Sure as his name is Boris Karloff… the legend endures: My Chat with Sara Karloff

Last October I had the incredible opportunity to reconnect with Sara Karloff at the Chiller Theater Convention here in New Jersey. It’s really hard to put into words the feeling you get when you’re actually talking to a gracious, elegant, kind, regal and lovely woman who happens to be the daughter of the man you’ve worshiped since a young child.

I met Sara the year before at the same nostalgic celebration of classic, cult film and retro television royalty (The Chiller Theatre Convention) and she invited me to sit with her and talk for a while. At the time, fans were buzzing around trying to get autographs and buying memorabilia with images of her father’s influential work in horror pictures, or should I say ‘terror’ pictures, as Boris would refer to those kinds of narratives in film.

Boris Karloff will forever be remembered for bringing Mary Shelley’s existential monster to life, embodied with pathos and empathy. Karloff is the infinite soul of the monster. His character was my introduction to horror films and to a whole new world where I experienced a sense of belonging. Meeting Sara was the closest I could ever get to my hero Boris Karloff. I truly never imagined I would have the honor of connecting in this way, with the great man who changed my perceptions by opening up my heart to love the mysteries of life and the thrill of being both scared and delighted.

So there I sat with this striking, dignified woman who shared and shares her life with my idol, Boris Karloff, who appear in over 200 films and television programs during his legendary career. He will always be the never-ending expression of a genre that refuses– like Frankenstein’s monster– to die. Part of Karloff’s great legacy is how he brought us all together and gave horror fans a hero.

During the reign of Universal’s claim to what would become the most famous monsters in cinematic history, Karloff elevated the studio’s output with his limitless beauty by interpreting the genre through great instinct and intellect, not just in James Whale’s tragic monster in Frankenstein 1931 but as Imhotep in The Mummy 1932.

A few of my favorite Boris Karloff films are three of Val Lewton’s psychological metaphors of fear where he showed the range of his acting skills. The masterpieces Bedlam, Isle of the Dead, and The Body Snatcher were sparked ‘alive’ by his gentle soul and his ability to dive into authentically sinister roles manifesting truly dark, menacing fiends and yet it was the exact opposite of who he was in real life, a fine English gentleman who possessed grace and kindness.

Boris as Cabman John Gray in Val Lewton’s The Body Snatcher (1945) directed by Robert Wise

Boris as General Nikolas Pherides in Val Lewton/Mark Robson’s Isle of the Dead (1945)

Some of my favorite performances are the set of three films, The Black Cat 1934, The Raven 1935 and The Invisible Ray 1936, all co-starring Bela Lugosi. These pictures too, showcased Karloff’s ability to elicit chills on a wholly deeper level possessing a true passion and understanding for creating thoughtful scary stories. He could be imposing as the crazed Morgan in The Old Dark House 1932, playing twin brothers good & evil in The Black Room 1935, the tragic pianist framed for murder in The Walking Dead 1936. And I adore his more sympathetic and benevolent characters as well — Before I hang 1940, The Devil Commands 1941, Corridors of Blood 1958, and The Haunted Strangler 1958.

Boris in James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932)

Boris and Bela in Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934)

Boris and Bela in The Raven (1935)

Boris Karloff as John Ellman in Michael Curtiz’s The Walking Dead (1936)

Boris as Dr. Janos Rukh in Lambert Hillyer’s The Invisible Ray (1946)

Boris as Dr. Julian Blair in The Devil Commands (1945) directed by Edward Dmytryk

Boris as Dr. Bolton in Corridors of Blood (1958)

I’ve enjoyed his films since I was a girl, and I continually watch everything in his long body of work, as I never tire of seeing his incredible talent, his serious portrayals and his wonderful light that shines through every performance. He has many layers to his persona, but his class, kindness, and thoughtful embrace of the work that are ever present. Boris has the unparalleled ability to Immortalize the sinister only to be counterbalanced by his divine power in other roles, to draw out our sympathy. He will always be the eternal paradoxical face of terror and gentility.

Sara and I had the most warm and welcoming conversation over the course of that day, and I had the chance to tell her about my deep and abiding affection for her dad. I was in a sparkling daze, because I felt like I was talking to her father as well, and I believe she enjoyed spending time with me too. Sara Karloff is so gracious and delightful about her devotion to her father’s fan’s.

One little part of our exchange at Chiller…

I told her, “He elevated each film to a higher level because of the quality of his acting, the dimension to his emotional output, his body language and that exquisite voice. A soft and dream like tone that is both calming and poetic.

His legacy is that he brought honor to the genre of horror. He contributed to the world an incredible body of work, and he will be remembered so dearly by so many of his. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I wished he had been my grandfather.“ She replied, “He would have like that, he would have been my grandfather.” The words shot through me with warmth and the joy of awaking from a wonderful dream. Because she meant it.

I told her, “He exuded such a gentility, that even with his most brutal characterizations in film, you always knew it was the actor of the man. And quite the grand actor he was. I wanted to mention, how much his voice is so unique. He has a depth, and a pathos that no other actor possesses.”

She replied, “You are correct about his voice. It was remarkable. It not only was his British accent, but the way he could soothe you or scare you with his voice. He was indeed a fine actor and a wonderful human being.”

We had a longer conversation that day, laughing and talking about contributions he made to dramatic television performances aside from the collection of well-remembered films, from silents to drama, his films were not exclusive to the horror genre. Talking about Boris makes me dewy and teary eyed, explaining what I think about his great body of work and the legacy he left us as one of the most memorable cultural icons.

Even though he is the recognized face of ‘horror’, early on Boris Karloff acted in many different films with varying scenarios and narratives that weren’t connected to the classical horror genre. James Whale’s Frankenstein for Universal was Boris Karloff’s 81st picture. He had done theatre and dramatic films, like Howard Hawks’ The Criminal Code 1930 where his brilliant performance as Galloway had a particularly restrained hostility. As neither a monster or bad guy, he created a figure of dark and shadowy apprehension.

He also appeared in the ultra violent Scarface 1932  for Howard Hawks. Aside from being the host of CBS’s Thriller anthology series, where he opened up each episode with his own ominous epilogues for Thriller with his cheeky sense of humor, “Sure as my name is Boris Karloff — this is a thriller!”

Boris’ droll epilogue to Thriller episode Roses Last Summer starring Mary Astor

My most favorite performances were his collaborations with Val Lewton. They are psychological in tone and gave Karloff the highly layered characterizations that allowed him to reveal his dynamic versatility surpassing his monster image in the Universal cycle of horror films. Lewton gave Karloff a place to flex his subtlety of the human psyche and how we all struggle with light and darkness of the soul and he captured that nuance brilliantly. While Universal excelled by manifesting corporeal monsters, Val Lewton played on the monsters of the mind. Here Boris was able to convey these darker complex personalities with depth. Lewton used elements of dark and light within us all, and Boris Karloff was a master at dancing between the shadows of Val Lewton’s complex vision.

And that is what he managed to portray within Jack Pierce’s make up for Frankenstein’s monster. Beneath the fierce snarling innocent that rose from death and was born into a cruel world, judged by his ugliness and his otherness, Karloff imbued the monster with a sadness that evoked pity. He could transmit that to us, through his eyes and his thoughtful movements.

Since the last time we spoke, Sara and I have maintained a connection and I had the great privilege of continuing our conversation where I got to discuss her iconic father a bit more. If COVID-19 hadn’t thrown the world into chaos and changed how we now interact with each other, this month would have been another wonderful celebration- spending the day together regaling Boris Karloff’s career and the man himself.

Sara: Hello

Jo: Hello, Sara?

Sara: Uh-huh

Jo: Hi, it’s Jo Gabriel. How are you feeling?

Sara: I’m better, thank you. I’m still recovering but I’m better.

Jo: Yes, you sound a little bit better.

Sara: Yes, I am. I’m listening to your CD.

Jo: You are! And?

Sara: I am enjoying it immensely!

Jo: Oh, that’s good! I wanted you to like it.

Sara: Oh, it’s marvelous.

Jo: Oh, good!

Sara: It’s so relaxing and it’s so autumnal (I never can say that word). And it’s just like walking through the woods and it’s like listening to a brook babble. It’s just wonderful.

Jo: Are you feeling up to doing a little talking about your Dad?

Sara: Sure, I’d be glad to.

Jo: Ok, wonderful, because as I said, I’m going to start delving into his career and really doing a very extensive feature on him on my website. And in order to do that it’s going to take some time and some research and I really want to do a good job.

Sara: Oh, I’m sure you will.

Jo: Thank you. It’s a labor of love and I think it’s about time that I do it. And now that we have this connection I thought it would be good to include a little conversation with you about a few things I am curious about.

Sara: Ok, that’s fine.

Jo: So, you know, you and I when we were sitting and talking at Chiller, we talked a little bit about how your father loved working with Val Lewton.

Sara: Yes, indeed, he did.

Jo: Yes, Lewton’s work is very visual like poetry and I think a lot of the films showcase the depth of your dad’s versatility as an actor. His performances in those particular films were extraordinary. Do you want to tell me a little bit again about how he felt working with Lewton?

Sara: Well, I think I can only say what I’ve read and heard but my father said that working with Val Lewton and his films saved his soul. You know, he had made so many – well he made 3 Frankenstein films and then by the time he made the Val Lewton films the quality of the films being offered had really diminished. And he said that working with Val Lewton was such a joy. It was such a pleasure and such a joy because he and Lewton got along so beautifully. They were both well-educated and well-read men. And they enjoyed one another’s company. And those scripts were well written and well directed and well shot and well lit. And they were in black and white and they were suspenseful. And he and Val became good friends and my father really enjoyed doing those high-quality films after some of the ones he’d been doing. And they were well-received by the public. They’ve stood the test of time. My father got to certainly prove his acting skills. He enjoyed working with the other actors, working with good scripts. It just was a joy for my father to make those 3 films.

Jo: Yes I was going to ask about that. I know director Mark Robson and director Robert Wise were both really accomplished directors, but is there one particular film out of the three? I mean, I love Bedlam and thought that was extraordinary. But is there one that he talked about more?

Sara: You know my father didn’t talk about his work and he didn’t bring it home. But I do know that he was really very very pleased to have that opportunity. But I never heard him state a preference amongst those 3 films.

Jo: Well that’s interesting and I’m not surprised that Val Lewton was one of his favorites, favorite body of work to put his stamp on. So the other thing I was wondering – I have something written here. It says “Boris Karloff’s gentility and grace show through the monster, the Frankenstein’s monster. Which is partly why he’s so transcendent in that role, because of his embodiment of the monster. And I really think he, the monster, was beloved by your father and beloved by the fans. And he knew when to leave that character with dignity. Can you tell me a bit about his feeling about that role?

Sara: Well, you know, that role made such a pivotal difference in his life both personally and professionally. And he was forever grateful for that difference. And he felt a certain debt of gratitude to that role. He often would in tongue-and-cheek refer to the monster as his best friend. He did say the monster was the best friend any actor could ever have because it made such a huge difference in his life. But, it was his decision to stop playing that role after those 3 films because he felt that the storyline had been developed as far as it could or should be before it fell apart and before the creature became the brunt of bad scripts and bad jokes, as it did. And he just didn’t want to be a part of that because he did feel a debt of gratitude. My father was a very gracious human being. A very gentlemanly human being. He was an English gentleman with a very self-effacing sense of humor. He understood and portrayed the creature with a sense of pathos and elicited empathetic reactions from those viewers at that time. And he said that children got it. They understood the creature was the victim and not the perpetrator, and any acts of violence were reactions more than proactive. So, that’s the way he played it and that’s the way the audience perceived it.

Jo: Yes, and that was my introduction into horror films was feeling that sympathy towards his characterization and feeling empathy and feeling like I was on his side. And he was provoked and he didn’t do anything wrong, he didn’t even ask to be here. And just feeling that kind of camaraderie with the “other.” He evoked that in children and I think we’re all grateful to him for that.

Sara: Well, I think that is the reaction that his roles elicited and that was how he intended to play it. And I think that there were times when James Whale wanted a bit harsher performance and my father stuck to his guns.

Jo: Good, good! And he was right. It was good instincts.

Sara: I think it is proven to be so in cinema history.

Jo: Absolutely. He’s one of the most iconic figures. I think that’s why it’s so eternal and it’s because he was definitely right. And I think that anybody else who might’ve played Frankenstein’s monster, it would have been a who different ballgame.

Sara: Well, it would’ve been a different portrayal. And who knows if it would’ve been better. It would have been different. That’s all one can say.

Jo: Ehhh, I don’t know if it would’ve been better but I’m partial [laughs].

Sara: Well, you know it would’ve been different. [laughs] That’s all we can bet on.

Jo: [laughs] Yes, that’s for sure. Another thing that we talked about was his involvement with the television anthology show Thriller that he hosted and starred in 6 episodes. And he seemed to love his work on that. And his little introductions like little soliloquies, were so wonderful. Can we talk a little about that?

Sara: Oh, sure! He loved doing that show and he was proud of it. And again they were some of the best writers and actors and directors of the time involved with that show. And it was a fine, fine production. I mean, people like Ida Lupino, I mean you can look at the jackets for each show and recognize the names today…

Jo: Yes, John Brahm. They had a host of good writers and actors, and the character actors were wonderful.

Sara: They were indeed. And then as you said, my father’s introduction to each was a bit, not really tongue-in-cheek, but he had a good time doing them.

Jo: And you could see that he really did. And you could see in the beginning they were trying to figure out where they wanted the show to go. Whether it was going to be more crime thriller like Alfred Hitchcock or if it should be more supernatural. And I think once your father took over and started doing the hosting I think it really went in the right direction.

Sara: Well it did indeed. And it captured a large piece of the audience, the viewing audience. And gave Hitch a run for his money.

Jo: Oh yes, I know. I had heard there was something where Hitchcock extended his show to an hour to try to compete with Thriller because it was doing these 50 minute episodes that were like little movies. So I heard there was some kind of, I guess, competition between the two. But I thought Thriller was very unique and very self contained and had it’s own thing going for it. You know I was reading that Boris worked on something like 80 pictures and stage performances before he landed the role of Frankenstein’s monster.

Sara: It was his 81st film.

Jo: Yes, it was his 81st film. That’s incredible. And I was reading in particular that he did a lot of work with director Howard Hawks where he worked on The Criminal Code and Scarface. I know he didn’t bring home his work or talk about it, but it is fascinating that there’s this whole other aspect of him before he played the monster.

Sara: He did a lot of silents, and a lot of serials. He referred to himself as having been an extra 3rd from the left in the 4th row. He was in the business 10 years and nobody knew it. And 20 years, 10 years in British Columbia in theatre and then 10 years in Hollywood. And as he said Frankenstein was his 81st film and nobody saw the first 80.

Jo: [laughs] Right, right. But now they do. Now they go and they revisit a lot of his work, I know I do.

Sara: And they’re trying to redo some of his silents and put them back together.

Jo: Oh, that’s wonderful.

Sara: Yes, that’ll be fun if they’re able to do that.

Jo: Yes, that would be wonderful. Last year, the year before this one, when we first met, we had a good laugh about the picture The Raven which your father costarred in with Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone and how they used to play practical jokes on one another. Do you remember the story you told? They were playing tricks on the set and I just don’t remember quite all of it…

Sara: Well one of the… I can’t remember which of the two films it was, Basil was put in a vat and they thrown all sorts of awful things into that vat of water like cigarette butts and I don’t remember what else. And then they sat one it when he was in there and wouldn’t let him out.

Jo: [laughs] Oh my goodness! So were they always doing things like that?

Sara: Well that’s one example, I don’t know all of them. A lot of them are lost to history. And I know that Peter Lorre had a tendency to not learn his lines and adlibbed which drove my father crazy.

Jo: Oh, really? Oh that’s interesting [laughs].

Sara: And Vincent was much better at handling that than my father. My father was a stickler for himself learning lines and speaking on cue. And Peter, I guess, drove everybody crazy, including Roger Corman, because he didn’t learn his lines and he adlibbed a lot.

Jo: Wow, right. You’d think that Roger Corman would encourage adlibbing because he would just go for broke. He’d do anything on the set. And I could see Vincent Price being… he was a bit of a jokester too, so…

Sara: Oh yes, all of them where. All of them had a wonderful sense of humor.
Jo: Yeah, they must’ve had a fantastic time together as an ensemble of actors with each bringing their own thing to the table.

Sara: Oh, indeed and they had such a good time working together because they’d know each other all for years and respected one another professionally, and liked each other personally. And having a chance to spoof their own boogeyman images in these films was a great treat.

Jo: Yes, definitely. Well I have just one more question for you. Beyond being one of the most beloved icons, he’s definitely the finest caliber of actor. And I think he transcends the ideology of the horror genre.

Sara: Oh yeah, he did some comedy and he guest stared on an enormous number of television shows of the day. He did some drama. He did a Joseph Conrad with Roddy McDowell and he did all sorts of things.

Jo: Oh yes, I’ve seen that performance and it was actually an extraordinary performance. Well, one of the things that strikes me about him is that he gives a very emotional and thoughtful contemplation on the human condition. He seems to tap into—in the most subtle ways—people’s personalities and the inner machinations of people in his performances. And that’s probably why the Val Lewton films were so important to him because they were very psychological and suggestive. But this is the question, and I don’t know if you can answer it. What do you think your father would want his greatest legacy to be?

Sara: Oh, I can’t really answer that. I think that he was a man of integrity and kindness.

Jo: And that’s it. That’s his legacy. Because that’s what seems to remain. I always hear how gentle he was and how gracious he was with the people he worked with. Well, then, putting it this way his legacy definitely lives on through that and through his timeless work. And you travel all over as a curator of his memory. Are there things you hear quite often or most commonly about your father’s legacy? Is there one common thing that comes up when you speak to his fans about him?

Sara: Ah, that he was so different than the roles he played. That he was a man of great kindness and gentleness. And how different that was from his roles. And that he had a sense of humor.

Jo: Well, that’s what strikes me about him. And I say this to you honestly that when I see him, whenever he comes on the screen, I cry because I feel his gentleness coming through. No matter what he’s playing. He could be playing the most nefarious sinister character and yet I know that he’s Boris Karloff and I know he’s acting and I get into the film. But it makes me cry because I feel like there is such a greatness there. And it comes through. And I mean it that I really wished he was my grandfather [laughs].

Sara: [laughs] Well, he was a lovely man, he really was. He was a lovely human being.

Jo: I wish I could have met him. I mean I feel close to him in a way because we’re talking and I see his legacy lives through you. And you keep that alive…

Sara: Well, his fans keep it alive. His fans keep his legacy alive. For which I am extremely grateful.,

Jo: Yes, but you keep it alive too. You do a great job of reminding us that he gave us you and…

Sara: And he gave us his body of work.

Jo: Yes, he did that too. And I will always love him…

Sara: Well, that’s wonderful to hear certainly as his daughter.

Jo: I really want to thank you for spending this time talking with me about him. And I think that the fans are absolutely going to love it. And you have my music to keep you company.

Sara: I do indeed. Thank you so much. It’s just beautiful, I’m enjoying it immensely.

Jo: Thank you, I love playing piano. That’s one of my great passions.

Sara: Well, you can tell from your music.

Jo: Thank you.

Sara: How long have you been playing?

Jo: Since I was 8 years old. For many years I taught myself how to play.

Sara: Did you really?

Jo: Yes, I was going to be trained as a classical pianist and I did have recommendations to Juilliard. But I chose to play my own music and not go the classical route. And I’m happy for that because I play my own work. And I don’t think not training hurt me any…

Sara: Oh heavens, no. It’s beautiful.

Jo: Yes, I wanted to find my own way. And I’m very proud of it.

Sara: Well, I can see why, thank you for sharing it with me.

Jo: Thanks for letting me share it with you. Use it for your healing and I’ll be in touch with you. I’ll send you the finished piece but we’ll speak before that.

Sara: That’s great, thank you so very very much.

Jo: You’re welcome and thank you for spending time.

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying Grandpa Boris’ Feature tribute is coming your way!

Chapter 1: Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

“I wish to join the Legion of Decency, which condemns vile and unwholesome moving pictures. I unite with all who protest against them as a grave menace to youth, to home life, to country and to religion. I condemn absolutely those salacious motion pictures which, with other degrading agencies, are corrupting public morals and promoting a sex mania in our land… Considering these evils, I hereby promise to remain away from all motion pictures except those which do not offend decency and Christian morality.”

—Catholic Legion of Decency pledge

And now here at The Last Drive In, the subject of “The Third Sex in the Shadows of Cinema.”

Clifton Webb as Hardy Cathcart in The Dark Corner 1946 directed by Henry Hathaway. Waldo Lydecker: “I’m not kind, I’m vicious. It’s the secret of my charm.”

“Oh, it’s sad, believe me, Missy, when you’re born to be a sissy without the vim and voive…” -Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Growing up as a gay woman, though gender and sexuality are fluid, there was not a well spring of characters in film or television that I could grab onto as a buoy for my burgeoning self awareness – I was ‘different than the others.’ Though there are the obvious icons who became heroes and heroines to many of us because of their peerless image. And while films could not overtly represent ‘queerness’ directly, they could posit mixed messages and a whole generation of us could understand the subtext, unsheltered from an array of homophobic language.

We still had Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo, who gave us immortal androgyny– there was no one who could shatter the silence, and ceremoniously ring the bells out in the open. There were no ‘obvious’ gay role models. We had to create that worship ourselves through iconography and a variety of sublime, convention-smashing signals. For those of us who knew how to look in the dark corners, right under your nose, corners, or should I say coded corners.

There’s one thing I want to be very clear about. I am not asserting that the actors themselves were gay in their personal lives, but that what was coded was merely the particular characters they played in the film. Or that the narrative might seemingly be ‘queer’. Which I will go on to explain. Particular actors or directors private lives are not up for conversation, unless they were clearly open about themselves and their influences on their artistic work.

For instance, I am not saying that I suspect Doris Day is a lesbian, just that the character of Calamity Jane is throwing out messages for those of us ‘in the life,’ to feel a special affinity. Using comforting symbology gives us a place in the universe, especially when the story is presented by the stars we most admire. Not all coded gay characters are portrayed by gay actors, and not all coded comedy, jokes or situations denotes that the character themselves are gay, just that the humor is cannily made to be queer in the moment. It can be an off-the-center remark that speeds by almost unnoticed except for the sake of the hurried laugh or two. Sometimes it’s all subjective and at times it’s pretty obvious which way the deliberate wind blows.

(Stacey) categorizes her range of material into several kinds of identification broadly dividing them into two categories. “Cinematic identifcatory fantasies” —devotion, worship transcendence, inspiration are proper to the act of spectatorship and appear to be based primarily on difference from the star ideal and “extra-cinematic identifactory practices” —imitation and consumption —attempt to close the gap between subject and star even as they take place outside cinema.

The worship of Doris Day is not surprising, she was one of the top box office draws of the 1950s. Day performs a cross-dressing role in the biopic of a legendary lesbian. Indeed, Day and Calamity Jane in particular in which the star sings both “Secret Love” and a duet with another, feminine character called “ a woman’s touch” are regularly cited by lesbians as crucial cinematic texts. (Jackie Stacey’s Star Gazing)

There was a period when Peter Lorre, George Sanders (and his equally effete brother Tom Conway), Anne Revere, Judith Anderson, and Agnes Moorehead played movie villains, fanatics or oddballs. Each of these actors suggested queerness in their androgynous personas. Each became iconic character actors of classic cinema.

Characters like Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius, Clifton Webb’s Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944), Judith Anderson in Rebecca (1940), or Gloria Holden as Countess Zaleska in Dracula’s Daughter (1936), stood out to us, though they were despicable and unwelcoming characters. Although I see Gloria Holden’s character as strangely sympathetic. Usually queerness that was veiled behind a coded role, exhibited a disturbed or desperate personality. They might be a person who is ambiguous in their maleness or femininity. And at times, they were full on, deadly.

However, there was so little for those of us who are part of the ‘hidden audience’, we needed to catch sight of something familiar. That meant grabbing onto what ever little crumbs were thrown to us. So whether those characters were inherently insensate evil had nothing to do with our empathy or revulsion. The real power lay in the ability to identify with the essence of ‘otherness’ and more to do with familiarity and belonging. I longed to find that ‘something‘ that signified a relative identification of their sexuality. To see that subtle finger motioning, come closer, you’re in the right place kiddo, you’re one of us. Andrea Weiss writes: “[In the 1930s] for a people who were striving toward self-knowledge, Hollywood stars became important models in the foundation of gay identity.”

The films I have uncovered throughout my endeavor to write this immense blog post, either commonly fall within the queer canon or can be liberally dissected and/or challenged. We can read into any film if we so choose. I am merely putting it out to you that these films do seem to meet the criteria for coded queer paradigms. I also began this piece thinking that in order to understand the evolution of coded characters, you first have to look at the origin of the queer presence in silent and Pre-Code films, and how the Code influenced and constructed the way being queer had to be hidden in plain sight.

I echo Susie Bright, in her feelings that we (the queer community) would hang on anything close to a hint of gayness, and it would change the whole world of the motion picture, just to see that famously analyzed moment when Marlene Dietrich plants that sensuous kiss on a woman’s lips in Josef von Sternberg’s Morocco 1930. Or the first cinematic lesbian romance when vamp Louise Brooks slinks on the dance floor with her androgynous female admirer Alice Roberts as Countess Anna Geschwitz in director GW Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929).

The boldly androgynous Marlene showcased another masculine appearance when she ascends the throne at the end of The Scarlet Empress (1934).

Greta Garbo portrays the Swedish monarch who declares herself not an “old maid” but “a bachelor” in Queen Christina (1933)

Because of the social relationship between non-normative gender and sexuality and the symbology of fashion and the role of work, women only had to dress like their male counterparts and be employed in a man’s job to seem queer. In the movie directed by George Cukor, What Price Hollywood? (1932), the very drunk filmmaker notices a woman having lunch at a fashionable Hollywood restaurant. The drunks inquiry goes like this, “I beg your pardon, old man… who’s you tailor?

In Victor Fleming’s Red Dust (1932), Jean Harlow is adorable as Vantine as she she handles the heat, and hands out the jibes.

Other members of the lesbian parade inhabit spaces that, as with the men, connote queerness. Consider the lesbian couples in the Greenwich Village dive in Call Her Savage (1932), seated alongside male same-sex couples while pansy entertainers, dressed as maids, perform for their amusement. Mannishly garbed women barflies, sometimes wielding cigars, often pal around with men, or sometimes confuse and emasculate them, in Lawyer Man (1932), Grand Slam (1933), and Blood Money (1933). (Lugowski)

Blood Money (1933) Rowland Brown’s atmospheric jaunt that embraces the gritty underworld, includes racy subjects like sadomasochism, empowered women, and fluid sexuality. Kathlyn Williams credited as the “Nightclub Woman Wearing Monocle”, is a beautiful androgynous off-cut in the film. In one notable scene George Bancroft as Bill Bailey enters Ruby Darling’s (Judith Anderson) nightclub and comes across a young woman at the bar, dressed in a man’s tuxedo and sporting a monocle. Baily offers her a cigar. She smells it and nonchalantly mocks the husky guy, “Why, you big sissy!” and hands it back to him. The nature of this adventurous passage into a subversive world, it generated a lot of sexual tension. With Blood Money, the subject of homosexuality is a non issue, belonging to a subculture that invites those who are outsiders.

In Blood Money and Call Her Savage, 
homosexuality is just another pocket of an underworld that exists outside the law. When George Bancroft warns a timid taxi driver not to betray his destination to the police, he threatens, “Lissen fag” -and is rebuked by Judith Anderson for “scaring the little fellow half to death.”

Keeping along the lines of the connection between women working at men’s jobs, within a wide range of social status, you can see this example in Heat Lightning (1934) starring interestingly handsome actress Aline MacMahon when she, covered in grease, working on cars in her desert garage/gas station wearing a filthy jump suit and hair wrapped in a bandana. She sheds her desire to be desired by men, and exudes a solitary quality, as if she has given up on, performing femininity for men. She seems independent and strong and in her ‘male’ attire, you can see her projecting a queer attitude, though the film deposits a past love interest with bad boy Preston Foster as a distraction. The attraction is doomed from the start.

Olga (MacMahon) balances the duality of loving Preston Foster, donning her ‘womanly’ dress when she decides to submit to a heterosexual liaison which goes wrong. Then she shuns the idea of her femininity, re-asserting her hyper-masculine posture in greasy mechanics overalls and once again hiding her ravenous hair under her bandana, to protect herself from performing as a straight woman again.

To be clear it is not my belief that she’s not “all woman,” even using these props to represent masculinity. She is not truly changing her gender but for the purposes of the narrative, in the movie’s time period, it suggests a superficial interpretation of gender for our spectatorship.

In Jame’s Whales’ The Kiss before the Mirror (1933) there is sophisticated female lawyer Hilda Frey (Jean Dixon) who is stern and stiff-backed, is dressed in severe clothing, a “new kind of woman” which allows for an undercurrent of lesbianism.

In The Kiss before the Mirror (1933), Nancy Carroll as Maria Held is a career-oriented lawyer, who wears men’s suits and considers herself a “new woman.” There are tinges of heterosexuality, which serve to shield her character from scrutiny. But, she does appraise heterosexuality in vaguely cynical terms. She talks to another woman about a case where the husband has murdered his wife, “At least no one will ever murder me.” She also responds to , “What are you? A lawyer, or a new kind of woman?” by saying, “By day, I’m a lawyer. At night, well, you might be surprised.” Either it went undetected by the SRC (Studio Relations Committee) or they felt that the connotations of her lesbianism were ambiguous enough to slip by an unsophisticated audience.

We learn to watch out for signs that there are ‘others’ out there on the screen – those we can relate to. A young person exposed to old films, as I grew older and dove head first into classic film with a critical eye, I could read those sign posts and cues that led me to become consciously aware of the invisible affinity laid out in plain site for me, and those of us who knew the secret whispers behind the storyline.

Women wearing men’s apparel, like Dietrich’s wonderful drag performance, kissing a women in Morocco 1930. Or Clifton Webb’s often effete superiority as with his character, Waldo Lydecker in Otto Preminger’s Laura 1944, or his role as Hardy Cathcart’s with a pathological objectification of his wife Mari’s aesthetic beauty in Henry Hathaway’s The Dark Corner. Greta Garbo in Queen Christina 1933 “I shall die a bachelor!” Gloria Holden’s vampiric desire to embrace the necks of beautiful young female models in Dracula’s Daughter 1936.

Nan Gray and Gloria Holden in Lambert Hillyer’s Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

The Production Code Administration (PCA) saw the obvious connection between vampirism and lesbian sexual desire in Dracula’s Daughter (1936) They only gave two warnings concerning the ‘queerness’ of Countess Zaleska and her thirst for young female victims. Universal, even hyped the idea that women were not safe from unnatural desire using this publicity catch phrase, “Save the women of London from Dracula’s Daughter!”

Throughout these films coded lesbian characters, scattered their rose petals of longing for their dead lost loves or the nymphs just out of their reach. There was the tragedy within the tragedy of the horror story! As long as these queer women monsters also became victims, the PCA could negotiate it’s release, being comfortable with the narrative in that form.

The most overt representation of lesbians was her stylized look, a severely tailored suit, monocle, slicked back or bobbed short hair, or stuanch, with a strait backed, severely repressive temperament. The coded dyke is typically less seen on screen than the pansy who enjoyed more of a character actors trademark in popular films. However, it could be said that covert lesbians are more subtle in their presence than their queer male counterpart – the sissy.

Major female stars could be seen as having indirect lesbian undertones, though their ambiguous sexuality might be camouflaged by her independent streak, her strong spirit or shaded by her exotic, mysterious nature. Thus we find some of our lesbian icons like Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, and Barbara Stanwyck. Lesbian vibes, can often be signaled by a playful tomboyishness. And what we have is a diametrically opposed result, the pansy is perceived as failed manhood, but conversely the lesbian performing manhood is perceived as a threat.

And if they weren’t tomboys they could be man-less shrews, castrating veragos or in need of a man, who can make her come to her senses, give up her career and her disruptive way of life. The threat of strong women is still equal to the threat. The gay man elicits a laugh.

Thus, discourses about queer sexuality in this period are never purely homophobic against men. To a sizable extent, they have their basis in sexism against women, for it is the power of femininity, the “feminization” of 1930s culture mentioned, and the threat of working women “wearing the pants” that are being policed.

The metaphorical nature of the pants-wearing, money-earning woman attaining independence from men connoted lesbianism as a complete break from the interwoven financial and sexual economies of patriarchy. Thus, if “clothes make the man,” the wearing of pants in and of itself suggested a link to lesbianism that films of the time simultaneously offered as spectacle and punishment. (Lugowski)

In particular classical horror and science fiction films spoke to the sense of “otherness” installed in my psyche. That does not mean that I viewed things through a dark lens, but classical horror and science fiction are effusive metaphors and inherently philosophical. When some of us, like Frankenstein’s monster were figuratively chased with flaming torches, horror and sci-fi movies afforded us shelter from the angry mob. Their use of mythic undertones and symbolic context provided for so many of us, psychic release and catharsis.

It’s also why I love and identify with the monster in classical horror films. The iconic or tragically fated monster has always been portrayed as the ‘other’. Gay people understand what it means to be an outsider. And filmmakers encoded that sui generis into our beloved classical horror genre. It worked like waving that meaningful finger at the audience, saying, you found us, we’re here.

WHAT IS A CODED GAY CHARACTER?

CODED–verb [with object] 1 convert (the words of a message) into a particular code in order to convey a secret meaning: express the meaning of (a statement or communication) in an indirect or euphemistic way: (as adjective coded)

films allude to homosexual meanings in more of less coded ways. From today’s perspective, one can view these films as excellent examples of the very discourse of the closet-they employ connotative and symbolic meanings to signify homosexuality for those ‘in the know’ while ostensibly being about something else. Such connotative meanings were the way homosexuality could be signified under the dictates of the Hollywood Production Code.

Although it was continually challenged throughout the 1950s (by films such as The Moon is Blue 1953 and Baby Doll 1956) The Production Code still exerted a profound effect on the content on Hollywood film, especially in relations to homosexual themes. The Production Code Administration (PCA) edited queer backstories and subtexts of the film adaptations of Tennessee William’s plays A Street Car Named Desire (1951) , Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Vincente Minnelli’s film of the Broadway hit Tea and Sympathy… (Jeffrey Sconce)

 

Continue reading “Chapter 1: Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

Prolific Composer/Songwriter Billy Goldenberg dies at 84 years old–August 3rd, 2020

Emmy Winning Billy Goldenberg, we say goodbye…

One of the last great composers has left the stage. There are over 192 credits listed for composer, Billy Goldenberg, the songwriter, music director and conductor. Goldenberg added his dramatic, evocative, dreamy and groovy style to so many popular films, tv movies and television themes, you might not have known, was his.

He is an Emmy Award winning composer who garnered over 25 Emmy nominations, and created some of the most haunting melodies, trippy electronics, and catchy themes than are unequaled. 

From Steven Spielberg’s 1971 “Duel”; his combination of electronic and orchestral music for Rod Serling’s 1969 “Night Gallery” pilot; and his grandly romantic 1971,  “Ransom for a Dead Man,” the second “Columbo” pilot that sold the famous Peter Falk series. -Variety

I had the incredible opportunity to see Billy Goldenberg live in New York, while he went on the road with Bea Arthur, playing piano for her one-woman show “…And Then There’s Bea” in the early 2000s.

It was a an incredibly memorable experience to be right up front, near the stage, with two of my most beloved talents. Bea Arthur crooned sentimental tunes, accompanied on piano by the marvelously intuitive Billy Goldenberg. Their synchronicity, their chemistry created a magical evening of music, nostalgia and a deep friendship between these two geniuses.

Billy Goldenberg will be honored in a documentary that is close to completion by writer, director, film producer and friend, Gary Gerani, who has been putting together the tribute, with tireless effort, respect, awe and love for his friend and one, who is one of the greatest composers/musician and mensch.

2020 has seen many, many losses, Olivia de Havilland, Shirley Knight and now Billy Goldenberg. It’s a piece of sweet memories starting to fade away from this side of the veil, but we have to hold on to their presence, because remembering them and their legacy is vital to keeping them with us, and keeping their legacy alive.

Billy Goldenberg scored many popular feature films, for instance: Play it Again, Sam and Up the Sandbox 1972, The Last of Sheila 1973, Busting 1974, Queen of the Stardust Ballroom 1975, and The Domino Principle 1977.

The Domino Principle 1977

The Last of Sheila 1973

Just a few television creditsSteven Spielberg’s directorial debut with -Duel 1971 tv movie, Alias Smith and Jones tv series 1971-73, Reflections of Murder 1974 tv movie, Smile, Jenny You’re Dead 1974 pilot for Harry O, The Legend of Lizzie Borden 1975 tv movie, One of my Wives is Missing 1976 tv movie, Helter Skelter 1976 mini-series

He was responsible for 7 episodes of Columbo with Peter Falk including some of my favorites, Ransom for a Dead Man, Murder by the Book, Suitable for Framing, Lady in Waiting, A Stitch in Crime and A Friend in Deed.

Billy Goldenberg set the trend of staging musical scores that were bathed in supernatural, intriguing  and enigmatic atmosphere. He was a weaver of spellbinding dreams!

Here’s just a snippet of his work in television-

Ransom for a Dead Man

Prescription Murder

Murder by the Book

A Stitch in Time

The Name of the Game 1968-71

Fear No Evil 1969 tv movie

Night Gallery 1969 tv pilot

The Neon Ceiling tv movie with Lee Grant

The Sixth Sense 1972 tv series

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark 1973 tv movie

Circle of Fear tv series 1972-73

Ghost Story/Circle of Fear 1972

Harry O tv series 1974-76

Kojak tv series 1973-77

Your EverLovin’ Joey, with music in my heart says, Farewell Billy…

 

The Intriguing Everyman: Cult Star Stuart Whitman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpts from an Interview From Shock Cinema Magazine by Anthony Petkovich

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart Whitman and Rory Calhoun in Night of the Lepus

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

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

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

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

Stuart Whitman in The Sands of the Kalahari (1965)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart Whitman in Rio Conchos (1964)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolyn Jones and Stuart Whitman in Johnny Trouble (1957)

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

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

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

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

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

excerpts from an Interview From Shock Cinema Magazine by Anthony Petkovich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publicity Still from The Longest Day (1962)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Beneath the Sea (1971) made for tv movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMDB Trivia:

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

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

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

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

Filmography

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

Piper Laurie: The Girl Who Ate Flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piper Laurie in The Mississippi Gambler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie in Has Anybody Seen My Gal

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

Victor Mature and Piper Laurie in Dangerous Mission (1954)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STAGE WORK:

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

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

CLASSIC FILM & TV CAFE 2014 by Rick

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

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

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

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

New York Times review by Jack Gould-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enduring Grace: Barbara Rush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbara Rush in When Worlds Collide (1951)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbara Rush in The Black Shield of Falworth (1955)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bigger Than Life (1956)

Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (1957)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BARBARA RUSH ACTRESS 01 May 1980 CTC4589 Allstar/Cinetext/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “Enduring Grace: Barbara Rush”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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