The Intriguing Everyman: Cult Star Stuart Whitman

There is a rugged sensuality about Stuart Whitman with his thick black hair and that sexy cleft in his strong chin. I’ve been totally gone gaga over the man for as long as I can remember. Although he doesn’t possess the typical pretty leading man looks like Paul Newman or Marlon Brando, Whitman has an offbeat sex appeal that I’m drawn to more than the obviously handsome guy. Maybe it’s his commanding brows framing his deep drawn blue eyes. Or perhaps it’s his raspy suede voice one octave down from middle C and that outre cool swagger that gets me. I love the self-assured manner that he exudes in every one of his roles. There are over 180 films and television roles to his credit. It seems like he lived a very full life on his terms, and had a great appreciation for the ladies– lucky them! He was also long time friends with many of his working colleagues and that says a lot to me.

Stuart Whitman was born on Feb. 1, 1928, in San Francisco. He appeared in summer stock plays in New York until  the age of 12. After living in New York his family moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1940s. He graduated from Hollywood High School in 1945, then enlisted in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for three years. While in the service he was secretly trained in boxing by his uncle, and won boxing matches as a light-heavy weight. After an honorable discharge he attended acting classes at night with the Michael Chekhov Stage Society and studied for four years.

He joined the Ben Bard Drama School in Hollywood debuting in the school’s production of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which ran for six months.

20th Century Fox scooped Stuart Whitman up while amassing new talent during the late 1950s.

In 1952, Stuart Whitman continued to appear in small roles in George Archainbard’s Barbed Wire and Tay Garnett’s One Minute to Zero. Universal signed him In December, 1952, which got him a tiny part in Douglas Sirk’s All I Desire with Barbara Stanwyck and The All American.

His most memorable and brave portrayals is of Kim Fuller in The Mark.

In The Mark, Stuart Whitman takes on the compelling, challenging role of Jim Fuller, who after serving three years in prison for the abduction and attempted molestation of a nine year old girl, is let out. Jim Fuller coming to terms with his past has gone through extensive therapy with psychiatrist McNally (Rod Steiger) and is released a reformed man, given a good job, and tries to acclimate himself back into normal society. He starts up a relationship with the company secretary Ruth (Maria Schell) who has a 10 year old little daughter. The ugly monster that is his past creeps up behind him and challenges his chance at a new life. While the film’s subject is still one of revulsion, the character of James Fuller is framed sympathetically, partly because he never went through with committing the crime. The film gives a well explained symptomology through Dr. McNally’s compassionate trained eye for uncovering the truth, and flashbacks aide us in seeing Fuller’s utter agony with what he contemplated doing. He stops himself from going through with the assault and vomits at the thought of it. He drives the little girl back to town where he is met with an angry mob. He asks to be locked up because he is sick.

The Mark explores without reservation the conflicted Jim Fuller, which in the cinema at that time breaks ground.He finds solace in his relationship with a sympathetic psychiatrist Rod Steiger. The Mark costars Maria Schell.

While the film is quite black & white with it’s Freudian brush strokes, the story is still compelling and Guy Green’s direction works well to light the flame under the kettle slowly. The Mark was released in a time in film releases where sexual ‘deviation’ was being experimented with at the cinema. Director Basil Dearden’s taut drama Victim (1961) starring Dirk Bogarde about homosexuality and blackmail, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) that deals with mental illness, homosexuality and cannibalism, and Lillian Hellman’s story directed by William Wyler The Children’s Hour (1961) that deals with the stigma of lesbianism.

Originally Richard Burton was cast in the part of Jim Fuller and the part of Ruth was to be Jean Simmons. And while Burton is of course one of those incredible actors who is laudable at dancing a waltz with complex and damaged, Whitman is profoundly adept at pouring out multitudinous levels of torturous self loathing and social anxiety in a plot full of minefields the protagonist can step on. The film earned him the Oscar nomination for Best Actor not only for his incredibly nuanced performance but partly for his brave and challenging accomplishment. The Mark features Whitman’s complex portrayal of a sexual deviant and a self reflexive man struggling to come to terms with his predilections while finding his way back into society again. There’s a good reason he was nominated for Best Actor… he deserved the award.

Excerpts from an Interview From Shock Cinema Magazine by Anthony Petkovich

SC: What was the challenge for you in making THE MARK?

STUART WHITMAN: “I was doing a screen test at 20th with Lee Remick for a movie called The Candy Man which Tony Richardson was going to direct. And I got a telephone call from Kurt Frings my agent at the time. And Kurt tells me, “Don’t go back” ‘but I’m shooting right now I said. “Don’t go to the set.” He said “What do you mean?” ‘Don’t go back Just go home, pack a bag and catch the four o’clock to London this afternoon. You’re gonna shoot a movie in Ireland.” I asked “Well, what’s the name of the picture?” “Not to worry. Don’t ask any questions. Just get on the plane and go.” And I remember racing to the airport to catch the plane and running into the actor Dane Clark, “Where you going Stuart?” He asked me “ I’m off to do a thing called THE MARK” I told him, “but I don’t know anything about it.” THE MARK? He said “My God, I really wanted to play that role, Jesus Christ.” So that was the only indication I received that it was something special… Well Richard Burton was originally supposed to do my role in THE MARK but he was starring in Camelot and couldn’t get out of his commitment to do the play. So Kurt–who handled Burton and Maria School, the female lead in THE MARK and wonderful to work with-he squared me into the thing.”

“So they put me up in a hotel in London, and I had three days there before going on location to Ireland. Now when I arrived at the London hotel, all of these British reporters were asking me “What do you think about doing this movie?” ‘I haven’t read it” I told them “ I don’t know. Let me read it , then I will tell ya” So I got rid of all of the reporters because I really didn’t know what the fuck the movie was all about. And in my hotel room, when I finally read the script, I kind of freaked out. So much so that I was thinking to myself “Well, I could get sick and tell them that I can’t do the movie—I had all kinds of excuses that I was going to lay on ‘em so that I didn’t have to tackle this project. Then I thought, “Well, fuck it. If I”m in the right business or the wrong business I”ll know if I can pull this one off. And if I can I”ll be alright, But yeah it was difficult to do. And that’s when I first met Rod Steiger. Since Rod and I had a lot of scenes together, he said “you want to come over to my house and we’ll just run over the lines and get familiar with it?” “Absolutely” I said to him.”

After the dreaded Night of the Lepus, Whitman survived the blip in his momentum and proclaimed his comeback with multiple entertaining films and television roles, many that helped him attain cult status. Including Lawrence Harvey’s excursion into cannibalism Welcome to Arrow Beach, and master of horror Tobe Hooper’s sub-genre of horror films— the hillbilly slasher Eaten Alive starring Neville Brand and Carolyn Jones. My favorite is his performance as the love sick paramour of Piper Laurie’s in Curtis Harrington’s Ruby (1977). The underrated nightmarish ghost story and a great vehicle for Piper Laurie. Whitman brings that wonderful 70s sensibility to the film as he aches for his lover to return his affections.

Meg Foster and Stuart Whitman in Lawrence Harvey’s Welcome to Arrow Beach

Stuart Whitman and Rory Calhoun in Night of the Lepus

Stuart Whitman also stepped into the role of cult leader of People’s Temple Jim Jones with a hyperbolic performance in GUYANA: CULT OF THE DAMNED.

Aside from some his more obvious diversions into the cult market, Stuart Whitman delivered memorable roles in films like director Monte Hellman’s Shatter 1974 where he plays an a cool character, an international hit man who is now himself a target. Whitman can slip into a diverse range of characters from sympathetic child molester, to homicidal cult leader/mass murderer, cut throats and heroes, urbane hitmen or a variety of sheriffs. From the 60s decade through the 70s Stuart Whitman’s roles ran the gamut.

Making his film debut in 1951 science fiction films uncredited in director Rudolph Maté’ and George Pal’s When Worlds Collide credited as Kip Whitman and in director Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Whitman gained popularity as a cult actor appearing in a variety of films The Girl in the Black Stockings (1957)  co-starring Mamie Van Doren and Anne Bancroft.

The 1960s were a  golden time for Whitman where he found himself to be one of the leading stars in Hollywood. Another outstanding example of his versatile acting ability is showcased in the intense crime drama based on New York gangsters — Murder, Inc. 1960 and the 1964 psychologically disturbing, psychotronic  Shock Treatment 1965. Whitman plays an actor Dale Nelson who is hired to locate $1 million in stolen money, so he gets himself committed to the institution run by Lauren Bacall. But finds himself immersed in the depths of insanity inside the asylum. Then there was the international assembled cast for the aviation extravaganza comedy Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines and the fantastic adventure film The Sands of the Kalahari.

Stuart Whitman in The Sands of the Kalahari (1965)

Murder, Inc. Year : 1960 USA Stuart Whitman Director: Burt Balaban.

Stuart Rosenberg’s directorial debut Murder, Inc (1960) co-starred Peter Falk in his explosive role as Abe Reles.

SC: Hey, I don’t want to forget about MURDER, INC.

STUART WHITMAN: “I did that while I was still under contract to 20th They said “you’re going off to New York to do this thing called Murder, Inc. So on the plane I’m reading the script, and I’m thinking “wow! What a role here… Abe Reles… And when I got to New York and they picked me up in a limo at the airport, they asked me “how did you like the script? “Oh God, I just loved it” And they said “we got an interesting young guy, a character actor named Peter Falk who’s gonna plays Abe Reles” “Wait” I said, “I thought that was my role” “No, no You’re going to play the kid in it.. with May Britt.. the love affair part of the story.” And I said “Oh shit, I don’t want to do it. SO I called up (Spyros) Skouras (president of 20th Century Fox from 42 to 62) and said “Now Mrs Skouras that’s not the role I wanted to do” No do it” he said.

Anyhow, Peter Falk and I were getting along, getting some good stuff into the picture but when they fired the director Stuart Rosenberg, we had a sit down strike between us actors. But then a full out strike was coming along, and 20th said “The strike is coming up, so we have to finish this picture right away—before it hits.” Well, the very day we finished the picture, the strike hit. But that’s why there are two directors credited on Murder Inc. Burt Balaban was the producer so when Rosenberg got fired he stepped in.”

Stuart Whitman was very physically fit and started doing a lot of macho-type movies around this time, like westerns Rio Conchos 1964 and The Comancheros 1961. Whitman has top billing in the well-cast western, The Comancheros, and maintains a glorious chemistry with Wayne. He plays a womanizing gambler who kills a nobleman’s son in a dual. He escapes the noose but is hunted down the honest Captain of the Texas Rangers Jake Cutter (John Wayne). It’s directed by Michael Curtiz, and both men exchange quick-witted dialogue. Inevitably the two become friends. Cimarron Strip 1967-68 was Whitman’s short lived highly charged 90 minute TV western which was his show starring as the serious Marshal Jim Crown. Episodes featured other great actors like Richard Boone, Warren Oates, and Robert Duvall. I read that Cimarron Strip was of Whitman’s favorite projects.

Stuart Whitman as Marshal Jim Crown in the television western series Cimarron Strip 1967-68

Stuart Whitman in Rio Conchos (1964)

Stuart Whitman and co-star John Wayne in Michael Curtiz’s The Comancheros (1961)

Stuart Whitman was so versatile he was able to stand astride both television and feature films from dramatic hits to film noir, horror and cult exploitation. Some of his most notable films are Ten North Frederick (1958), director William Wellman’s Darby’s Rangers (1958) co-starring James Garner. Whitman does a superb job piece of work as a ballsy American soldier who joins an elite group who are trained as special forces during WWII. Andrew L. Stone’s The Decks Ran Red (1958) co-starring James Mason and Dorothy Dandridge. 
The Longest Day (1962), The Comancheros (1961) co-starring John Wayne, The Sound and The Fury (1959) co-starring Joanne Woodward, the grand British comedy adventure spectacle Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), Shock Treatment (1964) co-starring Carol Lynley and Roddy McDowall as a very disturbed gardner, René Clément’s The Day and the Hour (1963) co-starring Simone Signoret. Stuart Whitman plays an American soldier who is shot down behind enemy lines and is aided by the French resistance. Whitman directed one specific scene that Clément agreed to let him shoot. There is an impassioned chemistry between the sublime Signoret (a favorite actress of mine) and Whitman, as the two journey to escape the Nazi’s in occupied France. Clément is at his finest profiling war torn Europe, his focus on the stirring content and eloquent faces that populate his films.
Stuart Whitman in Darby’s Rangers (1958) – directed by William Wellman
Joanne Woodward and Stuart Whitman in The Sound and the Fury (1959)
Stuart Whitman holding Simone Signoret in a scene from the film ‘The Day And The Hour’, 1963. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)
Le jour et l’heure (The Day and the Hour) Year: 1963 Director: René Clément -Simone Signoret, Stuart Whitman, Billy Kearns
Le jour et l’heure Year: 1963 Director: René Clément Simone Signoret, Stuart Whitman
Le jour et l’heure Year: 1963 Director: René Clément  Simone Signoret , Stuart Whitman
Whitman plays the compassionate prison guard who believes in rehabilitation not the death penalty in Convicts 4 (1962). His performance adds a real and humanist impact to the tense and confining spaces of the prison. There are also fine appearances by Rod Steiger, Sammy Davis Jr. and Vincent Price. Whitman felt at home in the western, he starred in Rio Conchos (1964), and then the turbulent psycho-drama An American Dream (1966) co-starring Janet Leigh and Eleanor Parker.
Night of the Lepus (1972) co-starring Janet Leigh and Rory Calhoun. Apparently Whitman felt that this low budget horror film was the decline of his career. Stuart Whitman was forced into taking the role in William F. Claxton’s ridiculous horror flick. In it, Whitman and Janet Leigh play zoologists who accidentally unleash giant bunny rabbits. The film is laughable and was partly responsible for the blemish on his career, though the film has attained cult status.
He managed to work with some of the most prominent directors, William Wellman, Frank Borzage, Don Siegel, Richard Fleischer, Michael Curtiz, Douglas Sirk, Jacques Tourneur and  René Clément.
After guest starring in dramatic television programs Lux Video Theatre, Four Star Playhouse, Zane Grey Theater and Dr Christian. He gained recognition in the lead role as Marshal Jim Crown in the successful Western television series Cimarron Strip that ran from 1967-68 on CBS. Other television appearances include Death Valley Days Highway Patrol 1956-57, Have Gun-Will Travel (1958), Bracken’s World (1970), Rod Serling’s Night Gallery episode Lindemann’s Catch and Fright Night.
He was in Circle of Fear (1972) The Streets of San Fransisco (1973), Quincy M.E., Knight Rider, A-Team, S.W.A.T., and Murder, She Wrote. He had a re-occurring role in Knots Landing. In 1988, he was featured in Superboy which lasted until 1992. Whitman played Jonathan Kent Superboy’s adoptive father.
Stuart Whitman and Chloris Leachman in Jonathan Demme’s Crazy Mama (1975)
Stuart Whitman and Eleanor Parker in An American Dream (1966)
Fred Williamson, Jenny Sherman and Stuart Whitman in Mean Johnny Barrows (1976)
1971: (L-R) Bradford Dillman, Carol Eve Rossen, Shelley Winters, Stuart Whitman appearing in the ABC tv movie ‘Revenge!’. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
Stuart Whitman appeared in various tv movies, City Beneath the Sea (1971), Revenge! (1971) co-starring Shelley Winters, The Woman Hunter (1972), co-starring Barbara Eden.
Donald Randolph, Tony Curtis, Richard Long, Stuart Whitman and Palmer Lee in “The All American” 1953 Universal ** B.D.M.

Under contract to Universal Stuart Whitman was still cast in minimal parts in 1953. The first with director Budd Boetticher’s The Man from the Alamo. Then he worked with Jacques Tourneur his crime thriller Appointment in Honduras. Then followed The Veils of Bagdad and Walking My Baby Back Home.

in 1954, he was still getting cast in small roles Charles’ Vidor’s Rhapsody, loaned out to MGM. Stuart Whitman appeared in Brigadoon. He performed on stage at the Coast Theater in Christopher Fry’s Venus Observed.

1955, Whitman maintained his brief images like the man on the beach in Curtis Bernhardt’s Interrupted Melody. Also that year, Whitman had a minor role in the serial King of the Carnival. In that same vein he appeared in Allan Dwan’s war drama Hold Back the Night.  Then came Budd Boetticher’s western Seven Men from Now in 1956 co-starring Lee Marvin and Randolph Scott.

Finally In 1957, Stuart Whitman’s film presence gained visibility in Gerd Oswald’s noir thriller Crime of Passion, and Reginald Le Borg’s War Drums. He got his first leading role in John H. Auer’s Johnny Trouble. Where Whitman plays Johnny Chandler a belligerent young man whom Ethel Barrymore believes is her grandson. Films that followed were Hell Bound co-starring Broderick Crawford and James Mason and Howard W. Koch’s psycho-sexual shocker The Girl in Black Stockings (1957).

Stuart Whitman as Prentiss in The Girl in the Black Stockings (1957)

Carolyn Jones and Stuart Whitman in Johnny Trouble (1957)

Also in 1957 Whitman had a notable role in the military series, Harbor Command based on the United States Coast Guard.

He had a recurring role as police officer Sgt. Walters on the television series Highway Patrol. Whitman  and his co-star Broderick Crawford hit it off and became friends.

He was cast in bit parts in film and stage productions. Then he finally had his breakthrough with the drama Johnny Trouble in 1957 co-starring Ethel Barrymore in her last role. Then he co-starred with Gary Cooper in Ten North Frederick (1958) Stuart Whitman co-starred with Dorothy Dandrige in the crime drama The Decks Ran Red in 1958 where the two kissed showcasing one of the first interracial kisses in Hollywood at the time.

STUART WHITMAN & DOROTHY DANDRIDGE Film ‘THE DECKS RAN RED’ (1958) Directed By ANDREW L. STONE
10 October 1958 CT2447 Allstar/Cinetext/MGM

Dorothy Dandridge and Stuart Whitman in The Decks Ran Red (1958)

excerpts from an Interview From Shock Cinema Magazine by Anthony Petkovich

SC:You also starred with Broderick Crawford (they worked together in Highway Patrol) in The Decks Ran Red 1958.”

STUART WHITMAN: “Dorothy Dandridge, poor baby… She was previously married to one of the two Nicholas brothers {Harold} and their daughter, who was (brain-damaged), eventually had to be placed in a mental institution. And poor Dorothy was going through all of that turmoil while she was making the movie. A goddess, that’s what she was. “You know how Brod got that picture? Listen to this… Andrew and Virginia Stone both produced it with Andrew directing. And I said to them “who are you going to get to play this role (of Henry Scott)?” And they said, “Oh God, we’d love to have Broderick Crawford but he’s a drunk” And I said “Wait a second, if he tells you he’s not going to drink, then he won’t drink” No, they said. And I said “look. Call him up and talk to him. Tell him that I’m in the picture.” So they called Brod up and hired him. And just as I told them Brod didn’t touch a drop until the last day of shooting-then he let go But that’ show he got that job It was actually a good little movie. James Mason was an interesting guy, and we became fast friends. Oh God, he was a sweetheart. But Brod and he just didn’t get along.”

Came 1958, Charlton Heston left the William Wellman’s film Darby’s Rangers. It’s star James Garner took over the role and Stuart Whitman took Garners original character. Starting in production that year was Richard Fleischer’s western These Thousand Hills, and beginning it’s theatrical run was Ten North Frederick. Whitman remarked “many good things came from that”.

In 1958, Hedda Hopper wrote a piece on Whitman which said he could be the “new Clark Gable” :

This is a fresh personality with tremendous impact. He’s tall and lean with shock of unruly black hair and dark hazel eyes which harden to slate grey when he plays a bad man or turns on the heat in a love scene. When he comes into camera range, the audience sits up and says: “Who dat?”

The Decks Ran Red directed by Andrew L. Stone followed and according to Whitman, he got MGM to hire his friend Broderick Crawford with the condition that he remain sober during the shooting.

In 1959, Stuart Whitman replaced Robert Wagner in The Sound and the Fury co-starring Joanne Woodward and Yul Brynner. Woodward and Whitman would find themselves acting together once again in the taut thriller Signpost to Murder 1964. Also that year he appeared in an episode of the popular television show by writer/produced by Gene Roddenberry Have Gun-Will Travel.

Whitman finally started getting leading man roles in director Don Siegel’s Hound Dog Man. Whitman   played a rogue his “fourth heel in a row… I had a ball because the character was a real louse, everything hanging off him and no inhibitions. I like those kind of guys, I suppose because I can’t be that way myself.”

In 1960, he starred in the Biblical drama The Story of Ruth, replacing Stephen Boyd as Boaz.

Stuart Whitman in “The Story of Ruth” 1960 (Photo by RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

That year he co-starred in the darkly violent crime biopic Murder, Inc. Whitman had originally thought that he was to be cast in the Peter Falk role, but wound up playing the romantic lead instead. The film’s production was problematic from the beginning. Director Stuart Rosenberg was fired for taking too long to set up shots. After the actors’ strike the studio was pressured to finish the film so they hired Burt Balaban to finish production.

Then came 1961 and the role that earned him the Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Stuart Whitman was frustrated with the kinds of roles he was getting. “I had been knocking around and not getting anything to test my ability” When Richard Burton dropped out of production of Guy Green’s The Mark, to take the part in the stage production of Camelot, Whitman was contacted by his agent, the actor not knowing the controversial content of the film, he flew to Ireland to read the script. Though it was a challenge he felt that he could tackle the role of a child molester, and he was right as he garnered the Oscar nomination for his performance. Whitman acknowledged that it “doubled my rating as an actor” yet  “I had a tough time breaking my image in that movie… it blocked my image as a gutsy outdoorsman.”

Whitman then starred in The Fiercest Heart filmed in South Africa. Then he appeared in Michael Curtiz’s religious biopic Francis of Assisi. Curtiz wanted Whitman, to appear in his next film The Comancheros. John Wayne had to negotiate with the studio to get Whitman released from a prior commitment with the studio. Stuart Whitman plays Paul Regret who escapes from the law but is eventually captured by Texas Ranger Jake Cutter (John Wayne).

1962, Whitman starred in Millard Kaufman’s crime drama Convicts 4 and was cast in the all-star feature The Longest Day (1962) The events of D-Day, told on a grand scale from both the Allied and German points of view. 

Publicity Still from The Longest Day (1962)

Le jour et l’heure Year: 1963 Director: René Clément Stuart Whitman, Marcel Bozzuffi
Le jour et l’heure Year: 1963 Director: René Clément Stuart Whitman, Reggie Nalder

From Wiki: In 1963, instead of choosing any of these roles, Whitman played an American pilot in the French film René Clément‘s The Day and the Hour, shot in Paris and set during World War II. As described by Whitman, he got the part through Alain Delon, who he bumped into in an elevator at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Delon invited him to meet the director, and eventually worked out a way to loan him out from his studio contract. During the production of the film, Whitman disagreed with Clément on the direction of a torture scene. Whitman swore to Clément that he could handle it. After coincidentally sitting in a plane next to Sidney Buchman who co-wrote The Mark, they re-wrote the scene. Whitman directed the torture scene and hasn’t directed since. Whitman described Clément, as one of the finest French directors. He enjoyed the experience, saying, “I busted through at last and can now get an honest emotion, project it and make it real. You become egocentric when you involve yourself to such an extent in your role; your next problem is in learning how to turn it off and come home and live with society. It took a lot of time and energy to break through, so I could honestly feel and I’m reluctant to turn it off. Now I know why so many actors go to psychiatrists.”

In 1963, Stuart Whitman appeared in an episode called  “Killing at Sundial” of the first season of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre. Whitman plays a Native American seeking to avenge his father who was hanged years ago.

1964, Whitman was cast in the expository psychological shiver as the unfortunate Dale Nelson who gets cast into the snake pit of Shock Treatment (1964). Then came the western directed by Gordon Douglas- Rio Conchos co-starring two other leading men Richard Boone and Tony Franciosa. Whitman said that he didn’t like the script, but producer Darryl F. Zanuck dangled the carrot of the lead role in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines in 1965.  After Stuart Whitman met with Richard Boone and director Douglas he agreed to take the part. Director Annakin had wanted Dick Van Dyke for the lead role in this aviation extravaganza but he had to to accept the studio’s choice and wound up being please with Whitman’s wonderful performance.

In 1965 he appeared in the director George Englund’s film noir Signpost to Murder co-starring Joanne Woodward. Signpost to Murder is perhaps one of Stuart Whitman’s most compelling performances. He plays Alex Forrester an escaped patient from an asylum – takes refuge in Molly Thomas’ (Woodward) house who has secrets of her own. This contemplative thriller with twists is an incredibly underrated psychological thriller and deserves more attention paid to it for its narrative precision.  There is an evocative score by master composer Lyn Murray that underlines the moody discord of the plot. Whitman is superb as the desperate man trying to free himself of being labeled insane, culminating in the emotional eruption of violence. “What a terrible way to live out the one life I have. Shut up. Shut off. Forever lost.”

He got the lead in Cy Endfield’s Sands of the Kalahari. Other actors considered for the role were Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum and Marlon Brando. Whitman had a horrendous time during the shoot, due to the extreme heat on location in Africa, and the baboons whom he had to fight with weren’t trained.  And finally the release of director Ken Annakin’s comedy centered around the aviation craze circa 1910 with an ensemble cast. Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines with Whitman featured as the American participating in the race from London to Paris.

In 1966, Whitman starred opposite Eleanor Parker in Robert Gist’s An American Dream aka See You in Hell, Darling based on the novel by Norman Mailer. The film is a self-indulgent cynical journey as Whitman is suspected of killing his wife (Parker) who plays a miserable alcoholic. Whitman then appeared once again on the dramatic television series Bob Hope Presents  in the episode The Highest Fall of All. He played a suicidal stuntman with a death wish who is willing to do dangerous fall.

In 1967, Whitman came into American living rooms for the first time as U.S. Marshal Jim Crown, the lead character in the television western Cimarron Strip.

Stuart Whitman and Margit Saad in The Last Escape (1970)

1970, Whitman appeared in the episode “Murder off-camera” of Bracken’s World. Also that year, Stuart Whitman starred in The Last Escape and The Invincible Six. He was also in an episode of The FBI. 1971, Whitman acted in director Alexander Singer’s Captain Apache co-starring Carroll Baker and Lee Van Cleef.

Whitman plays a psychic who is hired by Carol Rossen to find her missing husband in the Grand Guignol made for television thriller Revenge! starring Shelley Winters as a twisted vengeful mother who is holding Bradford Dillman captive in her cellar. He appeared in another made for television sci-fi adventure The City Beneath the Sea. In 1972, he plays a hardened, solitary sea captain who catches a mermaid in “Lindemann’s Catch”, an episode of Rod Serling’s horror/fantasy series Night Gallery. Serling wrote the episode and Jeff Corey directed.

City Beneath the Sea (1971) made for tv movie

Also in 1972 he appeared in Disney’s Run, Cougar, Run, and an episode of Fantasy Island called “Carnival/The Vaudevillians“. He did another episode of Night Gallery called “Fright Night” where he must take care of a mysterious trunk in an old family estate. Having a proclivity toward starring in horror he appeared in a television episode of Circle of Fear/Ghost Story called “The Concrete Captain co-starring Gena Rowlands. That same year he appeared in another television movie, The Woman Hunter starring Barbara Eden. Came 1972 Whitman appears as a hitman in “The Set Up” episode of The Streets of San Francisco, and the made for television film The Man Who Died Twice. He also appeared in Love, American Style, and an episode of Hec Ramsey called “A Hard Road to Vengeance.” Curtis Harrington’s Made for Television horror The Cat Creature (1973) co-starring Gale Sondergaard.

In 1974 he took to the horror stage again appearing in the outre creepy and violent Welcome to Arrow Beach co-starring Lawrence Harvey and Joanna Pettet about a veteran who craves human flesh. Harvey who directed had asked Whitman to play the lead role, but he told him he didn’t want to play a cannibal but he’d play the deputy because he wanted to work with Lawrence Harvey.

In 1975, he had the lead role in Call Him Mr. Shatter, and an episode of Cannon called “Man in the Middle”. He co-starred with Fred Williamson in Mean Johnny Barrows. That same year he starred in Jonathan Demme’s exploitation film Crazy Mama co-starring Cloris Leachman. Several generations of women go on to be outlaws robbing banks so they can reclaim the farm in Arkansas that was taken away from them by the bank. Whitman plays Jim Bob who is along for the ride with Melba (Cloris Leachman). In Mean Johnny Barrows (1975) Whitman co-stars as a crime boss with Fred Williamson.

In 1976 he starred in the television series S.W.A.T. episode “The Running Man” and then he took to the Italian action genre working with director Alberto De Martino in his giallo feature where Whitman plays Capt. Tony Saitta and co-stars with John Saxon and Martin Landau in the very slick mystery Strange Shadows in an Empty Room. He appeared along side Rod Taylor and Elke Sommer in Treasure Seeker. He acted in television’s Harry O with friend David Janssen and Ellery Queen. He played the sheriff in Tobe Hooper’s nasty horror gorge- Eaten Alive.

In 1977, television called Stuart Whitman once again to appear in Quincy, M.E. in the highly charged episode “Hot Ice Cold Hearts” He appeared in one of my favorite horror films starring the great Piper Laurie. He starred in J. Lee Thompson’s The White Buffalo co-starring Charles Bronson.

In 1978 Whitman appeared in several television miniseries, The Pirate written by Harold Robins and The Seekers. He also starred in Delta Fox.

Around this time, Whitman collaborated twice with director René Cardona Jr.. In 1979 he starred as Jim Jones in the powerfully disturbing, Guyana, Cult of the Damned. The second film was Los Traficantes De Panico, also known as Under Siege.

“A lot of big people told me I was the number one man the networks wanted,” said Whitman. “I always wanted to play a cop with a heart, a guy who would use every possible means not to kill a man,” he said. “TV has needed a superhero… and I think Crown can be the guy.”

The Los Angeles Times did a profile on Whitman around this time, calling him “an actor of growing importance in a business that needs stalwarts to follow in the steps of the Clark Gables, Gary Coopers, and John Waynes… Whitman is like a finely trained athletic champion – a modest but self-assured chap who seems to know where he is going.”

“I’ve done lots of different parts since I left Hollywood High School and City College”, said Whitman in a 1960 interview, “so the sudden switch didn’t bother me too much. I hope 20th Century Fox will keep the roles varied and interesting.”

“I didn’t need to act to make a living, but I had a real passion for it,” he told writer Nick Thomas. “I just loved to act.”

Whitman described himself to Hedda Hopper as “a real American – have a little bit of English, Irish, Scotch and Russian – so I get along with everyone.”

“I went to so many schools—26 in all!—that I was always an outsider,” he later recalled. “It wasn’t until high school that I could really read . . . I always sat in the back of the room.”

Whitman’s early love for acting came through when he did three summer stock plays in New York when he was 12, but “nobody took that seriously,” he said.

“I reached a point where I said, ‘What are you going to do with your life? You got to get something going.'” he said. “I decided I wanted to spend most of my time on me. So I decided to develop me and educate me.”

According to John Gregory Dunne’s “The Studio,” Whitman was suggested for the title role in The Boston Strangler by John Bottomly, the Massachusetts assistant attorney general who prosecuted Albert DeSalvo. Instead, the role went to Tony Curtis.

Whitman had turned down a number of offers to star on television series over the years, including Mannix and Judd for the Defense. “I wanted more diversity in acting,” he said. “I felt I would limit myself.”

Whitman admitted, “I’m the type who must work constantly.” In the early 1970s, he worked increasingly in Europe. “I left Hollywood because it was getting to be a mad mess!” he said. “There are only about two really good scripts going around and they always go to the industry’s two top stars. I thought that in Europe, something better might come my way—and it did! I’ve made mistakes in the past, but I kept bouncing back. I always thought that an actor is destined to act, but I now realize that if you do one role well, you get stuck with it!”

Stuart Whitman retired from film and television after 2000 after his final appearance in The President’s Man.

Awards and honors Included on the Hollywood walk of Fame (1998) Nominated Best Actor Academy Award, The Mark (1961) Winner (cast member) Western Heritage Awards, The Comancheros (1961)

“The Comancheros” John Wayne, Stuart Whitman 1961 20th Century Fox

“I was filming Francis of Assisi 1961 In Italy with director Michael Curtiz IT was wintertime and a hard shoot And near the end of the film, Michael said “Stuart take a look at this script. It’s called The Comancheros” I read it over and said ‘boy, there’s a role in there that I’d love to be in” And he said I’d love to have you in it. I’m directing it. But the studio has got somebody else cast for that particular part. But we don’t start filming for another month, so when you get back to Hollywood see if you can get on the picture. I’d like to have you. “When I got back, I asked the studio and they said No you can’t do it We’ve got it all sewn up. So I called up Kurt Frings and told him what Curtiz said to me “Well he said “go see the Duke at Paramount He’s on Stage 17 Go talk to him.

Anyhow I worked my way into Paramount went to Stage 17 and when I got there (Wayne) was just going off to his dressing room. So I followed him in— “and Michael Curtiz wants me in your next picture. I really want to do it but the studio is putting up some blockage there. So I hung around there with Wayne for part of the day. And at the end of the day he asked me, “you really want to do the picture huh? Okay You’ve to the job. That’s how I got The Comancheros.”-Stuart Whitman

IMDB Trivia:

Alfred Hitchcock considered him, along with Cliff Robertson, Robert Loggia and Tom Tryon, for the role of Sam Loomis in Psycho (1960), but the role went to John Gavin.
Was a light-heavyweight boxer while serving the United States Army. Ironically, it was his role as a prizefighter in the play “Dr. Christian” that brought him his first leading role in a movie, playing Johnny in Johnny Trouble (1957) opposite Ethel Barrymore.
Was close friends with David Janssen.
In 1960, MGM toyed with the idea of doing an all-male remake of The Women (1939) which would’ve been entitled “Gentlemen’s Club.” Stuart Whitman would have been cast as (Oliver, the bartender who spills the beans about the illicit affair).

Another The Decks Ran Red co-star Whitman commented on was Dorothy Dandridge, who was going through a divorce and had to institutionalize her mentally ill daughter. Whitman was impressed with her strength and described her as a goddess.

Whitman told that when he first met Peter Falk on the set of Murder, Inc., they had differences but eventually became friends. Whitman found The Mark director Guy Green difficult to work with, finding him demanding and too strict, but they became good friends afterwards. On the set of Sands of the Kalahari, Whitman said he became best friends with fellow cast members Stanley Baker and Theodore Bikel, while he didn’t click with Jim Brown at first, they too became friends.

S.W.A.T. – Season Two – “The Running Man” 12/2/75 Stuart Whitman
FILM CLIPS HERE:
Cimarron Strip television show
Johnny Trouble 1957 as Johnny
 
Darby’s Rangers 1958 as Sgt. Hank Bishop
Ten North Frederick 1958 as Charley Bongiorno
The Decks Ran Red 1958 as Leroy Martin
The Sound and the Fury 1959 as Charlie Busch
Murder, Inc 1960 as Joey Collins
The Mark 1961 as Jim Fuller
The Comancheros 1961 as Paul Regret
Convicts 4 (1961) as Principal Keeper
The Day and the Hour 1963 as Capt. Allan Morley
Shock Treatment 1964 as Dale Nelson
Signpost to Murder 1964 as Alex Forrester
An American Dream 1966 as Stephen Richard Rojack
The Invincible Six 1970 as Tex
Captain Apache 1971 as Griffin
Revenge! 1971 tv movie as Mark Hembric
Night Gallery 1972 Capt. Hendrick Lindemann (segment “Lindemann’s Catch”)
The Streets of San Fransisco 1973 episode: “The Set-Up”) (1973) as Nick Carl
Shatter 1974 as Shatter
Crazy Mama 1975 as Jim Bob
Mean Johnny Barrows 1976 as Mario Racconi
Strange Shadows in an Empty Room 1976 as Capt. Tony Saitta
Ruby 1977 as Vince Kemper

Filmography

This is your everlovin’ joey sayin’ goodbye Stuart Whitman… we’ll always have your eyebrows and that sexy voice of yours to enjoy!

Piper Laurie: The Girl Who Ate Flowers

Part of what mesmerizes me about the actresses I love is their distinctive voices. Piper Laurie’s indelible talent is, of course, what attracted me to her initially. But part of what grabs me in the gut is her uniquely soft, velveteen whispery voice that seems to come from a deep and delicate place. Such voices are capable of moving mountains. Piper Laurie may have started out as Universal’s young ingénue but what she manifested after breaking her chains from the studio that held her back, is a monumental ability to express herself with a depth of emotion. She is evocative, calm, almost solitary, and always remarkable in each of her performances.

Universal might have locked her into formulaic romantic comedies and hyperbolic adventures, something Piper Laurie herself felt restricted by, but even those films are still delightful viewing and she shines in each role. Unfortunately the label stuck to her name and made it impossible for the actress to get serious scripts. Universal forced her to turn down potential break out dramatic roles with their constrictive servitude. It wasn’t until she took to the stage once again — as she has when first starting out in drama class– and acted in 1950s television shows featuring extraordinary writing and directing, that she was able to shed the stigma of some of Hollywood’s insipid labeling. There were directors and producers who saw something more in Piper Laurie. It is infuriating that she was not given the role director Vittorio DeSica had chosen for her because of Universal’s narrow-mindedness and strangling contract. And it is frustrating that there are remarkable performances from 1950s dramatic teleplays and series that are just not available for viewing. The only performance that I can find is Piper Laurie as Kirsten Arnesen Clay in Playhouse 90’s Days of Wine and Roses directed by John Frankenheimer.

In April 2019 I had the incredible opportunity to sit down and talk with the great actress while at the Chiller Theater Convention here in New Jersey. There, in the midst of enthusiastic fans buzzing around like drones in a spectacle hive excited to see Carrie White’s sinister mother, sat Piper Laurie as beautiful as always. She exudes a gentleness and presence –an aura– that emanates from her smile beneath one of her signature hats. I stood there struck silent for a moment, nervously. I think I might have even trembled a bit, about to meet one of the great actresses I’ve revered for years. Amidst signing autographs and Carrie bobble heads, her smile greeted me peacefully. She was gracious and welcoming. After I told her that I thought she should have won the Academy Award for her nuanced and provocative performance as the damaged Sarah Packard in Director Robert Rossen’s The Hustler, she invited me to come and sit down and chat with her for a while. I found her to be extremely kind, witty, and in particular, quite feisty and honest.

Just like her incredible life story and eloquently written autobiography Learning to Live Out Loud: A Memoir (which she proudly informed me was written completely in her own words without the aide of a ghost writer). While I’ll give some snippets of what you’ll find in Piper Laurie’s captivating autobiography, I’d rather leave you to obtain the book and take the journey with her yourself.

The book details brutally raw and honest expository remembrances of her intense journey as a child, through her early experiences as the reluctant and lovely starlet in 1950’s Hollywood to finally finding the voice that she struggled to manifest for so many years because of pathological anxiety. She tells how Universal shackled her to a contract while she slowly grew more courageous wanting to only take good scripts and shatter the image of the vapid Hollywood starlet. The book includes wonderful anecdotes about the days of great actors and directors, the experiences of working in the Hollywood system, and the friendships she established while discovering her creative voice through it all. The book deals with her exploration into love from her first unfortunate encounter with Ronald Reagan to the tumultuous life long love affair with director John Frankenheimer.

I told Piper Laurie that I understand why so many people bring up the movie Carrie at these conventions– it stands to reason that there’s a thrill in the mythos of characterizations like that. But it was when I told her how much I loved her work beyond that famous iconic role, she held my hand looked into my eyes and told me with great and stately sincerity how much that meant to her. This is a piece of time in my life I will always remember with great affection and awe.

Throughout our conversation her soft eyes look straight into mine and her effervescent smile summoned a validation in me and we were having such a real and candid conversation. We talked about her performance in Until They Sail (1957), Robert Wises superior underrated film about four sisters during the war. She was thrilled to talk about it, that it was a good film but no one ever mentions it. Piper Laurie’s performance as Delia Leslie is extraordinary filled with layers of self preservation and boldness. Piper remarked about the wonderful actresses she got to work with in the film as it also starred Jean Simmons, Joan Fontaine, and Sandra Dee. She told me it was how sweet Sandra Dee was and that it was her first film role. They had to build her up with a body suit to make her look older and more developed as her character aged. She was very appreciative to talk about the work she had done that she was proud of. [SPOILER ALERT] I told her how upset I was that they killed her off in the end of the film. In her humorous, feisty manner she responded, “They always seem to be killing me off in these things!”

Of course we talked a little about the phenomena that is her comeback role in Carrie (1976). She appreciated hearing that it was her performance as Mrs. White that was the true horror narrative of that film, and not the supernatural subplot. Even her orgasmic death scene where being crucified brought her a certain ecstasy emblematic of iconic death scenes on screen for generations.

Piper Laurie as Ruby Claire in Curtis Harrington’s Ruby (1977)

While fans were mimicking “they’re all gonna laugh at you” from Carrie (1976), I asked her about working with director Curtis Harrington and her work in his extremely atmospheric horror film Ruby (1977) where she plays the sensual torch singer Ruby Claire who ran with gangsters during prohibition and owns a drive in theater haunted by an angry ghost. She got such a kick out of me bringing that film up and told me she herself loves the film! In Ruby, Piper Laurie’s sultry performance is haunting, sexy, and the film is an off-beat gem. She said working with Harrington was a great experience and that he was wonderful to work with. She also agreed with me that Harrington has a particular sensitivity and sympathetic eye for the vulnerability in women much like Tennessee Williams. His characterizations of women in each of his films are very complex, for example Simone Signoret in Games 1967, Shelley Winters and Debby Reynolds in What’s The Matter with Helen, Julie Harris in So Awful About Alan, Ann Southern and Ruth Roman in The Killing Kind and of course Piper as Ruby Claire. “He was a gentle and lovely man during and after.”

I told her how much I loved her performance as Dolly Talbot in The Grass Harp (1995). After reading her autobiography I can see how she manifested the gentle quality of Capote’s ethereal character. In contrast, it’s ironic that a good many people remember the monstrous mother from De Palma’s Carrie –she still frightens horror fans to this day– when Piper Laurie can only think of how funny it was for her to be so mean. Who at first thought the film was supposed to be a comedy and how the director was deadly serious about her playing it utterly satanic right down to getting crucified by kitchen implements. She had to stop herself from laughing during the shooting of that scene.

To be honest, Piper Laurie as Toni Collette’s (Arden’s) mother in The Dead Girl 2006 is far more frightening than Carrie White’s mother could ever be. One is macabre and Grand Guignol, and the other too real and tragic to cause a shudder in your psyche. Having met her it’s even more of a revelation that she is an incredible actor to be able to manifest such horror when she is quite the opposite in true life.

I also mentioned her performance as Mary Highmark in Naked City Howard Running Bear is a Turtle (1963). Naked City is an Emmy Award-winning dramatic television series from the 1960s. It’s well scripted episodes, cinematography, and casting of the finest actors from stage and film was groundbreaking. And while this particular  episode is problematic in that actors who were not Native American were miscast in those roles, and they whacked a really awful black wig on Piper, her performance was the one illuminating aspect of the episode. When I reminded her of the show, she remarked, “Didn’t I dance on the table in that?” while she laughed with that distinctive voice of hers. I had to laugh as well, and tell her that she was very good in the role, but the wig was frightful. We had a good laugh about it. I joked that perhaps it was the same one they stuck on William Shatner when he played a Balinese man in the other disappointing episode from all the 4 seasons. Aside from her dancing –which was really painful to watch as she mimics a Native American dance the party goers are insensitively asking her to do an offensive impression of– her performance was poignant and powerful. She was surprised that I got that much out of it, in her words, “it didn’t age well” — the wig and the episode.

When I told her that I would be very respectful in the feature about her personal life, she joked about it saying that she would be disappointed if it wasn’t racy! That gentle beaming smile with that sassy sense of humor. I love Piper Laurie even more than I possibly could have before!

As time has moved on her talent has not only diminished she continues to recreate herself and grow even more beautiful with age.

Piper Laurie is a three-time Oscar nominee, nominated by BAFTA as well as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for best performance by an actress in ‘The Hustler’ with Paul Newman. Her career has spanned 7 decades. Piper Laurie earned three Oscar nominations for her portrayal as the tragic Sarah Packard in director Robert Rossen’s The Hustler (1961).

PIPER LAURIE INTERVIEW FROM 2012 TALKING ABOUT ROBERT ROSSEN’S THE HUSTLER (1961)

The character of Sarah Packard (The Hustler) is immortalized on the screen by an arresting performance by Piper Laurie (Kim Novak had turned down the role) who should have won the Oscar for Best Actress with her nuanced, and heart wrenching interpretation of the vulnerable loner and self-loathing Sarah. Director Robert Rossen has often dealt with the intricacies within the psychological landscape of his films. (The Strange Love of Martha Ivers 1946, All the King’s Men 1949, Lilith 1964, Billy Budd 1962).

Sarah Packard is a complicated woman who has a tenuous connection to the world but allows herself to fall in love with Eddie who is driven to succeed and land at the top as the greatest pool hustler. Sarah is a lost soul longing for someone who will love her. She’s receives a stipend from her wealthy father, but there is no sign of affection or acceptance from him, his is non-existent. Eddie awakens desire in her, but he cannot deliver anything but his hunger and ambition to beat Minnesota Fats and attain the title. Fast Eddie destroys everything he touches. In order to really throw herself into the role of Sarah Packard Piper Laurie actually hung out at the Greyhound terminal at night.

Piper Laurie was also nominated for her portrayal as Sarah’s mother Mrs. Norman in Children of a Lesser God (1986) and quite notably as the fanatical nightmarish mother Mrs. White in Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) But those who remember her best from that role may be surprised to learn that she overcame an equally turbulent childhood, including an anxiety disorder that left her unable to communicate as a child.

Once free of Universal’s iron grip she was able to take on roles in dramatic teleplays, performances in the theater and in films that would lead her to her signature artistry. Some of her most memorable performances were the stage production of The Glass Menagerie on Broadway, the original Days of Wine and Roses, in the film The Hustler for which she was nominated for the Academy Award.

After a hiatus from acting she reemerged in the iconic horror film Carrie in 1976 and had a major role in David Lynch’s cult television show Twin Peaks, Children of a Lesser God, Tim, and The Grass Harp. Piper Laurie is also skilled sculptor and director, and one of the industries most brave and talented originals.

“I’ve had a tough life sometimes, and a very rewarding one,” Piper exclusively shared with Closer Weekly in 2018. Who is “not frightened often by anything. Either I’ve been through it before, or I just know I will survive!”

Cheesecake pin up model Piper Laurie posing in hay. (Photo By Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

There are so many intricate details of Piper Laurie journey that it would be impossible to sum it all up in one tribute. Besides I’d like to leave plenty of the morsels and insights that are so well written in her book. I can’t think of a better way to tribute the great actress by allowing her to tell the full story in her own words. I cannot stress again the importance of getting this amazing autobiography and delving into the weeds with this brilliant woman who has a compelling story to share with us.

Piper Laurie was born Rosetta Jacobs on January 22nd, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan. Her parents, Charlotte Sadie and Alfred Jacobs, who were of Russian Jewish and Polish Jewish descent. It wasn’t easy for her parents to raise two little girls in the middle of the Depression. After years of struggling to survive Rosy’s weary mother took her sister Sherrye,who suffered from a terrible case of Asthma, and Rosy to a Sanitarium in the Mountains called Reslocks a home for children in the northeastern part of the San Fernando Valley. Grandmother and mother dropped the two little girls off without goodbyes as Rosy felt everything go black, she had fainted. She was left their to keep her sister company for 3 years in the cold dormitory style home where there was no nurturing presence just steel handed guidance from unemotional guardians who inflicted more harm than good on the children in their care. With no contact with her mother except for a visit or two, otherwise the girl were left at the mercy of Reslocks.

“As for me, my exile had cultivated an imagination that grew like a giant sheltering flower. It was a lifetime gift.“

Though Rosy, then called Sissy returned home, the desperate love that she originally felt for her mother turned into something dark, and the years away drove a wedge between mother and daughter. “During the long years in the sanitarium I had felt like a motherless child. Three years after leaving it, my mother consume my lief. For better or worse, my life had become hers, and I didn’t know any other way to live it.”

As a child Rosy desperately loved her mother and suffered from an acute anxiety disorder that often left her in a fugue state when attentions were upon her. “People’s patient expectation caused me to panic.” The family moved to Los Angeles, California in 1938 where Piper attended Hebrew School and the shy Piper was enrolled in elocution and then acting lessons.

Piper’s passion for performing started as early as 2 years old when she heard a full orchestra play for the first time. Taken by the magnitude of the instrumentation, so moved she climbed onto her mother’s lap, frightened by the shear vibrations of it, but moved by it at the same time. Another time she saw Jane Withers perform “Out of what cloud had she come? Fantastic How did this happen? It was unfathomable to me that a child could get that kind of attention and adulation.”

Rosy’s first play at age 11 was in Guest in the House. It was her mother that suggested she be in the movies. She would devour the Technicolor musicals with Betty Grable and Alice Faye and the black and white comedies starring Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. When she was 14 she brought by her agent to Howard Hughes office as an offering but the two sat quietly, as he decided not to elect to add her to his list of conquest. Through both their silence, she began to realize her own isolation. She won a screen test with Warner Bros. took elocution lessons and eventually studied with German actress Hermine Sterler who taught her to lose her ‘tricks’ and find her sense memory to “be ‘specific’ about subtext and to be honest in every moment.”

Piper talks about going to see Judith Anderson in the production of Euripides’ Medea at the Biltmore Theater. “My eyes were opened that night and have yet to close… What moved me was her inner nakedness. I could hear her and feel her power. The whole experience of the play was life-changing for me. It was so clear-the beauty, creativity and epically the courage of the theater and the actors were what I wanted. My dreams were now being transformed into another vision, completely my own.”

She studied acting with Benno and Betomi Schnider at the Actor’s Lab “My concentration and imagination out of necessity and opportunity had developed so fully during my childhood. It was one of the gifts from those years.” She took classes with these great teachers for almost 3 years. Tony Curtis was the newest member of the acting class. He was under contract at Universal but had only done some bit parts. It was there she met classmate and friend Bob Richards. He directed her in a class in the Tennessee William’s one act play This Property Condemned. The play seem so “organic’ to her spirit.

She was offered a test option at Warner Bros after they saw her performance in the Schneider’s class. It was 1949 when they were ending all their contracts with their big stars. Shortly after she turned 17 her agent Herb Brenner showed the test to Universal. She was called in for an interview and did a performance from This Property Condemned. She came back and did a second performance in front of a crowded class of new actors. The handsome Richard Long was one of them who said “That’s the best piece of work I’ve ever seen in this room”

After, she signed a long term contract with Universal Studios and changed her name to Piper Laurie. It was her first manager Ted Raden who came up with the name. Her breakout role was in Louise with Ronald Reagan. With Universal, she made over 20 films starring opposite actors like Rock Hudson, Tyrone Power, and Tony Curtis. To build up mystique around the young actress, Universal Studios claimed she bathed in milk and ate flower petals. But failing to get serious roles, she broke her contract with Universal and moved to New York City. Two years there working in theatre and live television turned her career around. During this time she appeared in live television performances of Twelfth Night, Days of Wine and Roses, and Winterset, both presented by Playhouse 90.

The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951) Tony Curtis, Everette Sloane and Piper Laurie

Piper Laurie in The Mississippi Gambler

American actor Rory Calhoun (1922 – 1999) with actresses Piper Laurie (right) and Mamie Van Doren (left) in a publicity still for the 1955 comedy romance ‘Ain’t Misbehavin”. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Universal thrust their brightest new star into a regime with stylists and chaperones and cast in leading roles, sent on dates with some of the most handsome Hollywood actors for publicity. Her popularity and fresh allure attracted a myriad of fans and and men like Ronald Reagan Howard Hughes, Paul Newman, Tony Curtis and Roddy MacDowall including dozens of significant directors. Piper Laurie’s name appeared on movie marquees across America starring in hit Hollywood films of the 1950s like The Prince Who Was s a Thief, The Mississippi Gambler and Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1955).

She started to feel her confidence growing inside. Kirk Douglas was preparing to produce a movie and was looking for a young girl to co-star opposite him. Piper would be under contract with Kirk Douglas. Being an inexperience seventeen year old she was advised to wait for Universal. Perhaps this was a missed opportunity. But Piper Laurie says she regrets very little in her life, even her mistakes.

She was locked inside a prison away from her creativity, not realizing that Universal made low budget B westerns and programmers. She was given gems of advice like this beauty from the judge who witnessed her signing her contract. “Don’t ever let men know that you are smart.” She was thrown into a ‘boot camp’ of training to become their latest ingenue. Changing her clothes, hairstyles and makeup.

From the young dreams of a silent little girl Piper Laurie struggled to break free of the oppressive culture of the studio system with it’s inherent objectification of their female stars and holding them back from more substantive roles. She was uncomfortable and embarrassed by the shallowness of the quality of the scripts she was given and finally The courageous actress found her voice and sought out the artistic vision she had longed for since she was a child.

Her first picture Louisa, the entire cast embraced Piper warmly it was a charming part to play Spring Byington’s granddaughter who acted more like a teenager than she did. Edmund Gwenn would visit her in her dressing room to sing little songs with her. Charles Coburn would sit out on the soundstage puffing on his cigars and coaching Piper on her role.

About the film Louisa… “I couldn’t find any reality in what my character did in the script or in the words she used. Every line and moment for the girl seemed like a cartoon. It seemed to me that a real girl would be amused and appreciate her grandmother’s behavior. Perhaps in a more clearly stylized screenplay, I could have found a way to make this caricature of a teenager live. I kept trying to think of ways to make her real for myself, but it was a constant struggle on the set.”

The relentless publicity campaign. Fred Banker was the publicity man for Louisa. He had this idea based on one of the scenes in the film where Edmund Gwenn prepares a salad for the family. He tosses marigold petals from a centerpiece on the table into the salad. When Fred studied the scene he got the flash and called the wire services. “Universal’s new contract player-Piper Laurie-eats nothing but flowers,” and arranged exclusive interviews with the flower eating girl. She had to play along. At the commissary there she sat eating a meal that was an assortment of edible flowers prepared artistically on a plate. Piper said it was more interesting than her role in the movie! “Oh yes, they’re really delicious.” Ultimately she would go home dejected about pushing this lie every day. “My expectations to make art were beginning to crumble.”

Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie in No Room for the Groom (1952)

In the 1950s universal paired newcomers Piper Laurie and Tony Curtis old classmates from Benno and Bertomis acting classes they were in four movies together. Make Room For the Groom, The Prince Who Was a Thief and Johnny Dark 1954. Curtis had been very unkind publicly about his co-stars performances saying that he was the real draw. This was very hurtful to Piper Laurie and the two actors never became friends after that. 1950 Louisa is a delightful romantic comedy starring Spring Byington in the lead role as the Grandmother Louisa Norton who allows herself to be wooed by two gentlemen Edmund Gwenn and Charles Coburn. In Piper Laurie’s first role she plays Louisa’s granddaughter Cathy with a feisty spirit bringing plucky charm to her film debut.

American actress Piper Laurie, circa 1958. (Photo by Frederic Lewis/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

1950 The Milkman, 1951 Francis Goes to the Races as Frances Travers, 1951 The Prince Who Was a Thief as Tina, 1952 No Room for the Groom as Lee Kingshead, 1952 Has Anybody Seen My Gal as Millicent Blaisdell, 1952 Son of Ali Baba as Princess Azura of Fez / Kiki, 1953 The Golden Blade as Khairuzan- she has a wonderful chemistry with Rock Hudson, the two are quite funny together, it showcases Piper Laurie’s comedic sensibilities and IMO the affinity between Hudson and Laurie is far more cohesive than all her pairings with Tony Curtis together, Dawn at Socorro (1954) as Rannah Hayes, Johnny Dark (1954) As Liz Fielding, 1954 Dangerous Mission as Louise Graham. Again the chemistry between Rory Calhoun and Victor Mature is tenable in both Dangerous Mission and the surprising good western Dawn at Socorro and the romantic comedy Ain’t Misbehavin’. Both male stars make a great pairing with Piper Laurie.

Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie in Has Anybody Seen My Gal

Piper Laurie and Rory Calhoun in Dawn at Socorro (1954)

Victor Mature and Piper Laurie in Dangerous Mission (1954)

Piper Laurie in The Golden Blade (1953) with Rock Hudson

In 1953 The Mississippi Gambler Piper Laurie plays the beautiful Angelique ‘Leia’ Dureau She possesses have a great vitality a driving hunger to live life. In 1854, Mississippi riverboat honest card gambler Mark Fallon (Tyrone Power) wins young Laurent Dureau’s (John Baer) diamond necklace family heirloom. Fallon pairs up with Kansas John Polly (John McIntire) who go on a mission to clean up gambling and push an honest game on the river boats. At first he hires Angelique whose brother loses her diamond necklace in a poker game but she cannot deny the fiery chemistry between them.

Angelique: “May I ask you one question before I leave you abruptly , knowing how I feel about you why did you humiliate yourself by asking me to dance?”
Mark: “Oh a matter of courtesy If a man is going to ask a woman to humiliate herself then he should be willing to accept it first.”
Angelique: “I don’t understand”
Mark: “You and I are in love with each other. We always will be. We’ve known it since that first moment we met in St. Louis. I want you and your happiness. But you’re not ready for marriage yet and I won’t be until you can truly be happy with a man.

The Mississippi Gambler ended Tyrone Power’s marriage to Linda Christian. The film was originally a vehicle to pair the couple, but Universal Pictures pushed for their starlet Piper Laurie to be cast in the role as Angelique.

Piper Laurie plays a good time gal who marries the wealthy Rory Calhoun. This puts high society onlookers enraged that he should marry a showgirl. She should be a lady of quality. So she tries to stop causing scandals for her wonderful husband and get some culture. Piper Laurie is witty and does a great job fending off the old hens set on putting her down. Rowdy Club  girl including Mamie Van Doren crashes high society when wealthy older man falls for her (1955) Ain’t Misbehavin‘ as Sarah Bernhardt Hatfield. Piper was very proud of her singing and dancing. Her character shined and Piper was a natural at being very humorous, and graceful with the quick comebacks.

I’ve seen people ask her about Tony Curtis, and Rock Hudson but I think that her chemistry with Rory Calhoun is romantic sweet, sharp witty and a sexy delight to watch. They were able to shift gears in Dawn in Socorro and bring out a more serious deeper emotional connection in that picture. I for one enjoy seeing them act together. in Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1955). Rory Calhoun plays Kenneth Post who loves Sarah for who she is, but she tries to fit into the role of high society girl. Painting to understand the old masters etc. Reginald Gardiner as Anatole Piermont Rogers is hilarious. And Jack Carson is obsessed with protecting his friend from bad publicity is at his polished gruff best for this romantic comedy.

Kenneth Post- “Have you ever been to a psychiatrist?”
Sarah- “Just once, he gave me fifty dollars not to come back.”

During this time Piper Laurie met director John Frankenheimer in Los Angeles. She was dating Gene Nelson they had dinner with John and his wife Carolyn. He was a new director at that point, but he was up and coming right out of New York. She was told by Millie Gussie to go and observe John in action. She sneaked into a booth and watched John Frankenheimer direct with an “incredible display of an artist’s intelligence, combined with the speed and power of a tornado. Watching him was like seeing a thunder and lighting storm conducted by a musician.” He winds up directing her in The Ninth Day for Playhouse 90. It was one of Pipers favorite live shows. Written by Dorothy and Howard Baker, with a beautiful script, ‘lots of humor and humanity’ The cast was Mary Astor, James Dunn, Victor Jory, John Kerr, Elizabeth Patterson and Nehemiah Persoff. This was the first time John and Piper worked together.

In 1955 she was in Robert Montgomery Presents (TV Series)
 Stacey Spender
- Quality Town (1955).

All the exciting dramatic performances were happening on live television now. She then got a script for Robert Montgomery Presents it was an hour long dramatic broadcast from New York. It was a great script called Quality Town This would be a substantial and challenging role for Piper Laurie. Rehearsing for the live television show was a lot like preparing for a play.

Joseph Mankiewicz had seen the performance and deemed it some of the best acting he had seen on television. The two had a little memorable tryst back in those early days of Piper’s budding dramatic television career. Scripts for live television were coming in.

(1955) The Best of Broadway (TV Series) 
Billie Moore- Broadway (1955) … Billie Moore, 1956 The Ninth Day (TV Movie), 1956 Kelly and Me as Mina Van Runkel, (1956) The Road that Led Afar G.E. Theater, (1956) Front Row Center (TV Series) as Judy Jones, (1957-1958) Playhouse 90 (TV Series)
 Kirsten Arnesen Clay / Ruth McAdam – Days of Wine and Roses (1958) … Kirsten Arnesen Clay – The Ninth Day (1957) … Ruth McAdam, (1957) The Seven Lively Arts (TV Series)- The Changing Ways of Love (1957) 
(1957) Studio One in Hollywood (TV Series) as Ruth Cornelius- The Deaf Heart (1957). Director Robert Wise’s film (1957) Until They Sail
 as Delia Leslie Friskett, (1959) Winterset (TV Movie) as Miriamne, (1959) Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (TV Series) as Eileen Gorman- The Innocent Assassin. (1959).

Piper Laurie goes to New York. “We can’t afford to have a Piper Laurie and what she stands for in the play.” Humiliated she flew back to L.A.

She appeared in Studio One’s The Deaf Heart (1957) directed by Sidney Lumet, a poignantly beautiful one hour play centered around psychosomatic illness written by Mayo Simon about a woman who is the sole caregiver in a family of non hearing people. The play co-starred Vivian Nathan, William Shatner, Richard Shepard the great Ruth White and Fritz Weaver.

The next show directed once again by Sidney Lumet was challenging in that Piper Laurie would be playing three different roles in one play. The show was called —The Changing Way of Love. The first was Awake and Sing! By Clifford Odets co-starring Jason Robards Jr. The next vignette would co-star Rip Torn in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams.” The third act was called Three Empty Rooms by Reginald Rose co-starring Dick York.

By that time Piper was working on simultaneous projects including her role as Viola in Maurice Evan’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

With all of Piper’s extraordinary anxiety around performing “Sometimes my anxiety was eased when I was bold. I found my greatest strength and power when things were tough.”

“I had finally shed my life as a harem cutie and didn’t think twice when I expressed my outrage for the love of art.”

During the late 50s and early 60s Piper worked on Studio One in Hollywood’s The Deaf Heart 1957, The Seven Lively Arts’ The Changing Ways of Love (1957), Playhouse 90 The Ninth Day 1957 and Days of Wine and Roses (1958), Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse The Innocent Assassin (1959), , Play of the Week’s Legend of Lovers (1960), as Phoebe Durkin in G.E. Theater’s The Road That Led Afar (1956), Caesar and Cleopatra (1959), A Musket for Jessica (1961), Westinghouse Presents Come Again to Carthage, The United Stated Steel Hour Mission of Fear (1963), You Can’t Have Everything (1960).

Actress Piper Laurie acting in a scene from Caesar and Cleopatra with actor Maurice Evans. (Photo by Allan Grant/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Despite her growing reputation for being difficult she was still receiving offers for challenging roles. Director Mitch Leisen offered her the part in George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra for G.E. Theater. She had another encounter with Maurice Evans who had referred to Piper as a pariah the year before. Evans didn’t remember the debacle with Twelfth Night and was fine working with Piper again. “He was like a charming kitten.” Piper was gracious and made the effort to be open to working opposite him for a 30 minute straight run through.

After being complacent at Universal Piper started to swing out at anything that didn’t feel right to her, even if it was not seemingly important, it was the principal. She regrets having given director Ralph Nelson such a hard time on his Play of the Week show called Legend of Lovers Piper playing Eurydice starring Robert Loggia and Sam Jaffe. Piper Laurie was now empowered to speak her mind. She might have been earning a reputation in the industry as a difficult actress to work with but she had years of being compliant to make up for. Universal had unleashed a woman whose voice would not be silence. As Piper says in the title of her brutally honest autobiography, to speak out loud.

Frustrated, wanting to meet directors and producers who would take her seriously. Their perceptions came from the publicity, never even having seen her films. Finally her agent gave her a script, one he had to steal because the producers just thought she was a ‘glamorous bimbo’ It was a drama for G.E. Theater. The Road That Led Afar (1956) written by Hagar Wilde. And adapted from an original story by Lula Vollmer. She had to keep pushing her agent to fight with the producer who did not want to even consider her for the part of a young rural girl. She showed up for the reading wearing old jeans and no makeup. That night the producers called and said they were mistaken about her and she got the part. The show was directed by Herschel Daugherty. She co-starred with Dan Duryea who would play the older man who takes her for his bride and to live with his motherless children. The preacher is played by Edgar Buchanan who marries them. The role would be an entirely different role than anything from her past career, it would be a break from being her past. She felt blessed to have this role. She received her first Emmy nomination as Best Actress for The Road that Led Afar.

Then came a version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams” (1956) directed by Ralph Nelson and co-starring Anthony Perkins filmed for CBS studios in Los Angeles. She was playing real people not contrived shallow characters.

Participating in the USO in Korea opened her heart and her eyes. “My empty person was stating to be filled. The Korean trip had opened my heart and my eyes. But when I go home and returned to the business of show business, it seemed I was wasting my life. The efforts made by my agent to get me some freedom to work at other studios, or on television or on the stage, were rejected. Even my requests for time off to work in Betomi’s class were denied. Universal kept refusing to loan Piper out to other studios though the press was unkind to her, she felt like she had ‘signed her life away’

Upon finishing Ain’t Misbehaving Piper Laurie was sent a new script for a low budget Western starring Audie Murphy. This was the last straw! She felt so unappreciated at this point that she had finally hit the wall. She had endured enough. She told her agent Mike Zimring that she’d rather go to prison than work for Universal any further. Even though the studio offered her more money she wanted out. Universal finally released her from the contract but imposed a penalty of $25,000 per movie, and she’d have to do one a year for three years. But now how was she going to put the image that Universal imposed on her, behind her and recreate her public identity.

Piper was asked to do a screen-test for The Goddess (1958) but she turned down the part it wasn’t the right timing for her as she was now pregnant, of course the part went to the inimitable Kim Stanley.

STAGE WORK:

Pat Hingle, Maureen Stapleton, George Grizzard and Piper Laurie in The Glass Menagerie

After that Piper Laurie became extremely selective about her work. After arriving in New York Piper’s first experience in Theater was two, one act plays written by Molly Kazan called Rosemary and The Alligators (1960) at the York Playhouse . Then she did The Glass Menagerie (1965). Tennessee Williams considered Piper to be one of the greatest actresses of all time. Piper was accepted into Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse. She appeared in The Destiny of Me at The Lucille Lortel Theatre (1992), Biography at Stage 73 (1980), Mornings at Seven (2002) and Zero Hour 2009/2010.

CLASSIC FILM & TV CAFE 2014 by Rick

Café:  You starred in several live TV dramas like the Playhouse 90 production of The Days of Wine and Roses with Cliff Robertson. How did live television compare to being on the stage?

PL:  It’s similar, but live television is much more extreme. It’s really walking on the high wire. I don’t think people today understand that when you did the show, not only could you not do it again, but it was going out on the air at that moment to everyone in the country. And whatever mistakes you made, that was it. You would live with it for the rest of your career. It was really chancy. It was a daredevil act. I was terrified and forced myself to do it, because I thought I should and thought I could. And it was very rewarding.

Frankenheimer was the ideal director for her new found sensibilities, brutally honest but sensitive and utmost he was imaginative. He then directed her in The Days of Wine and Roses (1958).

“On broadcast day we had a late call so I drove several hours away, through the rolling hills of the Valley, almost to the ocean. I was trying to deal with the terror that threatened to overwhelm me. I drove so far that I could not go farther without being late for the dress rehearsal. I was tempted to keep driving and miss the whole thing, this thing we’d been rehearsing and dreaming about for so many weeks. I looked around at the hills, breathless at the beauty of the world, and prayed for strength and guidance that my work could be part of it. The broadcast was that night. The countdown to air for a live show never gets easier. This was the time actors clung to whatever spiritual belief they had. I looked at Cliff across the room, in position for the first scene, and, with all the intensity I possessed, sent my energy across to him and asked him silently to play with me And I answered. The miracles of this show: Cliff opened himself so beautifully to me and on air we played together for the first time.”

New York Times review by Jack Gould-

“It was brilliant and compelling work…Miss Laurie’s performance was enough to make the flesh crawl, yet it always elicited deep sympathy. Her interpretation of the young wife just a shade this side of delirium tremens–the flighty dancing around the room, her weakness of character and moments of anxiety and her moments of charm when she was sober–was a superlative accomplishment. Miss Laurie is moving into the forefront of our most gifted young actresses.”

Piper Laurie was cast in stage play Handful of Fire (1958) opposite good friend Roddy MacDowall produced by Bob Lewis. Piper was eventually replaced which was devastating to her. Her good friend Roddy came over to comfort her. John Frankenheimer had worked well with Piper on The Ninth Day, he asked her to do Days of Wine and Roses (1958). She had never played a drunk scene in all of her acting classes. She visited AA meetings to research the mindset of being an alcoholic. Her performance in Frankenheimer’s teleplay is nothing short of raw and astounding.

Emmy TV Legends interview Piper Laurie about Days of Wine and Roses

When John’s marriage to Carolyn was over, he asked Rosie (Piper) to marry him. “Rosie I want to marry you! I’ve been in love with you for such a long time. I want us to be together.” Piper-“Slowly at first, and then completely, John became the love of my life.”

Though Montgomery Clift was one of the actors she would have most liked to perform with she turned down the film Miss Lonelyhearts filmed as Lonelyhearts (1958) a story by Nathaniel West. Monty Clift was friends with Roddy MacDowall whom Piper also knew at the time. Monty sought out Piper for the role even coming to her home. He tried to convince her to take the romantic lead opposite him in the movie. Piper wasn’t interested in the script, and Monty agreed but he was counting on both their performances to lift the script and elevate it to a high level. The film was considered a failure, she does often wonder if it was a missed opportunity. But there was no more compromising for Piper Laurie.

Continue reading “Piper Laurie: The Girl Who Ate Flowers”

Enduring Grace: Barbara Rush

Tribute to the great Barbara Rush — saraismyname

I’ve loved Barbara Rush for as long as I can remember. In every role where she graced the screen she left a lasting impression on me. I’ve followed her career from major motion pictures to wonderful dramatic television programs. To me, she is one of the great screen stars of all time — there is no one quite like her and her subtle emotional layers of acting that get peeled away with each scene. Barbara Rush possesses an inimitable grace and fine beauty. She has a transcendent gracefulness and a speaking voice that pours like honey. And when her words are meant to cut it’s not with knives or claws but with a feather quill carefully placed, an intelligent stroking, a gentle lash across the heart to cause the hurt. She has the finesse of diamond cut. She moves with great poise of a dancer, a beautiful gazelle stirring in the gentle quiet spaces of silent woods. A smile that beams like the sunniest of days.

When I think of Barbara Rush I think of a versatile acting style and an ability to draw out deep emotions. She delivers all of her lines with a deft swiftness that is subtle in all directions, ironically, witty, seriously thoughtful and always deeply from the heart.

When I see Barbara Rush I see beauty personified by elegance and an emanating dignity. Barbara Rush will always remain in my eyes, one of the most gentlewoman of the screen. No matter what role she is inhabiting, she brings a certain kind of class that is not learned, it’s inherent. The actress also is the most kind and generous with her compliments and her fond rememberances of her fellow actors and colleagues. She worked with some the finest actors in Hollywood, stage, and television, co-starring with the most notable actors such as James Mason, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Richard Burton and Kirk Douglas. Her roles were diverse– from savvy independent society girls, and disillusioned house wives, to an Irish spitfire and an iconic science fiction heroine.

She was born in Denver, Colorado in 1927 and graduated from University of California in 1948. Then she joined the University Players, taking acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse School for Performing Arts in Pasadena, California.

By Susan King Los Angeles Times: “She talks about everybody she’s worked with — even the notoriously difficult Joan Crawford — with an endearing sweetness that makes you feel like you’ve known her forever.
And in a way, we have…

She fondly recalls her time on the set with Niven and others. “I was just this foolish young girl,” she said of her character. “David Niven, he made me laugh so hard. They couldn’t [shoot] me because I was laughing so hard. I kept apologizing. He was a raconteur, always telling stories about what he did. Nunnally Johnson made me laugh all the time. I was really hopeless.”

Rush worked with Frank Sinatra in the 1963 comedy Come Blow your Horn and in the 1964 Rat Pack musical “Robin and the Seven Hoods.” She admitted she was nervous about working with Sinatra because she learned he didn’t rehearse. “I am from the stage,” she said. “I really can’t do [a scene] unless I rehearse. I didn’t know what to do.”

Rush talked to an actress (Carolyn Jones) who had just worked with him. “She said, ‘This is what you do, Barbara. You go up to him and say, ‘Mr. Sinatra?’ He’ll say, ‘Call me Frank. Now what I can do for you?’

So, she asked Sinatra if they could rehearse their first scene just one time. “He said, ‘Baby doll, of course. I’ll do that with you. Clear the stage. Get everybody to leave. Barbara and I are going to go over the scene.’ We went over the scene just once. From then on, he said, ‘Are you OK? Do you want to go over it again?’ He was just wonderful to me. And he gave me my wardrobe by Edith Head [from the film]. I wore the most wonderful clothes.”

Paramount signed Barbara her to a contract in 1950. She debuted with The Goldbergs (1950) as Debby Sherman, acting with Gertrude Berg as Molly Goldberg. The Goldbergs became a popular television show that deals with the human interest story of famous Jewish Bronx radio & TV family the Goldbergs, their typical struggles and hilarious moments. The show co-stars David Opatoshu and Eduard Franz.

Barbara Rush met actor Jeffrey Hunter and they fell in love. The ideal pair became one of Hollywood’s most beloved couples at 20th Century Fox. Barbara Rush and Jeffrey Hunter were married in December of 1950 until their divorce in 1955.  Tragically Hunter died of a stroke due to a head injury in 1969.

Barbara Rush also turned to work on the stage. She garnered the Sarah Siddons Award for her starring role in Forty Carats. Making her Broadway debut in the one woman showcase, “A Woman of Independent Means” which also subsequently earned her the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award during its tour. Other showcases included “Private Lives”, “Same Time, Next Year”, “The Night of the Iguana” and “Steel Magnolias”.

Barbara starred in director George Templeton’s Quebec (1951) with John Drew Barrymore and The First Legion (1951) directed by Douglas Sirk co-starring along side Charles Boyer.

Barbara Rush in When Worlds Collide (1951)

During her time at Paramount, Barbara Rush appeared in the science fiction catastrophic end of the world thriller directed by Rudolph Maté —When World’s Collide 1951 co-starring Richard Derr, Peter Hansen and John Hoyt. Then came her role as Nora Logan in Flaming Feather (1952).

Sterling Hayden, Barbara Rush and Forrest Tucker Flaming Feather (1952)

Barbara Rush in Jack Arnold’s It Came From Outer Space (1953)

In (1953) she appeared in Prince of Pirates co-starring John Derek. That same year she would take on the role of heroine Ellen Fields in Jack Arnold’s sublime  It Came from Outer Space that would become an emblematic performance of a smart and self sufficient leading lady in a science fiction masterpiece, that would leave a legacy for years to come. Ellen-“I just wish we had found just one of them really. Just one little monster to toss into the principles bedroom!”

In it, she co-stars with Richard Carlson who discovers an alien ship has crash landed in the side of a mountain. From the beginning Ellen supports him and doesn’t cower from the threat of extraterrestrials taking over her small desert town. She’s a strong feminist figure whose alien double wields a nifty ray-gun.

Then she starred as Oona in Taza, Son of Cochise (1954), In 1954 Barbara Rush appeared in director Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession co-starring Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson and Agnes Moorehead. Barbara plays Jane Wyman’s step daughter Joyce. Rock Hudson is a playboy who is seriously injured in a boat crash indirectly causing the death of Jane Wyman’s husband. When he tries to ingratiate himself into her life she becomes blinded. He spends the rest of his life trying to find a deeper understanding of life and the two fall in love.

That same year she appeared in director Rudolph Maté’s The Black Shield of Falworth with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. In 1955 Barbara Rush played Aga Doherty in Douglas Sirk’s Captain Lightfoot starring along side Rock Hudson, and acting with Jack Palance in the epic period piece Kiss of Fire (1955).

Barbara Rush in The Black Shield of Falworth (1955)

Barbara Rush and Jack Palance in Kiss of Fire (1955)

Captain Lightfoot 1955 takes place in 1815 Ireland struggling with the ordinary people of Ireland trying to separate themselves from the British Dragoons and seek their independence. Barbara is fiery and beautiful as Aga Doherty the daughter of an Irish Rebel Captain Thunderbolt played by Jeff Morrow. She falls for Rock Hudson a strong willed highwayman who strives to be like his hero Captain Thunderbolt. There is great chemistry between Hudson and Rush, as Aga adds a fiery spirit to the role, again exuding intelligence and that distinct sensibility to deliver lines in her sparkling cheeky manner.

Jeff Morrow, Rock Hudson and Barbara Rush in Captain Lightfoot 1955

Barbara Rush and James Mason in Bigger Than Life (1956)

In Bigger Than Life, mild-mannered schoolteacher Ed Avery (James Mason) suffers from severe headaches and blackouts. He is diagnosed with a rare inflammatory disease of the arteries. With death looming over him, he agrees to an experimental drug, cortisone. And at first he makes a remarkable recovery, but Ed begins to abuse the drug which causes wild mood swings and delusions of grandeur. Eventually he has a complete psychotic break and endangers the life of his family. Barbara Rush gives an emotionally heart wrenching performance as Ed’s beleaguered wife Lou who must support him through the madness.

Between 1954-1956 she appeared in 4 separate episodes of Lux Video Theater’s theatrical playets for television. Then in 1956 starred in World in My Corner with Audie Murphy and Jeff Morrow in this lesser known boxing noir. In 1956 Barbara also starred in the emotionally riveting drama Bigger Than Life with co-star James Mason as a teacher who progressively grows psychotic after trying a new drug.

Barbara portrays the sexy Pamela Vincent in the slick film noir Flight to Hong Kong with Rory Calhoun directed by Joseph M. Newman. Barbara appeared in director Nunnally Johnson’s hilarious romantic romp Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (1957) co-starring David Niven, Ginger Rogers and a quirky debut by Tony Randall. Afterwards  Barbara appeared in director Martin Ritt’s No Down Payment (1957) co-starring Joanne Woodward, Sheree North Tony Randall and Jeffrey Hunter.

Bigger Than Life (1956)

Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (1957)

In Flight to Hong Kong 1956 she plays an independent, sophisticated writer from San Fransisco who pursues a fling with the swarthy smuggler Rory Calhoun because he is wild and different than any other man she usually meets. Pamela is smooth as she maneuvers through the plot leading him on. But, she exploits their passionate fling to write another best selling book and goes back to living a high society life, leaving Tony to flounder after hiding out for a year on steamers. Barbara is good at being cool, collected and coy in this film noir. She plays a very unconventional femme fatale.

1957 Barbara appears as the flighty Myra Hagerman in Oh, Men!, Oh! Women. The scene with her emptying her purse is hilarious and showcases Barbara’s comedic timing. Myra is no stranger to dating men which throws the stiffly composed therapist into a tizzy because of her past. She’s set to marry psychiatrist David Niven who shows off his talent for finesse and comedic fortitude and it’s a delight to watch the banter between Barbara and Niven.

You can tell the actors were having fun with their roles, and you can almost see Barbara Rush holding back the laughter in her scenes with David Niven. They had to do many takes, as she tried to keep a straight face with him.

in director Martin Ritt’s No Down Payment 1957 Barbara does a fine job of playing housewife Betty Kreitzer married to Herman (Pat Hingle) with an ensemble cast in a film concerned with 1950s collective aspirations toward the American Dream and upcoming middle class white suburban families with frailties and secrets that’s get aired out over nightly BBQs. Barbara’s character is the steady rock in the community. She goes to church, isn’t a drinker, and is devoted to her husband Pat Hingle but she does not push him to strive for anything more than being mediocre and mainstream. Barbara Rush as Betty plays this type of middle class American housewife with an expert amount of reserved.

Barbara then appeared with Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, and Dean Martin in The Young Lions (1958) about the intersecting lives of 3 soldiers, two Americans and Brando as a sympathetic Nazi soldier during WWII. Then cameHarry Black and the Tiger (1958) with theatrical television roles on Lux Playhouse “The Connoisseur” and Suspicion’s “A Voice in the Night.”

Marlon Brando and Barbara Rush in The Young Lions (1958)

In The Young Philadelphians (1959) Paul Newman plays Anthony Judson Lawrence an up and coming lawyer who is trying to navigate social pressures and balance his ethics while trying to make a place for himself in Philadelphia. Barbara Rush is wonderful as Joan Dickinson, the bright independent society girl who planned to marry Anthony. She wants him to stick to his morals, yet through misdirection by her father and the  misunderstanding that ensues she becomes disappointed in the direction his career goes. The two part ways but fate brings them back together once again. Directed by Vincent Sherman.

Joan Dicknson “At least you have someplace to go.
Anthony Judson Lawrence “Haven’t you?”
Joan Dickinson “Are you kidding? I have no talents. Nothing. I was very well educated to be an idiot. And I was a good student.” 

“I think Paul has made some really great films, he won Academy Awards and all kinds of things and he’s done some wonderful work. But you know just as far as an audience watching a film likes to hear a good tale told, I think this is one of his most enduring films. And I think of all the films that I’ve done the best one that’s played the most on AMC and Turner Classic Movies , they play it over and over again and I still get at least 20 letters about The Young Philadelphians. They love the story. And when I go on cruises and we play films and so forth they always want to see the young Philadelphians and it wasn’t even in color, that was a black and white film but the love story is enduring and they seem to like it a great deal. Towards the end of the film Paul wanted certain changes with the script and I think Vincent Sherman was amenable to that and Stewart Stern was brought in and so he came in and did certain scenes and I think it just kind of spiced the picture up a little bit. You know who else was in the film that I loved her… so often when I worked in film I worked with people that I admired a great deal so it was such a happiness to work with them to be able to work with them to be around them, was Alexis Smith. She was a wonderful woman. And I loved her scenes with him. And Otto Krueger, I worked with him on Magnificent Obsession, but I thought he was such a good actor. You know they have these wonderful character actors in it.” –Barbara Rush

Barbara commands the screen in The Young Philadelphians. She plays a substantive role once again, delivering intelligent dialogue with swift splinters of her humor and intellect running throughout. When Anthony asks her “how bout a hamburger” she briskly replies “I’m a chili girl” to show that though she is entrenched in high society she is her own girl and has a down to earth nature at heart.  Joan is a likable character who is unfortunately mislead by her father (the wonderful character actor John Williams). She is gracious and thoughtful and not a spoiled ingénue. Instead, she exudes integrity. Joan had her heart set to marry for love. Throughout the film it is clear the powerful range of acting by Barbara Rush allows her emotions to build toward the films conclusion. As in each of her varied roles, her pacing temporally rises, finally to express her inner turmoil with beautifully achingly poignant moments.

No one cries quite like Barbara Rush. Though the film is a commentary on class and the focus is predominantly about the male relationships. Barbara’s contribution works perfectly to condemn the masculine stubbornness she maintains a dignity throughout the picture never losing her sense of belonging to the narrative.

In 1959 Barbara appeared in Sunday Showcase “What Makes Sammy Run? as Kit Sargent.

Barbara then appeared in The Bramble Bush 1960 directed by Daniel Petrie co-starring  Richard Burton. The film deals with mercy killings and small town morals. Richard Burton plays a young doctor Guy Montford who comes back home to his small New England town in order to see his dying friend (Tom Drake) through his last days. Larry is suffering and begs Dr. Guy Montford to help him end his suffering which he does by overdosing him on morphine. Guy is haunted by the mercy killing and finds solace in the arms of Larry’s wife, Margaret, portrayed with a beautiful sensitivity by Barbara Rush. The chemistry is palpable and especially potent in the love scene when Burton and Rush kiss on the boat.

Margaret tells him “That’s the worst part of it. You know we had a passionate relationship our marriage was founded on it. It wasn’t so bad when we could still make love. Now he’s a stranger. A cold white sheet.”

From 1957-1960 Barbara appeared in Playhouse 90 “Alas, Babylon (1960) and “The Troublemakers” (1957). In 1960 Checkmate (TV Series)
 she plays Margaret Russell/Nikki
- The Dark Divide, a disturbed young women with split personality. She makes a wonderful transition from repressed mouse to sexy femme fatale, giving a stellar performance of a woman conflicted by repression and self-possession. Barbara Rush then appeared in television’s Sunday Showcase, “What Makes Sammy Run?”

Barbara then plays Eve Coe in Strangers When We Meet 1960. Kirk Douglas portrays Larry Coe a suburban architect who loves his wife Eve. This is a role that Barbara once again summons versatility to switch gears and play the epitome of middle class etiquette and decorum. Larry becomes weighed down by his “perfect” marriage and his mundane work, until he meets the sexually frustrated Maggie (Kim Novak) whose husband is not only keeping her in a lovely marriage but wields a big dose of morality on his desirable wife. The two start a passionate affair which leads to a question of complacency, morality and the dilemma of self fulfillment.

As Kirk Douglas’s wife Barbara plays the “pushy housewife” who is practical and uptight and wants Larry to conform. But Larry falls for Kim Novak. Neighbor Walter Matthau finds out about the affair and feels emboldened to try to have his way with Eve on cold rainy afternoon. Coming close to an assault, Eve’s reaction is intense and brutal and Barbara Rush pulls it off without being overwrought yet believable as a woman who has been violated and frightened all while being processing the incident.

It’s a very intense scene played very well by Barbara. Afterwards she realizes why Felix might have felt empowered to make a pass, Eve telling Larry about the attempted assault- “I’ve been sitting here thinking what gave Felix the peculiar notion that I’d be an easy mark.” Barbara does an excellent job of playing the middle class housewife who fits a certain mold, but eventually catches onto the affair and her raw emotions begin to surface. It shows her range, serious and vulnerable.

She appeared in the 1960 episode of Theatre ’62, “Notorious”, and also in 1962 General Electric Theater’s “A Very Special Girl.” She appeared in four episodes of Saints and Sinners– “New Lead Berlin” 1963, “The Home-Coming Bit” 1963, “Luscious Lois 1962” “Dear George, the Siamese Cat is Missing” 1962. And she appeared in a Ben Casey “From Too Much Love of Living,” directed by Mark Rydell.

The Eleventh Hour episode “Make Me a Place” to me is one of Barbara Rush’s stand out performances. Wendell Corey plays a psychiatrist in the series who helps his patients find their way through the maze of problems. Barbara Rush gives an extraordinary performance as Linda Kinkaid, a fragile woman who has had a breakdown. And is under the impression she might be trying to kill herself again. Barbara plays the role carefully restrained without appearing hysterical relating some of the most powerfully emotional scenes I’ve experienced anywhere. Her performance will rip your heart out, and leave you in tears. She should have won an Emmy for that acting feat. The episode co-stars David Janssen.

1963 Come Blow Your Horn, Tony Bill plays Buddy Baker who leaves his parent’s (Molly Picon and Lee J. Cobb) stifling home and goes to live with his swinging stylish brother Alan (Frank Sinatra) who has a slew of women. Barbara plays the one steady classy lady in Alan’s life, the sophisticated mature Connie who wants a commitment from the playboy and teaches him what love really is. The chemistry between Sinatra and Rush is once again very dynamic.

In 1964 she appeared in The Outer Limits “The Form of Things Unknown” as Leonora Edmund co-starring Vera Miles. A powerfully atmospheric fairy tale written by Joseph Stefano. Barbara Rush and Vera Miles play Leonora Edmond and Kasha Paine who are at the mercy of a ruthless blackmailer Andre (Scott Marlowe). When the two women flee after poisoning him they stumble onto a mysterious house during a rain storm. There they meet the butler Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Colus who tends to the house belonging to the brooding young inventor Tone Hobart (David McCallum) obsessed with his time machine made up of clocks.

Both Barbara Rush and Vera Miles turn in outstanding performances amidst this dark fairy tale landscape. Both women’s very antithetical roles play off each other brilliantly. Stefano’s writing is layered with psychological maelstroms and the cast interpret the story magnificently without reducing it to a simple hour long television fantasy yarn.

“Robin and the 7 Hoods” Sammy Davis Jr., Richard Bakalyan, Frank Sinatra, Hank Henry, Dean Martin, Barbara Rush, Victor Buono 1964 Warner Brothers ** I.V.

Barbara continued to make several significant television drama appearances in 1965, including Kraft Suspense Theatre “In Darkness, Waiting,” Vacation Playhouse, Convoy, The Barbara Rush Show, Checkmate “The Dark Divide”, Dr. Kildare “With Hellfire and Thunder” and “Daily Flights to Olympus” co-starring James Daly, and in 1966 Laredo, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater. 

Then came Robin and the 7 Hoods where she plays Marian, a classy vamp who’s outfits are divine. She’s cheeky, sophisticated, funny, and also cunning and deliciously mercenary as a mob boss who runs circles around all the hoodlums in the city.

In The Fugitive she plays Barry Morris’ wife Marie Lindsey Gerard in the episode Landscape with Running Figures (1965). It’s a dramatic performance as the wife of the man so driven to catch wrongly accused Doctor Richard Kimble that his obsession drives his wife away and into a dangerous situation. Barbara Rush conveys a woman who is repulsed by her husband’s mad course to bring the fugitive in. While leaving Gerard behind, she is injured in a bus accident and of course Dr Kimble is there. It is up the good doctor to get her the help she needs. Barbara plays the situation with pathos and intensity she is temporarily blinded and doesn’t realize that it is the man her husband has been pursuing who is helping her to safety. It’s one of the best episodes of the series. not least of which is due to Barbara Rush’s compelling, intuitive performance. “I should explain my marriage to you Mr. Carver (Richard Kimble’s alias) What you see before you is the losing end of a triangle. I lost my husband to a Will O The Wisp who drifted in and out twisting our lives. The little man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. He’s never there.”

Barbara Rush And Frederic March in a scene from the film ‘Hombre’, 1967. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

in 1968 Barbara starred in Hombre with Paul Newman directed by Martin Ritt. In the Batman (1968-69) television series Barbara played villainess Nora Clavicle and the Ladies’ Crime Club and Nora appeared again in “Louie’s Lethal Lilac Time.”

She starred as Marsha Russell in the popular dramatic television evening series Peyton Place, appearing in over 75 episodes of the show until it’s end.

Barbara also appeared in four distinctive Medical Center episodes. A Life is Waiting (1969) is a very feminist episode that challenges the idea that a women’s body is her husbands property. Barbara Rush gives a powerful performance as Nora Caldwell, a woman who recognizes the tenuous hold she’s had over her identity and her place in her husband’s world. Barbara delivers thoughtful cutting oft dark comedic lines while giving an emotionally potent portrayal of a women fighting to be heard. In Awakening (1972) Barbara plays Judy whose husband has woken from a coma after three years. Judy has moved on from her marriage and blames him for the death of their 9 year old daughter. She gives a tour-de-force as a woman torn between her own needs, and ties to the past.

BARBARA RUSH ACTRESS 01 May 1980 CTC4589 Allstar/Cinetext/

I would never resort to objectifying the great actress by reducing my commentary to just how beautiful she looks but I am bound to mention this or I’ll bust… Aside from her tremendous acting, I love her signature hair styles and her incredible fashion sense that has followed her throughout her career, on and off screen and to this day. And she carries it well.

Other television appearances during the 1960s-70s include Love, American Style 1970, The Mod Squad 1971 the television movie Suddenly Single 1971, Night Gallery 1971 “Cool Air” Cutter 1972 tv movie, Marcus Welby M.D. episodes “Silken Threads and Silver Hooks 1960”, & “Don’t Talk About Darkness 1972” McCloud 1972, The Eyes of Charles Sands 1972 tv movie, Cade’s County 1972, The Man 1972, Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law 1972. Barbara Rush plays Louise Rodanthe in the tv movie Moon of the Wolf 1972, Maude 1972 “Maude’s Reunion” Barbara plays old school pal Bunny Nash. Ironside 1971-72 episodes Ring of Prayer” &”Cold Hard Cash”, Crime Club 1973 tv movie, The Streets of San Francisco 1973 “Shattered Image”, Of Men and Women 1973 tv movie, The New Dick Van Dyke Show 1973-74, Medical Center 1969-1974 episodes “A Life is Waiting”, “Awakening”, “Impact”, & “Choice of Evils”, In Police Story 1974 “Chief” Barbara plays John Forsyth’s smart and stunning wife. She manages swift and clever lines quoting Shakespeare and being a dutiful and intelligent partner.

Fools, Females and Fun 1974 tv movie, The Last Day 1975 tv movie, Cannon 1975 “Lady on the Run”, Mannix 1968 episodes “A Copy of Murder”, & Design for Dying” 1975, Ellery Queen 1975-76 episodes “The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario”, & “The Adventures of Auld Lang Syne” 1975, The Bionic Woman 1976 as Jaime’s mother, ABC Weekend Specials 1977 “Portrait of Grandpa Doc” The Eddie Capra Mysteries “Dying Declaration” Death Car on the Freeway 1979 tv movie, The Love Boat 1979 2 episodes.

Barbara Rush also turned to work on the stage. She garnered the Sarah Siddons Award for her starring role in Forty Carats. Making her Broadway debut in the one woman showcase, “A Woman of Independent Means” which also subsequently earned her the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award during its tour. Other showcases included “Private Lives”, “Same Time, Next Year”, “The Night of the Iguana” and “Steel Magnolias”.

Barbara Rush still possesses that transcendent talent, beauty, poise and grace. She will always be someone special, an actress who is memorable.

Though Barbara Rush skill shows incredible range and depth in her performances, the one great role of a lifetime never seemed to come her way, though what ever she has appeared in is brightened immensely by her presence. To think of what might have been had there been even MORE substantive scripts offered to her, what she could have accomplished like many fine actresses, in addition to her already impressive career, it makes you wonder of the missed opportunities Hollywood made by not taking advantage of Barbara Rush’s marvelous talent.

Television became a wonderful avenue for Barbara Rush’s acting, and her performances are no less effective and adept than those in her major motion picture roles. To every performance, she brings an authentic reality to her characters with her bright engaging smile, the wisp of seriousness to her tone, streak of comedic talent within her ironic lilting mannerisms. Barbara Rush is an iconic actress who shows a special quality, spunk and spirit that begs to be cherished. I love you Barbara Rush, and will continue to enjoy the legacy of your work. You make me smile.

Barbara talking about starring in The Old Pros Radio Shows like Inner Sanctum at age 88!

Barbara Rush as adorable and kind as ever answers questions at the Aero Theater 9-29-2010

Barbara Rush still possesses that transcendent talent, beauty, poise and grace. She will always be someone special, an actress who is memorable.

Continue reading “Enduring Grace: Barbara Rush”

What A Character! Blogathon 2019 Thelma Ritter “Always a bridesmaid and never the bride”

It’s here again, my favorite blogathon that honors those unsung actors we love to see inhabit films and most often enhance them immeasurably !

I want to thank Paula’s Cinema Club, Once Upon A Screen… and Outspoken & Freckled for hosting this important event that brings to light those essential personalities that populate memorable films and television programs with their own rare brilliance. This year I am honoring the great Thelma Ritter!

With her warm and weather worn face, Thelma Ritter is the quintessential expression of a working class dame, the working class mother, the everywoman. And no one can deliver a snappy quip quite like Thelma Ritter. Between her mournful tones of better days or raising a stink about this or that, you can almost see the cleaning rag over her simple brown hairdo hanging out the window in Brooklyn just chatting it up with the neighbors. Thelma Ritter, with hands on hip, spouts barbs and verbal gems from an endless fountain of every day wisdom.

And I want to make this clear from the start, Thelma is no plain, dowdy or shabby spinster, she’s a beautiful woman. So there’ll be no agism or misogynistic observations in this tribute.

“Usually looking like a cross between Mother Courage and a cafeteria lunch lady, [Mankiewicz], who would repeatedly explore the theme of the effects of ambition on his characters, was blessed with Ritter‘s presence in allegedly subservient roles as truth-tellers disguised as maids in… All About Eve (1950).” —Moira Finnie Streamline, The Filmstruck Blog

Thelma Ritter’s legacy is that of the wise-cracking and world weary characters who informs us in any role that she is just a regular gal like you or me. We feel empathy for her, and we laugh along with the sharp witted come backs she so famously utters. When ever she shows up on screen she enlivens what ever plot she was sent out in to explore with that cynical and bold approach to life offering that dialogue that had razor sharp teeth.

Ritter was one hell of a character actor/comedienne who worked on radio then quickly established herself in top billed supporting roles in post-war Hollywood. She was nominated 6 times without winning a single Oscar between 1950-1962. She tied with Deborah Kerr for the most nominated without winning the award. It is a crime that she never won a statue or a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

As writer Paddy Chayefsky wrote in his New York Times tribute for her death: “She was never properly publicly recognized as an actress. […] She was a character actress, which means only that they don’t write any starring parts for middle-aged women.”

Frank Capra called her “the best of all character actresses.”

Even in her performances of the most plain of women, she exuded sophistication, often classier than the upper class people that satellite around her. She often played characters who had the answers and the gumption to say it like it is, the truth that circulates through each story, driving sanity, stability, clarity, and compassion into the narrative.

None of her roles could ever be considered ordinary. Her characters always exuded her own brand of humanity. The people she played were immediately relatable to all of us.

Thelma Ritter was born in Brooklyn New York in 1902 on St Valentine’s Day on Hart Street in South Brooklyn. Born of a Dutch immigrant father and a Scottish mother. Thelma would have to rely on her wits as the family was not of an advantaged background. Maybe that’s why she has a keen witty charm, lovable persona and a certain pluckiness and curt wisdom that doesn’t allow for quick comebacks by the other actors. Though cast as a supporting actress, her name always appears on the bill or right up in the title close to the stars often being the more memorable in the picture. She brought cracking wise to a whole other level of artistry.

She attended the Academy of Dramatic Arts, the class of 1922, but did not graduate with her class as she had to quit to earn money. She made her Broadway debut in a comedy called The Shelf, costarring with other notable character actors Jessie Ralph, Lee Patrick and Donald Meek. She appeared in 32 performances before the show closed in 1926. Then she was in Times Square (1931) which didn’t have a very long run on Broadway. She took some time off to raise her children then went back to work initially in radio. Her daughter Monica Moran is an actress, they appeared together in the 1966 road company of Bye Bye Birdie co-starring Tab Hunter.

Thelma Ritter was actually 41 at the time of her wonderful film debut as the uncredited harried Christmas shopping mother in Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Ritter left such an impression on director George Seaton and 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck that they lengthened her small part in the film and decided to cast her in other pictures. This sparked a career where she wouldn’t make a multitude of films, but a film a year from 1947 until her retirement in 1969. The films she did appear in were extremely popular and received well by the critics.

Ritter’s uncredited role of Captain’s secretary in Call Northside 777 (1948) was left on the cutting room floor. The credits were left in, but she is nowhere to be seen in the film. Though again uncredited she appeared as the sharp tongued maid Sadie Dugan in director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1949 melodrama A Letter to Three Wives starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell and Ann Southern.

In A Letter to Three Wives, Thelma Ritter plays the maid Sadie Dugan who works for an upper middle class couple George (Kirk Douglas) and Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern). Kirk Douglas plays an English teacher and his wife Rita is a writer for a radio soap opera, played by Ann Sothern. Sadie ingratiates herself into the family feeling right at home telling Rita “The cap’s out. Makes me look like a lamb shop with pants on” when Rita asks her to wear a frilly hat while serving dinner to important guests. Ritter has wonderful lines that she expresses with ease. The writing was handpicked for her brand of comedy that cuts through the melodrama of the film. While describing her disdain for Rita’s radio program she comments, ”Do you know what I like about your program? Even when I’m running the vacuum, I can understand it.”

Ritter’s first major role as a lady’s companion was Birdie Coonan in All About Eve (1950). Director Joseph L. Mankeiwicz was so taken with Ritters style, that she was first choice to play Birdie, the edgy ex-vaudevillian maid to theater Diva Margot Channing (Bette Davis in her Oscar-nominated role). He claimed he wrote the screenplay with Thelma Ritter in mind. Aside from Addison Dewitt (George Sanders), Birdie is the only one who isn’t fooled by Eve (Ann Baxter). Ritter’s character has a keen understanding of the realities of life and is honest and gruff with the waif-like manipulative and ambitious Eve. Her role was so impressive that she received her first of six nominations for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

When Eve first recounts her sad background to Margot, Birdies reacts with the infamous line “What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snapping at her rear end.” The original line used was ‘ass’ instead of ‘rear end.’ But Joseph Breen’s office was clamping down on “morals” and found the original word too vulgar.

All through the film All About Eve, Birdie tries to inform Margot of Eve’s duplicitous nature, while everyone else is also taken in by the ‘kid’. Margot asks, “Birdie, you don’t like Eve, do you? Birdie answers, “You looking for an answer or an argument?” Margo, “An answer.” Birdie, “No.” Margo, ”Why not?” Birdie, “Now you want an argument.”

Thelma Ritter’s most significant trademark is her sassy streetwise meddling, to offer her wisdom and advice even when not being asked for it. After All About Eve, she would be cast in strong supporting roles for the rest of her career.

The next year she would once again be nominated for the wonderful picture directed by underrated directed Mitchell Leisen’s The Mating Season (1951) co-starring Gene Tierney, followed by With a Song in My Heart (1952), Pickup on South Street (1953) as Moe Williams (A film she should have won the Oscar for her outstanding performance) then came Pillow Talk in 1959 and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).

John Lund and Thelma Ritter in a scene from the film ‘The Mating Season’, 1951. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Getty Images)

While most older female character actresses go loveless in their films, Thelma Ritter is one who manages to not always fly solo in the story lines. She often gets to have a love interest. The Mating Season (1951) directed by M. Leisen, is a satirical look on class culture, and a hilarious story of mistaken identity. Thelma as Ellen McNulty runs a small hamburger joint in Jersey and when the bank forecloses she goes to Ohio to be with her son Val (John Lund), who has just married socialite Maggie (Gene Tierney). Maggie is not a snob, but Ritter’s son is embarrassed by his humble background. Miriam Hopkins plays Tierney’s mother and former ambassador’s wife and pretentious elitist, Fran Carleton.

Robert Osborne called The Mating Season a delightful romantic comedy that most people don’t know about. The film brought Thelma at age 48 “the closest to inheriting the mantle of the great Marie Dressler than anyone in Hollywood since Dressler’s death in 1934.”

Ellen secretly works to make enough money to buy an $18 hat to wear when she meets her daughter-in-law. The way Thelma Ritter uses the hat as a prop in the storyline adds an endearing touch in the film. Thelma drops in unexpectedly to meet her new daughter-in-law and is mistaken for a domestic that the new bride has hired to cook and serve at her dinner party. Her son’s boss, Mr Kalinger (Larry Keating) falls for Ellen after she rubs liniment on his chest while he is sick. She finds out he’s much like her dead husband— the kind of guy stray dogs take to.

Ellen –“If you’re a chicken, you can fool people about your feathers. But when you start laying eggs all over the place, they know you’re a chicken.”

Ellen: “You don’t know what it was like working with her yesterday. I felt like I was 21 again.”
Val: “Oh Malarky”
Ellen: “Look wiseguy, I didn’t feel like I was 21 when I was 21.”

“Despite the fact that she usually played variations of a Shakespearean “wise fool”, she often played a person whose keen awareness of her place in our supposedly classless society made her secure enough in it to voice her opinions without fear.” -Moira Finnie

Ritter finally receives above the title star billing in George Cukor’s delightful romantic comedy starring Jeanne Crain and Scott Brady, The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951) Another highly underrated picture. Director Cukor’s adds a sensitive touch to this endearing film creating a world with plenty of witty dialogue and quirky characters. The cast is filled with lonely hearted misfits including Nancy Kulp, Zero Mostel, and Dennie Moore. Ritter plays good hearted, wryly witted yet sympathetic matchmaker Mae Swasey who just doesn’t want anyone to be alone after her own husband had left her for another woman years before. Mae goes on a mission of mischief to fix up Matt Hornbeck (Brady) with model Kitty Bennett (Jeanne Crain) though Hornbeck initially puts up a good fight saying he has no intention of getting married… that is until he meets Kitty.

Mae to Mr. Wixted (Zero Mostel) about planning a date with Nancy Kulp, “A real live wire, low voltage but steady.”

THE MODEL AND THE MARRIAGE BROKER [US 1951] SCOTT BRADY, JEANNE CRAIN, THELMA RITTER Date: 1951

“Anybody with four pints of blood that can stand on their two feet long enough to say I do is in a position to get married.”-Mae

Dan Chancellor (Jay C. Flippen) “Beautiful up here, isn’t it? Those trees. I’ve always liked that poem that said, “Only God can make a tree.”

Mae Swasey, “Yeah, but on the other hand, you gotta figure, who else would take the time?”

As Young as You Feel (1952) Monty Wooley, Allyn Joslyn and Thelma Ritter

Following the romantic comedies Ritter appears in one of the most extraordinary and evocative noir masterpieces by director Samuel Fuller, Pickup on South Street (1953).

In Pickup on South Street 1953 directed by Samuel Fuller, Ritter plays Moe Williams the best pick pocket stoolie in the business. A police informant who sells neck ties on the street corners and wants a fancy funeral and a nice plot out on Long Island. Robert Osborne couldn’t have stated it better, “Moe Williams lives in the underworld and ekes out a living by selling secrets and information for a price. It’s a far cry from the kind of roles Thelma usually plays. More sinister than lovable.”

Moe is streetwise and world weary. She’s broken down by her years getting by on the rough streets of New York City selling ties and secrets to the police. She’s also cares about what happens to Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) one of the local petty thieves who picks pockets and chills his beer in the river.

Jean Peters is fantastic in the role of Candy, and Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street.

As Moe Williams In Pickup on South Street (1953), Ritter inhabits a darker world than we’re used to seeing her in. Worn down by life on the street as a tie hustler and informant to the law, her weakness for telling the truth puts her in harms way. It’s one of the most gloomy and heart-rending roles in any of her films as it takes a hardened dismal look at crime, postwar greed, and the fear of Communist infiltration. Throughout the picture Moe is fatalistic about her future. She is a character we feel empathy for, and I think it’s one of Ritter’s finest performances.

In a heartbreaking tour de force Ritter gives a performance that should have garnered her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Director Sam Fuller created a role just typed for Ritter’s blood, as she poured every ounce of her soul into the character that’ll make you hold your breath, then weep.

She appeared in the 1953 version of Titanic with Barbara Stanwyck. She plays affluent Maude Young who once again, is mistaken for a domestic, with some of the best lines in the picture added for the comic relief.

Maude Young: [after Richard (Clifton Webb) has rejected his son Norman and refused to play in the shuffleboard match with him] “It certainly clouded up. Well, word’ll do it faster than a hickory stick any time.”

Maude Young: “Where I come from this is either a revival meeting or a crap game.”

Maude Young: “I’ve seen that look before. He’s a runaway. Earl Meeker: From what, some woman?Maude: No, he’s running too fast for that.”

Ritter made several significant appearances on the small screen between 1953 and 1962. In 1955 she played Mrs. Fisher in The Show-off, Agnes Hurley in Paddy Chayefsky’s The Catered Affair (Bette Davis played Agnes Hurley in the film version a year later). Playwright Paddy Chayefsky was so taken with Thelma Ritter that he wrote about the 1955 television play, “The Catered Affair was an unfocused piece in which the first act was farce and the second was character comedy, and the third was abruptly drama. There aren’t a dozen actresses who could make one piece out of all that; Miss Ritter of course, did.”

The Farmer Takes a Wife 1954 as Lucy Cashdollar plays Betty Grable’s friend on the Eerie Canal Lucy Cashdollar- “Don’t forget, I’m a five time widow, and when they died they all left me everything they owned. Rest their souls.” Fortune Friendly “What do you want with me I’m broke?” Lucy Cashdollar-“Well, I figure after five rich husbands, the next one would be on the house.”

Also in 1955, Thelma Ritter played Abby in 20th Century-Fox Hour’s television adaptation of Sidney Howard’s play, Christopher Bean. Thelma is often compared to the great Marie Dressler, who played the same role in the 1933 film Christopher Bean. Thelma Ritter takes on the ironic and poignant role of a woman who’s worth is seen through the eyes of an alcoholic artist who paints a portrait of her.

Ritter finished her 6 year contract with Twentieth Century Fox in 1955, playing Alicia Pritchard in director Jean Negulesco’s Daddy Long Legs. Ritter did return in The Second Time Around in 1961.

When explaining why her contract had not been renewed, Ritter joked that “I don’t look so good in a toga.” Referring to Fox’s preference at the time for epics filmed in CinemaScope centered around all things ancient.

Rear Window 1954 Thelma plays the feisty wisecracking nurse, Stella. The scenes with Thelma and Jimmy Stewart were marvelous. Her character’s voice delivered both reason and common sense, and in their scenes we learn about Jimmy Stewart’s character. Thelma brought her comic flair to the role of Stella. As Pat Hitchcock explained “The humor that Thelma Ritter brought to Rear Window was absolutely wonderful. And my father, he loved that because he knew that you couldn’t keep going and keep going. You had to give the audience a break. You had to have them laugh at something. His whole life was the importance of having a sense of humor with whatever you do.”

Deborah Kerr rides in a jeep with Thelma Ritter in a scene from the film ‘The Proud And Profane’, 1956. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)

After twenty-six years away, Thelma returned to Broadway in 1957 to play Marthy in the hit musical New Girl in Town, based on Eugene O’Neill’s play Anna Christie. For her part she won a Tony Award (in a tie with Gwen Verdon who won for Anna). This was the first time in history that two actresses won from the same show.

Cameron Pru’Homme, Thelma Ritter and Gwen Verdon –On the set of New Girl In Town

American actors Thelma Ritter (1905 – 1969) and Cameron Prud’homme (1892 – 1967) in a performance of the Bob Merrill play, ‘New Girl in Town’ at the 46th Street Theatre, New York, New York, mid 1957. (Photo by Gjon Mili/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

At the Tony Awards with Robert Preston Thelma RItter Helen Hayes Ralph Bellamy

She went on to appear in the hit romantic comedy Pillow Talk (1959). She played the supportive lead with Doris Day and Rock Hudson, exchanging her usual barbs this time with Doris Day about her love life. “If there’s anything worse than a woman living alone its a woman saying she likes it.”

She continued to act in successful roles in the 1960s in films like John Huston’s The Misfits in 1961 (playing Isabelle Steers, co-starring Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, and Eli Wallach). Then, in How the West Was Won in 1962, and then she was once again paired with Doris Day and James Garner in Move Over, Darling in 1963.

Ritter also appeared on television shows like General Electric Theater in 1960 and the popular westerner Wagon Train in 1962. She appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Presents in a very chilling, nail-biting episode called The Baby Sitter.

In director John Frankenheimer’s Birdman of Alcatraz (1963) Thelma Ritter delivers quite a drastic departure from any of her other roles. She portrays the numb and obsessive mother, loyal to her son Robert Stroud (Burt Lancaster) in one of his most lucid performances. The movie creates a claustrophobic relationship between mother and son, as she is stricken with a miopic vision of championing for him while he is locked away in prison. Axel Nissen calls it “one of the most emotionally ugly characters in her filmography she is cold and uses stillness brilliantly.”

Ritter received her last Oscar nomination or her performance as Burt Lancaster’s controlling mother. She lost to Patty Duke for The Miracle Worker.

In 1963 she was in A New Kind of Love (1963) starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Ritter plays Leena, who wears a perfume called “My Sin” and is a buyer at Bergner’s Department Store. Leena is attracted to her boss, George Tobias.

She also appeared in the disastrous Broadway production of UTBU 1966 with Margaret Hamilton and Tony Randall.

Coming full circle, Ritter made her last big screen appearance in a small role in George Seaton’s What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? 1968 In Feb 1968 she co-starred with Tab Hunter and her own actress daughter Monica in a stock production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey, before retiring. She did not live long enough to enjoy her retirement.

Thelma died of a heart attack in New York City just nine days before her 67th birthday. Thelma Ritter was very beloved amongst her colleagues and co-stars, and also critics adored her.

“On screen Ritter projected a wonderfully sanguine and calm acceptance of human frailty and need. It is this quality, combined with her rueful humor and notorious wisecracks, that give depth to her finest performances…{…} Though she played a few middle-or upper class women towards the end of her career, Ritter was obviously best suited to playing women on the lower echelons of the social ladder…{…} She represents the legion of women who keep the wheels of the world turning”– Alex Nissen

CLIPS

Miracle on 34th Street (1949) Peter’s mother

A Letter to Three Wives (1949) Sadie Dugan the maid uncredited

City Across the River (1950) Mrs. Katie Cusack

Perfect Strangers (1950) Lena Fassier

All About Eve 1951

I’ll Get By 1951 Miss Murphy

The Mating Season 1951

The Model and the Marriage Broker 1951 as Mae Swayse

As Young as You feel 1952 as Della Hodges

Titanic 1953

Pickup on South Street 1954

The Farmer Takes a Wife 1954 as Lucy Cashdollar

Rear Window 1955 as Stella

Daddy Long Legs 1955

Alfred Hitchcock Presents 1956 The Baby Sitter Lottie Slocum

The Proud and Profane 1956 as Kate Connors

A Hole in the Head 1959 as Sophie Manetta

Pillow Talk 1959 as Alma

The Misfits 1961

Birdman of Alcatraz 1962 as Elizabeth Stroud

Move Over, Darling 1963

The Incident 1967 as Bertha Beckerman

FILMOGRAPHY & AWARDS

Thelma Ritter won a Tony Award on Broadway in 1957 for the hit musical New Girl in Town, for which she won a Tony in a tie with Gwen Verdon in 1958. She won an Emmy (in 1956), Nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the Goodyear Television Playhouse production of The Catered Affair. A Golden Globe Awards Nominated for Best Supporting Actress for: All About Eve (1950) The Mating Season (1951)) With A Song in My Heart (1952), Pickup on South Street (1953), Pillow Talk (1959) and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and nominated for a Golden Globe for All About Eve, The Mating Season and Boeing Boeing (1965)

  • Miracle on 34th Street (1949) Peter’s mother
  • A Letter to Three Wives (1949) Sadie Dugan the maid uncredited
  • Call Northside 777 (1949) captains secretary uncredited her scene was left on the cutting room floor
  • City Across the River (1950) Mrs. Katie Cusack
  • Perfect Strangers (1950) Lena Fassier
  • Too Dangerous to Love 1951
  • All About Eve 1951 as Birdie Coonan —companion to theater Diva Margot Channing the only character aside from George Sanders’ Addison Dewitt who isn’t fooled by conniving Eve.
  • I’ll Get By 1951 as Miss Murphy
  • The Mating Season 1951 as Ellen McNulty
  • The Model and the Marriage Broker 1951 as Mae Swayze
  • As Young as You feel 1952 as Della Hodges
  • Radio Broadcasts 1953 Theater Guild on the Air “A Square Peg”
  • With a Song in my Heart 1953 as Clancy
  • radio shows such as Radio Broadcasts Theater Guild on the Air “A Square Peg” (1953).
  • Titanic 1953 as Maude Young playing a version of the Unsinkable Molly Brown done up to the nines again mistaken for a housekeeper or maid.
  • Pickup on South Street 1954 directed by Samuel Fuller as Moe Williams the best pick pocket stoolie in the business
  • The Farmer Takes a Wife 1954 as Lucy Cashdollar plays Betty Grable’s friend on the Eerie Canal
  • Rear Window 1955 as nurse Stella
  • Lux Video Theatre 1954 Christmas in July theatre guest
  • The Best of Broadway The Show Off 1955 Mrs. Fisher
  • Daddy Long Legs 1955 as Alicia Pritchard
  • Goodyear Playhouse 1955 The Catered Affair as Mother created the role that Bette Davis adapted to the screen.
  • Repertory Theatre 1955 The Ghost Writer as Muriel
  • Lucy Gallant 1955 as Molly Basserman
  • The 20th Century Fox Hour 1955 “Christopher Bean” as Abby
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents 1956 The Baby Sitter Lottie Slocum
  • The Proud and Profane 1956 as Kate Connors
  • New Girl in Town (1957) on Broadway
  • The United States Steel Hour 1957 The Human Pattern as Ma Garfield
  • Telephone Time 1957 plot to save a boy as Mary Devlin
  • A Hole in the Head 1959 as Sophie Manetta
  • Pillow Talk 1959 as Alma plays her housekeeper who likes to drink she’s hilarious
  • General Electric Theater 1960 Sarah’s Laughter as Doris Green
  • Startime 1960 The Man as Mrs. Gillis
  • The Misfits 1961 as Isabelle Steers
  • The Second Time Around 1961 as Aggie Gate
  • Birdman of Alcatraz 1962 as Elizabeth Stroud plays Burt Lancaster’s mother
  • Wagon Train 1962 The Madame Sagittarius Story as Madame Delphine Sagittarius
  • How the West Was Won 1962 Agatha Clegg a middle aged woman looking for a husband on the wagon train heading west across America
  • For Love or Money 1963 as Chloe Brasher
  • A New Kind of Love 1963 as Lena O’Connor
  • Move Over, Darling 1963 as Grace Arden plays James Garner’s mother, a wealthy upper class woman which is an atypical character for her
  • Boeing, Boeing 1965 as Bertha
  • The Incident 1967 as Bertha Beckerman
  • What’s so Bad about Feeling Good? 1968 Mrs. Schwartz

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying you may have thought you were often only a bridesmaid but to so many of us, you’ll forever be the Queen of character actors and unrelenting quips! We love you Thelma Ritter…

“Out Loud” Part 2– My Extraordinary Conversation with the Legendary Lee Grant…

Update! The Film Forum in NYC has put together a retrospective of 13 films and documentaries featuring some of Lee’s best work as an actor and director.

10th July 1970: Studio portrait of American actor Lee Grant, wearing a flower-patterned dress and  in front of a light backdrop, (Photo by Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Jo: Hi, Lee? It’s Jo, how’re you doing?

Lee: Hi Jo!

Jo: What’s going on? How’s your day?

Lee: Good so far.

Jo: So hopefully it’ll just even get better now. [laughs]

Lee: Of course!

Jo: Are you ready to talk a little bit?

Lee: Sure!

Jo: Ok, great! Um, God, I don’t even know where to start because I’m just really excited and very grateful that you’re spending time talking to me.

Lee: Sure!

Jo: Um, so, before I start asking you any questions, I mean I guess I could just start asking you some questions. We spoke a little yesterday, and you know how much I love your work. I’ve just followed you for such a long time. And I’m kind of in awe of you, so I’m a little starstruck. [laughs]

Lee: Oh, good! [laughs] You’re so cute and I don’t think there are many people who would say that any more. So it’s yummy.

Jo: No, that’s not true, let me tell you, you’ve got fans! There are so many people who just adore you. You are memorable! You are a beautiful spitfire. You’re complex, you’re powerful, you’re evocative and very memorable. So don’t think I’m the only one. [laughs]

Lee: Ok, I give in!

Jo: Ok, you give in!

Lee: I give in, I am memorable!

Jo: You are memorable, you really really are. I mean, seriously, it’s like every time something would come on TV, a show or a movie, and I would say “oh, Lee Grant is in this!” I would get so excited. No matter what it was, I would watch it. If it was like a television program, even if I wasn’t familiar with the show or the film, I’d be like “well, Lee is in it, I’ve got to see this now!” So I’m going to start asking away and hopefully they’re good questions.

Lee: Where’s Wendy?

Jo: Oh, Wendy’s here, too.

Wendy: I’m actually here, Lee. Hi! I’m the technical person so I’m here to make sure everything goes ok.

Lee: Hi Wendy. Ok!

Wendy: And I do have a question for you at the end, too. I couldn’t resist!

Jo: The sociologist in her!

Lee: You know, I’m just glad to hear from you girls. You were so alive and interested and interesting when we met, and here we are, what is it 3 months later? You meet someone on an airplane and you see somebody and you sit and you talk for 6 hours and then you get off and you never see them again. So this is nice!

Jo: It was really amazing to just walk into this big room with all these people fluttering about, swarming about like a hive. And then to see you standing there [Lee laughs] and you’re like this legend. This utter legend, stuck in the corner of a room!

Lee: Yeah, and you know, I’ve been writing a lot. And that deserves it’s own story.

Jo: It does. It definitely does… To walk over and just talk to you like that—I wanted to grab a big pot of coffee and a couple of chairs and just sit. So now we’re doing it, really.

Lee: We’re doing it! And I have the coffee, too. I’m not sure it counts, though.

Jo: So, I’m going to just start asking questions. And I think I told you yesterday that I do these little setups because it helps me bridge to the question.

Lee: Whatever, just go honey!

Jo: You were in films with diverging mainstream audience appeal… showing the wide range and versatility of your acting such as In the Heat of the Night with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger which dealt with racism. Valley of the Dolls became a cult pop sensation, and Plaza Suite where you were sublimely hilarious in Neil Simon’s timeless comedy at it’s best. What is it that makes you such a versatile actress?

Lee: Well, I was a very compelled actress. You know I was blacklisted for 12 years, and those were the years from age 24 to age 36. I couldn’t work in film or television because I was married to a writer who was called a communist and therefore I was asked to name my own husband in front of the Unamerican Activities Committee, and my loathing—I was going to say fear and loathing, but there was no fear. My loathing for that kind of activity and McCarthyism. You know, I can feel it in my stomach as I’m talking to you, it’s so great. It’s the feeling I have about Trump and that little lawyer Roy Cohn. You know, I was taken out of the acting system for the most important years of my life, I thought at the time. So when I came back, you know, they hired me for Peyton Place, and let me see, it would’ve been 1952-1964. Peyton Place at that time was the biggest television show in the country.

Jo: Yes, I just finished binge-watching it.

Lee: I went from near obscurity to being the bad girl—Stella Chernack—on Peyton Place which was seen by America three times a week. And not the same show three times a week. The appetite for it was so great that they did three new shows each week. So all of a sudden I was everybody’s bad girl. You know, and my hunger for work, for acting, for reestablishing myself, for getting back at the bad guy was so intense, that all the film or TV show had to say was “do you want to?” And I said yes. That was the title of my book, I said yes to everything. Yes, yes, yes because the appetite was unfillable, to work, to act. And with each part, you know you talk about my first movie, the movie that Norman Jewison directed, the one with Sidney Poitier and Rod Stieger.

Jo: Of course, In the Heat of the Night…

Lee: You know, when Norman interviewed me, he knew my background. This was a decade of intensely liberal filmmakers in Hollywood. Intensely liberal filmmakers. And the producer of Peyton Place, too. It was like they couldn’t wait to hire me. They couldn’t wait to make up for—and it makes me cry a little bit—all the years I didn’t work. Their generosity, their kindness, their focus, their need to say “you’re ok now, we got you.” And for them to see that as an actor I was ready to take on the kind of roles that they were ready to give me. And I was.

Jo: And with an extra fierceness. You probably had an extra fierceness to show yourself because you had this fuel, this anger. This impetus.

Lee: It wasn’t to sell myself, it was to act. It was to drop into that character and live that new life. After all I’m a method actress. And I was starved to act. So I just couldn’t get enough after wanting to act for all those young years. And I had to lie about my age because I was 36 when I got back in, so I got Mayor Yorty to change my driver’s license. We had no computers then so nobody would know. You know, it was like everything to get back that they took away.

 

Jo: Everything that they stole from you! You mentioned being a method actress…

When you act what are you tapping into, beyond the acting Method you studied, and beyond the imagination of little Lyova Rosenthal. You take words in the script and make them come to life like no other actor. Lee Grant has her own unique way of expressing herself. You bring a unique identity to each role. Did it come from starting out with Meisner, or teaching at Uta Hagen’s studio working with improvisation? Where does your genius come from?

Lee: It absolutely came from Meisner, because I was 17 when I went into the neighborhood playhouse. I was a failing high school student, and all I wanted were boys, boys, boys, and all I did was flirt, flirt, flirt. And when I went into that class and he gave me an objective. Jo, you know what an objective is—it’s to want something.

Jo: Oh yeah, yeah.

Lee: And the situation he set up with another boy in class was to get him out of the room, that he’d been a boyfriend and he wanted to get him out of the room. Well, this, there’s a Jewish word for it—a guerilla, a goomba, whatever it is, came out of me so this boy had no chance. The rage that I never knew—I never knew I had– this impulse, this fierceness, of carrying out that objective to get that poor guy out of the room. With my voice, with my hands, it overwhelmed me. It overwhelmed him. And my strength was born. My strength was born in that first improvisation at 17. And to be given the benefit of saying “I want to do this” and then within safe circumstances, which is the play, you get to carry it out. You may not carry it out in life, but in that room for that moment you can do anything because you have the objective.

Jo: That’s incredible. That’s an incredible background story. And I understand it’s like that moment, that epiphany when there it is, it’s born.

Lee: That was it. And that became my life. I that was it.

Jo: Well thank god for that because we’ve enjoyed the outcome of that.

Lee: Thank god for that is right! I could’ve gone any way, I could’ve been breaking up marriages.

Jo: Well, now I have a fun question—You are our favorite Columbo murderer… you were also in the Balcony with Peter Falk…

This is a 2 part question. You worked with Peter Falk in several roles, from plays like Prisoner of 2nd Ave, to an emotional episode of Ben Casey (you both gave a wonderfully passionate and heart-wrenching performance!), to the very post-modern The Balcony, and then, famously, as our favorite Columbo murderer the lady lawyer Lesley Willams in Ransom for a Deadman. What was it like to work with him? How did you end up working with him so much?

Columbo was one of those shows that was set up in such an interesting way because there were certain murderers who were ‘sympathetic’, and you were one of them. You could tell Columbo had a lot of respect for your character’s savvy. Did you enjoy playing cat and mouse with each other (like when you say to him “it’s always the jugular he’s going for” and then when you take him for that terrifying joy ride in your airplane and he doesn’t want to talk for a while, and you’re enjoying his discomfort)? How much fun were you both having on the set?

Lee: Oh, you’re so funny! [laughs]

Jo: And I promised myself I wouldn’t ask you about Shelley Winters (co-star in The Balcony), but maybe if we have time I’ll ask you about Shelley… [laughs](back to Peter Falk)

Lee: It was a good marriage.

Jo: That’s a good way to put it.

Lee: Yeah, it was a good marriage. All of the parts we played, or were thrown in to play together, since it certainly wasn’t planned. Peter was in it and I was hired, or I was in it and then Peter. And we found ourselves each time within a new situation with a new role to play with each other. Never the same role. And we were not friends.

Jo: You weren’t? Oh, that’s what I was curious about because it almost seemed like you had such a natural flow together.

Lee: I think that’s one of the things that worked for us. That we were familiar as actors and felt each other as actors, but we had no history that would get in the way of whatever that character was. Whoever he was playing went through many versions certainly, and in his big show, I was the enemy. So it was fun to attack him freshly in whatever character he was and whatever character I was at the time—friend, enemy, enemy, friend. And at each time find an actor who could spar with you, you know, fence with you.

Jo: And you did it so well. I mean it’s funny because with Columbo there are several instances in the series where there are sympathetic murderers. And Wendy and I both think that you’re one of them. You, and Joyce Van Patten, I loved her character.

Lee: Oh, Joyce is one of my best friends.

Jo: Ah, love her! And Ruth Gordon, we love the one with Ruth Gordon. If Ruth were here Wendy and I would try to get you three to sit and have lunch with us and celebrate the best Columbo murderers.

Lee: I would do it any time, to have lunch with Ruth Gordon any time. And Joyce is one of my three very very very very best friends.

Jo: We love her. She’s another one, we just light up when we see her. She’s so wonderful. That’s so nice to hear that you are such good friends. Tell her we said hi.

Lee: I knew Joyce Van Patten when I saw her on stage as a child actor. I saw her on stage when she was about 13 or 14.

Jo: Really? Wow, so you have a long history together.

Lee: We have a long history.

Jo: Awwww that’s wonderful. And it’s interesting that you both were that sympathetic murderer, and he really had that kind of respect for you. Because no matter what hell you put him through, like flying in that plane and making him suffer, you can tell he says, “don’t talk to me for a few minutes.”

Lee: Well the thing is also that I’m the worst driver in the world. I have no sense of direction. So getting me to fly a plane like I knew where I was going and I knew what buttons to push was such a kick for me.

Jo: Oh, that’s great! This is an interesting question and something I really wanted to know.…

Do you feel that your roles in non-mainstream films (pause) or television series like Peyton Place Do you feel like they were less constrained for you as an actor?

Lee: Than what?

Jo: Thank doing a major motion picture. The smaller television series.

I wish there were more roles for you like Stella Chernak, or the wandering mother/wife in the Neon Ceiling. Or Mrs Enders, the mother in the Landlord, or Marilyn Kim Novak’s neighbor in Middle of the Night. One of my favorites and you’re going to laugh at this, but sassy Edna from Storm Fear. They were very complex, and reflexive, and quirky, and substantive roles for women?

Lee: Wait, Storm Fear? (wonderful laughing hysterically)

Jo: Storm Fear directed by Cornel Wilde. It was that… ok I’m glad you’re laughing… I’m going to ask you about that now.

Lee: [laughs] Where did you ever get to see it?

Jo: Well I’ve seen most all your work anyway, but because I knew I was going to talk to you I started re-watching a lot of your films again because I just wanted to spend time with Lee Grant.

Lee: Oh honey, that’s funny.

Jo: Ok, I have my question about Storm Fear… this will make you laugh even more…

I get the sense Cornel Wilde didn’t give a lot of direction in Storm Fear. But Edna was a very bright light in an otherwise conventional heist movie. Edna was rough around the edges, likable, and kind. There’s a great scene where she’s walking in the snow, in her fancy boots and snow shoes, swinging her purse. And she says about her mink coat “if it gets left behind, I’m gonna to be in it.” And in the end, they leave Edna dying in the snow with her two broken ankles, a wad of cash, and her mink coat. We were so upset at the end for you! Is Edna still out there in the snow? What was your experience working on that film?

Lee: “I’ll kill ya!” Do you remember his reading of “I’ll kill ya!”? Cornel Wilde would say “ok, cut. Now listen to me Steve (Steven Hill), “I’ll kill you.” “I’ll kill you. Now you try it.” And Steve goes “I’ll kill you.” And Cornel would say “ok, you’ve got it Steve. Alright, and action!” And Steve would say “I’ll kill YA!” “I’ll kill YA!” [laughs]

Jo: [laughs] That’s too hilarious! So I suspected right… that you two did your thing and were the highlight of the film. There’s the great scene—you’ll remember this—where you’re walking in the snow in your fancy shoes. And you’re swinging your purse and you’re wearing the mink coat. And you say “If this gets left behind I’m going to be in it!” And that’s exactly what happens. They leave you dying in the snow with two broken ankles and a wad of cash in your mink coat.

Lee: [laughs] Falling down into the ravine.

Jo: You had fallen into the ravine. And Wendy and I are – I’m the kind of person, I yell at the television set—And Wendy and I were like “where’s Edna?” I’m like “what about Edna?!”

Lee: Thank you! Thank you! I needed that!

Jo: I’m like all upset, what are you leaving her down there in the snow for? Give some closure. Where is she? Rescue her! Dammit! Rescue her! She’s got broken ankles!

Lee: That is so funny.

Edna-“I hate you, you creep! I hate you!!!!”

Jo: But you were great in that. And those are the kind of roles that I really do love.

Lee: Well you know the thing about that is, historically speaking, that was an absolute crossover moment in my life, because I was still blacklisted. Cornel Wilde who was a really, really decent guy hired me as a blacklisted actress in an important part in which he wanted to introduce his wife, the non-actress, as the lead. With Dan Duryea, who is no small pickings. Dan Duryea is one of the great character actors of all time.

Jo: Yes, I love him.

Lee: Now Cornel hired me when I was still deep in the blacklist and nobody else would hire me. And we made enough money to have my daughter. She was conceived in Hollywood at that time because we had enough money to have another baby, and to have my baby, as I had two stepchildren. So you know it was a ridiculous thing, stomping in the snow with this big snowshoes and a black satin dress, and my blistered scalp because they dyed my hair from dark red to platinum blonde. So my head was all blistered. But bless Cornel Wilde. He did a remarkable and wonderful thing, and I had the most important thing in my life. Dina saved me through that whole blacklisted period. Having a little girl to take care of and to be there. And she was the best, the funniest, the sweetest, the most interesting. So she saved my life, and that came out of Storm Fear. I mean, it’s so interesting when you think about it.

Jo: It really is. And your performance is almost bright and glowing. There’s something emanating from Edna. I just love Edna. And maybe that’s what I was picking up on.

Lee: Oh yes, sweetheart. But having daughter Dina was the thing that held me together through the whole thing.

Jo: And she’s a hoot.

Lee: She’s the best. The best. I just came back from being with her.

Jo: I love that she’s in that episode of the Golden Girls when Blanche, Rue MacLanahan, keeps slamming the door in her face. It is just so hilarious. The comedic timing between the two of them is brilliant. I mean, she’s got your… she’s got the gift.

Lee: Yes, she does.

Jo: It’s in her genes. Ok, now we’ll move on and I’ll ask you another question—I’m glad we had a good laugh…

I loved the scene in Hal Ashby’s film the Landlord when you and Pearl Bailey are getting drunk on pot liquor, and you walk out with the ham hock in your bag. Mrs. Enders is such a fabulous character, did you have any particular inspiration for her character? Did you enjoy working with Pearl? And, do you have any great stories from that film? He’s a great director, and Mrs Enders is another fabulous character that you’ve played.

What was the inspiration for her character…?

Lee: Yes! [laughs] Well, my mother and my aunt, yes. And I had just finished doing In the Heat of the Night which was all about losing my first husband who died of a heart attack and Norman Jewison knew that and Hal Ashby was his editor at that time, so they knew that I would come in to do In the Heat of the Night with an experience that they knew I had, and Sidney and I really improvised that scene. But that’s how they knew me. And then as a friend they let me read The Landlord, and I said I can do that part and their whole image of me was of the grieving widow. And I said “let me just do it for you because that’s my mother, that’s my aunt.” And they told me that they had Jessica Tandy attached to it and I found some blonde wig, and I stood under the lights in the hallway so that I looked older. And I did it for them and they got it. And they gave it to me. So you know to go from the first, In the Heat of the Night, to Mrs Enders was just everything I ever wanted. To plumb both of those things. So it was just thrilling for me. First of all, the movie is a masterpiece. And it was Hal’s first directing job.

Jo: So it Was his first movie.

Lee: Yes, then he did the one with Ruth Gordon.

*Hal Ashby on the set of Harold and Maude with Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon.*

Jo: Wendy and I were sold on him after he did Harold and Maude.

Lee: Harold and Maude is one of the great masterpieces ever ever made.

Jo: It absolutely is…

Lee: And I wanted to do Ruth Gordon’s part, too. It shows you how hungry and stupid I was at the same time.

Jo: I wouldn’t say stupid.

Lee: Well, how hungry and ambitious.

Jo: Right.

Lee: Not ambitious, how starved I was. I was so starved that when you showed a piece of marrow bone, like Ruth Gordon’s part, I was like “let me have it, let me have it” but I never saw a piece of work as brilliant as her…

Jo: Oh yes, she is a whole other subject… she’s something else!

Lee: She is. She is to be worshiped.

Jo: I think so. But I mean so are you, really!

Lee: Oh, ok!

Jo: We’re worshiping you today! [laughs]

Lee: Worship away! [laughs]

Jo: Ok I’m going to ask you about Shampoo… I think there should’ve been more of you…

You won an academy award for Shampoo. We’re huge fans of the brilliant filmmaker Hal Ashby. People experience this movie as a 1970s, romanticized, sexual freedom film.

I experience the film as a deification of Warren Beatty’s insatiable sexual prowess running around with his phallic blowdryer. I just think there should have been a lot more of you. Do you think the film would’ve benefited from more development of the women characters and their sexuality? You also mention in your wonderful book that Warren Beatty tried to direct you and you almost quit the film. Do you think the film needed more of your vision and direction to bring the women characters more into focus?

Lee: Well I think there should’ve been more of me!

Jo: I think so!

Lee: I think there should’ve been a lot more of me in everything that I’ve ever been in. But unfortunately, there are other actors and there is a plot and there are other ramifications. So while I always think there should be a lot more of me, practically speaking it’s not the thing to do. I think that the woman I played was sound. I think her needs, her bitterness. The rejection of her within the Hollywood framework of that time. And that glowing gorgeous daughter played by…

Jo: Carrie Fisher.

Lee: She was the most beautifully white-skinned little girl, Carrie Fisher. And for me to be a mother who was hungry and rejected and to have that child right downstairs in the house. My character was just filled with conflict and unfulfillment. And all I seem to care about in that film was my coat and my hair and getting shtupped. And grabbing at whatever I could that would fill this emptiness. I hated Hollywood at that time.

Jo: But you were more interesting and intricate than Warren Beatty’s character. I didn’t find his character as complex as I did yours.

Lee: I don’t think that he intended to be… to be… you know, Warren wrote that with Robert Towne. A great, great, great writer. And the character he wrote was a very simple guy who likes to please. He likes to please everyone. He likes to please the Jack Warden character as much as he does with the women whose hair he does, his customers. He is guaranteed to please. Because certainly he’s not that attracted to me. Right before he goes to bed with me, my daughter seduces him. And you know one of the real arguments that Warren and I had in that film was that right before the scene when I come home and I go to Carrie’s door, and I’m expecting him to be there. I’m expecting him to go upstairs and make love to me. The day before we do that scene he sits me down at the table and he says “you know Lee, Felecia (which is the character I played), Felicia does not know when she opens the door to her daughters room that the daughter and him have…” And I was so enraged that he would tell me what to think before I open that door that I quit the next day.

Jo: I read that in your book!

Lee: Yes, I quit the next day. And of course he apologized and we moved on with the scene but I said “if you ever tell me what I’m supposed to think, I won’t be there.” But the thing was, that I opened the door and of course I knew that they had gone to bed. I mean, I’m no dummy!

Jo: Of course!

Lee: And my own need was so ferocious that it didn’t matter! And that’s the way I played that scene when I went upstairs. I kept on my coat. I kept on my curlers in my hair. I just pulled down my stockings and pulled him over to me. You know, it was my needs.

Jo: Right, yes. And it’s a powerful scene and a powerful role. And that’s why you won the Academy Award for it!

Lee: Well, you know I’d been nominated a lot of times.

Jo: Oh, I know.

Lee: So usually when you’re nominated and you don’t win then you’re just a thing in the way after that. At first it’s like “Lee, Lee, look this way!” And then when you don’t win, they want you out of the way.

Jo: That’s rotten!

Lee: But I knew even when I went up to get the award finally that I was now at the age where they wouldn’t hire me. That I was going into 50, and this was probably the last big big movie.

Jo: But it wasn’t.

Lee: Only one more.

Jo: What was the movie after?

Lee: Oh, the Jewish… the boat…

Jo: Oh, yes, Voyage of the Damned.

Lee: Yes, Voyage of the Damned.

Jo: I watched the scene where you cut your hair. It’s a very difficult movie for me to watch. And, I had a relative on the ship.

Lee: What?

Jo: Yes, she was a child and she survived it. She made her way back.

Lee: Where?

Jo: Eventually she made her way to France and she is now a biochemist and a professor at Harvard. I lost relatives in the Holocaust but she was on the ship and I don’t have her name in front of me. This is terrible. My brother has been doing historical research to find our relatives and where we came from in a small town that is now part of Poland.

Lee: That’s where my father came from.

Jo: Yes, and it was Austria at the time.

Lee: We’re little strong Polish Jews!

Jo: Yes, yes, and we came to New York and it made us even stronger.

Lee: Oh yes.

Jo: We’re tough.

Lee: Something about us makes us tough.

Jo: And my mother was Russian.

Lee: So was mine! My mishpucha, honey! [laughs]

Jo: My mishpucha, yes! [laughs] That’s why I called you bubbie (short for bubbeleh-friend not grandmother) yesterday and then felt bad. I said “I’ll talk to you later, bubbie!” [laughs] And then I was like “Oy, should I have said that?”

Lee: [laughs] I’ll be your bubbie!

Jo: Oh, good, good! Ok, so now I’m going to ask you about Stella Chernack because we were talking about that bad girl you played. Again, you won a much-deserved Emmy for that. And I did watch the entire show, because of you and I knew you were in it. So I watched Peyton Place… now, Stella is amazing. An amazing character.

Again, you won a much-deserved Emmy for your portrayal of Stella Chernak. Stella leaves her working class background in Peyton Place to become a biochemist, returning when her brother gets into trouble. This is when the writing and the show were the most cohesive and well thought out. It’s one of my favorite roles. Stella is very complex and there are lots of layers to your performance. She is a bit of a Tennessee William’s character, even in the way she struts the dusty streets of the town. Did you channel any of that feeling in her character? It was an intense character study and one hell of a performance. What did Stella mean to you?

Lee: Well, the whole thing was like stepping into heaven. First of all, Stella’s an angry girl.

Jo: Yes

Lee: And I was an angry girl. And Stella was fighting the unfairness of the things around her. And I had been fighting. So this was a funnel through which all of Lee and Stella’s resentment and anger and feeling of unfairness in the world around her could go. It was like made for me.

Jo: It gave you a place to channel that anger.

Lee: It channeled it. It channeled everything. And don’t forget that I went from obscurity into America’s favorite program.

Jo: Right, and one of the greatest characters, I think. Very complex. She was angry but she was also very sympathetic. You understood where she was coming from, you know?

Lee: Yup.

Jo: And that’s what I loved about her. That’s what you brought to the show. The show is really good. After you left, things just kind of went a little crazy but still I watched the whole thing. I love Barbara Parkins, and I love a lot of the actors on the show, too.

Lee: Barbara Parkins was given her first shot in that movie…

Jo: Yes, Valley of the Dolls

Lee: Valley of the Dolls, where I played Stella again as Sharon. You know, and Patty Duke. Those were their first shots after television. And of course it went down like a log.

Jo: The film is such a pop culture icon. I mean, people are fanatical.

Lee: That’s because it’s so bad.

Jo: Did you know that it was going to become a pop religious experience for some people?

Lee: [laughs]

Jo: It is, I’m telling you!

Lee: Because it’s so bad. [laughs]

Jo: But it is and it isn’t. I mean, yes, it is. [laughs] But it’s bad in a good way.

Lee: [laughs] It could be worse, but people embrace those things and raise them up.

Jo: I can see why. You do need that kind of alternative to the heavy stuff that’s out there. You need that counter balance of the delicious–

Lee: It was pop.

Jo: It was pop. And the acting was still good!

The name of your book is “I Said Yes to Everything.” And you did say yes to films like Visiting Hours, The Swarm, and Airport ’77— the last two big budget disaster films. I was sad you ended up floating face down in Airport ’77. Did you at least have fun making these films and working with actors like Olivia de Havilland and Jack Lemmon? Do you have any good stories to tell?

I watched you in Visiting Hours with the parrot.

Lee: Oh no! tisk tisk tisk! Don’t even talk about it!

Jo: Ok, I won’t talk about it. I won’t talk about Visiting Hours. We’ll bury it. Can I talk about the Swarm and Airport ’77 where you played Christopher Lee’s wife whose a lush?

Lee: Ohhh, absolutely! [laughs]

Jo: Ok [laughs]

Lee: Visiting Hours was what made me absolutely shut down as an actor and turn to directing.

Jo: I understand why.

Lee: You know, one of my very best friends, a writer, I took to see it in the movie house. And he wouldn’t talk to me on the way home—“you can’t need money that much.” And I knew that I couldn’t do…

Jo: Look, every actor has done that. Every single actor has done a movie like that.

Lee: Yeah, yeah. Well, Airport ’77– I loved doing Airport ’77.

Jo: Well, that’s what I was going to ask you.

Lee: I loved it. [laughs]

Jo: I mean, you ended up floating face down in the water. And again, Wendy and I were yelling “no!”

Lee: [laughs] Well I have to tell you I had it in my contract that I didn’t have to jump in the water. They had a double. But, when the water scene came up, 60 year old Olivia de Havilland raised her hand and said “let me be the first! Let me!”

Jo: [laughs] oh my god!

Lee: I was so shamed that when it came time for me to do it

Jo: You had to do it!

Lee: They said “well let’s get Lee’s double” and I went “no no no I don’t have a double!” I didn’t want them to know what a coward I was.

Jo: [laughs] So you did it.

Lee: So I just jumped! Because I wanted to be like Olivia, you know. She’s just so amazing.

Jo: Yes, she is.

Lee: What a hero Olivia de Havilland is. I mean, think about it.

Jo: We share the same birthday so every time it’s my birthday I always toast Olivia. Because, wow we have the same birthday and she loves cats.

Lee: I do too.

Jo: Oh, you do? I thought you were a dog person

Lee: Yes, we have 2 cats. But what a woman, what a spirit! Let me be the first, she said, climbing down from the rafters.

Jo: [laughs]

Lee: All through Airport ’77 she sat in the rafters with the lighting guys and chatted with them.

Jo: Do you know Wendy was a lighting designer before she was a sociologist.

Lee: Of course she was! Wendy the lighting designer sociologist, of course!

Jo: Same thing, right?

Lee: Same thing! Shed the light someplace!

Jo: Exactly, beautifully put. See, leave it to you. I have a few more questions, is that ok?

Lee: I’m just lying here on the chaise lounge in my nightgown as comfortable as somebody who just woke up.

Jo: That sounds lovely!

Lee: And having a wonderful time with you.

Jo: Oh good! We’re having a blast, too! There are several performances of yours I’ve never seen and that makes me upset because I’m a completist. I want to see everything you did. And in your book you write about the show The Defenders. I love the show, but that episode is unavailable. The particular episode that you did is not out, or not yet at least.

Like a few others, there are several performances of yours that I haven’t been able to see because they’re unavailable. For example, there’s an episode of The Defenders in which, as I read in your book, director Stuart Rosenberg lit you in a way that was your favorite. There was The Doctors and the Nurses, another incredible dramatic television series. And then there is the the motion picture An Affair of the Skin (1963) where you co-starred with the brilliant Diana Sands, who died tragically at 39. I would love to see your work in that film. Can you tell me about the film and about working with Diana?

Lee: I know, she was in… Raisin in the Sun.

Jo: Raisin in the Sun

Lee: Yes, and the other movie with Pearl Bailey… The Landlord

Jo: Yes! She was in the Landlord, too, that’s right. So you worked with her twice. What did you think of that film Affair of the Skin, because I don’t know much about it.

Lee: I don’t remember it. Vivica Lindfors was in it. And I just don’t remember it. I don’t remember what I did or anything.

Jo: Maybe somebody will find the film.

Lee: I hope not!

Jo: Ok, then maybe they’ll find a way to get it buried so it never comes out. Did you enjoy working with Diana because I love her work and I find it so tragic that she died so young. She was kind of one of the first Black women who had a much different kind of persona. She wasn’t doing the roles—well maybe Ruby Dee did—but she wasn’t playing the maids and she wasn’t playing the nurses.

Lee: Well, also Hal Ashby didn’t get them maids and nurses to play. The Landlord was a brilliant script and it highlighted the difference between the Long Island whites and Harlem. And Bo Bridges, I mean he was astonishing in it. His sweetness, his openness. You know, that was a script for the ages. And I personified again that kind of closed-minded rich stupid mother.

Jo: Well, insulated maybe.

Lee: Yes, totally insulated. You know no idea beyond the house and the garden and the friends what life was about at all. And it’s such an astonishing piece of work.

Jo: Yes, it was. Did you get to work much with Diana in that?

Lee: Yes, well, we hung out. And after the film was over I gave a party at the apartment in New York, as we all stayed in New York, and Diana and I were sitting there waiting for Hal because we both had a crush on him. And his girlfriend, who he later married, at the time she would not let him come.

Jo: Possessive! Oh really [laughs]

Lee: So Diana and I sat and drank wine and talked about how mean she was and how much we loved him. [laughs]

Jo: Did he help you pick out clothes, did I read that right?

Lee: Yes, he did. In the Heat of the Night.

Jo: Yes, in the Heat of the Night he helped you pick out the clothes. He was the editor on the film.

Lee: Yes, yes.

Jo: Ok, you might not want to talk about this movie either, and if you don’t want to you don’t have to. But first, I noticed recently you did an interview for a documentary on Boris Karloff? You worked with him on “Even the Weariest River” on the Alcoha Hour. And I haven’t been able to see it. A lot of the Alcoha Hour and those dramatic television performances from the 50s are hard to get. But Boris Karloff is my idol. I’ve always said I wanted him to be my grandfather, because he’s the most gentle soul. And I met his daughter Sarah and she’s just wonderful.

You worked with Boris Karloff in 1956 on the Alcoa Hour “Even the Weariest River” it hasn’t been released so there’s no way to see it. I have to ask you what was it like to work with him? Do you have any stories about working with him?

Lee: Well, you know, I just remember that when I was blacklisted and he was playing on Broadway, maybe it was St. Joan, I don’t know but there was something so gracious and so magnanimous, and so grandfatherly, and beautiful about him. And he would always sign all my petitions. I was little girl who couldn’t work. And, you know, it was dangerous to sign petitions, you know you couldn’t work either if you did. And Kim Stanley and Maureen Stapleton were ones who were always working on Broadway and also signed my petitions. But you know I hadn’t remembered working with him in this television movie. I know they brought it to me, and the people in it… I was the only girl. And it was during the blacklist so the director had to be a very very brave guy. A very brave guy. Because I was the only woman and he cast me in it.

Jo: So you stood out.

Lee: Yes, it was with Boris Karloff and Christopher Plumber. It’s a terrible movie.

Jo: Oh is it really? [laughs]

Lee: Yes, but very interesting. I mean because it’s all packed. In those days you shot on set. There wasn’t a closeup. You kind of walked into the shot.

Jo: Right, it was live theatre, really, right?

Lee: Yes, it was shooting live theatre. So it had that kind of rushed feeling. But the story was meaningful, and I was just so surprised to see me there. And I’ve just forgotten a lot of what I did.

Jo: Well I didn’t even realize you had done something with Boris Karloff.

Lee: I didn’t, either. [laughs]

Jo: [laughs] Well, you know he’s so iconic, and thinking of you and him together is such an interesting confluence. Ok, so I’m going to ask you about a movie you might not want to talk about…

Lee: Which could that be?

Jo: Ah, The Mafu Cage?

Lee: [laughs] Oh, yes!

Jo: Because you worked with Carol Kane. She’s brilliant, she’s such a noodlehead. She’s just something else.

Lee: Yes, she is.

Jo: I thought that The Mafu Cage, directed by Karen Arthur, is a very primal and dark film. It seemed like a difficult and disturbing narrative for both you and Carol Kane to step into. It’s a psycho-sexual mine-field, almost filmed like a stage play, about captivity and dependency. It must have been a tough movie to film. Was it difficult for you two seasoned actors? Can you tell me what the process was like for you?

Lee: Oh, of course! Oh, I don’t know, there must’ve been some spare time to do it. And it was a woman director, Karen Arthur. And I don’t remember what year it was. But I know I thought, why not? It was Carol Kane, who was a delicious friend. And it was an absurd concept. You know, for her to have this relationship with a…

Jo: An orangutan maybe?

Lee: It was a gorilla, you know, Carol and the gorilla. So I mean it was absurd enough to say why not? It didn’t take very long and so it was like going to a bad nightclub, you know what I’m saying?

Jo: Yes! [laughs]

Lee: Oh, let’s go in there and see what happens.

Jo: Yes, dark and scary and there’s a little journey in there.

Lee: Yes, yeah. It was a why not, you know?

Jo: But the thing is it’s an interesting, disturbing film but there’s a lot in it. And your performances, you made it a good film. I think it’s a really kind of an unsung horror/ psychological thriller. I don’t think it’s a bad film at all, maybe it could’ve been a stage play.

Lee: The thing is that Karen Arthur conceived it and directed it and she got Carol Kane and me, and James Olson, to do it. Wow! I would like to be able to say that I did that. That I pulled it off and made that movie. So it’s really Karen Arthur’s triumph.

Jo: Yes sure.

Lee: And any time a female director—especially at that time—with that concept, to pull it off and make that movie. You know, my hat off to her!

Jo: Yes, absolutely! She did a really amazing job because I walked away from the film kind of speechless. And thinking about things, and when a movie sends you away thinking about something, speechless, you know that there’s something going on there.

Lee: Yes and don’t forget there were no women directors then. There were like 2 in New York and that’s it.

Jo: Right, that’s another reason to applaud the film, the fact that her vision was realized. It’s very good. And then, this is one is probably one of my favorite performances of yours, The Neon Ceiling, where you play the mother who leaves her husband and just drives into the desert. It’s a special film…

In the Neon Ceiling you play a mother who leaves her husband and just drives — winding up in the desert with her teenage daughter. It’s a very unusual and special little film co-starring Gig Young and Denise Nickerson, a talented young actress. Wendy and I were really enchanted by it. I found your performance as Carrie Miller profoundly moving because it was so un-selfconscious and powerful. At the risk of sounding contrived what was your inspiration for bringing that character to life?

Lee: Well first of all, that character was the part of me I never got to play.

Jo: In real life?

Lee: In real life, yeah. The part of me in my first marriage where my husband fault with me, that I wasn’t this enough, or that enough, or, or, I was never enough. And I wasn’t smart enough. And so that whole beginning with the husband that I run away from. Where I can’t do anything right, I can’t even shop for groceries…

Jo: It kind of paralleled…

Lee: Yes, yes, and I had a daughter. I had Dina. So Denise was Dina. And so if I could’ve known how to run away, in my early years I would have. And going into the desert… the desert was a very new experience for me as a person. I’d never been in the desert. And the peace. Sitting on the back porch of this gas station and just looking out at the desert became, it became a totally new experience for me. And something that I needed but didn’t know that I need. And there was an Indian tribe there who would come and ask for the lunch that we had every day. It was like the small remnants of like what 20 people didn’t eat. And a woman in the tribe who was leading the tribe became a mentor. So she was so strong and so calm. And the things that she asked for were so real. That she became somebody I admired and wanted to be like. And she gave me a puppy.

Jo: That’s right, I read about the puppy Nusski given to you by the Sioux.

Lee: Yes!

Jo: Who was with you for many many years.

Lee: Yes, who came with us to New York. And Gig, he was so attractive and so hurt someplace.

Jo: I know, it’s so tragic.

Lee: He needed caring for. You know, and so did Denise in her way. She asked for it, he didn’t. And somehow me, tickled as I was, I felt a soul there that I connected with. And it was so beautiful and the writer created something that nobody else created.

Jo: Was that Carol Sobieski who also wrote for Peyton Place?

Lee: Yes, Carol Sobieski. She was extraordinary.

Jo: Yes, she’s a great writer.

Lee: She’s a great writer and I felt it was a privilege—a privilege of all the things I’ve done—being able to go there.

Jo: Yes, there’s something… I guess that’s what we’re doing, is witnessing a lot of your transformations on screen. We’re seeing, you know, you’re in the desert and you’re having this transcendence. And it’s coming through to your character, Carrie.

Lee: Yes, yes.

Jo: It’s such a beautiful performance. It’s so subtle and so quiet and so beautiful. And so painful.

Lee: Yes.

Jo: You convey all of that and that’s hard to do and you do it. You just pull it off like nobody else could. And that’s the thing I love are these other women that you play, are these roles and these women that deserve to be looked at. And I’ve certainly been having a great time delving into your work.

Lee: And have you! Wow!

Jo: Maybe I’ve been digging too deep!

Lee: You’ve found things I’ve forgotten. That one I knew is just so special. It’s interesting because Frank who directed it—Frank Pierson. A very very close friend, too. He also, much later he did The Life of Roy Cohn.

Jo: Oh, Frank Pierson.

Lee: Yes, Frank Pierson. On HBO, and he called me then and he said “do you want to be Roy Cohn’s mother? Or do you want to be the one who was killed? The spy.” Anyway, he was the writer who became the director, because he had nothing to do with writing that, Carol wrote it. And he came to be the night before and said, “you know, I’d like to do some changes in this. And you know she really isn’t as good as all that.” And I said, “well, hire another actor. Because if you touch this script. (The Neon Ceiling) ” You know why would you do that? Why, why? And he said “oh, I…” and I said “you don’t like women. You don’t like women.” And in that particular incidence, he didn’t. And in everything else—because I worked with him many times—he’s a great writer and a great director—but this was too simple for him.

Jo: I know of his work and have seen a lot of it. So they kept it the same way?

Lee: Absolutely, he took it back. And we left the next day.

Jo: We just have a couple more questions. And Wendy wanted to talk with you. You know, I saw a scene you directed—we’ll get into your directing in a minute—I watched a scene from Tell me a Riddle with Melvin Douglas and Lela Kedrova that you directed. And just the little scene that I saw ripped my guts up. I just—

Lee: Mine too.

Jo: It’s so heartbreaking. I know that you’re a wonderful director and I know it’s probably not hard to direct Melvin Douglas and Lela Kedrova, but you absolutely created this poignant journey. But Wendy here is a sociologist who teaches social movements and she shows documentaries in classes and has used your documentaries in classes. And she wanted to ask you about the documentaries that you did, you know back in the day when they became movies of the week and there was a wide audience for them. And you started asking the socially relevant questions.

Wendy: Hi Lee, I teach sociology classes and I use documentaries all the time. So I’m always looking for ones that are good and well done. And I was really intrigued by the ones you did in the 1980s. The ones that really gave voice to marginalized individuals. So you did the film about poverty—Down and Out in America—which is still unfortunately relevant today.

In the early 1980s you started directing documentary films, specifically films that give voice to marginalized individuals way before others were doing so Down and Out in America (the poor, transgender individuals WHAT SEX AM I , women in prison who killed their abusive husbands in self-defense , the Willmar 8, etc.). Some of these were released as movies of the week to very large audiences. What led you to start making these kinds of documentaries? Were there social and political triggers?

Lee: Yes, unfortunately it’s still relevant.

Wendy: And it was also, to me, when it came out in the mid-80s, very much a response to Ronald Reagan’s trickledown economics. You can really see it situated in that.

Lee: You put your finger right on it.

Wendy: And I talk about that when I teach inequality so it’s good to give students that context and history. Then there’s the documentary you did in the 1980s on transgender individuals, which no one had really done yet.

Lee: Yes, What Sex Am I?

Wendy: The Women in Prison, the Willmar 8, about women bankers who went on strike and I cannot find that one anywhere but I would love to use it because I teach about activism and social movements so I’m always looking for things about activism and I couldn’t find that one anywhere so I haven’t seen it. I was just curious about what made you switch, to not just directing, but directing these documentaries about marginalized populations. Like what were the social and political triggers of that for you?

Lee: Well, you know during the early years and not being able to say anything. And even when I was in LA, I was careful about what I said about it. You know, I acted in things that said things. And I have a best friend, Marybeth Yarrow, who had been married to Peter Yarrow. And in her small town in Willmar, there were 7 women who went on strike at the bank because bank president there would have them train these boys in the bank, and then have them be the women’s bosses. So these little boys that they would train would suddenly tell them what to do and get a higher salary. So the women went out on strike. And Marybeth read that to me, and I had just been at AFI and had taken a women’s directing workshop. Their first women’s directing workshop. I said let’s go there and make a documentary. And that kicked open the whole tunnel. Her husband, Peter, raised like 30,000 dollars and went to Willmar. It was the middle of the winter. So cold that you couldn’t open your mouth to ask a question.

Jo and Wendy: [laugh]

Lee: I mean your mouth froze. And those 7 women were out there on strike in front of the bank. They could hardly walk it was so cold. And you know it kicked open a door in me that had said, don’t talk, be quiet. You know, save yourself, don’t talk, be quiet. And I thought you know, thank God, I can do this. I can get away with this. I can put it on film. Finally, I’ve found my voice. I have found my voice. And it just meant everything to me. Finally, I’d landed on my feet and there was no fear. So I was just starved for that. And I made one after another after another after another. I loved that I had to go all different places and open all kinds of doors. You know our second film was in the prison system

Wendy: Yes, we saw parts of it.

Lee: You know, what a revelation! I was free! I was free! I was really free of the blacklist finally! And not only that, I had tools that could fight the blacklist. I could show what the truth was.

Wendy: Right, which is why I love showing documentaries because it shows students individuals—gives voice to individuals—who I can’t bring to the classroom.

Lee: Right, exactly.

Wendy: Especially the women in prison film, I don’t think anybody was talking about whether or not women should be in prison for killing an abusive spouse in the 1980s no one was covering that. And Down and Out in America is also unfortunately still relevant but also shows how devastating politics was in the 1980s while we tend to misremember it as being some golden era in America, right? Well compared to what we’re living in now…

Lee: Well, I don’t know whether you were able to get hold of my Texas film?

Wendy: I don’t think so.

Jo: No…

Lee: HBO was sued so it was only shown once.

Jo: Oh, about the children being taken away from their mothers…?

Lee: It was judges in Texas who took children away from the mothers and gave them to the fathers who were suspected of abusing them.

Jo: Oh my God! Wow.

Lee: Yeah.

Jo: You were sued for that?

Lee: HBO got sued, and that show was only on one time.

Wendy: I wonder if it’s in any college libraries someplace still?

Lee: I have it! So at some point I can lend it to you to make a copy of and you can use it.

Wendy: Oh that would be wonderful.

Lee: But also if and when this documentary thing happens in October and my films are shown.

Jo: Yes, the retrospective!

Lee: Yes, I can’t wait for the documentaries to be shown.

Wendy: And I have so many sociologist friends in and around NYC who would totally be there for it. We’re all big fans of well-made interesting documentaries.

Jo: And we’ll be there.

Wendy: Yes, I love to nerd-out on documentaries. Jo watches her classic films and I’m watching like 13th on Netflix…

Jo: Yes, she’s watching her serious and depressing documentaries. I mean, I’m just so dark because of what’s going on in the world in politics, because it’s like a Stanley Kubrick nightmare that you imagine would never happen in real life.

Lee: Yes, it’s so disturbing, this nightmare. It’s like having Roy Cohn as president, you know, because…

Jo: It’s dystopian…

Lee: Yes, and there aren’t words and there’s just no way to describe it… This is a nightmare.

Jo: And there’s a collective depression and angst that people are feeling in their lives.

Lee: And there is. It is.

Jo: And that’s what’s tragic and it’s America’s Id so then you’ve got the people that support him…

Wendy: I like to focus on—because I study social movements and activism—I like to focus on the activism.

Jo: Yes, she’s the glass half full person.

Wendy: Yes, I focus on the people making the change. That’s what my research is about and that’s what I try to teach my students to raise some hell. And voting. Because otherwise I’d just lose my mind.

Lee: Yes, all of us. I mean living within this screenplay, being a character within a screenplay that we loath and detest and want to get out of. And are trapped in.

Jo: Yes, exactly. That’s scary. Thanks for scaring us, Lee! [laughs]

Lee: [laughs] But it really has an effect.

Jo and Wendy: Yes, it does.

Lee: I mean, especially since we had Obama.

Jo: Yes, Well, is there an end in sight? When will we get out of this madness? We need relief.

Lee: Yes, it’s madness.

Jo: We need to be able to breathe again!

Lee: And I’m overwhelmed. It’s overwhelming. Everywhere I look is horror. And it’s not like oh this is something that really has been addressed, it’s not like we need to just shake this or show people… this is horror.

Jo: Yes, it’s organic horror.

Lee: And it’s death. It’s killing people.

Jo: If not only in body but also in spirit.

Wendy: And actually in body.

Lee: Yes, it’s killing people. All over the world. Yesterday I was listening to the television and Saudi Arabia hires African soldiers to kill other Arabs. Instead of doing it themselves they hire African soldiers into that Arab conclave that’s left—Yemen. It was like wow, hired professionals.

Wendy: We would just sleep better if we knew there were people in office trying to make things better instead of worse.

Jo: I just don’t understand it, how we got here.

Lee: We got here in a minute.

Jo: Yes.

Lee: And watch out for this. I feel that the way Bernie Sanders treated Hillary Clinton…

Wendy: Oh yeah don’t even get me started.

Lee: It was the beginning of the end. Kicked open the door for Trump.

Jo: Yes. When I saw his scowling face at the convention, I wanted to smack him.

Lee: Bernie, yes. He was so abusive to her. And of course all my leftie friends are like “but Bernie’s the best, Bernie’s…” But look how he’s treating her. It was like how my communist husband treated me. Like she’s a dummy, she’s Wall Street.

Jo: Yeah, we’re in agreement!

Lee: And I think there was a democratic disaffection—20% of democrats voted for Bernie and that’s what pushed this bully…

Wendy: Yup, and we can thank them for the Supreme Court and a lot of crap.

Lee: That’s right. You’re the only ones who get it!

Wendy: There are others that get it, but it seems like we’re few and far between. There’s a lot of us who are not Bernie fans for good solid reasons. I’m happy Bernie’s light seems to be dimmer this time around and he’s not polling as well as he did before. People don’t seem as excited about him now.

Lee: I’m just worried about it.

Wendy: Yeah, like are we going to get our acts together on the left?

Lee: Yes, are we?

Jo: Oh, but we should not totally veer off into politics. We should close with a good film or acting  question! I wanted to ask you about your performance in Electra. I was reading your book and almost peeing my pants laughing as you’re describing wearing that crimson red velvet gown? And it’s raining and you get drenched in the rain.

I read in your book about how you worked with Joe Papp on Shakespeare in the Park, playing Electra by Sophocles. I can visualize this powerful performance, the method training, that rainy day, you dragging Theoni’s Aldridge’s crimson gown, the heavy fabric soaked through across the stage. And there’s the audience floating away in the deluge as devoted as ever. You said it was the most risky, challenging role. Alfred Ryder a wonderful actor played Hamlet before this and his performance was televised, but it was a disaster, and it nearly ruined his acting career. Do you regret that your performance of Electra was not televised and recorded so that we could see it today? I would’ve loved to see you on stage, even in the flood.

Lee: And the whole audience is drenched!

Jo: And the papers are floating away, and you’re out there shouting. And the show’s ended and they’re still out there clapping in the rain.

Lee: Talk about a switch from bleak and bad, to emboldened and powerful playing Electra!

Jo: Yes, we needed some Electra!

Lee: Jo Papp gave me Electra and saw that I was ready to spew and all lessons he gave me, the teachers who came in to correct my language so that I was ready to take on that role. And to let go of all that rage and fierceness, under the cover of the state at Central Park. It was such a release for me to play that.

Jo: Yeah, you said it was a very risky role for you. Challenging.

Lee: Very. And he handed it to me.

Jo: Wow.

Lee: And what a thing to do.

Jo: A gift.

Lee: Yes, what a gift. What a thing to do. The most powerful theatre man in New York and the most liberal and radical, and gorgeous.

Jo: Gorgeous?

Lee: Gorgeous, gorgeous [laughs]

Jo: He knew you could do it. So in your book you mentioned that Alfred Rider had done Hamlet. And when they televised it and it didn’t go over very well. Electra… It doesn’t exist. Do you regret that there is no visual evidence of that performance?

Lee: No, no.

Jo: I wish I couldn’t seen you on stage. Even in Prisoner on Second Avenue I wash I could’ve seen you on stage. So you’re really not sorry that they didn’t televise it?

Lee: No. No, it’s an experience.

Jo: It’s one of those moments it exists like a firefly.

Lee: It was a live experience. Like a marriage. And you know it lifted me.

Jo: So you’re laying on your chaise, did you finish your coffee?

Lee: Oh, it’s half finished. I’m still in my nightgown. [laughs]

Jo: I could talk with you all day like this!

Lee: I know!

Jo: What is a great way to end this?

Lee: What’s a great way to end this?

Jo: Is there something you want to talk about? That we didn’t cover. You’ve got such an impressive career in theatre, film, and television. On both sides of the camera. You’ve worked with amazing people. You have great friends.

Lee: How about Al—who’s the one was who was thrown out of office? Al Franken? How about Al Franken. He didn’t have a choice to leave but I want him back. And that’s what I want to write about.

Wendy: What are you working on for writing?

Lee: I’ve just been writing in spurts, just things that I have to get out of my system, as you can hear when I talk to you. There are things I have to spew, and get down on paper to get it out of me. And so what’s I’m going to do, I’m going to write about the stupidity and short-sightedness of getting rid of the only one in Congress that I know of who could go up against Trump and just demolish him, with his humor and his knowledge. That was the stupidest action that could be taken.

Jo: I was so mad at him for messing up because we needed him. And so mad at him for stepping down.

Lee: He was pushed out. He was forced out. Did you read that New Yorker article about the woman who came to his defense?

Jo: No, we haven’t seen that one.

Lee: It’s like 2 weeks ago. So you can read it.

Wendy: I’ll look it up. I keep more up on the politics stuff than Jo does. Jo likes to live in her classic film bubble.

Jo: I like to live in my classic film world and if I don’t… I’ll go mad.

Lee: Oh, I understand. And I’m sorry to break through that.

Jo: No, no. It’s fine. And I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not proactive. I do what needs to be done.

Lee: Oh, I’m not accusing you, I’m just opening my arms and pulling you into my world.

Jo: Oh I love your world, and I know that. And it’s Wendy’s world. I hear about it… all about it, and friends who are very active.

Wendy: And we have friends who go to the TCM movie festival and a couple years ago you were there and made a speech, and they were all tweeting and texting about it, saying oh my God, this is so awesome! And I was like, of course, it’s Lee Grant! And that makes her even more amazing that you would give this really political speech!

Lee: It does, girls, it just makes me more amazing! Every single day.

Wendy: Hell yeah! People have to speak out!

Lee: On that note, we will end this.

Jo: Ok.

Lee: But I’ve had such a great time and I love you.

Jo: Oh, we love you too, Lee!

Lee: And I’ve had fun. And so we may not be still doing your thing, but we can still talk and still have a relationship.

Jo: We would love to stay in touch.

Wendy: And if you have copies of any of your documentaries, I would love it. If they would be easy for me to copy, because I would show them in class.

Jo: Maybe some day we could come into the city and have coffee with you.

Lee: Yes, maybe you can do that and take things and make copies, if you know how to do that. Because I don’t know how to do anything.

Wendy: Ok, I’m good with the technical stuff.

Jo: So next time, we’ll come into the city and do it.

Lee: Yes, we’ll do that. You’re both adorable.

Jo: Lee speaks truth to power and wants to be heard.

Wendy: Great, so we’ll be in touch.

Lee: Have a good day, girls!

Jo: Take care, Lee!

This has been YourEverlovin’ Joey saying what more is there to say… but I love you Lee Grant!

“Out Loud” Part 1– A Biography of the Legendary Lee Grant…

Update! The Film Forum in NYC has put together a retrospective of 13 films and documentaries featuring some of Lee’s best work as an actor and director.

 

“The dichotomy of my genius status at home and my slightly below par status in the outside world gave me a sense of instability and unreality throughout all of my life about exactly who I was and what I was capable of. Could that be why I grabbed so ferociously at acting? Grounding myself in a structure that worked for me, the observant child?”
— And excerpt from I Said Yes to Everything -Lee Grant talking about Sandy Meisner and The Neighborhood Playhouse.

How do you start out a biography about someone who is a virtual legend?

Lee Grant 1977 © 1978 Ulvis Alberts

When I attended the Chiller Theatre Expo I had the exciting opportunity to meet one of my favorite actors, Academy Award winner Lee Grant. This meeting turned out to be one of the great highlights of my life. While I’ve followed her work my entire life, after connecting with her, I began my exploration into Lee Grant’s life by immersing myself first in her incredibly honest and potent autobiography. “I Said Yes to Everything”  is an expository journey written long-hand by Lee herself in classic black and white note books. It’s a well-written intimate portrait of a courageous and brilliant actor.

“Lee Grant’s I Said Yes to Everything is heart-stopping. More than just a show-business memoir or chronicle of the Hollywood blacklist era, it is a terrifying account of a gifted artist’s tumultuous journey—both personal and professional. You will feel every jolt of terror that Grant endured, wondering if you would have been as brave. Her triumph becomes our own. Readers of this gripping book will surely reach the final page shouting a victorious “Yes! To everything that is Lee Grant.” -Marlo Thomas

With every role Lee Grant undertakes —from stage to early dramatic teleplays, to television series and onto the big screen— she transports an inner truth and an understanding of the world’s pleasures, and too, it’s miseries. Never afraid to take risks, she turned a career that was at one time silenced, into a great triumph by reclaiming her place in Hollywood. She then forged her own road into directing, where her voice and compassionate vision helped marginalized people have their say as well.

This is the spirit of Lee Grant, a woman who kicked down the door, prevailed the madness of the blacklist and without settling. She become a formidable actress, director, a legend, and friend.

Reading about her incredible life story, I Said Yes to Everything, brought me closer to the actress whom I already admired and loved for so many years. It’s a reflexive reminiscence, at times brutal and at other times it evokes laughter. Lee Grant has a primal and candid sense of humor that is so invigorating to experience. And hearing it from Lee herself is life-altering and beyond meaningful.

Portrait of American actress Lee Grant, New York, New York, July 1970. (Photo by Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

I also reexamined a lot of her great work so I could surround myself with the essence of her talent. It not only fortified what I had already felt about her capacity to engage each role, I met several characters that I hadn’t seen before. And was completely knocked over by Lee Grant’s awe-inspiring performances. To have the opportunity to talk to someone you’ve known as an acting legend can make you quite star struck as you try to find your own voice without sounding like a fool. But Lee Grant is a real and raw person. She’s one of those people you meet by chance in life, striking up a wonderful connection as if you’ve known them for years. This is just another layer of greatness to an already great actor.

Lee Grant is one of the most expository of actors. She uses her distinctive voice, that moves along the walls of your mind like an elegant cat, with an expressiveness that brings to bear even the most subtle of gestures. She has an attentiveness to detail, and her extraordinary sensuality is deep-rooted with a swift and clever sense of humor.

Lee Grant1965 © 1978 Gene Trindl

As an actor, she brings and intimacy to her roles, complex, passionate sensual dynamic versatile, and authentic. A talent caught up in the net of the HUAC insanity that ruined lives, and literally took her act of belonging away in Hollywood and from an industry where time is essential in order to obtain recognition and primacy.

I suspected that Lee always put a little of her real self in each role. It turns out I was right as you’ll learn from our conversation about her performances. There is no one quite like Lee. Absolutely no other actor like her.

Lee with one of her original oil paintings.

Like David fighting Goliath, she kept her resilience during those dark years of the blacklist. She’s an actor who is truthful enough to bare her vulnerabilities, machinations, fears, fancies, the quirks and chinks in the armor— it’s all out there, and wonderfully bold and ballsy an individualist and unfailingly frank. She is fragile and fierce, honest, courageous and unwilling to be shut off or out.

The insanity of the McCarthy Era and fanatics like Vincent Hartnett tried to steal 12 years from Lee Grant. But she refused to be silenced. To this day she speaks truth to the powers that be. She has earned the right to be seen and heard. She’s a woman who has become a firebrand with her socially conscious lens as a filmmaker, documentarian, director, activist, writer and a mother to yet another gifted soul, Dinah Manoff. Talent and fierceness—it runs in the blood.

Lee Grant to me, is someone I’ll always regard with a sense of awe and respect. I’m incredibly honored that she allowed me a glimpse into her life and shared that sense of humor and her determination to be heard. And what a story she has to tell!

Actress Lee Grant poses for a portrait in circa 1971. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Continue reading ““Out Loud” Part 1– A Biography of the Legendary Lee Grant…”

There’s got to be a morning after… Goodbye Carol Lynley Sept. 3, 2019

American actress Carol Lynley, who stars in the film The Cardinal, pictured wearing a winter coat and leather gloves in a London park on 17th December 1963. (Photo by Blackman/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

We’ve lost Carol Lynley, actress of 60s & 70s film and television. Carol was born Carol Anne Jones on Feb. 13, 1942 in New York City. Lynley worked as a model and in television from her teen years and performed on numerous early live dramatic television shows.

She suffered a heart attack on September 3rd at the age of 77. Perhaps she is best known for her role in the disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure (1972) playing Nonnie, the bright-eyed nymph on the doomed ocean liner turned upside down after a giant tidal wave hits the ship on New Year’s Eve. The Poseidon Adventure launched her into the public consciousness after Lynley lip synced over Maureen McGovern’s singing onscreen, as the ill-fated ship’s lead singer of the band, her brother flaunting his bad 70s hair and mutton chops at the piano. The song  “The Morning After,” went on to win the 1973 Oscar for Best Song.

I’ve always been taken with Carol Lynley for many other roles along her diverse career. A child model who made it to the cover of Life magazine at age 15. After appearing in the 1958 Broadway play, she delivered a moving performance in the controversial screen version of Blue Denim in 1959, co-starring cutie Brandon De Wilde. She was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer! She then co-starred with Clifton Webb and Jane Wyman in Holiday For Lovers (1959).

Afterward she appeared in a variety of popular films, Return to Peyton Place (1961), and Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963) with Jack Lemmon. Carol Lynley appeared in the Otto Preminger film The Cardinal (1963). She was also in The Stripper (1963), and Shock Treatment (1964) where she plays a very disturbed young girl with hyper-sexual tendencies. In the same year she played Maggie Williams in The Pleasure Seekers. Lynley also took the role of Jean Harlow in the biopic Harlow (1965).

Carol Lynley in The Stripper (1963)

Carol Lynley and Gene Tierney in The Pleasure Seekers (1964)

Carol Lynley as Harlow

And her role as Ann Lake is superb. She plays a mother who claims her little girl vanishes after a day at her school. Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), is one of my favorite psychological thrillers. She also appeared in the very dark and twisted The Shuttered Room (1965) co-starring Oliver Reed and Gig Young based on a story by horror writer August Derleth.

She was in Once You Kiss a Stranger… (1969) and I adored her as Gail Foster the girlfriend of Darren McGavin’s stalwart reporter of the uncanny and supernatural Carl Kolchak, in the fabulous television cult chiller directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, The Night Stalker (1972), the pilot that launched the groundbreaking series of the show that inspired The X Files!

Carol Lynley appeared in various television shows, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, It Takes a Thief, Night Gallery, The Invaders, Kojak, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Journey to the Unknown, The Sixth Sense, The Magician, The Evil Touch, Quincy M.E. and Police Woman, just to mention my favorites.

Vince Edwards and Carol Lynley in Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955) episode The Young One

Christopher Walken and Carol Lynley in Kojak 1973

Carol Lynley possessed a certain kind of rare beauty and inner light, a subtle essence of fairy in her smile and soft glimmer in her eyes.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Barry Peake/Shutterstock (605004b)
Carol Lynley-Mar 1967

This is your EverLovin Joey saying goodbye Carol Lynley, gone but not forgotten. There will always be a morning after and my eternal love for you, beautiful girl.

Happy Birthday to Bradford Dillman April 14

Bradford Dillman in a scene from the film ‘Circle Of Deception’, 1960. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

Untroubled good looks, faraway poise & self-control, with a sartyrial smile and brushed-aside sophistication  – that’s Bradford Dillman

Bradford Dillman is one of those ubiquitous & versatile actors who you find popping up just about everywhere, and whenever I either see him in the credits or think about some of his performances, I am immediately happified by his presence in my mind and on screen.  It’s this familiarity that signposts for me whatever upcoming diversion I’m in store for, will be something memorable indeed.

He’s been cast as a saint, a psychopath, elite ivy league intellectuals with an edge, unconventional scientists, military figures, droll and prickly individualists, clueless bureaucrats, or drunken malcontents and he’s got a sort of cool that is wholly appealing.

Bradford Dillman was omni-present starting out on the stage, and major motion pictures at the end of the 50s and by the 1960s he began his foray into popular episodic television series and appeared in a slew of unique made for television movies throughout the 1970s and 80s, with the addition of major motion picture releases through to the 90s. His work, intersecting many different genres from melodramas,historical dramas, thrillers, science fiction and horror.

There are a few actors of the 1960s & 70s decades that cause that same sense of blissed out flutters in my heart — that is of course if you’re as nostalgic about those days of classic cinema and television as I am. I get that feeling when I see actors like Stuart Whitman, Dean Stockwell, Roy Thinnes, Scott Marlow, Warren Oates, James Coburn, Lee Grant David Janssen, Michael Parks, Barbara Parkins, Joanna Pettet ,Joan Hackett , Sheree North,  Diana Sands, Piper Laurie, Susan Oliver and Diane Baker.  I have a fanciful worship for the actors who were busy working in those decades, who weren’t Hollywood starlets or male heart throbs yet they possessed a realness, likability, a certain individual knack and raw sex-appeal.

Bradford Dillman was born in San Francisco in 1930 to a prominent local family. During the war he was sent to The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. At Hotchkiss, senior year he played Hamlet. At Yale he studied English Literature and performed in amateur theatrical productions and worked at the Playhouse in Connecticut. Dillman served in the US Marines in Korea (1951-1953) and made a pact that he’d give himself five years to succeed as an actor before he called it quits. Lucky for us, he didn’t wind up in finance the way he father wanted him to.

Actor Bradford Dillman (Photo by  John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Dillman enrolled and studied at the Actors Studio, he spent several seasons apprenticing with the Sharon Connecticut Playhouse before making his professional acting debut in an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarecrow” in 1953 with fellow Studio students Eli Wallach and James Dean. Dillman referred to Dean as ‘a wacky kid’ but ‘very gifted’.

He only appeared in two shows in October 1962 of The Fun Couple in 1957 with Dyan Cannon and Jane Fonda before the play closed in New York only after two days.

We lost Bradford Dillman last year in January 2018. I was so saddened to hear the news. And I missed the chance to tribute his work then, but now that his birthday is here, I feel like celebrating his life rather than mourning his death, so it’s just as well.

Bradford Dillman wrote an autobiography called Are You Anybody? An Actor’s Life, published in 1997 with a (foreword by Suzy Parker) in which he downplays the prolific contribution he made to film and television and acting in general. Though Dillman didn’t always hold a high opinion of some of the work he was involved in, appearing in such a vast assortment of projects, he always came across as upbeat and invested in the role.

“Bradford Dillman sounded like a distinguished, phony, theatrical name, so I kept it.”

[about his career] “I’m not bitter, though. I’ve had a wonderful life. I married the most beautiful woman in the world. Together we raised six children, each remarkable in his or her own way and every one a responsible citizen. I was fortunate to work in a profession where I looked forward to going to work every day. I was rewarded with modest success. The work sent me to places all over the world I’d never been able to afford visiting otherwise. I keep busy and I’m happy. And there are a few good films out there that I might be remembered for.”

Continue reading “Happy Birthday to Bradford Dillman April 14”

Quote of the Day! The Hustler (1961) “You’re too hungry”

“A searching look into the innermost depths of a woman’s heart . . . and a man’s desires!”

The Hustler (1961)

Sarah to Eddie “You’re too hungry”

Director/Screenwriter Robert Rossen wrote the screenplay for Marked Woman (1937), They Won’t Forget (1937), Dust Be My Destiny (1939), Out of the Fog (1941), Blues in the Night (1941), Edge of Darkness (1943), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Johnny O’Clock (1947), Desert Fury (1947) and wrote the screenplay for Billy Budd. Rossen also wrote and directed All the Kings Men (1949), Mambo (1954), and the psycho-sexual labyrinth set in a mental institution in the early 1960s starring Jean Seberg-Lilith (1964) perhaps Rossen’s most dark and nihilistic vision of the human spirit yet. He directed John Garfield and Lilli Palmer in Body and Soul (1947). Robert Rossen was a pool hustler himself as a youth. Based on the novel by Walter S. Tevis.

Music by Kenyon Hopkins (12 Angry Men 1957, The Strange One 1957, The Fugitive Kind 1960, Elmer Gantry 1960, East Side/West Side 1963-46, Lilith 1964, television movies, Dr. Cook’s Garden 1971, Women in Chains 1972, Night of Terror 1972, The Devil’s Daughter 1973 and tv’s The Odd Couple 1970-73).

Robert Rossen is one of the most fascinating unexplored American directors, for his interesting viewpoint on alienation in the world and that constant elusive souvenir of the spirit one’s identity. Rossen has been quoted as saying that his favorite Shakespearean play was Macbeth. In it he said he found a “dramatization of the ambiguity of the human condition… man reaching for the symbols of his identity, rather than the reality, destroying yet finding himself in the tragic process.” 

In Rossen’s collection of works you can see the more aggressive symbols played out as the representations of male power, domination and violence as physical love. He told The New York Sun in 1947 that “Real life is ugly… but we can’t make good pictures until we’re ready to tell about it.”

Body and Soul (1947) written by Robert Rossen and Directed by Abraham PolonskyShown: back: William Conrad (as Quinn), Joseph Pevney (as Shorty Polaski) , John Garfield (as Charlie Davis)

After his gangster film Johnny O’Clock Rossen directed with the conventions of the crime genre Body and Soul (1947). Then Rossen directed The Hustler which used a breakthrough in technique and stretched the boundaries of social realism in the way Kazan had. The film like his All the Kings Men is still about the corrupt influences of money but on a deeper level it is driven by a darker motivation-the illusionary symbols of self worth, with George C. Scott’s character playing at Eddie’s weakness as a gambler and a seeker, like a devil daring him toward damnation. He is a sadist and ultimately seeks Eddies dependency and ruination and Sarah’s self-destruction.

Sarah tells Eddie “We are all crippled.” Sarah has the insight to see into the future yet she is beyond all the wounds inflicted in her life and can not forestall what will happen outside the confines of their little world that is her cluttered apartment. Sarah and Bert battle it out for Eddie’s soul. It is an ugly power struggle, and there are so many brilliantly executed frames that represent Rossen’s complex themes within The Hustler.

The film also co-stars Michael Constantine, Vincent Gardenia, Murray Hamilton and Myron McCormick who is always compelling in any role, plays Eddie’s devoted manager Charlie Burns who takes the journey with Eddie at first and winds up being pushed out by the hostile and rancorous Bert Gordon. Murry Hamilton is fantastic as he inhabits the coded gay character of the pretentious and effete gambler Findley.

The Hustler is a a moral allegory about life and the inter-relationships of miscreants, losers and lost souls struggling to find themselves in a gritty, unsatisfying world that permeates the world of the competitive underground sport of shooting pool. Fast Eddie has been working his way up to finally have a showdown with the reigning legend Minnesota Fats. The film is a restless contemplation merged with some dynamic scenes of maneuvering on the pool table.

The film opens with a smoke filled pool palace in Pittsburgh with a sign ‘gambling not allowed’. It’s a hangout for pool sharks, called hustlers. Paul Newman plays Fast Eddie, a smug young man who was born to take suckers for a ride, feeling that wood between his anxious fingers he can spot a ripe table waiting for him to swoop in for the kill. But Eddie with all his mythological ambition just doesn’t know when it’s time to quit. Eddie goes 25 consecutive rounds with the legendary Minnesota Fats and it appears like he’s got the marathon match in his corner pocket when he starts knocking back the whiskey, and can’t just take win with dignity he has to demolish Fats and allow his ego to drive the rest of the rest of the way home. The scene is shot in a dynamic half hour sequence using gorgeous black and white photography in cinemascope and Schüfftan‘s (who won an Oscar for his camera-work) eye for detail he honed on Fritz Lang’s surreal Metropolis, the film he developed special effects for. The sequence of this film is nothing short of riveting. The set up is mesmerizing as we are drawn into a timeless expanse as the different approaches to the game unfold, as pool stick meets ball, ball dances with ball and fills the pockets like cannon fire, while the spectators whose expressions are glued to every move as if in a trance.

Fats who is way more graceful and composed manages to win back his loot and leave the cocky and exhausted Eddie practically penniless. Eddie’s got a keen skill for the game but he doesn’t have self control or character. Bert Gordon played by actor George C. Scott tempts Eddie like Mephistopheles to sell his soul to him with the promise that he can not only make his dream come true of being the greatest, but to also avenge the ass kicking that he took from Fats. As cock-sure as Eddie appears, he has no fortitude and winds up abandoning his honor and his love for Sarah in order to seek the rematch with the Fat man.

Piper Laurie’s character Sarah Packard is a liberated forward-thinking woman who while bares the damages of life, is independent though alienated from the rest of the world because of her open wounds. She is trying to be a writer and drinks too much. She wants to be loved, and Eddie wants to be the best.

And so he sells his soul to Bert Gordon who is the films Faustian metaphor. The early 60s began an era of films that began to embrace controversial adult themed narratives, that dealt with race, class dynamics and the changing roles that were taking place with gender.

[Fast Eddie is bothered because Bert called him a born loser]

Fast Eddie: “Cause, ya see, twice, Sarah… once at Ames with Minnesota Fats and then again at Arthur’s, in that cheap, crummy pool room, now why’d I do it, Sarah? Why’d I do it? I coulda beat that guy, coulda beat ‘im cold, he never woulda known. But I just hadda show ‘im. Just hadda show those creeps and those punks what the game is like when it’s great, when it’s REALLY great. You know, like anything can be great, anything can be great. I don’t care, BRICKLAYING can be great, if a guy knows. If he knows what he’s doing and why and if he can make it come off. When I’m goin’, I mean, when I’m REALLY goin’ I feel like a… like a jockey must feel. He’s sittin’ on his horse, he’s got all that speed and that power underneath him… he’s comin’ into the stretch, the pressure’s on ‘im, and he KNOWS… just feels… when to let it go and how much. Cause he’s got everything workin’ for ‘im: timing, touch. It’s a great feeling, boy, it’s a real great feeling when you’re right and you KNOW you’re right. It’s like all of a sudden I got oil in my arm. The pool cue’s part of me. You know, it’s uh – pool cue, it’s got nerves in it. It’s a piece of wood, it’s got nerves in it. Feel the roll of those balls, you don’t have to look, you just KNOW. You make shots that nobody’s ever made before. I can play that game the way… NOBODY’S ever played it before.”

Sarah Packard: “You’re not a loser, Eddie, you’re a winner. Some men never get to feel that way about anything.”

Rossen wrote the screenplay and directed this gripping story of fast Eddie Felson, as he strives to knock Minnesota Fats down a peg and capture the title of best pool hustler in the country, taking Fats (Jackie Gleason who was perfect as he manifested the character of Fats, well-dressed, reserved and showed a deep reverence and concentration to the game.) on in a high-stakes game that challenges no only his keen gift for shooting pool but on the line is his self respect and his nebulous masculine identity.

Fast Eddie to Fats: You know, I got a hunch, fat man. I got a hunch it’s me from here on in. One ball, corner pocket. I mean, that ever happen to you? You know, all of a sudden you feel like you can’t miss? ‘Cause I dreamed about this game, fat man. I dreamed about this game every night on the road. Five ball. You know, this is my table, man. I own it.

Along the way, he falls in love with Sarah Packford immortalized on the screen in an arresting performance by Piper Laurie (Kim Novak had turned down the role) who should have won the Oscar for Best Actress with her nuanced, and heart wrenching interpretation of the vulnerable loner and self-loathing Sarah. Rossen has often dealt with the intricacies within the psychological landscape of his films.

Sarah Packard is a complicated woman who has a tenuous connection to the world but allows herself to fall in love with Eddie who is driven to succeed and land at the top as the greatest pool hustler. Sarah is a lost soul longing for someone who will love her. She’s receives a stipend from her wealthy father, but there is no sign of affection or acceptance from him, his is non-existent. Eddie awakens desire in her, but he cannot deliver anything but his hunger and ambition to beat Minnesota Fats and attain the title. Fast Eddie destroys everything he touches. In order to really throw herself into the role of Sarah Packard Piper Laurie actually hung out at the Greyhound terminal at night.

Piper Laurie (Has Anybody Seen My Gal 1952, The Mississippi Gambler 1953, Dangerous Mission 1954, Johnny Dark 1954, Ain’t Misbehavin’ 1955, and director Curtis Harrington’s Ruby 1977, Children of a Lesser God 1986, Dario Argento’s Trauma 1993, The Crossing Guard 1995, The Dead Girl 2006 and television series-Naked City, Ben Casey, The Eleventh Hour) discovered that Paul Newman was truly down to earth – “He really didn’t believe in himself as an actor at all. He thought he had great limitations, and owed everything to other people- the Actors Studio, Joanne- he seemed not to take credit for himself.”

Laurie didn’t make another film over the course of 15 years until she returned to the screen in Brian dePalma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie (1976), which earned her a second Oscar nomination as the religious fanatic archetypal devouring mother a role that would ignite a new fire under the icons of horror movie fiends and villains.

Sarah and Eddie meet in the bus terminal. They both have a drinking problem, especially Sarah who drowns her self-pity in booze. She was born with a deformity in her foot which makes her limp, and gives her a feeling of self hatred and undesirability that Eddie breaks through with his smooth talking swagger. He manages to reach in and touch her heart but his reckless abandon to win, overshadows Sarah’s cries for help and her self destructive nature cannot withstand the competition for Eddie’s soul.

Sarah Packard: I love you, Eddie.

Fast Eddie: You know, someday, Sarah, you’re gonna settle down… you’re gonna marry a college professor and you’re gonna write a great book. Maybe about me. Huh? Fast Eddie Felson… hustler.

Sarah Packard: I love you.

Fast Eddie: You need the words?

Sarah Packard: Yes, I need them very much. If you ever say them I’ll never let you take them back.

To achieve Sarah’s limp, Piper Laurie first experimented with walking around with pebbles in her shoes. “Finally, I just did it without anything, because Rossen didn’t want an obvious limp; he didn’t want it consistent because he felt he wanted the audience to be aware of it sometimes and not other times.”

The two shack up and set up house in Sarah’s apartment that is subsidized by her father’s money. Eddie is obsessed with winning. Their relationship is turbulent and dysfunctional, then enters George C. Scott as Bert Gordon a misanthropic snake in the grass who exploits Eddie and interferes with his relationship with Sarah. Once Bert Gordon slithers into the closed world of Eddie’s pool hustling and his love affair with Sarah, that world is corrupted, and Eddie begins to lose his way.

Ulu Grosbard later noted that the interior of Sarah’s apartment was built in a studio at 55th St. and 10th Ave. He said the actors’ dressing rooms there were very small and, in his memory, without windows, “like cells,” but that Piper Laurie furnished hers “as if she were going to live in it the rest of her life.” It was Grosbard’s impression that Laurie would sometimes spend the night there.

Bert Gordon: Eddie, is it alright if I get personal?

Fast Eddie: Whaddaya been so far?

Bert Gordon: Eddie, you’re a born loser.

Fast Eddie: What’s that supposed to mean?

Bert Gordon: First time in ten years I ever saw Minnesota Fats hooked… really hooked. But you let him off.

Fast Eddie: I told you I got drunk.

Bert Gordon: Sure you got drunk. You have the best excuse in the world for losing; no trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning… that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey. You’ll drop that load too when you got an excuse. All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. One of the best indoor sports, feeling sorry for yourself. A sport enjoyed by all, especially the born losers.

Bert Gordon: You’re here on a rain check and I know it. You’re hangin’ on by your nails. You let that glory whistle blow loud and clear for Eddie and you’re a wreck on a railroad track… you’re a horse that finished last. So don’t make trouble, Miss Ladybird. Live and let live! While you can. I’ll make it up to you.

Sarah Packard: How?

Bert Gordon: You tell me.

Fast Eddie: I loved her, Bert. I traded her in on a pool game. But that wouldn’t mean anything to you. Because who did you ever care about? Just win, win, you said, win, that’s the important thing. You don’t know what winnin’ is, Bert. You’re a loser. ‘Cause you’re dead inside, and you can’t live unless you make everything else dead around ya.

The Hustler is an extraordinary character study of the how humans bang into each other like the balls on the table, and no one really wins. It’s got a slick rhythm to it’s movement and editing by the wonderful Dede Allen and the Eugen Schüfftan (Metropolis 1927, Bluebeard (1944), Strange Illusion (1945), The Strange Woman 1946, The Bloody Brood (1959), Eyes Without a Face 1960,  Something Wild (1961) Lilith (1964) Eugen Schüfftan’s style is uniquely dark and almost mythic in it’s visual abstraction of reality.

IMDb trivia –

The picture was shot by Eugen Schüfftan, who had invented an optical effects process that employed mirrors to create backgrounds. According to crew reports, many of the pool room shots employed this process to varying degrees. The picture was also shot in CinemaScope, a wide-screen process usually reserved for big epics and action pictures.

The camera descends like Orpheus into the seedy smoky hidden world of the American pool hall, gazing at the sweaty mercenaries who hunger to hear the clicking and smacking of the balls making contact as they encircle the pool tables like birds of prey.

According to editor Dede Allen, an entire scene from this film was omitted after much deliberation between Allen and her director Robert Rossen. Even though both agreed that the scene, an impassioned speech by Paul Newman in the pool room, was possibly the best part of his entire performance, they had to throw it out because “…it didn’t move the story.” Newman, though Oscar-nominated, later claimed that the deleted scene most likely cost him the Academy Award. Dede Allen liked working with Robert Rossen because he was the kind of director who shot scenes from every possible angle, providing her with a wide range of cover footage that allowed for various interpretations and possibilities.

American actress Piper Laurie as Sarah Packard in ‘The Hustler’, directed by Robert Rossen, 1961. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

The film was also somewhat autobiographical for Robert Rossen, relating to his dealings with the House Un-American Activities Committee. A screenwriter during the 1930s and ’40s, he had been involved with the Communist Party in the 1930s and refused to name names at his first HUAC appearance. Ultimately he changed his mind and identified friends and colleagues as party members. Similarly, Felson sells his soul and betrays the one person who really knows and loves him in a Faustian pact to gain character.

When it was necessary to show some of the trickier shots, 14 time world billiards champion Willie Mosconi (who was also the film’s technical advisor) would play the stunt hands.

Otherwise Jackie Gleason who was already an accomplished pool plays and Paul Newman had never held a pool cue before he landed the role of Fast Eddie Felson. He took out the dining room table from his home and installed a pool table so he could spend every waking hour practicing and polishing up his skills

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying wrack ’em up and then join me for another go around here at The Last Drive In

 

A tribute to Diana Sands “Please look at me!…”

“I refuse to be stereotyped. Look at me. Never mind my color. Please look at me!”

WHY ISN’T THERE A BIOPIC OF DIANA SANDS’ LIFE?

I can’t help being drawn to Diana Sands’ startling equilibrium, her fire. Her complex and multi-layered performances. I see her as a Black Woman. I see her as a woman. I see her as ubiquitous. Diana Sands refused to be typecast in roles that were confining and dishonest. I can imagine that she forged an inroad that would later influence incredible dramatic Black actresses like Alfre Woodard or Angela Bassett, women who exude that similar fire and vibrancy from the depths of their souls.

I think of Diana Sands and I think of an inner strength that burns it’s way to the surface until it’s so bright you feel it pierce your skin. There is an essence of a powerfully self-possessed woman who broke ground with her captivating performances in the early 1960s to the mid 1970s. I don’t like the phrase “color blind” it evokes an irresponsibility not to see inequality. But that is not what Diana Sands is saying in her quote. That’s not what she is asking of us.

So I am using her own words but want to be clear about how I feel in this post honoring one of the great actresses of all time during Black History Month. We need to recognize each other. It’s essential not to try and erase any aspect of who we are and we need to be conscious of those differences in a positive way, while we embrace what we all have in common and can relate to universally.

Diana Sands had to fend off the offensive scrutiny, the “mysogynoir‘ of being referred to by some 70s critics -one whose name I refuse to even give a moment’s attention here except to pluck out two terms from the ignorant context of his entire, misguided and disrespectful review. Who referred to her role as “cute” in terms of her being a Black woman trying to find herself and “afrocentric” in her performance as Beneatha Younger (A Raisin in the Sun). What she was, was a dynamic, courageous  woman who aspired to become a doctor. That isn’t cute. That is the story of real passion and possibility and a god-given right.

Diana Sands as Beneatha Younger, seen here with Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier and Ivan Dixon.

As a white woman writing this post I want to just say one more thing. We need to see our own privilege and not be afraid to acknowledge that racism exists. I hope I am a good ally and when I pay tribute to a person of color, that I remain mindful to honor them fully and respectfully. I do see Diana Sands color. I see it as a strength and a dignity in all her pioneering roles. I see her emerge from a sea of white faces. She will not be marginalized, stereotyped and shut out of the conversation.

I began to follow Diana Sands’ career years ago, compelled by her dramatic, electrifying presence in film and in television. Growing up in New York, I wish my theatre mother would have taken me to see her on stage. She is remembered for her striking performance as Beneatha Younger in Lorraine Hansberrys play A Raisin in the Sun about the struggles of a poor black family from the side south of Chicago who have to decide about the direction their lives will take- “What Happens to a Dream Deferred?”

What happens to a dream deferred? by Langston Hughes
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?

The title A Raisin in the Sun was inspired by Langston Hughes’ powerful poem. The inspirational masterpiece that is A Raisin in the Sun is made all the more remarkable by the performances of the ensemble cast and standing out for me, though Poitier always grabs me by the guts and strums my heart strings, is his progressive sister Beneatha brought to life by Diana Sands with instinctual contemplation that was her acting style.

She was marvelous as sassy Fanny Johnson, married to a Black activist Copee (Louis Gossett Jr.) in Hal Ashby’s (Harold and Maude 1971, The Last Detail 1973, Being There 1979) The Landlord 1970. The story of Elgar Enders a young wealthy white New Yorker (Beau Bridges) who buys a tenement building in a low-income neighborhood afflicted by white-flight and going through gentrification. Elgar Intends to evict the black residents so he can turn it into a luxury apartment building and live there all by himself. The cast is rich with superb performances by Pearl Baily, Mel Stewart, Lee Grant, Louis Gossett Jr, and Marki Bey as Lanie.  In Ashby’s thought provoking method, it’s an interesting meditation on race during the close of the 1960s.

Diana appeared in innovative television dramas, such as the innovative socially conscious series East Side/West Side 1963-1964 that dealt realistically with social problems. The gritty series starred Cicely Tyson, George C. Scott, and Elizabeth Wilson as social workers in 1960s New York City. Sands appeared on several episodes of the 1960s series The Doctors and the Nurses which I am desperately waiting for it to somehow be released on disc. The groundbreaking series surrounded the lives of nurses who in their daily lives confront socially relevant issues. Diana Sands even graced one of my favorite television series The Outer Limits in 1964 as Dr. Julie Harrison in the episode “The Mice”. She also played Dr. Marylou Neeley who went head to head with Chad Everett (who always wore clogs and his scrubs 2 sized too small, but who would mind!) in Medical Center’s episode “The Nowhere Child”. She appeared as Nurse Helen Straughn having an affair with Richard Crenna in George Schaefer’s pulpy Doctors’ Wives 1971, and as Cora in Willie Dynamite 1974 the title played by Roscoe Orman, a nasty piece of work who has a license plate that says Willie on the front and Dynamite on the back! As Cora, Diana Sands played a prostitute turned social worker who helps other prostitutes get out of jail and find a better life, while also trying to battle the badass pimp Willie who is smacking women around.

I am trying to track down a copy of An Affair of the Skin 1963 co-starring Viveca Lindfors and Lee Grant, LOVE them both, and Georgia, Georgia 1972 written by Maya Angelou. If anyone has a lead on where I can purchase either film please drop me a note here at The Last Drive In.

Diana Sands Broke Barriers In Theater and On The Big Screen

Stacia L. Brown’s thoughtful tribute published on August 23, 2012 on Diana Sands birthday in her piece Diana Sands: What Was and What Could’ve Been

“If you’re familiar with Sands’ work at all, it’s probably owing to her memorable portrayal of Beneatha, the Younger family’s willful, progressive aspiring doctor, in the 1961 film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’’s A Raisin in the Sun. But by then, she had already established herself as a living walking testament to the power of risk-taking. Sands grew up in the Bronx with working class parents, her father a carpenter, her mother hatmaker. After high school graduation, she toured with a carnival before returning to New York and joining Greenwich Mews, a multicultural theatre repertory. She worked night jobs to survive, before scoring her first theatre roles (one of the earliest was the stage production of A Raisin in the Sun). By 1964, her star was rapidly rising. She won an Obie for the play, Living Premise, and a Tony nomination for her role in James Baldwin’s Blues for Mr. Charlie.

This was also the year that Sands became a pioneer in colorblind casting as one of the first ever actresses to earn a role intended for a white actress, without any line rewriting to explain or accommodate her race. She played opposite Alan Alda as his love interest as a would-be actress to his would-be writer. When the film was adapted for screen, Barbra Streisand was cast in her role, but by that time, she’d already garnered a great deal of positive press and audience notice. Television came a-courtin’ and she eventually earned two Emmy nominations. Sands acted through the sixties in various theatre and TV roles. In 1970, she scored her first costarring film role in Hal Ashby’s The Landlord. But the early ’70s would mark the end of a steady and promising rise toward superstardom.”

Diana Sands was born in New York City, the Bronx to be exact, on August 22, 1934. She was a student at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts and a member of the Actor’s Studio. Nominated twice for a Tony Award and twice for an Emmy. She took risks and challenged racial barriers taking on roles that traditionally would have been performed by white actresses. She also fought against a system that marginalized black actors and their roles, becoming a driving force that saw an integration of the cast members.

In 1953 Diana made her debut in the off-Broadway play “An Evening with Will Shakespeare” She went on to appear in George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara” in 1954, also performing in the theatrical production of “The World of Sholem Aleichem.”

Her striking work is notable as she is the first Black actress to be cast in a major Broadway play. Cast in “Land Beyond the River” in 1957 and then appearing in “The Egg and I” in 1958.

It was in 1959 that Diana Sands made her memorable debut as the astonishingly nuanced Beneatha Younger in Raisin in the Sun, in which she won the Outer Circle Critics’ Award, eventually manifesting that magnetic performance in director Daniel Petrie’s (Resurrection 1980) film adaptation co-starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil and Ivan Dixon.

And I want to give a shout out to the incredible contribution by fine actress Claudia McNeil (Bernice Sadie Brown in Member of the Wedding 1958 for The Dupont Show of the Month, Mrs. Quincy in The Last Angry man 1959, Mrs. Hill in television series The Doctors and The Nurses 1963, Madam in There Was a Crooked Man 1970, Odessa Carter in Incident in San Francisco 1971 tv movie, Granny Marshall in Tv’s Mod Squad 1972, Sara in Moon of the Wolf 1972 tv movie, Mu’ Dear in Black Girl 1972, To Be Young, Gifted and Black 1972 tv movie, Ethel Hanson in Cry Panic 1974 tv movie, Big Ma in Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry 1978, Sister Will Ada Barnett in Roots: The Next Generation 1979) as the matriarch, Lena Younger in A Raisin in the Sun. An extraordinary actress herself who deserves the spotlight too. Partly what worked for Hansberry’s story is the chemistry and confluence of the entire cast.

Diana Sands returned to the stage in 1962 appearing in “Tiger Tiger Burning Bright.”

In 1964 she took on two outstanding roles onstage as Juanita in James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mr. Charlie” she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a play. She co-starred with Alan Alda as Doris W. in the The Owl and the Pussycat, originally offered to Kim Stanley another actress I find mesmerizing to watch, when Stanley was unavailable, with the script intentionally not re-written for a Black woman went to Diana Sands and once again she nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

In 1968, she was back on stage at the Vivien Beaumont Theater as the first Black woman to play Saint Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw’s play “St. Joan.”

In the beginning of the 1970s Diana Sands among other notable Black actors such as Ossie Davis and Brock Peters, who wanted to feature more positive roles for African-Americans in films, and so they founded Third World Cinema. One of their first productions was the film Georgia, Georgia written by Maya Angelou. Diana Sands plays Georgia Martin a Black woman artist struggling to find herself.

From a New York Times article printed in Feb 1971, A.H. Weiler writes that Third World Cinema Corporation founder and President actor/director Ossie Davis planned on filming The Billie Holiday Story which would have starred Diana Sands. How incredible would that have been.

In hopes of creating an independent film corporation, Sands and her colleagues hoped to ensure that there would be better opportunities for positive portrayals of African-American and People of Color, that would ensure films that presented Black actors with outstanding roles that were versatile and representational rather than stereotypes and limiting. “A group of black and Puerto Rican actors, writers and directors, backed by union leaders and public officials, have joined to form the minority‐controlled Third World Cinema Corporation, an independent company that plans to produce feature films and train minority group members in the film and television fields.”

Above image from the movie, Georgia, Georgia 1972.

In 1974 Diana Sands was ready to take on the role of Claudine, tragically suffering at this point with pancreatic cancer she was too ill by this time, and the part went to friend Diahann Carroll.

Theatre Roles:

As Beaneatha Younger in 1959 A Raisin in the Sun, as Adelaide Smith in Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright 1962 (Theatre World Award), The Living Premise 1963 (Obie Award Distinguished Performance), Doris W. The Owl and the Pussycat 1964, Juanita in Blues for Mr. Charlie 1964, The Premise 1965, as Ruth in We Bombed in New Haven 1968, as Cassandra in Tiger at the Gates 1968, as Joan in Saint Joan 1968, The Gingham Dog 1969.

Television Roles:

As Dr. Julie Harrison in The Outer Limits “The Mice” 1964, in East Side/West Side 1963-1964 as Jane Foster “It’s War, Man and Ruth Goodwin in “Who Do You Kill?” As Sara Harris in Breaking Point 1964. As nurse Ollie Sutton three episodes of The Doctors and The Nurses 1962-1964 and Andrea Jagger in the episode “Night Shift”. In four episodes as Irene Rush along side James Earl Jones (whose wife she played in East Side/West Side episode Who Do You Kill?) In Dr. Kildare 1964, as Dr. Rachel Albert in I Spy 1966 “Turkish Delight”, as Davala Unawa in The Fugitive 1967 “Dossier on a Diplomat” as as Mrs. May Bishop in Bracken’s World 1970 “Will Freddie’s Real Father Please Stand Up” as Cousin Sara in 5 episodes of Julia 1970-1971, as Dr. Marylou Neeley in Medical Center 1971 “The Nowhere Child.”

As Nurse Ollie Sutton from the episode “Imperfect Prodigy” – The Doctors and The Nurses 1964 television series

As Ruth Goodwin in the episode “Who Do You Kill?” from the television series East Side/West Side 1963

As Davala Unawa in The Fugitive 1967 “Dossier on a Diplomat

As Dr. Julie Harrison in The Outer Limits episode “The Mice” 1964

As Irene Rush in Dr. Kildare “The Hand that Heals” 1966

As Dr. Marylou Neeley in Medical Center 1971 “The Nowhere Child.”

As Fanny in Hal Ashby’s The Landlord 1970

As Helen in Doctors’ Wives 1971

As Cora Williams in Willie Dynamite 1974

Film Roles:

Appearing in two extraordinary films, Diana Sands still stood out…

Uncredited as a homeless woman in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd 1957, uncredited as a club hostess in Odds Against Tomorrow 1959, as Beneatha Younger in A Raisin in the Sun 1961, as Janice in An Affair of the Skin 1963, as Mila in Ensign Pulver 1964, as Fanny in The Landlord 1970, Helen Straughn in Doctors’ Wives 1971, as Georgia Martin in Georgia, Georgia 1972, as Nancy Newman in The Living End (tv movie) 1972, as Cora Williams who co-stars with Thalmus Rasulala (Dr. Gordon Thomas in Blacula 1972) in Willie Dynamite 1974 and as Laura Lewis in Honeybaby, Honeybaby 1974.

Thank you Diana Sands… You touch me with your powerful presence and I am deeply saddened that you left us at age 39, so young, too soon, and I wonder what might have been.

Your EverLovin’ Joey