“I am a ham! And the ham in an actor is what makes him interesting. The word is an insult only when it’s used by an outsider – among actors, it’s a very high compliment, indeed.“
In the history of cinema, there are stars that burn white hot. Then there are those who wind up taking a detour – yet they’ve earned the vibrancy and a willingness to explore even the vast floor of the ocean’s bottom – this is emblematic of a beloved cult B actor. Those who tickle us with a zeal for chills and chagrins, guffaws and gadzooks, individualism and inimitability, captivating and crapola!
In his later years, John Carradine would come to be known as one of these… the crime is… he was a damn sensational actor!
“I never made big money in Hollywood. I was paid in hundreds, the stars got thousands. But I worked with some of the greatest directors in films and some of the greatest writers. They gave me the freedom to do what I can do best and that was gratifying.”
In regards to his horror legacy, this is what he had to say in 1983 in an interview for KMOX tv:
“That’s the least of my work. I’ve done almost 400 films and only 25 have been horror.”
When you think of John Carradine you might recall his brilliant performance as Casy in The Grapes of Wrath. Carradine had worked with some of the most notable actors and directors in the history of cinema and by the end of his career, he also managed to plumb the depths with some of the crummiest.
Then again you might be excited by his translation of the Dracula mythos in five films: two from Universal’s finely tuned House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), and three from the later decade’s trash heap – Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966), Vampire Hookers (1978), and Nocturna (1979).
On Bela Lugosi in 1956: “Lugosi was a craftsman. I’ve known him for 25 years. He was a considerate and kind gentleman. As for the parts we both played, he was the better vampire. He had a fine pair of eyes. Nobody will ever be able to fill his shoes. He will be missed by us all.”
Like Whale’s Frankenstein monster, Carradine actually missed out on playing the monster and the lead role in Dracula (1931).
With 354 film and television credits to his iconic career, John Carradine was known for his distinctively deep baritone voice and tall, thin frame, a ‘towering, craggy frame’ which often earned him roles as villains and sinister characters, mad doctors, Draculas, hobos, drunks and a slew of nefarious Nazis devils!
At times he had the charm of a jaunty Grim Reaper. Even those smart pale blue eyes that flicker cannot be obscured by that quizzical squint.
William Beaudine on the set of The Face of Marble 1946.
He often worked with director John Ford but you’ve no doubt seen him playing a mad scientist in Captive Wild Woman 1943, The Face of Marble 1946, and The Unearthly 1957.
But one thing that links all these archetypes together is Carradine’s range of either an austere penetrating reserve or a flamboyant spirit framed by his willowy shape. Carradine can intone with either his whispering rumination from a well-written script or summoning his grandiose voice as he reads aloud the trashiest, tackiest dialogue that only he can make appear as a highfalutin soliloquy.
His nicknames were the Bard of the Boulevard and The Voice.
Carradine’s career includes significant Academy Award-worthy roles, but in contrast, once he started his descent into the madness of acting obscurity, he embodied figures of grotesques and unsavory types. Eventually, he appeared in films more like a drifter just passing through in overambitious garbage Z movies. And now, he will always be considered one of the big-time heavies of the horror genre.
Still, he has left behind a legacy of striking screen performances: the sinister Sgt. Rankin in The Prisoner of Shark Island, and the somber “Long Jack” of Captains Courageous. He played a melancholy Lincoln in Of Human Hearts, a treacherous Bob Ford in Jesse James, the curious stranger Hatfield ofStagecoach, and one of his greatest contributions to the acting craft, as earnest dispirited preacher Casy in The Grapes of Wrath. All masterful characters in Hollywood’s golden age of filmmaking.
Carradine appeared in eight Oscar Best Picture nominees: Cleopatra (1934), Les Misèrables (1935), Captains Courageous (1937), Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938), Stagecoach (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Ten Commandments (1956), and Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Only the last of these won.
He has appeared in eight films that have been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant: The Invisible Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Stagecoach (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Johnny Guitar (1954), The Court Jester (1955), The Ten Commandments (1956)and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
Though he was known for his ability to bring a kiss of intensity and an air of mysteriousness to his characters, often cast in villainous and sinister roles – he was highly regarded for his versatility and range as an actor. Despite his status as a horror icon, Carradine was more than just a genre actor and never wanted to be known for his long involvement with horror pictures, as he called them.
He was transitional in all genres such as historical dramas, war and spy films, film noir, westerns, horror, sci-fi, mystery thrillers, and romantic comedies. His career ran the spectrum of storytelling.
Carradine was capable of serious dramatic reverie, and earnest and sober performances til ultimately – schlocky b movies, ‘The ‘Divine Madness’ of this flamboyant, grand old man of the theater and Hollywood, Carradine’s persona emerged as a confluence between the individualist and distinguished gentleman.’(John Carradine: The Films edited by Gregory Willam Mank)
But after all this superior work in an industry that chewed up and spits out great actors, even after his contribution to the horror genre that once saw him as one of the ruling class in Universal’s horror films such as House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. There is a place for him amongst the aristocracy of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing, though he might be considered the vagabond of the horror pantheon, as he will undoubtedly be remembered for his role in B horror and exploitation films.
“I have shot, strangled, or otherwise disposed of many a victim on the screen in my day. However, more mayhem has been committed on me than I ever committed on anyone else. I have been poisoned, drowned, shot, pushed off cliffs, hanged, strangled, electrocuted, and run over by subway trains.”
John Carradine is a noble eccentric, a cult icon who enjoyed photography and painting, sang opera, loved sculpting, knew the Bard’s work by heart, and could recite Shakespeare at every opportunity. Interviews and commentary from other people in the industry would relate stories of John Carradine getting potted with a drink in hand and spouting Shakespeare and funny anecdotes. “He had a repertoire of bad jokes and off-color reminiscence of Old Hollywood.” He was famous for that as much as for his acting.
Carradine is known for his theatricalizing, his out-of-control drinking, and his private life which was a circus. A life bombarded with non-conformity, chaotic marital trials and tribulations, arrests for not paying alimony, drunk driving, prostitution scandals, and bankruptcy that left him destitute.
With all the disorder in Carradine’s life, the reputation that the actor built from his earlier career took a ruinous insult over the years.
By the end, the actor didn’t bother to read a script, he learned his part no matter how ridiculous yet he took anything that came his way so he could pay the rent, finance his dream of having his own theater company and support his boys.
“An opera cape, top hat, ebony stick, and glittering diamond studs set John apart in a town where a tuxedo is considered formal dress. At intermissions, he stands gracefully in the lobby, smoking a long Russian cigarette and twirling his cane… It is the kind of exhibitionism that made Hollywood, in its colorful beginnings, the most talked about town on Earth…”
John Carradine with his actor sons, John, Keith, and Robert courtesy Getty Images date unknown.
Fred Olen Ray: “He was both a prince and a rascal” …” He was colorful and dramatic… He had a sweeping, majestic personality and an extraordinary voice that somehow managed to make the worst dialogue sound good.”
Keith Carradine: “Here was this Shakespearean actor who, in the 1950s to feed his children, did a lot of horror movies. That’s mostly what he’s known for. I think it sort of broke his heart.”
We know him for his deep voice, that low-pitched booming voice that sounds like well-worn leather and warm spices-cinnamon, sandalwood, and clove. He delivers his dialogue more like a fustian oratory, a sagacious silver-tongued scholar intoning a sermon instead of reading his lines straight.
From an interview with KMOX tv:
What do you think made you so successful as an image that I think maybe that incredible voice?
“I think the voice helped and another thing that helped I think was the fact that – well my face Darryl Zanuck was once heard saying when he came out of the rushes for something that I was in. He said “that guy Carradine got the god damndest face (He laughs) What he meant by that I don’t know but I think that was part of it. Well I think the voice helped a lot. Cecil DeMille said I had the finest voice in the business and he was right I did have the finest voice in the business. Still have. But it’s because I had been because I spent so much time in the theater and because I did Shakespeare. As I told my boys if you want to. Be an actor play all the Shakespeare you can get your hands on. Cause if you can play Shakespeare you can play anything. And I did a lot of Shakespeare. Cause that’s why I became an actor because I wanted to be a Shakespearean actor.”
John Carradine is an actor that commands a parade of imagery and similes. He’s just that darn interesting. I find him to have an almost regal symmetry that strikes me as handsome.
He is wraithlike and sinewy, withered, worn to a shadow, and as thin as a rake yet his presence is boundless.
A lanky actor wafting around the screen like a willow tree, hollow-cheeked, rawboned, and lantern-jawed, the opposite of Herculean – but make no mistake his presence is immortal.
And in a not-so-flattering light, he’s been referred to as cadaverous.
“I wasn’t eccentric in those days. I was just trying to learn my craft and improve what I had… cadaverous I’m a very thin man Cadaverous means looking like a cadaver and at least I do look alive. I look like I might live another five minutes!”
Carradine found himself accepting ludicrous parts in Poverty Row and low-budget chillers in order to fund his ambitious theatrical productions, by the 1960s he was degraded by taking on roles just to pay the bills.
He traveled to Africa for Paramount’s Tarzan the Magnificent and acted on Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone 1960 episode ‘The Howling Man.’
When David Ellington (H.M Wynant) seeks refuge at a remote monastery where Carradine is the solemn Brother Jerome in a heroic white beard, robes, and staff and the brotherhood stands guard over the devil (Robin Hughes) whom they trapped and locked away. Ellington disregards their warning and unwittingly releases evil upon the earth. This was a more sedate role for Carradine.
He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6240 Hollywood Blvd. on February 8, 1960.
In 1962 he returned to Broadway in Harold Prince’s production A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He played Marcus Lycus the scheming whoremaster of a Roman house of ill repute. The show saw 964 performances in New York’s Alvin Theatre.
“A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum” – Zero Mostel, right, is the lead performer in the Broadway musical “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum”, along with (left to right:) John Carradine and Jack Gifford.
Carradine also appeared in several television series. Lock Up 1960 – as James Carew in the episode ‘Poker Club.’ He made an appearance in The Rebel 1960 as Elmer Dodson in episodes ‘Johnny Yuma’ and ‘The Bequest.’
These were bare times for Carradine. He wasn’t making it financially for all the film and television work. He took a role in NBCs Wagon Train in 1960 in an episode called ‘The Colter Craven Story’, directed by John Ford.
Considered his favorite experience working in the horror genre – was appearing in Boris Karloff’s superior horror/film noir anthology series Thriller 1961, which ran from 1960-1962.
From an interview with KMOX in 1983:
What was your favorite horror film that you did?
“Oh god I don’t know. Eh, I don’t think I had one. I think it’s probably something I did with Boris. I did several for Boris. He had his own series that he introduced as a host and on a couple of them he worked also on as an actor. And I did two or three of those with him and for him. And I think that was the best part of the horror genre that I did.”
What was he like to work with.?
“Oh, charming. He was a charming man. And I first worked with him on the first thing he did in this country. We had a play down in Los Angeles, the old Egan Theater which was a 400-seat theater down on Figueroa street. And we did a play together called Window Panes which he played a brutalized Russian peasant immigrant unlettered. And I did a Russian peasant half-wit and there was a character sort of a Christ-like character who was wanted by the authorities as he was, was a rebel. But the ignorant peasantry took on him almost as a Christ figure and I did that for ten weeks and we moved over to the Vine Street Theater which is now the Huntington Hartford in Hollywood. And Boris played the brutalized Russian peasant and played it to the nines. And we became very good friends then. And that was in 1928. And we remained good friends until he retired and went back to England.”
For Thriller, Carradine was cast as Jason Longfellow and Jed Carta in ‘The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk’ starring Jo Van Fleet and directed by John Brahm, and ‘Masquerade’ starring Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston directed by Herschel Daugherty and blessed with a whimsically macabre score by Mort Stevens.
Above are two images: from the episode ‘Masquerade.’
For the series, Carradine appeared in two of the most comic and compelling episodes. In‘The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk’ and ‘Masquerade’ he was both sardonic and sinister.
In Masquerade airing in 1961 Carradine plays Jed Carta, leader of a depraved family of murderers and cannibals who entraps wayward travelers, stealing their money and butchering them like hogs. When Tom Poston and Elizabeth Montgomery stumble onto the creepy dilapidated house to get out of a rain storm, Carta greets them with dark glee, trading menacing cracks with Montgomery. What lies beneath the surface might be something more nefarious than the mere suggestion of evil cloaked in black humor that surrounds the Carta family and Carradine’s spooky wisecracks. He’s magnificently droll, skulking around the dreadful house, with Poston, and Montgomery being assailed by disembodied cackling and dimwitted Jack Lambert who wields a large butcher knife lumbering around. Dorothy Neumann plays the feral Ruthie chained to the wall spewing animosity for the Carta clan and demonstrating an itchy type of lunacy. It’s both comical and arouses jitters simultaneously. In my opinion, it is one of Carradine’s most underrated roles in the horror genre, emphasizing his ability to shuffle both dark humor and horror equally.
In ‘The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk’ starring Jo Van Fleet as Mrs. Hawk/Circe, Carradine plays Jason Longfellow an erudite transient who stumbles onto the true identity of Mrs. Hawk, and the secret of her ‘Isle of Aiaie Home of the Pampered Pig.’
Cultivated and shrewd, Longfellow is a scheming vagabond who plans on using his revelation about Mrs. Hawk to his advantage – much to an ironic end.
It’s an inspiration for writers Don Sanford and Margaret St. Clair to transform a classical tale from Greek mythology and position it within a southern Gothic rural setting, using a hog farm and a visiting carnival/State Fair that adds a layer of mystique and mayhem. There’s a great scene that utilizes theatrical anachronism wonderfully when Cissy Hawk (Van Fleet) carries the bowl, or ‘Circe’s cup’ the night she feeds the pigs grapes and proceeds to turn Johnny (Bruce Dern) back into a man for a while. Under the moonlight, she conducts an ancient rite on modern rural farmland as Pete (Hal Baylor) watches in fright and disbelief from his window.
Not only is this particular episode so effective because of Jo Van Fleet’s performance as the modern-day witch but it’s also due to the presence of the ubiquitous John Carradine, whose facial expressions alone can be so accentuated by his acrobatic facial expressions that make him so uniquely entertaining to watch not to mention listening to his Shakespearean elucidations, hard-bitten insights, and crafty machinations.
Carradine enters the story: A train whistle is blowing in the backdrop. There is a close-up of Jason’s (John Carradine’s) face. Carradine is the perspicacious Jason Longfellow, an erudite transient, shabby and unshaven, dressed like a gypsy with white tape holding his black-framed glasses together. Skinny, almost skeleton-like, and lanky. Longfellow’s razor-sharp acumen betrays his urbane sensibilities that travel incognito like a stowaway. He may look like a scraggly bum, but he is a highly educated defector of society. He also enjoys giving his companion Peter grief, waging his intelligence that he uses as a refuge. Pete is a wayward boxer who looks to Longfellow as a mentor. This horror-themed, fable-like episode is overflowing with ironic, comical repose until the baleful scenes leap out at you when Circe wields her powerful magic.
A Pan flute is trebling a child-like tune, a delightful wisp of scales. To the left of the screen are a pair of black & argyle socks with holes worn in the toes, tapping out the melody in the air with his feet. A fire is burning in the trash can. This is a slice-of-the-night mystique of the hobo’s life. Carradine as Jason Longfellow is sitting in a cane back fan rocking chair, a junkyard living room, and a cold tin coffee pot atop an oil drum.
Suspecting their friend Johnny’s disappearance is connected to Mrs. Hawk (Jo Van Fleet) and the rumors about her young handymen all gone missing.
”If I knew Johnny’s fate, my friend, I’d understand why Mrs. Hawk’s farm is designated Caveat Accipitram among the brotherhood ” Jason’s eyes bulge out of the sockets with glee and rancor.
Carradine manifests an exquisite mixture of the facial expression of a malcontent. Pete seems stupefied –” Hhm?” “Come on.. speak American would ya” Jason raises his voice and changes his tone to indicate the hierarchy in their educational backgrounds. ” Caveat Accipitrum… Caveat Accipitrum BEWARE THE HAWK….” Longfellow ends his little lesson for Pete with emotive punctuation.
He grunts/laughs dismissively “Oh…Hey!” and looks away and takes a drag of his cigarette with his bone-like fingers, squinting his thoughtful blue eyes (not obscured by the black and white film) as if in deep contemplation about the matter. Longfellow was written for Carradine.
Following Thriller, John Carradine made 9 guest appearances on the popular The Red Skelton Hour 1961.
Carradine as Major Starbuckle in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 1962.
Ford found working with Carradine a trial because of his free-spirited style but he cast him once again, this time joining him in 1962 with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance starring James Stewart and John Wayne. Carradine played the bombastic Senator Cassius Starbuckle.
Carradine’s cameo happens toward the end of the film in a scene at the political convention with him kicking up a fuss “soldier, jurist and statesmen” he’s a mouthpiece for the cattle ranchers opposed to statehood. This would be Carradine’s last significant role with director John Ford.
“Offering up a caricatured portrayal of a bombastic Southern blue-blood blowhard, he strikes poses, grandstands, and dishonestly paints his political foe (Stewart) as a killer not fit for government. Without half trying Carradine was capable of exuding just the right sort of seedy grandeur in this pompous scoundrel role; his theatrical oratory enlivens the final reel of a movie. “(Mank)
In 1963 he directed Hamlet at the Gateway Playhouse on Long Island where he performed the melancholy Dane.
Carradine made appearances on the television series The Lucy Show in 1964 as Professor Guzman in the episode ‘Lucy Goes to Art Class.’
Also in 1964, he appeared with Carroll Baker, Karl Malden, and Richard Widmark with Carradine playing Major Jeff Blair a gambler who joins James Stewart in a card game in Ford’s western Cheyenne Autumn 1964.
The Wizard of Mars, and Curse of the Stone Handwhere he appeared for one minute as part of director Jerry Warren’s added footage in order to use Carradine’s name in the credits for his movie pieced together from two French dramas creating an incoherent mess.
Throughout the 1960s he worked constantly in Summerstock – appearing in Enter Laughing, Arsenic and Old Lace 1965 and in Oliver as the sly Fagin in 1966.
Carradine in John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn 1964 starring Carroll Baker.
Carradine with Andrea King in House of the Black Death 1965/71.
in the low-budget House of the Black Death Carradine had more of a prominent role as Andre Desard, plays the patriarch of a family of Satanists and werewolves, with Lon Chaney, Jr. playing his evil brother Belial who sports a pair of horns and battles over their ancestral home. The film also stars Tom Drake and noir star Andrea King.
1966 saw Carradine cast as a smarmy Dracula once again in the bottom basement horror/western Billy the Kid vs Dracula directed by William ‘one shot’ Beaudine, with supportive roles by Virginia Christine and Marjorie Bennett. Carradine is painted as looking like a pasty-faced, maniacal magician with a greasy satanic goatee mustache, widow’s peak, frills, cravat, and top hat. Traveling by stagecoach in the Old West, Dracula meets James Underwood on his way to the cattle ranch to see his niece Betty (Melinda Plowman). When the passengers are killed by Indians, he assumes Underhill’s identity and seeks out Betty as his next undead bride. Carradine comes under suspicion for a series of unexplained murders. His Dracula sleeps in a bed not a coffin and moves around in broad daylight. Whenever Carradine exerts his hypnotic stare, Beaudine used a colored spotlight that turned his face a bright red, with Dracula dashing in and out of the frame, in a badly designed special effect.
“I have worked in a dozen of the greatest, and I have worked in a dozen of the worst. I only regret Billy the kid versus Dracula. Otherwise, I regret nothing… it was a bad film. I don’t even remember it. I was absolutely numb.”
He had a small role in Munster, Go Home in 1966 for Universal where he played the oddball butler Cruikshank. On television, he appeared on episodes of Daniel Boone in 1968 and Bonanza in 1969 as Preacher Dillard.
In 1967 he hosted five horror tales as part of Gallery of Horrors – Not to be confused with the superior portmanteau – Amicus’ Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors. Five short tales of the supernatural introduced by Carradine, who does appear in the first edition as a 17th century Warlock in ‘The Witch’s Clock’ about a young couple who find a cursed clock that can raise the dead.
‘The Witch’s Clock’ segment of Gallery of Horrors.
It’s the 11th Annual What a Character! Blogathon. Not only is it my favorite gathering of bloggers paying tribute to actors who deserve our recognition, but it also gives me a reason to dive in and binge their films and television appearances. Thank you, Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club for hosting this year’s wonderful event!
Impish pint-sized, blue-eyed, and baby-faced with a raspy voice, American character actor Elisha Vanslyck Cook Jr. was born on December 26, either 1903 or 1906 (sources vary) in San Francisco, California.
Cook spent his childhood in Chicago, Illinois, and his first job was selling programs in the theatre lobby. He attended St. Albans College and the Chicago Academy of Dramatic Art, debuting on the stage at age 14, and was an assistant stage manager at age 17. He later traveled with a repertory company as a stage actor, appearing in vaudeville, debuting in the vaudeville act Lightnin.’ He worked in stock companies where he got his first big break after Eugene O’Neill cast him in the lead role of his production of Ah, Wilderness on Broadway.
At age 23 Cook debuted on the Broadway stage in 1926 as Joe Bullitt in the musical comedy Hello, Lola. He also appeared as Dick Wilton in Henry Behave 1926, Many a Slip,Hello, Gertie 1926-27, The Kingdom of God 1928-29 – (featuring Ethel Barrymore), and Her Unborn Child 1928 at the Empire Theatre. In 1963 he returned to the stage as “Giuseppe Givola” in “Arturo Ui” on Broadway, written by Bertolt Brecht from The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. The show featured the music of Jule Styne.
Elisha Cook Jr. then moved to Hollywood where he settled in 1936. He made his film debut revising his stage role as the romantic young lead in the film version of Her Unborn Child 1930 alongside Francis Underwood. “A vividly dramatic all-talker of the Broadway stage hit which rocked the nation with its frankness.” After Hollywood spotted the young actor’s fun-sized flair, he would not return to the stage until 1963.
The diminutive actor co-starred in over 220 films and television shows from the 1930s to the 1980s. His film career, including his later television roles, lasted almost 60 years. Cook a flexible actor, played a wide range of characters. ‘Cookie’ as his friends referred to him, was cast in a wide variety of genres starting out in musical comedy, westerns, crime dramas, and most notably film noir and B horror movies.
“Few actors could claim to have played as many memorable roles in as many recognized classics or to have become the answer to so many Hollywood trivia questions,” – Robert Thomas, Jr., in a New York Times obituary.
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 Studios 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’sDays 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 bobbleheads, 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 aid of a ghostwriter). 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, from her early experiences as the reluctant and lovely starlet in 1950s 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 lifelong 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 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.
During WWII the four sisters struggle to survive without the men in their lives. Piper Laurie’s performance as Delia Leslie is extraordinary filled with layers of self-preservation and boldness. Delia is a free spirit who will not bend to others’ will.
Piper remarked about the wonderful actresses she got to work within the film as it also starred Jean Simmons, Joan Fontaine, and Sandra Dee. She told me 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 at 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 phenomenon 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 and 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 is 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. Its well-scripted episodes, cinematography, and casting of the finest actors from stage and film were 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 4 seasons. Aside from her dancing –which was really painful to watch as she mimics a Native American dance the partygoers 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 of 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 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 a skilled sculptor and director, and one of the industry’s 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!”
There are so many intricate details of Piper Laurie’s 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 than 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, 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 there 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 was 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 consumes my life. 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 expectations 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 sheer 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 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 was brought by her agent to Howard Hughes’s office as an offering but the two sat quietly, as he decided not to elect to add her to his list of conquest. Through 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 seems so “organic’ to her spirit.
She was offered a test option at Warner Bros after they saw her performance in 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 a 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.
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 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 inexperienced 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 its 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.
In 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 PrinceWho Was a Thief, and Johnny Dark 1954. Curtis had been very unkind publicly about his co-star’s 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.
1950 The Milkman, 1951 Francis Goes to the Racesas 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 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 surprisingly 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 a great vitality and 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 goes 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 of 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 hen set on putting her down. Rowdy Club girl including Mamie Van Doren crashes high society when a 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 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 lightning storm conducted by a musician.” He winds up directing her in The Ninth Day for Playhouse 90. It was one of Piper’s 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 AfarG.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’sThe 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 nonhearing 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).
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 LoversPiper 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 silent. 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 starting to be filled. The Korean trip 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 MisbehavingPiper 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.
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.
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 newfound 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 the 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.
“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?
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, its 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 over the madness of the blacklist, and without settling, became a formidable actress, director, 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.
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, but I also 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 a 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.
As an actor, she brings 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!
It’s that wonderful time of the year when we all get to celebrate those unsung actors with loads of character, thanks to Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula’s Cinema & Club& Outspoken and Freckled who are hosting the Fifth Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2016… This will be my fourth time contributing to this fantastic event, having covered Jeanette Nolan, Burgess Meredith, and last year’s Agnes Moorehead. As many of you know, it’s often the actors on the periphery of some of our favorite films that fill out the landscape with their extraordinary presence, a presence that becomes not only essential to the story but at times become as memorable perhaps even larger than life when compared with the central stars themselves. I’m thrilled to be joining in the fun once again and am sure that it’s going to be just as memorable this year as ever before!
The ASTONISHING… RUTH GORDON!
“The earth is my body; my head is in the stars.”-Ruth Gordon as Maude
Maude: “A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. *Reach* out. Take a *chance*. Get *hurt* even. But play as well as you can.”
I’ve been waiting to write about my love of Ruth Gordon for quite some time and felt that this would be the best way to get off the pot and just start singing those praises for this remarkable lady of theatre, film, and television. Ruth Gordon in so many ways channeled her true personality through the character of Maude, in life –she too always projected a spirit that played as well as she could…
“Choose a color, you’re on your own, don’t be helpless.” –Ruth Gordon -An Open Book
There’s a vast dimension and range to Ruth Gordon’s work both her screenwriting and her acting, the effects leave a glowing trail like a shooting star. With her quirky wisdom and sassy vivacity that plucks at your heart, Ruth Gordon stands out in a meadow of daisies she is emblazoned as bright and bold as the only sunflower in the field. No one, just no one has ever been nor will ever be like this incredible personality.
For a woman who is impish in stature, she emanates a tremendous presence, a smile like the Mona Lisa, sporting a unique and stylish way she expresses herself with a poetic & fable-like language. Ruth Gordon is a character who dances to a different rhythm — how she sees herself and how she performs *life* is uniquely mesmerizing as it is burgeoning with all the colors of the universe.
Ruth Gordon is a dramaturgical pixie, with a curious hitch in her git-along… an impish dame who rouses and fortifies each role she inhabits with a playful, mischievous, and almost esoteric brand of articulation.
In a field of different daisies Ruth Gordon is that sunflower that Maude soliloquies poetically to Harold —
Maude-“I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They’re so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?”
Harold-“I don’t know. One of these, maybe.”
Maude-“Why do you say that?”
Harold-“Because they’re all alike.”
Maude-“Ooooh, but they’re *not*. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All *kinds* of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow come from people who are *this”, (pointing to a daisy) yet allow themselves to be treated as *that*.” (she gestures to a field of daisies)
From the Arlene Francis 1983 interview with Ruth Gordon– actress, screenwriter and playwright…
Ruth Gordon 1975 photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt
Ruth Gordon never wanted to be told how to write nor be instructed on how to act… from her autobiography An Open Book- “I don’t like to be told how to act either. When I’m left alone thoughts come… ‘Don’t try to think’ said our New England philosopher, Emerson, leave yourself open to thought. If you find out stuff for yourself, you get to know what you believe; what you like, how to live, how to have a good time. It’s important to have a good time.”
from Hugh Downs Interview
“ I did grow up to have character. And I’m always doing some damn thing that uh I don’t wanna do but I know it’s right to do. And I finally thought of something in my next book and I’m gonna have it in there and it’s a very important thing to remember. Just because a thing is hard to do doesn’t make it any good. You tackle something and you work at it and slave at it and say now I’m gonna do this I’m gonna do it and when you’ve done it better think it over and see if it was worth it… some easy things like falling off a log and stuff those easy things probably just as good but a New Englander has to do it the hard way. “
Arlene Francis “You once said ‘never face facts’ how can you avoid it?”
Ruth Gordon-“Oh my god look, we’re not facing facts now surely cause I might dry up and not have a thing to say in the world and then where would you be, you know… […] it would be stupid there are enough hazards in the world, I’m 85 now and I’m at my very best peak of my looks which might be an interesting thing to anybody because you figure, 18 why wouldn’t I be better looking than now?… “Don’t lets anyone tell their symptoms, it would be the most boring thing, even though everybody has so many… so the ‘don’t face your facts’ is if you face what’s the matter with you, you know we’d open a window and say goodbye everybody like tinker bell and take off and hope you could fly (she laughs) Don’t face the facts you know, I was 18 years old I was going on the stage didn’t know anybody in New York and I didn’t know anybody on the stage, and I wasn’t beautiful and I wasn’t tall which everybody was in those days, and uh I didn’t have any money and how was I gonna do this, so if I didn’t ‘not face those facts’ I’d say too bad she wanted to be an actress…”
Ruth Gordon, who always dreamed of becoming a ‘film’ star, beside an astonishing stage presence talks about winning awards for her work–“ The main award that I really value is the award I give myself and people say Oh you don’t know when you’re good you know, the audience knows, people know but you don’t know Well that’s stupid I know when I’m good for myself You might not like it, they might not like it, the public might not like it, but I know that wonderful performance that doesn’t happen too often, when anticipation and realization come together because that night when it’s all perfect and is great and you know … that you’ve just taken off… that’s my award…”
Ruth Gordon is bold and vibrant and an actress who never shied away from taking the quirkiest and most eccentric roles. From irreverent Ma in Every Which Way But Loose (1978) and the poignant Becky Rosen in Boardwalk (1979) to the perspicacious Maude in Harold and Maude (1971) George Segal’s Tushy biting batty mother-Mrs. Hocheiser in Where’s Poppa? (1970) and of course the queen of campy kitschy New York City’s enigmatic coven hostess with the mostest– Minnie Castevet in Rosemary’s Baby (1968) …
Once Ruth Gordon personified the unforgettable Minnie Castevet in “Rosemary’s Baby”in 1968 she manifested a lasting and unfading, enigmatic character that only Ruth Gordon could infuse with that unforgettable energy.
Minnie is perhaps one of the most vividly colorful film characters with her sly and farcical mispronunciations and a wardrobe that is distinctly tacky. Part cosmopolitan part menacing, no one could have performed Minnie Castevet quite like Ruth Gordon, that next-door meddling neighbor who befriends an American housewife, who is secretly waiting to become the godmother to the devil’s unborn son.
Gordon appears as if she was cut from a mold that makes her seem like a rebel to the inner workings of Hollywood. And as extremely unconventional as she can be, there is always a depth and authenticity to the wackiest of characters she’s portraying. From the lyrically loving and life-devouring Maude in Hal Ashby’s different style of love story.
“ Well it’s a very good movie, I was absolutely wonderful Collin Higgins wrote a great movie Bud Cort was sensational, Hal Ashby became one of the top directors so how do you account for that, well it just happened. But, you see, some guy in Cambridge Mass. he wrote from the YMCA he wrote me a letter and he said, ‘I’ve seen Harold and Maude’ I don’t know how many times he’d seen it, and he said I’m at a loss to know why it means so much to me and I think about it , I think about it a lot and I finally came to the conclusion that it’s because to get through life you have to have somebody to tell it to’ that’s a very profound remark. I’ve had lovers I’ve have friends I’ve had family and I didn’t exactly tell it to them but Garson Kanin I tell it to him whether it’s bad whether I’m a failure whether I’m going grey. Somebody to tell it to. And it’s a very very necessary part of life. And in Harold & Maude Harold who was a kind of helpless geek with looks riches money everything he had … except knowing how to live. And Maude who didn’t have anything except she knew how to live. And Harold could tell it to her. he could tell it to her. She didn’t always have the answer. But he could pour it out. And so it was wonderful really, just pour it out, I said once even if I’m wrong agree with me because you know to Gar, have somebody you know would stand up for you.”
Ruth and husband Garson Kanin… super writing team!
Bud Cort remained very close friends with Ruth Gordon. Here he is talking about her tremendous influence on This is Your Life television show honoring the extraordinary actress/writer.
Ruth Gordon and Hal Ashby on the set of Harold and Maude 1971.
from the Dick Cavett interview from September 19, 1969 expressing how if you had never seen Ruth Gordon on the stage “You would lament that fact… a lady who is one of the incomparable ladies of American Theatre. There have been cults about Ruth Gordon for years and years and years. When great performances on Broadway are discussed, Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie or Mildred Dunnock in Death of a Salesman, or Vivien Leigh or any of the classics are referred to Olivier in Oedipus, Ruth Gordon in *The Matchmaker* is always brought up as one of the masterpieces of all time. And she has been a wondrous presence in the theatre for over 50 years. Splendid comedian and a splendid comic writer.”
Ruth Gordon Jones was born October 30, 1896, in Quincy, Massachusetts. “growing up with the brown taste of poverty in her mouth.” As a child, she wrote fan letters to her favorite film stars and received a personal reply from Hazel Dawn. So struck with stage actress Hazel Dawn after seeing her perform in “The Pink Lady” in Boston, Ruth Gordon decided to go into acting. After high school, she went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and was an extra in silent films made in Fort Lee, New Jersey making $5 in 1915. She made her Broadway debut in 1915 as one of the Lost Boys later that year in Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up as Nibs. She garnered a favorable review by Alexander Woolcott, who at the time was an extremely influential theater critic eventually the two became close friends and he was her mentor. Gordon was typecast in “beautiful but dumb” roles in the early 20s.
Ruth Gordon began to hone her craft and push the range of her acting ability which she revealed in Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, the restoration comedy The Country Wife in which she appeared at the influential theater–London’s Old Vic. She eventually found her way to Broadway and landed a role in Henrik Ibsen’s A Dolls House during the 1930s.
Severely bow-legged, in 1920 she spent time in a hospital in Chicago where she had her legs broken and straightened.
Ruth Gordon as Edward G. Robinson’s wife in director William Dieterle’s Dr. Erhlich’s Magic Bullet 1940.
Ruth Gordon with the great Greta Garbo in director George Cukor’s Two-Faced Woman 1941.
She was married to actor Gregory Kelly from 1921-1927 when he died of heart disease. In 1929, she had a child (Jones Harris) with Broadway producer Jed Harris. She starred in plays in New York City and London, not doing another film until she played Mary Todd in director John Cromwell’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois 1940, co-starred with Edward G. Robinson in director William Dieterle’s Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet 1940 and appeared as Miss Ellis in director George Cukor’s film starring Greta Garbo film Two-Faced Woman 1941 and co-starred with Humphrey Bogart in Action in the North Atlantic 1942.
Ruth Gordon plays Ann Sheridan’s mother in director Lewis Milestone’s story of a small fishing village in Norway and the resistance to the Nazi occupation, Gordon plays Anna Stensgard the unassuming wife and neurotic mother who lives too much in the past in Edge of Darkness 1943.
In 1942, active on Broadway again, she married writer Garson Kanin and started writing plays. Together with her husband, she wrote screenplays for Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy like A Double Life 1947, Adam’s Rib 1949, and Pat and Mike 1952. She also wrote an autobiographical play “Years Ago”, that then became a film directed by the great George Cukor starring Jean Simmons, Spencer Tracy, and Teresa Wright in The Actress 1953 about her life growing up and getting into the theatre.
Ruth Gordon and her husband were included in a round-up of theatre actors questioned by the House on Un-American Activities in 1947 and flown to Washington for questioning. Nothing came of the investigation.
In the 1960s she returned to Hollywood with roles in films and television adaptations–
The television movie version of Noel Coward’s 1941 play Blithe Spirit—Ruth Gordon manifests the spiritual medium Madame Arcati in the 1966 tv version.
Ruth Gordon as Stella Barnard co-starring with Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld in Lord Love a Duck 1966.
Playing Mrs. Stella Barnard in Lord Love a Duck 1966 The film stars Tuesday Weld as the innocent attention-seeking teenager from a broken home who aspires to become loved by everyone wears 12 colorful cashmere sweaters given to her by friend and mastermind Roddy McDowall (who was 36 at the time playing a teen!) Director George Axelrod’s biting satire pokes fun at teen beach movies of the 1960s, elitism, and the adults that satellite around their machinations …
Stella Bernard: (Ruth Gordon) “You lied to me, Miss Greene. You permitted me to believe your father was dead.”
Barbara Ann: (Tuesday Weld) “Well, they’re divorced.”
Stella Bernard: (Ruth Gordon) “In our family we don’t divorce our men; we *bury* ’em!”
Where’s Poppa? 1970 In director Carl Reiner’s black comedy- Ruth Gordon lets it rip as the irreverent Mama Hocheiser whose senile antics are driving New York attorney Gordon Hocheiser (George Segal) to the brink. When he finally meets the loving and naive nurse Louise Callan (Trish Van Devere), worried his mother’s idiosyncrasies will ruin his budding romance, he grasps at any means to finally get rid of her! Ron Leibman is hilarious as Brother Sidney!
Inside Daisy Clover 1965, for which Ruth Gordon returned to the screen after almost 20 years -was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe as Supporting Actress… One of my favorite directors Robert Mulligan creates a portrait of a tomboy (Natalie Wood) who dreams of being a singer, lives in a trailer, and runs a beachside concession stand where she forges the autographs of Hollywood stars — suddenly discovered Daisy rises to stardom herself, falls in love with Robert Redford, only to turn her back on the viciousness of the business.
Ruth Gordon plays her quirky card-playing mother whom she calls ‘Old Chap’ who lives in her own world. Daisy loves her dearly, but the studio heads force her to hide Old Chap/Mrs. Clover is in an old age home and tells the public she’s dead in order to project her star image without an eccentric & batty mother in her life. Ruth Gordon once again plays batty to the poignant level of art form.
Inside Daisy Clover co-stars Christopher Plummer, Robert Redford, and Roddy McDowall, with a wonderful soundtrack, “You’re Gonna Hear From Me” by André Previn and Dory Previn.
Police (Harold Gould)-“You waited seven years to report your husband missing?” Mrs. Clover-‘The Dealer’“I just started missin’ him this morning.”
Natalie Wood grew so fond of Ruth Gordon after working on the film Inside Daisy Clover that she made her the godmother to her daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner
Gordon plays Alice Dimmock involved in a dangerous battle of wits with the menacing Clare Marrable who buries her victims in her lovely rose garden–Geraldine Page hires companions who have nice savings built up and no relatives to come around looking for them in What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice 1969.
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? 1969 directed by Lee H. Katrin was Produced by Robert Aldrich Music by Gerald Fried.
In this taut Grande Dame Guignol horror thriller Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice 1969, Ruth Gordon portrays Alice Dimmock who sets out to uncover the truth behind her companion’s (Mildred Dunnock) disappearance after she takes a job with the austere and cunning Clare Marrable, a prolific serial killer who sows the seeds of her rose garden with her victims.
Director Lee H. Katzin and Bernard Girard’s psychological thriller positions two powerful actresses in a taut game of cat and mouse…
Geraldine Pages plays the ghastly & audacious serial killer Claire Marrable, whose husband left her penniless. In order to keep living a life of luxury and comfort she begins offing her paid companions who have stashed doe and no family to come looking for them. When Edna Tinsley played by Mildred Dunnock goes missing and becomes part of Mrs Marrable’s wondrous garden of roses, Ruth Gordon pretends to be Page’s companion in order to get to the truth about her missing friend.
Ruth Gordon was amazed at the showing of What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? She figured that by playing the part of a woman in peril at the mercy of the ruthless and calculating psychopath, performed perfectly by Geraldine Page, at the final moment of confrontation her split decision to for self-preservation and become a murderer herself or be true to her inherent goodness allowing herself to be a victim. Ruth Gordon believed that it was this defining moment the goodness that ruled Alice’s heart and head would be the most powerful moments in the film. Yet, when the audience responded to this critical scene, to her surprise they screamed out “Kill her, kill her!” The audience wanted Ruth’s character to live so badly…
from director Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude (1971).
A 79 old woman and a twenty-year-old lost soul meet at a funeral and find love and life together in a darkly light comedy. Bud Cort creates an iconic figure of a young privileged young man disillusioned by life, who gets a kick out of antagonizing his priggish mother Mrs. Chasen (Vivian Pickles) with creative faked suicides. Once Harold is exposed to the wisdom and insight that Maude imparts, she manages to open up his heart and teaches him how to reach out and embrace the substance of life’s beauty.
“You know, at one time, I used to break into pet shops to liberate the canaries. But I decided that was an idea way before its time. Zoos are full, prisons are overflowing… oh my, how the world still *dearly* loves a *cage.* “-the inimitable Maude
Harold: “Maude” Maude: “Hmm?”Harold: “Do you pray?” Maude: “Pray? No. I communicate.” Harold: “With God?” Maude: “With *life*”
Every Which Way But Loose 1978.
Ruth Gordon plays the impertinently, uninhibited Ma to Clint Eastwood as trucker Philo Beddoe & Orville (Geoffrey Lewis) who travel around the West Coast looking for street-style prize fights. Along for the ride are Beverly D’Angelo as Echo, and evasive love interest Sondra Locke as country singer Lynn Halsey-Taylor. There’s a hilarious assorted misfit motorcycle gang member and Philo’s pet Orangutan Clyde who’s always stealing Ma’s Oreo cookies!
Ruth Gordon reprised her role as the cantankerous Ma in Any Which Way You Can 1980.
Ma after Clyde has eaten her bag of Oreos-“Ohh! Stop that, ya goddamn baboon. No respect! No privacy! No nothing!”
co-staring with Lee Strasberg in Boardwalk 1979.
Lee Strasberg plays David Rosen and Ruth Gordon portrays his wife Becky who own a wonderful little diner, a loving older couple who have lived in their Coney Island Jewish neighborhood for 50 years until a gang moves in and changes the communities quality of life by threatening the local store owners with violence if they don’t pay ‘protection’ money. When David defies them, they burn down the diner and desecrate the synagogue. Janet Leigh also co-stars as Florence Cohen.
Ruth Gordon manifests a marvelously warm and poignant chemistry with master actor/teacher Lee Strasberg.
She personified the unforgettable role of Minnie Castevet in “Rosemary’s Baby”in 1969. Manifesting an unfading, enigmatic character that only Ruth Gordon could perform.
Ruth Gordon started to get more regular film and television roles. Reprising the role of Minnie Castevet in the made for tv fright-flick Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby (1976) and played the devouring Jewish mother Cecilia Weiss in the television movie The Great Houdini 1976. And the television movie The Prince of Central Park 1977.
Ruth Gordon was cast in the feature film The Big Bus (1976) among a terrific ensemble of actors. She appeared as Arvilla Droll in Scavenger Hunt 1979 and the very touching film about growing up and friendship- My Bodyguard 1980 in -Maxie (1985) Ruth Gordon plays Chris Makepeace’s kindly but rascally grandmother, while he finds a way to school bully Matt Dillon from beating him to a pulp, he finds an outcast that everyone is afraid of to be his bodyguard in Adam Baldwin. The film also co-stars John Houseman.
Ruth Gordon co-stars with Chris Makepeace in 1980s My Bodyguard.
Ruth Gordon co-stars with Glenn Close in Maxie 1985.
As the eccentric Marge Savage in the ABC tv Movie of the Week directed by John Badham starring Alan Alda- Isn’t It Shocking (1973) Gordon possessed the seamless ability to oscillate between a delightfully aerated conviviality and acerbic snapdragon capable of delivering the most colorful tongue lashing!
Alda plays a small-town sheriff with his quirky secretary/sidekick Blanche (Louise Lasser) who is daunted by a string of mysterious deaths that are plaguing the elderly town folk. Edmund O’Brien plays Justin Oates an odd serial killer who is holding a lifetime grudge against his old friends who humiliated him in high school. Marge was his great love who might have done him wrong! Co-stars Lloyd Nolan, and Will Geer and the county coroner who uncovers the weird details that connect the murders.
Lynn Redgrave stars with Ruth Gordon in the stage production of George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession.
Ruth Gordon was nominated for Broadway’s 1956 Tony Award as Best Dramatic Actress for playing Dolly Levy in Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker.” Ruth Gordon says that Wilder had been a tremendous help and influence to her, having ‘picked him up in front of The Booth Theater’ way back when. She won a Golden Globe award as Best Supporting Actress as Natalie Wood’s mother she calls Old Chap in Inside Daisy Clover and a much-deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Rosemary’s Baby.
She was nominated for a Golden Globe for playing Maude in Harold and Maude in 1971.
In the 1970s and 1980s she played parts in well-known television shows like Kojak as psychic Miss Eudora Temple in Season 2 “I Want to Report a Dream”, Rhoda, and Taxi(which she won an Emmy for.)
and in the superb episode of Columbo as mystery writer Abigail Mitchell one of the most sympathetic murderesses’ of the series as she avenges the death of her beloved niece with unrelenting Lt. Columbo dauntlessly nipping at her heels. And though Abigail finds Columbo to be a very kind man, he tells her not to count on that. He must stay true to his calling as a homicide detective though we wish he would just Abigail get away with murder– in “Try and Catch Me.”
Ruth Gordon as mystery writer Abigail Mitchell: I accept all superlatives.
Ruth Gordon also had the distinguished honor of hosting Saturday Night Live in 1977.
Ruth Gordon died of a stroke at 88 in Massachusetts with her husband Garson at her side.
“She had a great gift for living the moment and it kept her ageless.”
— Glenn Close
Ruth Gordon had quite a unique way of expressing herself on stage, screen, and in person, and as Dick Cavett had said about the great actresses’ ability to always project her incomparable persona, what we get! — “It’s a lesson in something that only Ruth Gordon can teach.” And as she would say, she had “a lot of zip in her doo dah.”
I’ll end by saying this about this astonishingly iconic character whose sagacity and spark will never dim when asked that particularly interesting question, ‘If you had 3 people you could meet in Heaven who would you choose?’ Ruth Gordon, you would be one of them!- With all my love, MonsterGirl
Here’s a blogathon that will enlighten you about many truly wonderful artists, actors, & filmmakers who proudly hail from the Great White North country of Canada! Kristina of Speakeasyand Ruth of Silver Screenings are paying tribute to Canada… So this New Yorker is doing her part to join in with a classic ghost story that will give you the ‘pip and the whim whams!’ After all even Martin Scorsese thinks this film is one of the 11 scariest films he’s ever known!
I’m always grateful when I’m asked to join in on one of these marvelous celebrations, and my gratitude continues, so without further ado…
O Canada & The Changeling — IMDb trivia tid bits- The house seen in the movie in real life doesn’t and never actually did exist. The film-makers could not find a suitable mansion to use for the film so at a cost of around $200,000, the production had a Victorian gothic mansion facade attached to the front of a much more modern dwelling in a Vancouver street. This construction was used for the filming of all the exteriors of the movie’s Carmichael Mansion. The interiors of the haunted house were an elaborate group of interconnecting sets built inside a film studio in Vancouver.
The name of the history group was the Seattle Historical Preservation Society. The name of the campus where Dr. John Russell ( George C. Scott ) taught music was the University of Seattle though interiors set there were filmed at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada.
Though predominantly filmed in Canada, the picture was set in Seattle, USA where establishing shots were filmed. These included the Rainier Tower, the SeaTac Airport, the University of Washington’s Red Square, and the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge. Some location filming was shot in New York. Most of the movie was filmed in Vancouver and its environs in British Columbia with Victoria in the same Canadian province also used. Interiors set at the university were shot in Toronto in Canada’s province of Ontario.
Minnie Huxley: “That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.”
The Changeling was produced by Lew Grade who tried to start up his own production company that never quite made it, however, during this time he was responsible for releasing Boys From Brazil 1978 and On Golden Pond 1981and our featured ghost story The Changeling. The story is by Russell Hunter and the screenplay was written by William Gray and Diana Maddox. Directed by Peter Medak (The Ruling Class 1972, The Krays 1990, Romeo is Bleeding 1993)
Director of Photography John Coquillon (The Impersonator 1961 The Conqueror Worm 1968 Cry of the Banshee 1970, Straw Dogs 1971, Cross of Iron 1977, Absolution 1978, The Osterman Weekend 1983) Coquillon has a magical touch of creating environments that seemed closed in whilst surrounded by the vast natural world. Because the players are about to implode from too much-twisted pathology & secret sin eating, his camera work translates a tense universe on screen so well, that it elevates the narrative to a more uncomfortable level.
Rick Wilkins is credited for the film’s stunningly haunting score, but that effectively poignant yet eerie music box theme was composed by Howard Blake as part of a work called Lifecycle which is a collection of 24 piano pieces using only 24 keys.
The Changeling (1980) is one of those rare masterpieces that fall into the cerebral tale of otherworldly & supernatural torments that are defined as ‘intimate drawing room’ ghost stories. Much like The Uninvited (1944), Dead of Night (1945), The Innocents (1961), The Haunting (1963), Ghost Story (1981), Lady in White (1988), and The Others (2001).
The Changelingis a SUPERIOR ghost story permeated with moody angst, atmosphere, and some of the most chilling moments in classical haunting/ horror cinema. It is said that the movie is based on actual events that took place at a mansion called the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion not in Canada but in Denver Colorado. Writer Russell Hunter claims he witnessed these events while living in the house during the 1960s. IMDb trivia tells us that ‘The Chessman Park neighborhood in the movie is a reference to Cheesman Park in Denver, where the original haunting transpired.’
I saw The Changelingupon its theatrical release in 1980 and believe me when I say that those ‘frightening’ jarring moments are as effective as they were 36 years ago, they can still cause that jump-out-of-your-seat reflex!. The house used in The Changeling is as imposing and chills-inspiring on its own. “The house was totally created by set designers and you won’t forget its eerie corridors, stairway, and dark rooms.”-John Stanley from Creature Features Movie Guide. As Stanley figures, this memorable ghost story operates on 3 though I count 4 different levels.
1) as a pure ghost story 2) as the journey of John Russell’s struggle with loss 3) as a morality tale about good vs evil. And 4) a tale of murder, power and greed.
George C Scott plays John Russell a concert pianist/ music professor who is haunted by the vision of witnessing both his wife (Jean Marsh in a tiny flashback role before she is killed) and daughter dies in a freak car accident. The film opens with this tragic event, in order to set the pace for Russell’s unbounded grief and inconsolable trauma. Russell decides to pack up the Manhattan apartment, including little Kathy’s red rubber ball, and moves to Seattle (Canada) where he has taken a new teaching job. The atmosphere is grim and rainy, cold and alienated as we understand how heartbroken John Russell is. Waking in the middle of the night sobbing, he cannot fathom, living in this world without his beautiful wife and daughter. John needs a large house that is removed from everything so that he may compose without being bothered by neighbors. The realtor Clair Norman (Trish Van Devere- Scott’s wife at the time. This would be their 8th film together) who is an agent for the Historical Preservation Society shows him the old Chessman Park House which has been unoccupied for twelve years.
John is curious about the reasons behind the house being empty for so long, but Claire being fairly new to the society can’t give him an answer, except that the society hasn’t tried to find a new tenant for the house. Curiouser and curiouser. She also explains that there had once been plans to renovate the house and turn it into a museum. She thinks the house would be a perfect place for John to compose because of its sizable music room. So John moves in and begins teaching at the university, his classes become a big hit, with students accepting the SRO conditions.
As John gets settled in, he is invited to a cocktail party/fundraiser for the Historical Society where he sees Claire again, also meeting Mrs. Norman her mother played by Madeleine Sherwood. Senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas) who is on the board and one of the Historical Society’s biggest donors is making a speech…
At six a.am. Russell is aroused from bed by a loud pounding noise echoing through the house, reminiscent of the sonic assault that Clair Bloom and Julie Harris experienced in The Haunting 1963. It is one of the first moments that clue us in that something is wrong with the house. John assumes it’s the old pipes and so forgets about the incident.
John has a quartet of students over to work on a chamber piece. After they leave, he hears what sounds like dripping water, or someone taking a bath. The kitchen sink tap is running, so he shuts it off, but he can still hear running water from somewhere in the house. He follows the noise up to the 3rd floor. In a truly frightening moment. In the bathroom, he sees a tub filled with water and the faucet still running. As he shuts off the water, he sees for a brief second the face of a little boy peering up at him from under the water… It is still one of THE most frightening scenes that I can recall.
John sits at the piano working on a beautifully simple melody that he is recording on his reel-to-reel tape recorder. One of the keys is sticking, and with John not being able to find the rest of his new melody yet, stops playing.
The handyman Mr. Tuttle (C.M. Gamble) comes in to tell John that he’s got a replacement water heater for the one that’s been banging on the walls with cannon balls, John leaves the piano and sees to the job. the lone key that would not depress while John was playing intones as if an unseen finger has pressed it. This eerie moment is the second cue that John is not alone in the house
Claire comments while John is listening back to his composition that it sounds like a lullaby. She also finds the little rubber ball that was Kathy’s. A token of her John chooses to keep as a reminder of his little girl. Claire realizes that this has hit him hard, and so invites him to come horseback riding with her since it’s a lovely day.
John has flashback nightmares of the day his wife and daughter were killed. He wakes up sobbing. But what is peculiar is that it is once again at 6 am and the eerie pounding is reverberating through the house once more. Mr. Tuttle is once again called in to look the boiler over again, it’s most likely trapped air in the pipes. Tuttle tells John, “A furnace is like anything else. It’s got habits. It’s an old house. It makes noises.”
John is now drawn into the mystery of the house, the noises, and the vision of the little boy. He visits the Historical Society in order to find out if there have been accounts of ghostly sightings with previous owners. Clair chalks up John’s anxiety to the trauma he’s been through losing his family believing it to be all in his head. But Miss Huxley (Ruth Springford) one of the eldest Society members pulls John to the side and lays it on the line. He should never have been allowed to rent that house, and that Claire had business circumventing the Society’s rules. “That house is not fit to live in. No one has been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people. “Huxley just confirms John’s suspicions that there has been something tragic connected to the house and it is indeed haunted.
There is a scene afterward where John is leaving the Chessman Park house and a tiny stained glass window blows out from the inside leaving the shards on the ground in front of him. Something is definitely trying to get his attention and hold it. So he goes back inside back up to the third floor and opens a door that at first seems to be merely a linen closet.
But he discovers that the shelves are covering up a hidden bedroom. The ungodly pounding begins once again while John hammers at the lock until it breaks, Pushing his weight against the door, he cannot open it. Once John gives up, the door creaks open on its own leading into a darkness that exudes a fowl shadowy heaviness.
He walks up a decrepit cobwebbed staircase that leads to a time-forgotten dust-covered attic room. There he sees an old-fashioned wooden wheelchair small enough to be a child’s. The wheelchair seems to embody a kind of foreboding terror. Why?
Aside from the fact that everything in this child’s attic room seems petrified, the wheelchair acts as a symbol of a child who might have suffered in that house. For whatever primal spark the chair ignites in us fear chills. John finds a child’s desk with a notebook dated January 1909, which has the initials C.S.B. There is also a music box, that when opened mysteriously plays the exact melody John has been wrestling with at the piano. Like an old tune, he’s heard before but can’t remember the rest of the notes. He has been directed to this room, by the pounding, the window pane shattering, the vision of the little boy in the bathtub, and from the beginning the melody that underscores Johns’s consciousness. All trying to lead him to a dark secret that needs to get out and be exposed to the light of day.
John plays the music box lullaby for Claire swearing he had never heard the melody before in his life then he proceeds to show her his reel-to-reel recording of the song he thought he was composing. The two are identical… it is a poignantly creepy moment, as it somehow binds John to the house in a way that feels precious and imminent- showing how the house is influencing him in much the way certain events controlled Eleanor (Julie Harris) in The Haunting.
While the coincidence isn’t necessarily frightening… All the while it gives me the ‘pip and the whim whams’ ( heard David McCallum use that line in an episode of Marcus Welby. Been waiting to find a place to use it…)
Claire has researched the house back in 1920 but can find no record of anything significant happening that would make sense of the experiences John is having. He begins to realize that the house isn’t trying to drive people out, more importantly, something or someone is trying to reach out for help.
John shows Claire the attic room. Then the two go to the Historical Society to look up any records of the immense yet lonely house. They find out that the last people who occupied the house left there after only two years. back in 1967. That’s when the Society took control of the old Chessman Park House with a grant bestowed by the Carmichael Foundation representing Senator Carmichael ( Melvyn Douglas) Oddly, there are no files for the house prior to 1920, they are missing! So John and Claire ask Miss Huxley about the records of who lived there around 1909. She tells them that a man named Bernard lived there with his son and daughter but sold the house a year later after a terrible tragedy.
Once John and Claire go through library newspaper records they find a story about a Dr. Walter Bernard, whose seven-year-old daughter Cora died from injuries sustained by being hit by a coal cart. Could the initials C.S.B. stand for Cora Bernard? John and Claire then go to the family cemetery to visit the graves of Cora, her brother, and her parents. John wonders if Cora is reaching out to him because he lost his own daughter and she sees him as a kindred spirit. Claire encourages John to leave the house no matter what the reason. That his suffering is linked to the house now.
John reminisces about his lost wife and daughter by looking at old photographs. Suddenly the pounding begins again. When he goes to investigate, he sees Kathy’s little red rubber ball, bouncing down the long staircase, thump thump thump thump. This moment is yet again, one of THE most frighteningly memorable scenes in classical horror history. On the outward level because it is inexplicable, yet it is also heartbreaking because it tears at the wound John is already bleeding from about losing his little girl. Terrifying and sad is a potent combination and makes for a superior ghost story.
John takes the little ball and drives to a nearby bridge and throws the tiny object into the water below. But… when he returns home, the little red ball which is now wet from the river, bounces down the long staircase yet again!!! The scene just amplifies the shock from the prior scene and does so in a way that isn’t cliché.
The wonderful character actor Barry Morse plays a parapsychologist from the university who sets up a séance with mediums Leah and Albert Harmon (Helen Burns & Eric Christmas) Once at the house, they already sense a presence there, which leads Leah who is psychic up toward the creepy attic room.
They begin to hold the séance John, Claire and her mother and the Harmons. Leah Harmon begins to ask questions of the spirits. She begins doing automatic writing by scribbling on a piece of paper, hoping that messages will appear through the written scrawlings. “The spirit is that of a child not at peace.”
But it is not Clara who had been killed by the coal cart. It is that of a young boy named Joseph. who died in that house and is begging John to help him. Leah keeps repeating the question, “Did you die in this house? Did you die in this house, how did you die?
Leah is in a deep trance, asking the little boy how he died with no audible answer. The camera swings around the house leading from the third floor down the staircase following the invisible presence as it moves toward the gathering. It’s an effective use of camerawork as what is unseen to us is made quite palpable. A glass and a few other trigger objects such as the tin tube that are on the table, fly into the air across the room and shatters to pieces.
Once everyone leaves, John listens back to his reel-to-reel tape recording of the séance and begins to hear the faintest voice of a child answering Leah’s questions. Words are imprinted on tape like -‘ranch’ ’Sacred heart” ‘well’ ‘Can’t walk’ and “medal.” John psychically connects with past events, he sees the vision of the boy and how he came to an end in the house. A little boy is being drowned in his bathtub by his father in that attic room. The music box is playing the song until he succumbs and the box is turned over. The source of the pounding is now represented by the boy’s little fists pounding against the tub as he struggles against drowning. The last words John hears on the tape recording is “My name is Joseph Carmichael.”
Claire listens to the tape and cries. She recognizes Sacred Heart as an Orphanage that used to operate in the area. Claire is frozen in terror, as she looks upstairs. When John goes to look, we see the child’s wheelchair at the top of the stairs. Yet another chilling moment well paced and placed.
The secretive and nefarious Miss Huxley fills Senator Carmichael in on John and Claire’s nosing around the house’s past. He’s afraid they will find out that he was born in the old Chessman Park house in 1900, his mother dying during childbirth.
There is a great mystery, tragedy, and evil deeds surrounding the Senator, the little ghost child Joseph. If I give away too much of it, it would spoil the story and ultimately the climax.
Without giving away too much, another frightening sub-plot is when John and Claire track down the ranch house belonging to Mrs. Grey (Frances Hyland) whose daughter had frightening visions that same night as the séance.
She dreamt of an impish boy, almost wicked in his appearance as he tried to reach up through the floorboards and stare at her.
Mrs. Grey worried about her daughter Linda’s night terrors. She starts sleeping in her mother’s room, so she allows John and Claire to dig up the bedroom floor, which sits atop an old well. A few nights later, Linda in a somnambulist state wanders into her bedroom and sees the image of the little boy floating under the water staring at her. The Changeling continues to employ moments that are starkly frightening. John digs up the floor down to the bottom of the well, where he not only finds a little boy’s medal that comes up from the dirt like a flower shoot popping out of the mud. John also finds the bones of a child.
John and Claire call the police but only give them limited information about how they knew to look under the floorboards of Mrs. Grey’s house, and they have no suspicions as to the identity of the skeleton.
John Colicos plays Captain DeWitt a friend of Senator Carmichael who is dauntless in his investigation to get to the truth behind John and Claire’s meddling and what the connection between the skeleton in the well, an old medal, and Senator Carmichael who thinks they are trying to blackmail him.
I’ll leave the rest of this phenomenal ghost story/murder mystery for those who haven’t seen it yet. But perhaps I’ll add just this last bit of shock treatment to entice those who aren’t faint of heart…
written by Don Sumner for the section on The Changeling (1980)in Hidden Horror edited by Aaron Christensen and William Lustig.
“It is interesting that The Changeling should be a Hidden Horror rather than a recognized household classic. The film swept the Canadian Genie Awards, winning Best Picture, Actor, Actress and several technical awards, and returned fair U.S. box office receipts $12 million against it’s approximately $600K CAN production budget. Still, it under-performed when compared to other 1970s Canadian horror efforts and remains lesser known. than its brethren to this day… For example, that same year’s Prom Night had the benefit of rising scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis while David Cronenberg’s Scanners featured a game-changing head explosion. “
As far as I’m concerned The Changeling will forever remain one of the most captivating cinematic ghost stories that has retained it’s haunting quality after all these years.
This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying ‘It’s been a ball’
The Writer/Director who brought us the body as ‘Other.’
Frank, this is a simple question that I’ve been very curious about for a long time, what is truly at the root of your choosing the name Belial for your most iconic monstrous personification of body horror in your classic film Basket Case from 1982. What tripped the wires in your head to name Duane Bradley’s brother in a wicker basket – Belial ?
Is it founded in the Hebrew proverb adam beli-yaal meaning ‘a worthless man’, because Belial was discarded by the doctors and his father as a non entity with no legitimatized form, also the name is based in Jewish and Christian texts referring to a demon?
Though Belial was more a product of physiological anomaly, rather than spawn from hell nor mutant. You can’t blame a guy for trying to get a little nookie…
He’s almost analogous to the mythic Blemmyae who’s heads were in their chests.
Or were you inspired by John Milton’s Paradise Lost…? Was he, yet a metaphor for the insatiable vice of desire?
John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I
BELIAL came last, than whom a Spirit more lewd
Fell not from Heaven, or more gross to love
Vice for it self: To him no Temple stood
Or Altar smoak’d; yet who more oft then hee
In Temples and at Altars, when the Priest
Turns Atheist, as did ELY’S Sons, who fill’d
With lust and violence the house of God.
In Courts and Palaces he also Reigns
And in luxurious Cities, where the noyse
Of riot ascends above their loftiest Towers,
And injury and outrage: And when Night
Darkens the Streets, then wander forth the Sons
Of BELIAL, flown with insolence and wine.
Witness the Streets of SODOM, and that night
In GIBEAH, when hospitable Dores
Yielded their Matrons to prevent worse rape.
FRANK HENENLOTTER’S ANSWER-
That’s an easy one. The father, appalled by the creature and full of hatred after his wife died giving birth, named him after the devil. Or one of Satan’s demons. I’ve heard Belial used as a synonym for Satan, and also as one of the many fallen angels. Either or, doesn’t matter to me. And I didn’t want something too obvious. I mean, calling him Beelzebub would’ve just been silly. Also, way back when, I looked up Belial in some reference book and it said the name translated as “ungodly.” Which certainly fit the look of the creature. More than that, however, I like the SOUND of the name. If you didn’t know the Biblical reference, the name sounds rather friendly: “Hi, Mr. Bradley! Can Belial come out and play today?” And though grotesque, I’ve always thought Belial looked friendly. At least when his mouth is closed.
Writer/ Director/ Historian/ Film Preservationist Frank Henenlotter is a New Yorker like me. He spent his youth absorbing the low-budget exploitation gems that were offered for those of us who wanted something beyond the mainstream. He frequented the soiled seated grindhouse theaters on 42nd Street, now over run with the dis-associative glitz of Disney. 42nd Street used to showcase the wonderful underbelly of cinema, the cheap and psychotronic films that created a whole new landscape to wander around, while the artistic self is just beginning to emerge and the hormones are raging. So Frank Henenlotter grabbed some 8mm film and went off to find himself.
In 1972 his 16mm B&W short called Slash of the Knife played at the same 42nd Street midnight show with John Water’sPink Flamingos 1972.
Henenlotter had a brief sojourn in advertising as a graphic designer and commercial artist before he immersed himself in his fantastical film career, known for his outrageously unconventional, outré quirky,darkly humorous, seamy atmospheres, and literally bloody good fun with his off center story lines.
It’s what make his films so unique. I discovered him in 1982 when I went to my local video store looking for something different to watch and stumbled upon a peculiar and intriguing VHS cover calledBasket Case. So I rented it and went home ready to invest myself in the emergence of the 80s horror genre. Of course I purchase my own copy and still have the original VHS treasure.
I had been weened on Universal classic horrors, Creature Features, Fright Night on WOR Channel 9, campy sci-fi gems of the 50s with giant bugs and shrinking men, mad scientists, Boris and Bela, and then the 70s came and the cinematic sky darkened, the atmosphere closed inward with a collection of starkly creepy low budget films that left my imagination and my tender psyche altered.
But here it was the early 80s and I wanted to embrace the new horrors. So when I sat quietly in my room and witnessed something so creative, so brutally funny and honest in it’s inventiveness, that I fell in love. Call it sleazy, call it gory, splatter, scuzzy, violent, tasteless, grotesque, excessively tacky, twisted in it’s vision, genres are so inter- textually linked that labeling them at this point is futile. Ultimately Henenlotter’s work has a splendidly unsettling lacquer and spirit.
What I experienced was a modern day fairytale about two outsiders. Conjoined Siamese Twin brothers Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and Belial Bradley who take up residence in room number 7 at a seedy 42nd Street Hotel in NYC. Like the pathos evoked from Frankenstein’s monster and his ‘otherness’ The Siamese Twins, whose at times tumultuous brotherly bond set them off on a mission to punish the hack doctors who surgically annihilated their physical bond. The film made me laugh, shiver, empathize and adore that little guy in the wicker basket named Belial. Who wasn’t a demon or devil or mutant, just a little guy with authentic separation anxiety.
The film co-starred Terri Susan Smithas Sharon, Beverly Bonneras Casey, Robert Vogel as the Hotel Manager and Diane Browne, Lloyd Pace and Bill Freeman as Doctors-Judith Kutter, Harold Needleman and Julius Lifflander. Ruth Neuman plays the boys’ aunt. Richard Pierce plays their father, their mother having died in child birth.
The low key cinematography was done by Bruce Torbet, who also worked on Brain Damage. Frank Henenlotter was responsible for the film editing himself. Editing is key. And the very special Makeup department staff was John Caglione Jr, Kevin Haney, and Ugis Nigals as special makeup effects artists, Ken Clark did hair and make up.
Quote from Basket Case (1982)
Aunt: [Reading to young Duane and Belial] “Art thou afraid? No monster, not I. Be not afraid, for the isle is full of sights, sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will humm about mine ears. And sometimes voices, that if I then had waked after long sleep would let me sleep again. And then in dreaming, the clouds we thought would open and show riches ready to drop upon me, that when I waked, I cried to dream again…”
It’s no wonder the film has attained such cult status. I wound up renting Brain Damage which was released in 1988. Again the premise was so unique and freaky that it made me a fan of Frank Henenlotter for life. Brain Damage I think is the more queasy, darker and provocatively satirical film with it’s skid row orientation, but I’ll always love best, the gory fable that is Basket Case.
Brain Damage, again working almost as a modern fairytale is an allegory about addiction. With it’s young protagonist who becomes the host to an arcane and shiftily phallic parasite that feeds on human brains.
Frank went on to release Frankenhooker in 1990‘A terrifying tale of sluts and bolts’, and a two sequels to Basket Case, the last being 1992’s Basket Case 3: The Progeny. This last film revolves around Belial’s romance with female freak Eve, and the Bradley boys taking a trip to Georgia in the company of other freaks and freaks rights activist Granny Ruth (jazz nightclub singer Annie Ross) to seek the help of kindly doctor Uncle Hal (Dan Biggers) who assists with Eve’s pregnancy.
In addition to his writing and directing, Henenlotter’s been a fierce advocate and film preservationist, the force behind the rescuing and re-issuing of obscure vintage 60s and 70s horror, softcore and exploitation film relics from VHS and DVD through the fabulously valuable Something Weird Video. He also has added his witty commentary to several of the releases for the company. Henenlotter was featured in the documentary film Herschell Gordon Lewis – The Godfather of Gore and narrated the film on the 2010 FanTasia. In issue #304 of Fangoria Magazine Frank and comic artist Joshua Emerick started a Basket Case comic strip which offers a three panel piece in each issue.
[on being labeled a horror film director] –
“I never felt that I made “horror films.” I always felt that I made exploitation films. Exploitation films have an attitude more than anything else — an attitude that you don’t find with mainstream Hollywood productions. They’re a little ruder, a little raunchier, they deal with material people don’t usually touch on, whether it’s sex or drugs or rock and roll.” – Frank Henenlotter
“I think eccentrically and I’m a strange little person.” –Frank Henenlotter
From VideoHounds Cult Flicks and Trash Picks -edited by Carol Schwartz on Page 234The Hound Salutes Frank Henenlotter-
“Since then, Frank Henenlotter has come to be know mainly as a film historian and curator of sorts- but as you may expect, he’s done it in a rather odd fashion. Henenlotter was an expert on cult flicks and trash pick long before books were being written about them. He was rightfully chosen as the premiere interview presented in the landmark volume Incredibly Strange Films, despite the fact that he’d only made one official feature at the time, base solely on the depth of his knowledge. During the 1990s he began helping Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video unearth and release dozens of mind -bending exploitation films-many of them thought long lost-for a series that became known as “Frank Henenlotter’s Sexy Shockers from the Vault” Thanks to preservationists Frank and Mike generations to come will be able to enjoy vintage sleaze like Monster of Camp Sunshine, Bloody Pit of Horror, The Curious Dr. Hump and Olga’s House of Shame. In addition, Henenlotter has brought some interesting new films by young directors to the label”. – Brian Thomas
Frank Henenlotter is beloved by his fans, gracious, accessible, funny, engaged, playful and thought provokingly outrageous. And thanks to his preservation of these lost cult films, I’ve gotten to see Aroused 1966, and Rent A Girl, Satan in High Heels (1962) and so much more!
I still wish he should commission Think Geek to make a Belial plushy. If they don’t I’m just going have to run myself over to Michael’s craft store and design my own friggin puppet already… I think Belial is cute as hell. So many people agree it would be a great iconic novelty.
In closing, special thanks to you Frank. You’re a lovely, eccentrically personable guy-It’s been so wonderful to hear your thoughts on Belial’s inception. I’m with you. I never thought he looked like a monster, even with his mouth open. That’s the point right… the way we ‘otherize’ those who are different. Grotesque is in the eye of the beholder. Look how pin heads are all the rage again since American Horror StoryAsylum so successfully paid it’s endearing and intensely nuanced homage to Schlitze from Tod Browning’sFreaks(1932)
A Special Happy Valentine’s Day To Frank Henenlotter, to Belial, to brother & sisterhood and to all of you genre fans, freaks and all of us ‘others’- Love Joey (Your MonsterGirl)
You know, men aren’t the only ones that know how to use a syringe…turn some dials, flip some switches, crank the whatsit, and raise up the thingamabob…extend the oscillator and tweak the Mezzershmitzchen levels!
Women play with Ape Men, they build men, they like maggots, make deadly nerve gas and even perform reconstructive surgery on their own faces!