to Joe, worried parents flood to the school to pull out their children at risk of being exposed to that ‘love that dare not speak it’s name!’ and basically causes the ruination of Karen and Martha’s dream.

Whether the idea be true or not, the wake of the devastation of all the lives involved lead to poetic & unfortunate tragedy.

Martha and Karen’s quite independent business relationship and personal friendship seemed to challenge very conventional standards of a woman’s role, creating an uncomfortable pall over the town, the school and the women involved in the scandal, and we sense this dis-ease on film. This all seems to feed the accessibility of suspicion when Mary makes her accusation, fueled by things she’s overheard Aunt Lily recklessly say about Martha.

Aunt Lili

Mrs. Lily Mortar“Friendship between women, yes. But not this insane devotion! Why, it’s unnatural. Just as unnatural as can be.”

Mrs. Lily Mortar: Any day that he’s in the house is a bad day. You can’t stand them being together and you’re taking out on me. You’ve always had a jealous, possessive nature even as a child. If you had a friend, you’d be upset if she liked anybody else. And that’s what’s happening now. And it’s unnatural. It’s just as unnatural as it can be.

Mrs. Lily Mortar: God will punish you.

Martha: He‘s doing all right.

Miriam Hopkins, is an added unpleasant moral eccentric and parasite who feeds off Karen and her niece Martha who have always had an apparently strained relationship because she’s money-grubbing, spineless and a user right from the beginning.

Miriam Hopkin’s Aunt Lily glides through the film like narcissus’ secretary waiting for that great part that is never coming. Supposedly on tour with a drama company, or just avoiding the scandal, when she could have cleared the women’s reputations and saved the school from being shut down.

At time’s she histrionic, over-theatrical, melodramatic and a relic of bygone days. Like an obsolete thespian Harpy who lingers around the house, tormenting poor Martha who is struggling with her own inner demons that Aunt Lily seems all too well to recognize.

Aunt Lily trying to stir up dramaturgical dust while teaching her pupils elocution, she shows herself to be out of fashion, a bit of an outcast, and as dried up as the dead flowers, the young conniving and at times socio-pathic Mary steals from the garbage to give to Lily as a ruse for being late to class.

Aunt Lily is needful, maneuvering and scheming as she insinuates herself into the lives of Karen (Audrey Hepburn) and her niece Martha (Shirley MacLaine) A non stop know it all… with a showy flare for dramatics.

At the school, Aunt Lily teaches the girl elocution lessons, music and theatre which is perfect for her narcissistic compulsion to inflate her own ego while pushing her highfalutin ideas of breeding “breeding is everything”. Lily is materialistic, money hungry and will use Martha for whatever she can get out of her.

After Lily accuses Martha’s relationship with Karen as being ‘unnatural’ And how her mood changes when ever Joe, Karen’s fiance (James Garner) is in the house. Martha throws her out. Paying her off so she’ll stay away. Hopkins does a truly perfect job of being the parasitic opportunist who offers nothing but grief.

I loved Miriam Hopkins  as the gutsy Mrs. Shipton -‘The Duchess’ in The Outcasts of Poker Flats 1952.

Until 1970 when like most great screen sirens, who seemed to inevitably get handed that part of Grande Dame Guignol caricature of the fading Hollywood star. Hopkin’s last film was the brutally disturbing Strange Intruder in 1970. She playing the recluse Katharine Parker, who is befriended by a psychopathic woman hater, then terrorized by him- John David Garfield (Yes son of the great John Garfield). Gale Sondergaard plays her companion Leslie who staunchly remains at her side to no avail.

While Miriam Hopkins who played Martha in the original film These Three (1936) agreed to play the part of Martha’s Aunt Lily,  Merle Oberon, who played Karen in the original film, turned down the part of Mrs. Tilford.

Mr. Happy… Bosley Crowther once again fangs the performances of The Children’s Hour with his serpentine wit. Published in The New York Times review March 15th 1962

“But here it is, fidgeting and fuming, like some dotty old doll in bombazine with her mouth sagging open in shocked amazement at the batedly whispered hint that a couple of female schoolteachers could be attached to each other by an “unnatural” love.

If you remember the stage play, that was its delicate point, and it was handled even then with a degree of reticence that was a little behind the sophistication of the times. (Of course, the film made from the stage play in 1936 and called “These Three” avoided that dark hint altogether; it went for scandal down a commoner avenue.)

But here in this new film version, directed and produced by the same William Wyler who directed the precautionary “These Three,” the hint is intruded with such astonishment and it is made to seem such a shattering thing (even without evidence to support it) that it becomes socially absurd. It is incredable that educated people living in an urban American community today would react as violently and cruelly to a questionable innuendo as they are made to do in this film.

And that is not the only incredible thing in it. More incredible is its assumption of human credulity. It asks us to believe that the parents of all twenty pupils in a private school for girls would yank them out in a matter of hours on the slanderously spread advice of the grandmother of one of the pupils that two young teachers in the school were “unnatural.”

It asks us to believe the grandmother would have been convinced of this by what she hears from her 12-year-old granddaughter, who is a dubious little darling at best. And, most provokingly, it asks us to imagine that an American court of law would not protect the innocent victims of such a slander when all the evidence it had to go upon was the word of two children and the failure of a key witness to appear.

In short, there are several glaring holes in the fabric of the plot, and obviously Miss Hellman, who did the adaptation, and John Michael Hayes, who wrote the script, knew they were there, for they have plainly sidestepped the biggest of them. They have not let us know what the youngster whispered to the grandmother that made her hoot with startled indignation and go rushing to the telephone. Was it something that a 12-year-old girl could have conceivably made up out of her imagination (which is what she was doing in this scene)?

And they have not let us into the courtroom where the critical suit for slander was tried. They have only reported the trial and the verdict in one quickly tossed off line.

So this drama that was supposed to be so novel and daring because of its muted theme is really quite unrealistic and scandalous in a prim and priggish way. What’s more, it is not too well acted, except by Audrey Hepburn in the role of the younger of the school teachers. She gives the impression of being sensitive and pure.

Shirley MacLaine as the older school teacher, the one who eventually admits in a final scene with her companion that she did have a yen for her, inclines to be too kittenish in some scenes and do too much vocal hand-wringing toward the end.

Fay Bainter is fairly grim as the grandmother but little Karen Balkin as the mendacious child is simply not sufficiently tidy as a holy terror to make her seem formidable. James Garner as the fiancé of Miss Hepburn and Miriam Hopkins as the aunt of Miss MacLaine give performances of such artificial laboring that Mr. Wyler should hang his head in shame.”

 

THE OUTER LIMITS – DON’T OPEN TILL DOOMSDAY

Season 1 Episode 17 broadcast on January 20th 1964 Written by Joseph Stefano (Psycho 1960) and directed by Gerd Oswald. (A Kiss Before Dying 1956, Crime of Passion 1957)

the episode co-stars John Hoyt, Nellie Burt and Russell Collins.

Miriam Hopkins inhabits one of THE most Grotesque characters two years after Bette Davis manifested Baby Jane Hudson in Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962.

The sirens of the silver screen were beginning to find roles of the silver scream! Grande Dame Guignol was born… when the great Gloria Swanson walked onto the screen as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard in 1950. And it wasn’t just Bette Davis, Joan Crawford or Shelley Winters… no, just to name a few there was Jeanne Craine, Eleanor Parker, Dorothy Malone, Yvonne De Carlo, Gloria Grahame, Lana Turner, Joan Blondell, Ann Southern, Ruth Roman, Sandy Dennis, Geraldine Page, Patricia Neal, Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Bennett, Piper Laurie, Olivia de Havilland, Simone Signoret and Alida Valli.

In this bizarre and slightly perplexing story, that relies more on its potent atmosphere of decay and alienation thanks to the cinematography of Conrad L Hall, and less on a coherent plot-line. Hopkins plays an abandoned bride left in her honeymoon suite like a perishing bird in a broken gilded cage. As the years pass, time has ravaged the house, the bridal suite and Mary Kry who anxious and delusional, awaits the return of her beloved Harvey.

An ‘abandoned’ bride yet Mary Kry’s husband didn’t run off on the night of their wedding, rather he was sucked into an alternate universe within a 2X2 metal box with a peep hole–ruled over by a lump of months old Jello chocolate pudding and a rolling rubbery glass toy eyeball with a slit for a mouth. I might even go as far as to say that it resembles something I might find in the cat’s litter box with a scatterbrained face, it’s silly single fishy eyeball and jaunty yet menacing alien voice, but let’s keep it clean for Miriam’s blogathon! and stick to the references to Jello instead…

And for some opening fun with the Outer Limits control voice who always waxes prophetic and cautionary: as we are about to observe one who observes us from his little porthole.

“The Greatness of evil lies in its awful accuracy. Without that deadly talent for being in the right place at the right time, evil must suffer defeat. For unlike its opposite , good, evil is allowed no human failings, no miscalculations. Evil must be perfect…. or depend upon the imperfections of others.”

Baby Jane lipstick
The inimitable Bette Davis who created her image as the infantile narcissistic lush Baby Jane Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962
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Miriam Hopkins in same grotesque pose of womanhood ravaged by cruel age and deceitful punishing vanity… As the eternal bride Mrs Mary Kry who has waited 35 years for her groom.

It’s 1929 and on the outskirts of town there’s a wedding bash full bells at an opulent mansion in a desolate part  of town called Winterfield. A young bridegroom named Harvey Kry (David Frankham) is getting ready to escape with his new bride Mary! (Miriam Hopkins) An odd old man delivers a wrapped box to the house, the butler hands the gift to the bridegroom. The card inscribed says DON’T OPEN TIL DOOMSDAY.

Harvey unwraps the box, next to a newspaper headline which reads ‘NOTED SCIENTIST DECLARES COUNTRY INVADED FROM OUTER SPACE’. -featured is a picture of the old man who delivered the package.

Suddenly Harvey is transported into the box by getting caught in the laser beam of light that re-assembles him inside the small stark space within the box, inhabited by the clay creature who wishes to destroy the universe. Mary is left to long for her love trapped in a crushing expanse of time, she is wasting away from a broken heart and the threat of bastard time that creeps like dust.

For the sake of the Miriam Hopkins Blogathon… I won’t get into the oogly googly sci-fi cautionary aspect of the episode, that I’ll save for another post for my series on The Outer Limits.

Allow me to showcase Miriam Hopkins participation in this grotesquely curious torment.

Hopkins evokes a deadly cunning, a pathological child like yearning… the arrested passions of a bride who never had her desires fulfilled. She’s pathetic, dour, ill tempered, desperate, obscene, insatiable, predatory and utterly depraved!

Mary Kry now demented from spending 35 years awaiting her grooms return, needs to find new life in exchange for her Harvey.

So she rents out her unused Bridal Suite kicking back money to the equally opportunistic Nellie Burt. the justice’s (Russell Collins) evil wife. Still sporting her black sequined flapper ensemble equip with feather boa and diamond tiara, Mary throws herself under the bed like a school girl looking for the right matching shoes.

The episode works partly because of the ambiance of purgatory— the untouched wedding gifts, the desiccated house that stands alone on a grey dusty road. The staircase that leads up to the limbo like Hell that Mary Kry has had to live alone inside instead of being with her flesh and blood husband Harvey who is still as young as the day they wed. Yet another twisted aspect of the story.

Much like the house being a reflection of Mary Kry’s madness, this reminds me of how Aldrich framed the claustrophobic & deteriorating structure of the Hudson Mansion which sang in tune with Jane’s utter delusional mania and gloom.

This story actually possesses two monsters. The literal one that hovers around in the box like something out of Gumby’s nightmare, and the second more potent monster. That Monstrous Feminine archetype who is waiting to devour all for love —her life spent as a sexless soul– locked away in a her own private purgatory on the other side of a dimension where her beloved too is a prisoner.

For in Mary Kry’s sick anxiety to hold onto her lost youth, trapped as a virgin awaiting her lover, enshrined in a bridal tomb, she has become a vampire. Lurking in the shadows, yanking out that musty wedding dress from the mothballs, hoping to find someone to trade places with her husband so she can finally have her nuptials.

Miriam Hopkins -while the ghoulish cousin to Bette Davis’ Baby Jane Hudson pushes our buttons marked -OUTRAGEOUS-and lights them up… blinking and ringing wildly… what’s more appalling than the self-delusion that she is still a blushing bride, is that she is now a darkly brooding gargoyle-esque out-moded flapper merely concerned with getting her husband out of that strange box at any price. Even if it means praying on two innocent young runaway teenagers who just want to marry for the same feelings of love… though without their parents consent.

The entire episode is loony & creepy and Miriam Hopkin’s immersion into the psycho-sexual persona of Grande Dame Guignol makes for a wicked excursion into The Outer Limits!

I hope you enjoyed my little tribute to Miriam Hopkins. She’s a very special lady, and it was wonderful to be able to participate in the Miriam Hopkins Blogathon!

Your EverLovin’ Joey saying be kind… and don’t let yourself get caught in a box!

8 thoughts on “The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon! The Doomsday Bride & Bitter Blood of Lily Mortar

  1. Jo, thanks so much for including these video clips. I have bookmarked this page for later viewing.

    Miriam was never afraid to take on darker roles, was she? I admire that in her; it made her honest about her characters.

    Thanks for joining us at the Miriam party!

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    1. Miriam is one of those brave actresses who dove in and dared to show a darker side. Bravo to those courageous actresses, versatile and always beautiful no matter how much eyebrow pencil and lipstick they used! Lol Fantastic Blogathon so far… Cheers Joey

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  2. Very interesting piece on The Children’s Hour – I must admit I’d forgotten Hopkins’ role in it, and also haven’t seen These Three yet, must put that right! That review you found by Bosley Crowther about how unbelievable it is that people would believe rumours is pretty hilarious – had he ever heard of McCarthy?

    I’m also really surprised and intrigued to hear about Hopkins’ role in The Outer Limits.

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  3. Wonderful tribute to Hopkins and highlighted just how much of her career I still need to explore. Her versatility as an actress still gets me – you can see it in the clips you posted.

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    1. I loved your piece on Miriam as Gilda in Design for Living. So funny and wonderfully written. I have to watch it in the next few days just to see that amazing wardrobe! Thanks for stopping by here too! Cheers Joey

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