It’s that marvelous time again, when one of the most enjoyable Blogathons has come around, it’s the 7th Annual What A Character Blogathon. And the reason I adore it so much –it’s purpose is essential in paying tribute to the memorable character actors who have often added the sparkle to the cinematic sky of movie stars– they touch our lives so profoundly because of their unique contribution as the characters they bring to life!
I want to thank Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club, and Kellee Pratt of Outspoken & Freckled. for giving me the opportunity to once again show my sincerest love for the actors & actresses who are so discernible within the art of film, television and theatre. It is their unforgettable performances that make it a much richer, a more compelling experience — as they are as much the stars who inhabit the dream of art because of their singular personalities.
I’ve been participating now for 7 years, and it’s always a great expedition to delve deeper into the career’s of the people who I’ve found the most enigmatic, extraordinary and uniquely engaging. This year I’ve been excited to pay special attention to two remarkable women, Eileen Heckartand Louise Latham.
For years I have always thought of these two women together, as one of those odd associations–yet unexplicable– that makes you put certain faces or impressions together in your head. Another example of two actors that often seem to merge in that vast noggin of mine — I’m always thinking of E.G.Marshall and Eli Wallach together. Heck, maybe, next year I’ll do the same double feature for them. As I adore them both!
It struck me that I should pair Eileen and Louise as a kind of sisterhood, for both of their uniquely extraordinary styles stand out and somehow stand together for me. And an interesting confluence happened as I went on my more intensive journey of discovering of these two fine actresses. I found out that Eileen Heckart and Louise Latham appeared together in a rare episode of The Doctors and The Nurses an hour long television medical drama that ran from 1962-1965. In a macabre tale reminiscent of a Robert Bloch story — the episode is called Night of the Witch, about a woman (Eileen Heckart) who is tortured by the loss of her 6 year old daughter, and seeks her own brand of retribution from the medical staff she believes is responsible. The hospital receptionist who is cold and unfeeling is portrayed by none other than Louise Latham. The fascination I’ve had to see this performance led me to hunt down a rare copy and now I own it and have put together a sample of it here for you. It’s a rather long clip of the episode in honor of them appearing together. It showcases both their talents. I hope you enjoy the excerpt And I am praying that the television series itself will someday find a full release as it is worthy of being re-visited for it’s groundbreaking content, incredible cast and performances.
As in past What A Character Blogathons, Burgess Meredith, Ruth Gordon, Agnes Moorehead, Martin Balsam, and Jeanette Nolan–each of these actors– had a way of elevating every single project they were involved in, making it just that much more fascinating, delightful, heart wrenching and unquestionably memorable because of their performance–no matter how small their presence, they changed the landscape and impacted the narrative.
It is my absolute honor this year to feature two of the most remarkable women whose legacy still lives on.
It’s that wonderful time of the year when we all get to celebrate those unsung actors with loads of character, thanks to Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula’s Cinema & Club& Outspoken and Freckled who are hosting the Fifth Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2016… This will be my fourth time contributing to this fantastic event, having covered Jeanette Nolan, Burgess Meredithand last year’s Agnes Moorehead. As many of you know, it’s often the actors on the periphery of some of our most favorite films that fill out the landscape with their extraordinary presence, a presence that becomes not only essential to the story, but at times become as memorable perhaps even larger than life when compared with the central stars themselves. I’m thrilled to be joining in the fun once again and am sure that it’s going to be just as memorable this year as ever before!
The ASTONISHING… RUTH GORDON!
“The earth is my body; my head is in the stars.”-Ruth Gordon as Maude
Maude: “A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. *Reach* out. Take a *chance*. Get *hurt* even. But play as well as you can.”
I’ve been waiting to write about my love of Ruth Gordon for quite some time, and felt that this would be the best way to get off the pot and just start singing those praises for this remarkable lady of theatre, film and television. Ruth Gordon in so many ways channeled her true personality through the character of Maude, in life –she too always projected a spirit that played as well as she could…
“Choose a color, you’re on your own, don’t be helpless.” –Ruth Gordon -An Open Book
There’s a vast dimension and range to Ruth Gordon’s work both her screenwriting and her acting, the effects leave a glowing trail like a shooting star. With her quirky wisdom and sassy vivacity that plucks at your hearth, Ruth Gordon stands out in a meadow of daisies she is emblazoned as bright and bold as the only sunflower in the field. No one, just no one has ever been nor will ever be like this incredible personality.
For a woman who is impish in stature she emanates a tremendous presence, a smile like the Mona Lisa, sporting a unique and stylish way she expresses herself with a poetic & fable-like language. Ruth Gordon is a character who dances to a different rhythm — how she sees herself and how she performs *life* is uniquely mesmerizing as it is burgeoning with all the colors of the universe.
Ruth Gordon is a dramaturgical pixie, with a curious hitch in her git along… an impish dame who rouses and fortifies each role she inhabits with a playful, mischievous and almost esoteric brand of articulation.
In a field of different daisies Ruth Gordon is that sunflower that Maude soliloquies poetically to Harold —
Maude-“I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They’re so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?”
Harold-“I don’t know. One of these, maybe.”
Maude-“Why do you say that?”
Harold-“Because they’re all alike.”
Maude-“Ooooh, but they’re *not*. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All *kinds* of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow come from people who are *this”, (pointing to a daisy) yet allow themselves to be treated as *that*.” (she gestures to a field of daisies)
From the Arlene Francis 1983 interview with Ruth Gordon– actress, screenwriter and playwright…
Ruth Gordon 1975 photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt
Ruth Gordon never wanted to be told how to write nor be instructed on how to act… from her autobiography An Open Book- “I don’t like to be told how to act either. When I’m left alone thoughts come… ‘Don’t try to think’ said our New England philosopher, Emerson, leave yourself open to thought. If you find out stuff for yourself, you get to know what you believe; what you like, how to live, how to have a good time. It’s important to have a good time.”
from Hugh Downs Interview
“ I did grow up to have character. And I’m always doing some damn thing that uh I don’t wanna do but I know it’s right to do. And I finally thought of something in my next book and I’m gonna have it in there and it’s a very important thing to remember. Just because a thing is hard to do doesn’t make it any good. You tackle something and you work at it and slave at it and say now I’m gonna do this I’m gonna do it and when you’ve done it better think it over and see if it was worth it… some easy things like falling off a log and stuff those easy things probably just as good but a New Englander has to do it the hard way. “
Arlene Francis “You once said ‘never face facts’ how can you avoid it?”
Ruth Gordon-“Oh my god look, we’re not facing facts now surely cause I might dry up and not have a thing to say in the world and then where would you be, you know… […] it would be stupid there are enough hazards in the world, I’m 85 now and I’m at my very best peak of my looks which might be an interesting thing to anybody because you figure, 18 why wouldn’t I be better looking than now?… “Don’t lets anyone tell their symptoms, it would be the most boring thing, even though everybody has so many… so the ‘don’t face your facts’ is if you face what’s the matter with you, you know we’d open a window and say goodbye everybody like tinker bell and take off and hope you could fly (she laughs) Don’t face the facts you know, I was 18 years old I was going on the stage didn’t know anybody in New York and I didn’t know anybody on the stage, and I wasn’t beautiful and I wasn’t tall which everybody was in those days, and uh I didn’t have any money and how was I gonna do this, so if I didn’t ‘not face those facts’ I’d say too bad she wanted to be an actress…”
Ruth Gordon, who always dreamed of becoming a ‘film’ star, beside an astonishing stage presence talks about winning awards for her work–“ The main award that I really value is the award I give myself and people say Oh you don’t know when you’re good you know, the audience knows, people know but you don’t know Well that’s stupid I know when I’m good for myself You might not like it, they might not like it, the public might not like it, but I know that wonderful performance that doesn’t happen too often, when anticipation and realization come together because that night when it’s all perfect and is great and you know … that you’ve just taken off… that’s my award…”
Ruth Gordon is bold and vibrant and an actress who never shied away from taking the quirkiest and eccentric roles. From irreverent Ma in Every Which Way But Loose (1978) the poignant Becky Rosen in Boardwalk (1979) to the perspicacious Maude in Harold and Maude (1971) George Segal’s tushy biting batty mother-Mrs. Hocheiser in Where’s Poppa? (1970) and of course the queen of campy kitschy New York City’s enigmatic coven hostess with the mostest– Minnie Castavet in Rosemary’s Baby (1968) …
Once Ruth Gordon personified the unforgettable Minnie Castavet in “Rosemary’s Baby”in 1968 she manifesting a lasting and unfading, enigmatic character that only Ruth Gordon could infuse with that unforgettable energy.
Minnie is perhaps one of the most vividly colorful film characters with her sly and farcical mispronunciations and a wardrobe that is distinctly tacky. Part cosmopolitan part menacing, no one could have performed Minnie Castavet quite like Ruth Gordon, that next door meddling neighbor who befriends an American housewife, who is secretly waiting to become the godmother to the devil’s unborn son.
Gordon appears as if she was cut from a mold that makes her seem like a rebel to the inner workings of Hollywood. And as extremely unconventional as she can be, there is always a depth and authenticity to the wackiest of characters she’s portraying. From the lyrically loving and life devouring Maude in Hal Ashby’s different style of love story.
“ Well it’s a very good movie, I was absolutely wonderful Collin Higgins wrote a great movie Bud Cort was sensational, Hal Ashby became one of the top directors so how do you account for that, well it just happened. But, you see, some guy in Cambridge Mass. he wrote from the YMCA he wrote me a letter and he said, ‘I’ve seen Harold and Maude’ I don’t know how many times he’d seen it, and he said I’m at a loss to know why it means so much to me and I think about it , I think about it a lot and I finally came to the conclusion that it’s because to get through life you have to have somebody to tell it to’ that’s a very profound remark. I’ve had lovers I’ve have friends I’ve had family and I didn’t exactly tell it to them but Garson Kanin I tell it to him whether it’s bad whether I’m a failure whether I’m going grey. Somebody to tell it to. And it’s a very very necessary part of life. And in Harold & Maude Harold who was a kind of helpless geek with looks riches money everything he had … except knowing how to live. And Maude who didn’t have anything except she knew how to live. And Harold could tell it to her. he could tell it to her. She didn’t always have the answer. But he could pour it out. And so it was wonderful really, just pour it out, I said once even if I’m wrong agree with me because you know to Gar, have somebody you know would stand up for you.”
Ruth and husband Garson Kanin… super writing team!
Bud Cort remained very close friends with Ruth Gordon. Here he is talking about her tremendous influence on This is Your Life television show honoring the extraordinary actress/writer.
Ruth Gordon and Hal Ashby on the set of Harold and Maude 1971
from the Dick Cavett interview from September 19, 1969 expressing how if you had never seen Ruth Gordon on the stage “You would lament that fact… a lady who is one of the incomparable ladies of American Theatre. There have been cults about Ruth Gordon for years and years and years. When great performances on Broadway are discussed, Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie or Mildred Dunnock in Death of a Salesman, or Vivien Leigh or any of the classics are referred to Olivier in Oedipus, Ruth Gordon in *The Matchmaker* is always brought up as one of the masterpieces of all time. And she has been a wondrous presence in the theatre for over 50 years. Splendid comedian and a splendid comic writer.”
Ruth Gordon Jones was born October 30, 1896 in Quincy, Massachusetts. “growing up with the brown taste of poverty in her mouth.” As a child she wrote fan letters to her favorite film stars and received a personal reply from Hazel Dawn. So struck with stage actress Hazel Dawn after seeing her perform in “The Pink Lady” in Boston, Ruth Gordon decided to go into acting. After high school she went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, and was an extra in silent films made in Fort Lee, New Jersey making $5 in 1915. She made her Broadway debut in 1915 as one of the Lost Boys later that year in Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up as Nibs. She garnered a favorable review by Alexander Woolcott, who at the time was an extremely influential theater critic eventually the two became close friends and he her mentor. Gordon was typecast in “beautiful but dumb” roles in the early 20s.
Ruth Gordon began to hone her craft and push the range of her acting ability which she revealed in Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, the restoration comedy The Country Wife in which she appeared at the influential theater–London’s Old Vic. She eventually found her way to Broadway, and landed a role in Henrik Ibsen’s A Dolls House during the 1930s.
Severely bow-legged, in 1920 she spent time in a hospital in Chicago where she had her legs broken and straightened.
Ruth Gordon as Edward G. Robinson’s wife in director William Dieterle’s Dr. Erhlich’s Magic Bullet 1940
Ruth Gordon with the great Greta Garbo in director George Cukor’s Two-Faced Woman 1941.
She was married to actor Gregory Kelly from 1921-1927 when he died of heart disease. In 1929, she had a child (Jones Harris) with Broadway producer Jed Harris. She stared in plays in New York City and London, not doing another film until she played Mary Todd in director John Cromwell’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois 1940, co-starred with Edward G. Robinson in director William Dieterle’s Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet 1940 and appeared as Miss Ellis in director George Cukor’s film starring Greta Garbo film Two-Faced Woman 1941 and co-starred with Humphrey Bogart in Action in the North Atlantic 1942.
Ruth Gordon plays Ann Sheridan’s mother in director Lewis Milestone’s story of a small fishing village in Norway and the resistance to the Nazi occupation, Gordon plays Anna Stensgard the unassuming wife and neurotic mother who lives too much in the past in Edge of Darkness 1943.
In 1942, active on Broadway again, she married writer Garson Kanin and started writing plays. Together with her husband she wrote screenplays for Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy like A Double Life 1947, Adam’s Rib 1949, and Pat and Mike 1952. She also wrote an autobiographical play “Years Ago”, that then became a film directed by the great George Cukor starring Jean Simmons, Spencer Tracy and Teresa Wright in The Actress 1953 about her life growing up and getting into the theatre.
Ruth Gordon and her husband were included in a round up of theatre actors questioned by the House on Un-American Activities in 1947 and flown to Washington for questioning. Nothing came of the investigation.
In the 1960s she returned to Hollywood with roles in films and television adaptations–
The television movie version of Noel Coward’s 1941 play Blithe Spirit—Ruth Gordon manifests the spiritual medium Madame Arcati in the 1966 tv version.
Ruth Gordon as Stella Barnard co-starring with Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld in Lord Love a Duck 1966.
Playing Mrs. Stella Barnard in Lord Love a Duck 1966 The film stars Tuesday Weld as the innocent attention seeking teenager from a broken home who aspires to become loved by everyone, wears 12 colorful cashmere sweaters given to her by friend and mastermind Roddy McDowall (who was 36 at the time playing a teen!) Director George Axelrod’s biting satire that pokes fun at teen beach movies of the 1960s, elitism and the adults that satellite around their machinations …
Stella Bernard: (Ruth Gordon) “You lied to me, Miss Greene. You permitted me to believe your father was dead.”
Barbara Ann: (Tuesday Weld) “Well, they’re divorced.”
Stella Bernard: (Ruth Gordon) “In our family we don’t divorce our men; we *bury* ’em!”
Where’s Poppa? 1970 In director Carl Reiner’s black comedy- Ruth Gordon lets it rip as the irreverent Mama Hocheiser who’s senile antics are driving New York attorney Gordon Hocheiser (George Segal) to the brink. When he finally meets the loving and naive nurse Louise Callan (Trish Van Devere) , worried his mother’s idiosyncrasies will ruin his budding romance, he grasps at any means to finally get rid of her! Ron Leibman is hilarious as brother Sidney!
Inside Daisy Clover 1965, for which Ruth Gordon returning to the screen after almost 20 years -was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe as Supporting Actress… One of my favorite directors Robert Mulligan creates a portrait of a tomboy (Natalie Wood) who dreams of being a singer, lives in a trailer and runs a beach side concession stand where she forges the autographs of Hollywood stars — suddenly discovered Daisy rises to stardom herself, falls in love with Robert Redford, only to turn her back on the viciousness of the business.
Ruth Gordon plays her quirky card playing mother whom she calls ‘Old Chap’ who lives in her own world. Daisy loves her dearly, but the studio heads force her to hide Old Chap/Mrs. Clover in an old age home and tell the public she’s dead in order to project her star image without an eccentric & batty mother in her life. Ruth Gordon once again plays batty to the poignant level of art form.
Inside Daisy Clover co-stars Christopher Plummer, Robert Redford and Roddy McDowall, with a wonderful soundtrack “You’re Gonna Hear From Me” by André Previn and Dory Previn.
Police (Harold Gould)-“You waited seven years to report your husband missing?” Mrs. Clover-‘The Dealer’“I just started missin’ him this morning.”
Natalie Wood grew so fond of Ruth Gordon after working on the film Inside Daisy Clover that she made her the godmother to her daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner
Gordon plays Alice Dimmock involved in a dangerous battle of wits with the menacing Clare Marrable who buries her victims in her lovely rose garden–Geraldine Page hires companions who have a nice savings built up and no relatives to come around looking for them in What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice 1969.
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? 1969 directed by Lee H. Katrin Produced by Robert Aldrich Music by Gerald Fried.
In this taut Grande Dame Guignol horror thriller Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice 1969 Ruth Gordon portrays Alice Dimmock who sets out to uncover the truth behind her companion’s (Mildred Dunnock) disappearance after she takes a job with the austere and cunning Clare Marrable, a prolific serial killer who sows the seeds of her rose garden with her victims.
Director Lee H. Katzin and Bernard Girard’s psychological thriller that positions two powerful actresses in a taut game of cat and mouse…
Geraldine Pages plays the ghastly & audacious serial killer Claire Marrable, whose husband left her penniless. In order to keep living a life of luxury and comfort she begins offing her paid companions who have stashed doe and no family to come looking for them. When Edna Tinsley played by Mildred Dunnock goes missing and becomes part of Mrs Marrable’s wondrous garden of roses, Ruth Gordon pretends to be Page’s companion in order to get to the truth about her missing friend.
Ruth Gordon was amazed at the showing of What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? She figured that by playing the part of a woman in peril at the mercy of the ruthless and calculating psychopath, performed perfectly by Geraldine Page, at the final moment of confrontation her split decision to for self preservation and become a murderer herself or be true to her inherent goodness allowing herself to be a victim. Ruth Gordon believed that it was this defining moment the goodness that ruled Alice’s heart and head would be the most powerful moments in the film. Yet, when the audience responded at this critical scene, to her surprise they screamed out “Kill her, kill her!” The audience had wanted Ruth’s character to live so badly…
from director Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude (1971)
A 79 old woman and a twenty year old lost soul meet at a funeral, and find love and life together in a darkly light comedy. Bud Cort creates an iconic figure of a young privileged young man disillusioned by life, who gets a kick out of antagonizes his priggish mother Mrs. Chasen (Vivian Pickles) with creative faked suicides. Once Harold is exposed to the wisdom and insight that Maude imparts, she manages to open up his heart and teaches him how to reach out and embrace the substance of life’s beauty.
“You know, at one time, I used to break into pet shops to liberate the canaries. But I decided that was an idea way before its time. Zoos are full, prisons are overflowing… oh my, how the world still *dearly* loves a *cage.* “-the inimitable Maude
Harold: “Maude” Maude: “Hmm?”Harold: “Do you pray?” Maude: “Pray? No. I communicate.” Harold: “With God?” Maude: “With *life*”
Every Which Way But Loose 1978
Ruth Gordon plays the impertinently, uninhibited Ma to Clint Eastwood as trucker Philo Beddoe & Orville (Geoffrey Lewis) who travel around the West Coast looking for street style prize- fights. Along for the ride are Beverly D’Angelo as Echo, and evasive love interest Sondra Locke as country singer Lynn Halsey-Taylor. There’s a hilarious assorted misfit motorcycle gang members and Philo’s pet Orangutan Clyde who’s always stealling’s Ma’s Oreo cookies!
Ruth Gordon reprised her role as the cantankerous Ma in Any Which Way You Can 1980.
Ma after Clyde has eaten her bag of Oreos-“Ohh! Stop that, ya goddamn baboon. No respect! No privacy! No nothing!”
co-staring with Lee Strasberg in Boardwalk 1979
Lee Strasberg plays David Rosen and Ruth Gordon portrays wife Becky who own a wonderful little diner, a loving older couple who have lived in their Coney Island jewish neighborhood for 50 years, until a gang moves in and changes the communities quality of life by threatening the local store owners with violence if they don’t pay ‘protection’ money. When David defies them, they burn down the diner and desecrate the synagogue. Janet Leigh also co-stars as Florence Cohen.
Ruth Gordon manifests a marvelously warm and poignant chemistry with master actor/teacher Lee Strasberg.
She personified the unforgettable role as Minnie Castavet in “Rosemary’s Baby”in 1969. Manifesting an unfading, enigmatic character that only Ruth Gordon could perform.
Ruth Gordon started to get more regular film and television roles. Reprising the role of Minnie Castavet in the made for tv fright-flick Look Whats Happened to Rosemary’s Baby (1976) and played the devouring Jewish mother Cecilia Weiss in the television movie The Great Houdini 1976. And the television movie The Prince of Central Park 1977.
Ruth Gordon was cast in the feature film The Big Bus (1976) among a terrific ensemble of actors. She appeared as Arvilla Droll in Scavenger Hunt 1979 and the very touching film about growing up and friendship- My Bodyguard 1980 in -Maxie (1985) Ruth Gordon plays Chris Makepeace’s kindly but rascally grandmother, while he finds a way to school bully Matt Dillon from beating him to a pulp, he finds an outcast that everyone is afraid of to be his bodyguard in Adam Baldwin. The film also co-stars John Houseman.
Ruth Gordon co-stars with Chris Makepeace in 1980’s My Bodyguard
Ruth Gordon co-stars with Glenn Close in Maxie 1985
As the eccentric Marge Savage in the ABC tv Movie of the Week directed by John Badham starring Alan Alda- Isn’t It Shocking (1973) Gordon possessed the seamless ability to oscillate between a delightfully aerated conviviality and acerbic snapdragon capable of delivering the most colorful tongue lashing!
Alda plays a small town sheriff with his quirky secretary/sidekick Blanche (Louise Lasser) who is daunted by a string of mysterious deaths that are plaguing the elderly town folk. Edmund O’Brien plays Justin Oates an odd serial killer who is holding a lifetime grudge against his old friends who humiliated him in high school. Marge was his great love who might have done him wrong! Co-stars Lloyd Nolan, and Will Geer and the county coroner who uncovers the weird details that connect the murders.
Lynn Redgrave stars with Ruth Gordon in the stage production of George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession.
Ruth Gordon was nominated for Broadway’s 1956 Tony Award as Best Dramatic Actress for playing Dolly Levy in Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker.” Ruth Gordon says that Wilder had been a tremendous help and influence to her, having ‘picked him up in front of The Booth Theater’ way back when. She won a Golden Globe award as Best Supporting Actress as Natalie Wood’s mother she calls Old Chap in Inside Daisy Clover, and a much deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Rosemary’s Baby.
She was nominated for a Golden Globe for playing Maude in Harold and Maude in 1971.
In the 1970s and 1980s she played parts in well-known television shows like Kojak as psychic Miss Eudora Temple in Season 2 “I Want to Report a Dream”, Rhoda, and Taxi(which she won an Emmy for.)
and in the superb episode of Columbo as mystery writer Abigail Mitchell one of the most sympathetic murderess’ of the series as she avenges the death of her beloved niece with unrelenting Lt. Columbo dauntlessly nipping at her heels. And though Abigail finds Columbo to be a very kind man, he tells her not to count on that. He must stay true to his calling as a homicide detective though we wish he would just Abigail get away with murder– in “Try and Catch Me.”
Ruth Gordon as mystery writer Abigail Mitchell: I accept all superlatives.
Ruth Gordon also had the distinguished honor of hosting Saturday Night Live in 1977.
Ruth Gordon died of a stroke at 88 in Massachusetts with her husband Garson at her side.
“She had a great gift for living the moment and it kept her ageless.”
— Glenn Close
Ruth Gordon had quite a unique way of expressing herself on stage, screen and in person and as Dick Cavett had said about the great actresses’ ability to always project her incomparable persona, what we get! — “It’s a lesson in something that only Ruth Gordon can teach.” And as she would say, she had “a lot of zip in her doo dah.”
I’ll end by saying this about this astonishingly iconic character whose sagacity and spark will never dim, when asked that particularly interesting question, ‘if you had 3 people you could meet in Heaven who would you choose?’ Ruth Gordon, you would be one of them!- With all my love, MonsterGirl
Aired December 11, 1973 as an ABC Movie of the Week
“Beware the seal of Kah-ub-set, for he who dares to remove it will open the gates of Hell.”
The Cat Creature was directed by horror film icon Curtis Harrington— Night Tide (1961), Queen of Blood (1966), Games (1967), How Awful About Allan (1970) tv movie, What’s the Matter with Helen (1971), Whoever Slew Auntie Roo (1972), The Killing Kind (1973), Killer Bees (1974) tv movie, The Dead Don’t Die (1975) tv movie also directed by Curtis Harrington, Ruby (1977), Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978) tv movie.
The Cat Creaturewas scripted by Robert Bloch based on a story by producers Douglas S. Cramer , Wilfred Lloyd Baumes and writer Bloch himself.
From Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood written by Curtis Harrington -he talks about how different television executives’ mind-set for tele-films are than major motion picture executives.
Director/writer Curtis Harrington master at ‘horror of personality’
“I found out just how different on a television movie called The Cat Creature. The script was written by Robert Bloch, based on an old story he’d published in Weird Tales. In fact, he was one of the horror writers I had discovered in the pages of Weird Tales during my teen years in Beaumont. It was a nice pulpy story about a girl who is the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian cat goddess. In casting the actress to play the modern incarnation of this beautiful goddess, I got my first nasty taste of TV executive thinking. I discovered that this new set of black suits was always very involved in the casting of leading roles in the network TV drama. Unlike movie executives whose primary interest was ‘box office appeal’ they were concerned with something they called TVQ” This meant the ratings the stars other television appearances had received. The connection between a star’s suitability for a role meant absolutely nothing, and this was the case of The Cat Creature… […] I recalled that Egyptian women supposedly used henna to dye their black hair red, so we put a dark red wig on Meredith Baxter, and she agreed to darken her eyes with green contact lenses… […] Bloch had written an important supporting role, the proprietor of a magic shop, for a man. I suggested that he rewrite the role for a woman and that we try to get Gale Sondergaard for the part. Sondergaard was an actress I remembered vividly from my childhood. She had been memorable as the sinister Oriental [sic] woman in The Letter and in the title role of The Spider Woman, a Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes adventure in 1937…
“I had wanted the proprietress of the occult shop to be played as a lesbian to lend a bit of spice to the show. But Standards and Practices , the office of the network devoted to removing any element to a script that might offend Mrs. Grundy, sent a memo after that there must be ‘NO SUGGESTION WHATSOEVER THAT THIS CHARACTER IS A LESBIAN.’ However, my natural propensity toward subversion was given its due when Douglas Cramer allowed me to add a dwarf hooker to a scene in a cheap hotel where Stuart Whitman as the detective interview John Carradine, who plays the hotel clerk. The dwarf lady of the evening is shown seated on the counter in the hotel lobby. Swinging her short legs and batting her eyelashes, she says to Stuart, “How’s tricks, baby!” This was left in, and Cramer was very pleased when the incident was singled out for comment in a New York Times review of the show. It wasn’t the sort of thing they were used to seeing in the bland medium of television.”
An estate appraiser Frank Lucas (Kent Smith) comes to catalogue a private collection of Egyptian relic, the inventory at an estate –among the deceased’s possessions is an Egyptian mummy adorned with splendid regalia –wearing a large amulet around it’s neck and topped the golden head of the cat Goddess Bast.
Just to be clear as a person who worships cats–The story of The Cat Creature is a creation for a horror tele-play that has no foundation in historical fact. Bast was not a murderous cat nor an evil deity. Bast represents protection and is a sacred symbol of that protection toward cats… She is not a monster!
The uniting Egyptian cultures had deities that shared similar roles and usually the same imagery. In Upper Egypt, Sekhmet was the parallel warrior lioness deity. Often similar deities merged into one with the unification, but that did not occur with these deities having such strong roots in their cultures. Instead, these goddesses began to diverge. During the 22nd Dynasty (c. 945–715 BC), Bast had transformed from a lioness warrior deity into a major protector deity represented as a cat. Bastet, the name associated with this later identity, is the name commonly used by scholars today to refer to this deity.
Shortly after Lucas leaves, a thief Joe Sung played by Keye Luke steals the amulet, the mummy disappears setting off a series of uncanny events and several mysterious murders. Frank Lucas is found dead and Lt. Marco (Stuart Whitman) calls in Prof. Roger Edmonds (David Hedison) as an expert to help identify the missing amulet. Joe Sung tries to pawn this ancient amulet at The Sorcerers Shop an occult shop owned and run by Hester Black (Gale Sondergaard). After Black’s young salesgirl is murdered in the same fashion as Frank Lucas, she hires a new girl to work in her shop. Enter, Rena Carter (Meredith Baxter) who gets pulled into the mysterious happenings and begins a romance with Prof. Edmonds.
The strange killings show the victims all baring the marks of a giant cat attack, as if they’ve been clawed to death. Is it the resurrection of the Goddess Bast who is committing these murders?
This ABC Movie of the Week, showcases the actress whose popularity was rising at that time, Meredith Baxter, who plays the mysterious Rena Carter who may be somehow involved in these strange ritual killings. David Hedison plays Prof. Roger Edmonds an archeologist who is called upon by the detective on the case, Lt. Marco (Stuart Whitman) to assist him in solving the murders. Just a note… I am absolutely crazy about Stuart Whitman, down the road I plan on doing a feature on his work –his credits too long to mention, so see the link to IMBd, I also really want to do a feature on the incredibly mesmerizing actress of the 70sBarbara Parkinswho appears in another ABC Movie of the Week Snatched that I’ll be covering in just a bit…
Prof. Roger Edmonds-“Marco is on his way here to arrest you”
Rena Carter “What!”
Prof. Roger Edmonds-“Don’t you see Everything about you adds to Marcos’ suspicious no previous address no social security number A girl who covers her tracks A girl who stops at the shop not by accident but with deliberate purpose. Marcos thinks that you destroyed everyone who stood between you and that amulet.”
Another bonus of this creepy tele-film is that it co-stars the wonderful Gale Sondergaard. as Hester Black the occult shop owner.
In an interview actor David Hedison commented, “All in all, it was a very happy experience. Meredith was a joy to work with, and a fine human being. Stuart Whitman and I talked and laughed a lot about our early contract days at 20th Century Fox in the late 1950s and 1960s. And of course, Gale was a lovely woman and shared so many wonderful memories with me about her early films. And I should add that all the felines behaved beautifully–even in one of the more violent scenes with me at the end of the film. I managed to escape without a scratch!” –“One other memory was of the first screening of the film before it aired. There was a small invited audience at a screening room on the lot. My wife, Bridget, had not read the script or seen any of the shooting, and at one point when the Cat Creature suddenly jumps out to attack, she got such a fright she let out a scream- much to the delight of the producers and director”
From Television Fright Films of the 1970s by David Deal-“here he (Curtis Harrington) successfully recreates the moody thrillers of Val Lewton of the 1940s. Relying on creepy atmosphere and suspense.”
Deal points out one of the prevailing great elements of The Cat Creature, it’s fabulous casting of course Stuart Whitman who is a tremendous actor, his appearances go all the way back to the early uncredited 50s classics like When Worlds Collide (1951) and Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Whitman was nominated for an Academy Award for his startling performance in The Mark 1961, as a tormented man dealing with his repulsive impulse to molest children and his ultimate redemption. It was a risky role, that he inhabited with dignity and pathos. A prolific supportive actor and leading man he appeared in Cimarron Strip tv series from 1967-1968. One of my favorite films of his Shock Treatment (1964) was another powerfully nuanced portrayal of Dale Nelson an actor who is paid to infiltrate a mental hospital to expose a crazy psychiatrist Edwina Beighly played by the silky and sly Lauren Bacall. Stuart Whitman has appeared in stinkers too, like Night of the Lepus (1972) about giant mutant bunnies, eh not so much… in Jonathon Demme’s Crazy Mama 1975with Cloris Leachman, and a very slick Italian cop thriller called Shadows in an Empty Room aka Blazing Magnums (1976). And since we’re celebrating these ‘tele-fright’ films of the 70s let’s just mention his other supporting roles, he plays a psychic looking for a missing husband in Revenge! (1971) with Shelley Winters as a deranged mother who lost her daughter and The Woman Hunter (1972).
David Hedison of course was popular with horror fans for his campy over-the top performance as a altruistic scientist who loses his head over his discovery to transport matter in the fantastical classic Sci-Fi hit, The Fly 1958(which is part of my series to follow Keep Watching the Skies -coming up The Year is 1953) starred in the hit television show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964)
The supporting cameos are such a treat! Seeing Gale Sondergaard who is terrific as the occult shop owner Hester Black who while reading Professor Edmonds his tarot cards gets into a battle of the wills between skepticism and fanaticism. Sondergaard received the first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Anthony Adverse (1936) I adore her as Emily in the Abbott & Costello romantic comedy The Time of Their Lives (1946) even then she was open to the spirit world! Sondergaard was one of the unfortunate actors who were targeted by HUAC, brought before them she refused to testify and was blacklisted from the industry for over 20 years. She returned in 1969, and The Cat Creature was her first ‘tele-fright’ (as writer David Deal puts it) of the 1970s.
The Deputy Coroner (Milton Parsons) looks like a corpse himself, just one of the macabre details that Harrington likes to throw into his ‘horror of personality’ films and teleplays.
The busy working actor Kent Smith has appeared in so many film and television supportive roles. Best known by horror fans for his roles in Val Lewton’s Cat People (1942) and The Curse of the Cat people (1944)
Here he plays Frank Lucas the cat creature’s first victim. Ironic isn’t it! His other tele-frights include director Curtis Harrington’s How Awful About Allan (1970) starring Anthony Perkins, Julie Harris and Joan Hackett. He was also in The Night Stalker (1972) and The Disappearance of Flight 412 (1974). One of my all time favorites, is the lovable, ubiquitous the theatrical acrobat likes of Burgess Meredith who could inhabit the role from vagabond to thespian at times quixotic poetic tongued –the sharp, and saturnine character actor John Carradine who plays the manager of a sleazy hotel clerk. Carradine can make the smallest part enormously unforgettable and has graced many a tele-fright– Crowhaven Farm (1970), The Night Strangler ((1973) and Death at Love House (1976) Next to Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, I have such a sweet tooth for John Carradine and he’s another icon I’d love to feature here at The Last Drive In.
From David Deal’s terrific Television Fright Films of the 1970s a movie of the week companion –“Charlie Chan’s number one son Keye Luke is the amulet thief in his only telefright appearance of the decade but most curious is Peter Lorre Jr. who appears as a dying pawn broker Lorre Jr. was really German born Eugene Weingand a notorious imposter who was once taken to court by Lorre for using his name. Lorre died before his case against Weingand was settled, allwoing the impersonation to continue. Relative newcomer but top billed Meredith Baxter was fresh off the Bridget Loves Bernie sitcom and would soon marry her co-star David Birney, where she would heifeenate her name and has become a fixture to television.”
Composer Leonard Rosenman is responsible for the score, he has won Oscars and Emmys for his compelling music, for instance Fantastic Voyage (1966), A Man Called Horse (1970) Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)Race with the Devil (1975), Bound for Glory (1976) and supplied the poignant music for the dark disturbing psychological mini-series starring Sally Field–Sybil (1976). He also added his music to other tele-fright films such as Vanished (1971) The Phantom of Hollywood (1974) and The Possessed (1977) starring wonderful supporting actress of the 1970s Joan Hackett.
Though I am a huge fan of the directors body of work, I have to look away from Harrington’s predilection to either kill off cats or make them look sinister in his films, so avoid The Killing Kind (1973)with Ann Southern or if you love rabbits lets not forget the poor bunnies in Whats The Matter With Helen (1971).
Also the sound the cat creature makes doesn’t sound anything like a growling menacing cat, it sounds like an old man who smokes too many cigars and needs to spit up his oatmeal and prunes.
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc and screenplay written by writer/director Collin Higgin’s whose credits include the cult film starring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon and one of my personal favorite films–Harold and Maude (1971), he also penned the memorable feminist comedy classic Nine to Five (1980) starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda.
Busy 70s television Canadian born actress –with the girl next door beauty –Belinda J. Montgomery plays Diane Shaw, whose mother has died, leaving her with the revelation that she is actually the daughter of Satan. Diane’s mother Alice Shaw (Diane Ladd) had carnal knowledge with the prince of darkness and Diane is the product of that unholy union. Alice was also friends and worshiped Satan with Lilith who befriends and lures our wayward devil waif into a web of suspense as she spirals toward her fate.
Naturally as the working formula would suggest Diane is then pursued by devil worshipers headed by Lilith Malone played by the grand lady herself, Shelley Winters. Of course there are elements that pay tribute to the far superior classic pre-occupation with devil cults and paranoia in the city Roman Polanski/William Castle’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) brought to life by the stunning performance by Mia Farrow, and the presence of such greats as Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly and Maurice Evans.
Shelley Winters having a Ruth Gordon/Minnie Castavet moment!!!
Feeling trapped by her destiny, she soon meets and falls in love with Steve Stone (another tele-fright favorite-Robert Foxworth). Steve asks Diane to marry him and so life is possibly good again? Well maybe not so much…
Lilith-“Dear, You mustn’t disappoint your mother’s old friends”
Alikhine-“You are your mother’s daughter!”
Lilith- “SHE WAS ONE OF US”
Mrs Stone (Martha Scott) “She got religion, and turned away”
Alikhine-“You are your father’s daughter!”
Diane –“NO! NO!”
Alikhine- “He is the evil one.”
Mrs Stone- “The all seeing… he is Lucifer”
First off, The Devil’s Daughteris still entertaining to watch, I adore Belinda J. Montgomery and I could watch Shelley Winters bring in her mail. She’s been lighting up the screen since she played the neurotic Jewish mother Faye Lapinsky in director Paul Mazursky’s sublime Next Stop Greenwich Village (1976)to watching her as Belle Rosen who swims under treacherous waters in The Poseidon Adventure (1972) , as she envision Ma’ Kate Barker in Roger Corman’s Bloody Mama (1970) or the tragic Helen Hill/Martin in Curtis Harrington’s gruesome horror of personality thriller What’s the Matter with Helen (1971) as the bellicose Mrs. Armstrong in Bernard Gerard’s The Mad Room (1969) as the vengeful and deranged mother in the tele-fright film Revenge! (1971) going back to the luckless love-sick and doomed Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun (1951), as the delightful singer Binky Gay in Phone Call from a Stranger (1952), the sympathetic Terry Stewart in William Castle’s Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949) or the gutsy and classy torch singer –Joy Carroll alongside Frank Sinatra in the dazzling musical noir film Meet Danny Wilson (1951)…! there it is I just adore Shelley Winters!
Belinda J. Montgomery was one of the more prevalent actresses in the 70s teleplays, like Season Hubley who looked fresh scrubbed and awfully pretty but could play it all damaged and less than pure if you know what I mean.
The Devil’s Daughterplays like a dark comedy, with a surprisingly pessimistic or should I say fatalistic ending, not unlike it’s finer forerunner Rosemary’s Baby.
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc had started out his career working in television and has directed many popular contemporary television series link to IMBd to see his complete credits, in the late 60s and 1970s he worked on Rod Serling’s television horror anthology series from 1969-1973 Night Gallery.
If you’re familiar with the series you’ll recognize the painting of Satan that emblazon’s Lilith’s living room wall, could be a tout to the series that utilized artwork of art director Thomas J. Wright who painted all of the paintings used to introduce each story.
Szwarc directed a the ‘tele-fright’few Night of Terror (1972) and in 1973 directed the Lovely But Lethal episode of Columbo starring Vera Miles. Some of his notable theatrical releases – Bug (1975), Jaws 2 and the romantic fantasy Somewhere in Time (1980).
What makes The Devil’s Daughter the most interesting to watch are the familiar character actors that populate the film. The nefarious characters that are not quite they seem to be on the surface. Of course there’s the mentioned Diane Ladd as the profane mother who slept with the devil in the first place but in her waning years found religion but was executed by the cult for her transgression. There’s the wonderfully perspicacious Ian Wolfe whose presence always adds an extra depth to any story, here he plays Father MacHugh a kindly priest who while he doesn’t believe the gossip about Lilith would rather see Diane move out of Lilith’s house and live with a girl her own age. When Diane does decide to move in with a friend, Lilith blows her stack…
Fans of Dan Curtis’ cult television horror soap opera of the 1960s Dark Shadows will recognize Jonathan Frid as Lilith’s mute ‘chauffeur companion.’
Film star Joseph Cotten plays Judge Weatherby, Martha Scottas Mrs. Stone, Lucille Benson ( a quirky character actress who was great at playing batty old ladies) as Janet Poole and Thelma Carpenter as Margaret Poole curious twins, a pair that reminds me of the odd relationship between Sylvia Miles as Gerde Engstrom and Beverly D’Angelo as Sandra in Michael Winner’s The Sentinel (1977) which I am highlighting this Halloween month of October! The Poole sisters dress alike, Janet is white and Margaret is black, and they have cats with opposite colors.
The persnickety Abe Vigoda (the irascible Detective Fish from tv’s Barney Miller) plays Alikhine an expert in ancient art of dance, Robert Corthwaite (the fanatical scientist intent on idolizing the superiority of the super carrot in The Thing from Another World 1951) plays pastor Dixon.
Some of the dialogue is as campy and hilariously high brow as all get out–“You are promised in marriage to the Prince, the Demon of Endor.”
And much like the climax of Rosemary’s Babythere is the ensemble of Satanists seen in Lilith’s scrapbook of yesteryear, the cult standing around in living rooms in their robes posing for a the photograph.
Diane struggles to fight back her legacy as the Devil’s own daughter as she struggles with nightmares, manifests her inherited evil nature and wearing her ring with the strange insignia, mentally impels a young boy to walk out into traffic, nearly getting him run down by a car.
There’s a nice touch as she meets her roomate’s horse and they become frightened by her presence bucking and whinnying, a sign that they can see her evil essence. When Alikhine (Abe) leads the ‘ancient dance’ at the party Diane has an instinctual rhythm that guides her movements. Will Diane succumb to her legacy or will she use her power to fight her destiny? I won’t tell… “They actually refer to me as the Devil’s daughter.”-Diane
“Sally, Sally, Sally… We want you, we want you. It’s your spirit we want, your spirit we need… When will they come to set us free… there’s time enough we have all the time in the world.”
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is one of the most remembered television horror films of the 1970s. It no doubt has left a lasting impression with so many of us. Enough so, that director Guillermo Del Toro remade it with more teeth and polished effects in 2010, renewing a whole revitalized generation of fans of the story and mood of the piece in all it’s palpitating unreality. That’s why it has maintained such a cult status all these years. The creepy atmosphere is partly credited to director John Newland who wasn’t a stranger to stories of the macabre and uncanny as he developed the late 50s series One Step Beyond. which dealt with real life experiences with the uncanny and the supernatural. He also had a hand in directing several of Boris Karloff’s anthology series that blended mystery, horror and noir in his 60s series Thriller.
I love the color palate by set designer James Cane–the purple and blue tones, the reds and pinks, the golds and browns, the lighting and set design is a rich visual set piece to work within the modern ‘things that go bump in the night’ trope.
Felix Silla, Tamara De Treaux & Patty Malone as the creatures: on the set of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
Newland worked steadily through the 60s and 70s with Karloff on Thriller and then with Rod Serling on Night Gallery. In Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, director Newland has such a grasp on what is eerie and spooky in the classical sense delivers an atmosphere that is rich with a wonderful color pallet. He produces a simple story with spine tingling chills, that are often missing today. Newland’s device works great often due to the lighting and the quick glimpses, as you just catch aspects of these little menaces, rather than have them appear for long periods of time on camera. Another creepy mechanism that I find startling is a device within the make-up developed by Michael Hancock (The Omega Man 1971, Deliverance 1972, Altered States 1980, Se7en 1995). where the creatures speak but their mouths do not move, it is as if the voices come from behind their faces.
It’s an odd effect, and though it lacks the virtual ‘teeth’ that Del Toro’s savage creatures have, I am filled with such nostalgic shivers for the old look of things. The kitschy decorating for instance. The creature masks also remind me of something you’d see in The Twlight Zone, episode ofEye of the Beholder, in the same way make up artist William Tuttle created masks where their mouths didn’t move when they spoke. The effect just works. The three little devil imps with their shriveled scowling faces and piercing eyes and creep-tastical voices are among the most iconic and remembered creatures from the 1970s.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Darkis “lit like a horror movie–pools of light glow amidst shrouds of darkness and mysterious shadows abound” “Even a darkened party scene is justified as reticence to reveal the house remodeling underway. The truth is fear of the dark is universal., especially when prune-face goblins tug at our bedclothes.”- David Deal: Television Fright Films of the 1970s.
Alex (Jim Hutton) and Sally Farnham (Kim Darby) inherit a eerie old Victorian house from Sally’s grandmother that holds a dangerous secret legacy, as it harbors the spirits of little devil imps who need to be set free by a designated person whose soul they aim to possess. Once Sally moves in to her grandparents garish and secretly ghoulish old house, Sally discovers these little creatures living down in the pits of hell behind the bricked up fireplace in the creepy, musty den. Like her grandfather before her, Sally is next in line to ‘set them free’ by being their chosen sacrifice. She now must convince her success driven husband Alex that she isn’t crazy or a hysterical, bored housewife. Alex refuses to listen to Sally’s pleas to leave the house, or that the strange happenings and sightings of antagonistic little demons are real and not born out of her imagination or a way for her to sabotage his budding career that takes him away a lot. The only person who not only believes Sally but has tried to warn her not to meddle in things she doesn’t understand, is William Demarest as cantankerous handyman Mr. Harris, who worked for Sally’s grandparents. He knows about the little evil gnomes bricked up behind the fireplace and tries to no avail to get Sally to leave the creepy den as is, “Some doors are better left unopened.”
Sally pushes on the bricks of the old fireplace, Mr. Harris the handy walks in, in his
sour-puss scowling manner-
Mr Harris-“It won’t work.! Sorry Miss I didn’t mean to make you jump”
Sally-“It’s alright… well why won’t it work? I mean surely all it needs to be is smashed open”
Mr. Harris- “those bricks are cemented 4 deep and reinforced with iron bars. There’s no way of opening it up.”
Sally-“now who’s idea was that?”
Mr.Harris-“Your grandmother had me do that twenty years ago.”
Mr. Harris-“Well, it, it was after, er (he stops and looks at the fireplace)
Mr. Harris- “I just can’t open it up.”
Sally-“Now Mr. Harris surely you’re not afraid of a little hard work, hhm?”
Mr. Harris-“Its not the work it’s just that some things are better left as they are”
Mr. Harris-“That’s for cleaning out ashes”
Sally-“it’s been bolted shut”
Mr. Harris-“By me, and that’s the way it should stay!”
Told by both Alex and cranky pants Harris to leave the fireplace alone, naturally she unbolts the ash pit, releasing the creatures who proceed to torment her, making it look like she is crazy, torturing her, gas-lighting her, as we here whispered tones of
“No don’t hurt her, not yet… “but I want to I want to…”
Oh there’s plenty of opportunity and time to torment, hurt and and drag Sally down to hell. Sally, it’s too much fun to drive her mad, messing with the lights whiles she’s taking a shower, then leaving the straight razor on the dark bathroom floor, poking out from behind curtains and bookcases, peaking out of the floral arrangement at the haute dinner party intended to impress Alex’s boss, placing a chord across the steps hoping she’ll fall down the long staircase. Sally sees these little menaces everywhere but no one else does. Alex doesn’t even believe that it’s mice, the place was fumigated right before they moved in. After Alex has a fit and fires Mr. Harris for filling his wife with dread, he finally reaches out to him wanting to hear about the history of the house.
Apparently, Mr. Harris tells Alex, that Sally’s grandfather was heard screaming in the study the night he disappeared presumably as he was being dragged down into the pits of hell. After that, the fireplace was bricked up and the ash pit bolted shut. The wicked little imps have been waiting all this time to be set free.
The simplistic story, everyone at one time has been afraid of the darkness and the unseen terror that it holds and the beauty of this enduring film which moves along in a very quick pace that doesn’t seem rushed, nor empty. Each scene while at times frustrates from the standpoint of stupid things you don’t do if you feel you’re in danger, like at the height of the danger drawing ever so near, just lie down on the bed and take a nap, okay you’ve been drugged with the sleeping pills slipped into your coffee by those little creeps. You will forever ask yourself, go to a hotel, why not just get out of the house. You feel like you want to scream at Sally, get the hell out… now for the love of Mike! And by the end, it tickles you to finally see her being dragged and daunted.
It’s hard to make out in the darkly lit scene but the goblins are climbing the stairs like a mountain.
Sally -“It’s was something like this little ferocious animal grabbed at my dress… Alex’s irritated voice scolds Sally like a child--“Look Sally you’ve got to stop this!!!”
I must admit, it’s too delicious to see these little nasty creatures bounding up the stairs, rigging them with a chord in order to cause one to trip, fall and break ones neck, and pop out of the luscious darkness wielding what is to them a giant a straight razor. These little evil imps inhabit our world view perfectly of those ‘things that go bump in the night.’
Kim Darby is plain and perfectly whiny within the horror version of Diary of a Mad Housewife, but that works to the films sense of go ahead drag her down the stairs already feeling, though I cheered for Carrie Snodgrass in the afore mentioned film of the 70s. ” Sally trips into a surreal world of gloom and although she never really gets a grip on things, she still shows some resolve.” Buying flashlights and candles instead of a room at a Hotel. sure Sally sure…
Alex and Sally experiencing martial woes and little devil imps in the suburbs!
As Sally puts it when having a heart to heart with her only friend Barbara- “Most of the time she feels like a reasonable adjunct to his getting ahead”
Barbara tells Sally that she knows exactly what’s it’s like to be “left by yourself to brood” ‘Making imaginary mountains out of imaginary mole hills”that’s exactly what her friend Barbara thinks the breaking of the ash tray by the side of the bed and the sounds of something lurking behind the kitchen garbage merely was…
This 70s tele-fright film could work as a horror story that embroiders the dismissal of women, their needs, their perceptions and their entire world into a adult fairy tale/nightmare. How a woman can become discounted when what she thinks and feels is chalked up to being merely her ‘imagination’ or emotional distress, and/or an unreasonable emotional dependency on her man who is trying to make it. Or… she is just plain exuding hysteria. Don’t Be afraid of the Dark consists of blunt hyperbole of the hysterical woman not in it’s undercurrent rather, right out in plain sight a contrast to the ‘shadows’ and goblins that lurk in the dark. Metaphor for women’s desire to be set free? I’ll leave that to scholars…
Kim Darby looks better than ever… no frowzy Sally here!
Actually I read that originally actor George Hamilton was cast as Alex. The chemistry would not have been as well suited as Hutton’s disbelieving soul. Hamilton is too sharp an actor for Darby’s frowzy simple girl next door style. William Demarest gives a well suited supportive performance as the cranky handyman Mr. Harris who knows all to well about the secrets of that bedeviled house with it’s ancient wicked creatures lurking about. It is Sally’s friend Joan played by Barbara Anderson who finally believes Sally isn’t going mad. At first she suspects that it is a mad housewife deal, sexual frustration, martial woes, and just plain hysteria. Anderson won an Emmy for her role on Ironside as Officer Eve Whifield.
Writer Nigel McKeand was sometime actor and was one of the demonic voices on the film. Prolific composer Billy Goldenberg (Columbo) is adept at both classical and pop music and has been in demand, providing music for film and television since the mid 60s. He tele-fright scores include Ritual of Evil (1970), Duel (1971), Terror on the Beach (1973), Reflections of Murder (1974), The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975), The UFO Incident (1975) and One of My Wives is Missing (1976).
One of the great aspects that work in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is the set direction by James Cane, the big old Victorian that creates the mood of a ‘chamber piece’ is so creepily garish with colors that clash, and a mix of neo-gothic, Louis VI and contemporary styles that even Sally decides to hire decorator Francisco Perez (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) whom the dastardly gnomes accidentally cause to fall down the steps killing him. Still, Alex doesn’t quite see that something is wrong with the house.
Even after Joan (Barbara Anderson) begins to believe Sally, the efforts made to protect her friend are sluggish and frustrating, just to make our skin crawl with anxiety as these wicked little things chant “we want you, we want you, we want you, we want you”, while Sally is destined to go the way of her grandfather. This special Movie of the Week chiller is brimming over with eerie atmosphere.
Felix Silla, who played one of the creatures also played Cousin It in The Addams Family.
Directed by Philip Leacock with a screenplay by Richard Masterson. (I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man) This iconic writer/visionary has too many credits to list them all, link to IMBd to see the breadth of this genius’ work.
She’s Alone. No One Believes Her. And There’s No Way Out!
While driving across the desert Bob and Jean Mitchell (Dabney Coleman and Cloris Leachman) stop at a desolate roadside diner late one night. When Bob goes to the gent’s room, he doesn’t return, just vanishes completely! The locals including Ned Beatty as Tom King, the wonderful Louise Latham as Vi and Ron Feinberg as Lou McDermott all appearing unfriendly and downright menacing. The worst of all being diner owner Jim Cutler who considers people like Jean and Bob ‘moron city folk’ (Ross Martin who does sinister really well!)
Jean “You must have seen where my husband went”
Jim Cutler-“Are you telling me I did?”
Jean “He was sitting right there at that table. Right there.”
Jim Cutler-“And I was right there at that griddle, with my back turned how would I know where he went. Maybe he got sore at ya and just lit out. Cause your husband ain’t here ain’t no fault of mine.”
One of the most underrated character actresses Louise Latham!
These uncooperative folks deny even seeing her husband at all. Then as the paranoia and panic builds someone drives off with her car, stranding her there and now are coming after her. Jean goes to the sheriff played by recognizable character actor Dana Elcar but she has no proof of a crime and tries to get him to believe her protect her from the danger she is in and of course find Bob.
This familiar theme of the missing husband had been seen in tele-fright flicks such as Honeymoon with a Stranger 1969 starring Janet Leigh, and And No One Could Save Her 1973 starring Lee Remick.
Richard Matheson’s teleplay, from his short story strikes that universal chord of paranoia, alienation, helplessness and abject fear stuck in the middle nowhere, working like a claustrophobic stage play Dying Room Only puts our heroine in an environment surrounded by hostility with authority figures who don’t believe you all while stuck in the middle of a lonely unforgiving desert.
Cloris Leachman is one of THE most talented comedic actresses, just brings to mind her iconic role as Mary Tyler Moore’s narcissistic and fashionable friend Phyllis Lindstrom from 1970-1977 and her outre brilliant performance as Frau Blücher in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974).
Ross Martin best known for Artemus Gordon of popular television series The Wild, Wild West, and as Garland Humphrey ‘Red’ Lynch Blake Edwards striking suspense thriller Experiment in Terror 1962, and his pretentious art critic Dale Kingston in Suitable for Framingon Columbo’s 1971 episode co-starring Kim Hunter. Ross is just superb as a menacing figure, showing up in another tele-fright film Skyway to Death, before his death of a heart attack in 1981.
Ned Beattyis another marvelous character actor who’s creepy statement to Jean is chilling a complete departure from the cowering victimized Bobby out of his element in Deliverance1972 who goes through his own ordeal with local hostile types here plays a slovenly cretin, Jean asks for change to use the pay phone, Jim Cutler (Ross Martin) tells her he’s fresh out and Tom (Beatty)- looks straight at her, jingles coins in his pocket and walks over to the pinball machine to play a few rounds. One of his more menacing lines–“The only thing I’m gonna regret, lady, is that I’ll only have ten minutes alone with you before I kill you.”
Dabney Coleman has few lines like this for instance– “These two men happen to be jerks and this… is a dump.”Not quite Bette Davis…
Dana Elcar appears to be a well-meaning but powerless sheriff… Is he part of the conspiracy?
From David Deal’s Television Fright Films of the 1970s –“This story of frustration has the feel of dream logic at first as Jean’s world suddenly turns into a series of unexplainable roadblocks.
Dying Room Only is a film that pushes the trope of paranoia and no-one will believe me. Director Philip Leacock who keeps the film tautly wound, especially during the first half. Leacock worked on many popular television shows of the 1960s. His tele-fright films in the 1970s include When Michael Calls (1972), and Killer on Board (1977).
Composer Charles Foxwas twice nominated for Oscars The Other Side of the Mountain, Foul Play, and won two Emmy’s both for Love American Style. Among his credits are Barbarella 1968, The Green Slime 1968, The Drowning Pool 1975. I just learned that he wrote Killing Me Softly with His Song with lyrics by Norman Gimbel in collaboration with Lori Lieberman in 1972, made famous by amazing songstress Roberta Flack, who gives the most stunning rendition.
If there are devils, there must also be gods. I don’t know. I have no thoughts…
Aired on February 13, 1973, as the CBS Movie of the Week
With a teleplay by Ron Austin and Him Buchanan -and music by Mort Stevens who worked on many Boris Karloff’s anthology series Thriller… Horror at 37,00 Feet is directed by David Lowell Rich
Television Fright Films of the 1970s by David Deal– “Horror at 37,000 Feet is either a meditation on the inherent savagery of the human race on the primal fears and ancient behaviors that tether us to the past, no matter how far we advance with our technology or just a silly horror movie.”
Alan O’ Neill –“You know I think I’m gonna put some black stone on the floor here around the altar”
Sheila O’Neill-“Very nice if you’re planning to use it as a bar”
Alan O’Neill -(laughs) “That’s a little nasty”
Architect Alan O’Neill (Roy Thinnes) appropriates the remains of a cursed abbey from his wife’s familial state in England, loads them onto a plane with the intention of flying them to America and using them in their home. During all this time it also happens to be the night of the summer solstice and I might add, a full moon. A foreboding glowing moon that shines over Heathrow Airport. Once the stones and pieces of the abbey are stowed away safely in the cargo hold, ten passengers board the red-eye flight.
Buddy Ebsen as millionaire Glenn Farlee, Tammy Grimes as Mrs. Pinder, Lynn Loring as Manya Kovalik, Jane Merrowas Alan O’Neill’s wife Sheila, France Nuyen as model Annalik, William Shatner as faithless minister Paul Kovalik, Paul Winfield as Dr. Enkalla, H.M Wynant as Frank Driscoll, a little girl Jodi played by Mia Bendixsen who is flying alone with her doll. And then there’s the crew Chuck Connors as Captain Ernie Slade, Will Hutchins as cowboy Steve Holcolm, Darleen Carras flight attendant Margo, and Russell Johnson as Jim Hawley.
Once everyone settles in, the spirits of the long dead druids break free in the cargo hold and threaten to take over the plane in order to claim their human sacrifice. The tension among the passengers starts to unfold as they try to figure out what the menace is, and what it wants.
Horror at 37,00 Feet is the only credit for V.X. Appleton whose story the film was based on. It was Emmy winning director David Lowell Rich’s first supernatural film for television but he would go on to make the cult favorite Satan’s School for Girls,Runaway! (1973) and another frightening flight film called SST-Death Flight (1977). Rich also made Madame X(1966)with Lana Turner and Eye of the Cat (1969) with Michael Sarrazin, Gayle Hunnicutt and Eleanor Parker and lots of felines…
People might make a comparison with some of the elements of Horror at 37,000 Feet and Cruise Into Terror1978 on a rival network. While the basic framework, passengers board a cursed ship daunted by supernatural powers, Horror at 37,000 Feet just has a campier, creepier more atmospheric mood and sensational theatrics because of it’s cast. In that film, the passengers of a boat are threatened by the son of Satan. Horror at 37,000 Feetutilizes a more nuanced menace, the spirits of ancient druids, which is a totally more unique narrative, as they howl and cause an eerie frosty freezing burning cold throughout the cabin of the airplane as they hunger for their sacrifice. Barry Thomas in charge of the sound department creates some authentically chilling aural scares as the wailing, groaning old ones, and the supernatural static that encircles them…
The ensemble of this horror film might not be too proud of it but it is quite a diverse cast indeed. Tammy Grimes is deliciously eerie in her unbounded knowledge of ancient cults, Lynn Loring as usual is perfectly intense and tightly wound. It’s all so outlandish and campy. Jane Merrow from Hands of the Ripper (1971) plays architect O’Neill’s wife, Sheila. Among the other great actors is millionaire Glen Farlee played by Buddy Ebsen, a Mrs. Pinder Tammy Grimes, who seems too in sync with all things supernatural and sort of sympatico with the druid mythology. There’s a man of god, who has fallen and is having a crisis of faith- drowning himself in alcohol and self pity. Who else could play that without breaking a sweat by the brilliant to happily hammy master most likely hand picked just to re-visit his role as the tormented man on a plane William Shatner as Paul Klovalik… Shatner is not at all a stranger to being terrorized on a plane by strange creatures–if we just think back to a decade before on The Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet that aired 10 years before in 1963. Shatner played Bob Wilson crazed by his visions of a monster on the wing of the plane, daunted by a gremlin who is tearing the wing and tinkering with the engine of a plane when no one, not even his wife will believe him much to the fate of the flight.
A film like Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944), creates a world of tension as the variety of personalities each respond to the crisis in their own way, not to compare this Movie of the Week with the masterpiece of cinema, Horror at 37,000 Feet is itself an ensemble morality play as much as it is a supernatural story. The tensions, conflicts and personal dynamics are tested by the imminent danger and the doomed fate they are faced with.
Alan (Thinnes) “Are you beyond fear or are you just drunk?”
Paul (Shatner) –“Both but if I were you I’d worry more about your fellow passengers than what ever it is you brought on board”
Things start to go wrong as soon as the flight leaves London as the plane is being mysteriously suspended in mid air going around and around in circles. The mysterious and uncanny entity smashes out of it’s crate in the cargo hold and freezes Mrs Pinder’s dog Damon. The cold then begins to manifest itself inside the cabin. A green boiling oozing Lovecraftian kind of menace reveals itself.
When Captain Slade and Hawley investigate, Hawley is quick-frozen like a bag of organic cauliflower. The evil power rips through the carpeted floor of the plane and an ugly greenish brown ooze bubbles and smokes as ancient unintelligible voices chant. That is how the malevolent entity shows its presence.
Co-Pilot Jim Hawley “Look at this there’s something like moss on the bulk head.”
An evil unspeakable horror that you cannot really see. From the old school of less is more, and it’s what you don’t see that creates more dread. It’s more creepy and effective that way. Sheila O’Neill (Jane Merrow), whose family built the abbey passes out and speaks Latin and hears voices that torment her, calling her name, which prompts Mrs. Pinder to explain a bit about what’s going on.
Paul- “Do you remember what you said when you fainted? (he speaks a Latin phrase)
Sheila “Yes I heard that, one of the voices what does it mean?”
Alan – “Well do you know or don’t ya?”
Paul “It’s from a Black mass…”
Alan “a prayer… to the devil?”
Manya-“or to that thing back there!”
Alan “My wife is imagining things that’s all
Manya “She’s hearing voices…Paul says she was reciting a black mass”
Paul –“I was probably wrong I was a worse scholar than I was a priest”
Mrs.Pinder “It was a man’s voice wasn’t it?”
Sheila -a crazed look in her eyes-“Yes”
Mrs. Pinder “Do you know who that was my dear… ? In 1407 Lord Compton the owner of the land in which the Abbey stood, your ancestor was burned at the stake for heresy and murder. He worshiped the Druid gods. Offered human sacrifices. Members of your own family.”
It seems the abbey was built on a sacred grove of the druids who had performed human sacrifices. Every hundred years at the solstice, the spirits of the ancient druids come back demanding their sacrifice. Mrs. Pinder asserts that it’s Sheila they want. The panic sets in as everyone jumps to wild conclusions for self preservation’s sake, They decide to make a pseudo Sheila, attaching her fingernail clippings and strands of her hair to the little Jodi’s creepy doll. They paint it’s lips red with Sheila’s lipstick. It’s a grotesque site. They try offering that to the spirits who are drawing nearer, only being held off by a fire the passengers have lit, and their safe space is growing smaller with each hour. They try to substitute the doll for Sheila as their sacrifice. The druids aren’t buying it!
Glen Farlee (Buddy Ebsen) has a soliloquy “Maybe she’s right. What other explanation could there be. Everything’s gone crazy!”The plan doesn’t work so the group decides to light a fire on the plane to keep the evil spirits away, and soon the fire burns out and all looks grim. Of course Shatner stands out in this film as the faithless, pessimistic, nihilist defrocked priest Paul Klovalik as he drinks heavily and tries to shut off the chaos surrounding him, feeling helpless and hopeless. “The closer to heaven, the more discordant” and generally dismisses the rest of the passengers bitterly as fools and barbarians.
Paul Kovalik: “You don’t need a priest, Mr. Farlee. You need a parachute….
I’m going to open a bottle of it right now. It might not make me happy. But it will amuse me to think of all of you back here worrying about your lives… as though they were of some importance.”
Shatner certainly isn’t playing this kind of guy, that’s for sure!
At the end Paul Klovalik does find a flicker of faith left and rises to the occasion. But will the ancient old ones, the druids get what they want?
Her task is clear, to find an confront her own murderer!
Aired November 5, 1973, ABC Movie of the Week.
From David Deal’s book Television Fright Films of the 1970s-“Producer-director Dan Curtis had his hand on several intimate productions in the early 1970s, which were shot on videotape in Canada. The Invasion of Carol Enders is one of these. Carol Enders (Meredith Baxter) and her fiance Adam Reston Christopher Connelly are attacked while spooning in lover’s lane and Carol is seriously injured when she attempts to escape. Meanwhile, Diana Bernard (Sally Kemp) the wife of a doctor, is fatally injured in an automobile accident. Both patients are sent to the same hospital. and Carol makes a miraculous recovery just as Diana dies. Upon Awakening, Carol claims in very convincing terms to be Diana. When the police determine that Diana was murdered, Carol/Diana leaves the hospital to find the killer. This mild-mannered story of possession will not appeal to those with a fancy for the macabre. It plays more like a soap opera mystery that happens to have a kernel of the supernatural driving the action.”
The story is by Merwin Gerard whose list of credits include tele-fright films, The Screaming Woman (1972) starring the great Olivia de Havilland, The Victim (1972) and She Cried Murder (1973) The story was adapted by Gene Raser Kearney. Kearney wrote several Night Gallery episodes for Rod Serling and my cult favorite Games (1967) starring Simone Signoret and Katherine Ross, directed by Curtis Harrington and Night of the Lepus (1972) —Giant killer bunnies, ehh not so much…
Meredith Baxter was in the midst of her breakthrough television series Bridget Loves Bernie in 1972 when she did this film. She also appeared in Ben in 1972 and the other film I covered directed by Harrington, The Cat Creature. Her most famous roles aside from tele-films were of course as Nancy on the thoughtful nighttime drama Family 1976-1980 starring Sada Thompson and Kristy McNichol then she went on to play Elyse on Family Ties in the 80s.
Peyton Place alumnus the handsome Christopher Connelly plays Adam Reston and familiar character actor Charles Adiman plays Dr. Peter Bernard both are good at playing the perplexed husband routine. Connelly’s Adam Reston even helps the police in their investigation, playing an important part in solving the mystery. Dan Curtis favorite John Karlen plays Diana’s ex-husband David Hastings, the number one suspect in her death. George DiCenzo plays Dr. Palmer and Sally Kemp is Diana Bernard.
Carol-“I knew Diana, probably better than anyone. She was hard on you David, a lot harder than you deserved.”
Dan Curtis has executive producer credit on this film. and an un-credited nod for direction because several snippets of footage–including Diana’s car crash are taken from his tele-fright The Norliss Tapes, which aired the same year. Some sources list the film as having aired on March 8 1974, some claim it was released in 1973. I’m choosing to include it in my feature here as a 1973 release.
Director Burt Brinkerhoff was an actor, mainly on television in the 50s and 60s and this was his first film as director. He would go on to make the horror film Dogs, and yet another television adaptation of Frankenstein in 1987.
The film plays more like a murder mystery/thriller, but you cannot escape the supernatural narrative that exists, references to India where the air was “thick with the spirits of the dead, it was like incense.”
The Possession of Joel Delaney came out in 1972 and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud came out in 1975, Audrey Rose came out in 1977. The subject of reincarnation was threaded throughout the 1970s as an appealing and uncanny, almost taboo trend.
A simple and wholesome beginning… Agnes Robertson Moorehead was born on December 6th, 1900 in Clinton, Massachusetts. Her mother was a mezzo-soprano and her father was a Presbyterian minister whose work eventually moved the family to St. Louis, Missouri. She started her acting career on stage at the age of 3, and by the time she was 12 she was active in the St. Louis Municipal Opera as a dancer and singer. She went to college for biology at Muskingum College in Ohio, but remained active in acting. After college she moved to Wisconsin (her family was now in Reedsburg, Wisconsin), taught drama and English at local schools. She earned a Masters in English at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Agnes eventually would earn a doctorate from Bradley University.
My partner Wendy and I happened to have lived in Madison for a wonderful 8 years while she was in grad school at the University of Wisconsin. I wrote my favorite album Fools & Orphans while living on Starkweather Creek on the East side of town. So Agnes’ presence there is all the more sweet to me…
To earn the money she would need, not only to eat but to build toward her dream of heading to New York City and acting school, she taught English, Speech and Ancient History at Centralized High School in Soldiers Grove. Teaching was something she maintained a strong affection for.
When she eventually saved enough money to get to New York City she audition for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in the summer of 1926- she was accepted. I’m reading Charles Tranberg’s wonderful book, she talks about starving herself, being grateful for enough loose change to buy a buttered roll from the Automat …
Afterward she moved to New York City and enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Agnes studied with Charles Jehlinger at The (AADA) American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he taught people ‘imagination’ is the key!
Not making it on Broadway during the 30s, she used her marvelous voice to make a name for herself in the media of radio. She began performing as many as six shows each day. During her radio performances she met Orson Welles, and Joseph Cotton and the three formed the famous Mercury Players Theatre. Agnes made her film debut in 1941 in Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane’. She went on to play vital, high-spirited saucy & strong female roles in film and television eventually landing the iconic role as “Endora”on the popular & timelessly beloved television show “Bewitched” (1964-1972). She was married twice but eventually lived alone, enjoying solitude. She died quietly away from friends and the public, from lung cancer that had spread from her Uterus, she succumbed in 1974 in Rochester Minnesota. With Agnes’ work ethic she had maintained a busy schedule though drained and tired from the illness, performing hours on the stage and doing television appearances until she could no longer manage.
IMDb tidbit- Agnes’ death from cancer is often linked to other actors and crew members who worked on The Conqueror (1956). Including Susan Hayward, John Wayne and director Dick Powell, to name a few. The conspiracy theory behind the strong beliefs are that they were exposed while on location at the site which received heavy fallout from nuclear testing at the (then) Nevada Proving Grounds.
Fiercely private. Considered not beautiful because of her ‘hawk like’ face. I would boldly beg to disagree. Agnes Moorehead has a beauty that transcends the quaint and lovely upturned nose. She has a regal beauty as if royalty run in her veins, with a sage otherworldlyness and a voice like a chameleon that can change it’s tone and tenor to fit her myriad characterizations. I wish she and hope she knew that although she was THE consummate character actress for the ages, she too was as beautiful as any other leading star with a deep & fiery magnetism that draws you in ~
Agnes had that spark in her, since she was a very little Agnes, embodying, manifesting & emoting like the characters from the books she read and from theater. Her adoring father or mother would find her re-enacting scenes in her room!
Here’s a beautifully written snapshot of Agnes Moorehead by The Red List– data base by Romuald Leblond & Jessica Vaillat
“Wanting to become a comedian from a young age – her mother had become accustomed to discovering her daughter in her imaginary world and often asked her: ‘Who are you today, Agnes?’ – Agnes Moorehead appeared regularly on Broadway stages during the late 1920s. She rapidly became a celebrated radio actress and joined Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater on the Air from 1940. In 1941, Orson Welles offered the ‘Fabulous Redhead’ her first film role in Citizen Kane as the cruel and bitter mother of the lead role. The part soon shaped the other roles Agnes Moorehead would be offered while they privileged heartless authoritarian or neurotic women such as the menacing aunt of Johnny Belinda, in 1948. In 1943, on the radio, the American comedian delivered one of her most legendary performances in Sorry, Wrong Number for which she created an exhausting and dynamic presentation – ‘radiant and terrifying’. In 1964, she was cast as Samantha Steven’s sarcastic and buoyant mother, in Bewitched and, although she disliked the rapid pace of television series, the show helped install the actress in the pantheon of American pop culture icons. Quite an irony for a woman who didn’t ‘particularly want to be identified as a witch.”
Agnes Moorehead went on from her imaginative childhood musings to play some of the most colorful characters on stage, radio, film and television- perhaps her persona had been ‘shaped by Citizen Kane’but Agnes obviously had a range of emotions and archetypes she could readily tap into as she is a natural, authentic artist… making her a cultural icon recognized by so many people & a even a new generation of avid fans!
Tranberg’s book is a wonderful read, he discusses from the beginning, the wealth of material he found at the historical society at the University of Wisconsin’s Historical Society. It’ is a marvelous place with marble floors warn down by years and the warm & musty smell of by-gone years, the building holds the archives to so many historical documents and films. For Agnes Moorehead, 159 boxes of material to be precise. He was not just a fan of Endora but her performances on old time radio in which she really shined. His book hints that her fire and brimstone Rev. John Moorehead with his sermons had a bit of the frustrated actor in the man, and why Aggie felt drawn to theater in the first place. He also read Shakespeare to the children. Her mother Molly was the boisterous outgoing flamboyant one who lived to be 106 and died in 1990… always saying what was on her mind, unless it was a strictly personal subject… sound familiar?
He also writes about Agnes’ spirituality and religious devoutness. That is ‘wasn’t a gimmick or publicity stunt’she really was a devoted Christian. It might cause heads to tilt, how such a fundamentalist woman would pick a career where she would be surrounded by creative types, often gay people that would become her friends. And though she was not thrilled with the idea of playing a witch, she certainly conjured the most iconic embodiment of the vexing & colorful Endora.
“Lavender is just pink trying to be purple” she paraphrased Proust… by Quint Benedetti from his book- (My Travels with) Agnes Moorehead: The Lavender Lady: (more BEWITCHING than Endora)– he goes onto to say, “And now I can see all the hues of her personality in that statement: the royalty, the naivete, the selfhishness, the piercing intuition and sometimes the astonishing lack of it (her two marriages), the phoniness and the irrepressible humanity it contained, the coldness and the longing to be warm and sometimes the warmth, the insecurity and the yearning to be loved, the human simplicity touching greatness. Agnes Moorehead in a way did what so many actor and actresses never did. She left her mark on society both as an actress and as a person.” Benedetti knew Agnes Moorehead for ten years and was her personal assistant for five of those years.
In her long & unforgettable career – Agnes Moorehead’s film debut as Charles Foster Kane’s picture of stoic motherhood, the bitter and icy cold Mary Kane.
She went on to play the emotionally tortured Aunt Fanny in what Charles Transberg rightly refers to Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons as ‘a mangled masterpiece’ I would give anything to see the footage that RKO hacked to pieces… and the ending that should have been, where Fanny is playing cards in the boarding house with the other old maids. The more nihilistic coda that RKO feared would turn the public off in the midst of WWII.
Agnes Moorehead as the heartless & cruel Mrs. Reed who sends young Jane away to Thornfield in Jane Eyre-aside from mothers, aunts spinsters & old maids, Moorehead performs her first evil character! in director Robert Stevenson’s adaptation of Jane Eyre (1943)
Stage: Agnes began touring in George Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell (1951) & revival 1973, Gigi 1973 co-starring with Alfred Drake.
Selected Radio:– Mercury Theater founded with Orson Welles- Mysteries in Paris, The Gumps, The New Penny, The March of Time (1967-38), The Shadow (1937-39), The Mercury Theater of the Air (ensemble) The Campbell Playhouse, The Cavalcade of America (1938-41), Mayor of the Town
(1942-49), Suspense (1942-1960.) And of course in 1945 she played the women-in-peril-(in bed) Mrs. Stevenson in the CBS radio mystery program Suspense- Sorry,Wrong Number, which became “radio’s most famous play.”
According to Charles Tranberg, Agnes was offered a supportive role in the film version starring Barbara Stanwyck, saying that she wisely turned it down, coming to understand that she would always be considered a ‘character actress’ and not a leading lady. This would influence her decision to focus more on the stage, beginning with her affiliation with the acclaimed Don Juan in Hell and later her very popular one-woman show.
On December 10, 2008 Celebrating Moorehead’s 108th anniversary on Turner Classic Movies- Moira Finnie writing for Movie Morlocks published a wonderful interview with Tranberg when asked if Agnes enjoyed both the mediums of radio and stage, he answered “I think she liked the challenges offered by all he mediums she worked on. The stage because it’s proximity in front of an audience. Radio because she had to create a complex characterization without being seen and could use her voice in many different ways. Film because it offered her the opportunity to visualize a characterization. Television because of its intimacy.”
Moira Finnie’s piece is wonderfully insightful and witty. While watching David O Selznick’s Since You Went Away (1945) “It struck me for the hundredth time that the presence of Agnes Moorehead in many classic and not so classic films was often what gave a movie a spine.”
“She proved her versatility throughout her career. She arranged her aquiline features accordingly to convey a believable briskness, sometimes comforting, sometimes disapproving. She most often appeared as a pragmatic presence in many films that have etched themselves on our collective memory.”
Moira Finnie aptly says it perfectly, honing in on the essence of what truly makes Agnes Moorehead such a powerful performer, “The actress could shift her characterizations easily from vinegary disapproval to warmly compassionate to richly detailed portraits of good and evil women.”
Selected Films– Citizen Kane 1941 (Mary Kane), The Magnificent Ambersons 1942 (Fanny), The Big Street 1942 (Violet Shumberg), Journey into Fear 1943 (Mrs. Mathews), Jane Eyre 1944 (Mrs.Reed), Since You Went Away 1944 (Mrs. Emily Hawkins), Dragon Seed 1944 (Third Cousin’s Wife), The Seventh Cross 1944 (Mme. Morelli), Mrs Parkington 1944 (Baroness Aspasia Conti), Our Vines Have Tender Grapes 1945 (Bruna Jacobson) Dark Passage 1947 (Madge Rapf) The Lost Moment 1947 (Juliana Borderau), Summer Holiday 1948 (Cousin Lily), The Woman in White 1948 (Countess Fosco), Johnny Belinda 1948 (Aggie MacDonald-nominated best supporting actress) The Great Sinner 1949 (Emma Getzel), Caged 1950 (Ruth Benton progressive Prison Warden), Captain Blackjack 1950 (Mrs. Emily Birk), Fourteen Hours 1951 (Christine Hill Cosick) , Showboat 1951 (Parthy Hawks), Magnificent Obsession 1954 (Nancy Ashford), All That Heaven Allows 1955 (Sara Warren), The Left Hand of God 1955 (Beryl Sigman), The Revolt of Mamie Stover 1956 (Bertha Parchman), Jeanne Eagels 1957 (Nellie Neilson), Raintree County 1957 (Ellen Shawnessy), The Story of Mankind 1957 (Queen Elizabeth I), Night of the Quarter Moon 1959 (Cornelia Nelson), The Bat 1959 (Cornelia van Gorder) Pollyanna 1960 (Mrs. Snow), Twenty Plus Two 1961 (Mrs. Eleanor Delaney) How the West Was Won 1962-(Rebecca Prescott), Who’s Minding the Store? 1963 (Mrs. Phoebe Tuttle), The Singing Nun 1966 (Sister Cluny)
Nominated four times for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Mrs. Parkington (1944),Johnny Belinda (1948) and of course as Velma in director Robert Aldrich’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
It is the vitriolic, cantankerous yet loyal & righteous companion Velma to Bette Davis’ tragic southern Gothic has- been belle Charlotte that won my heart. Moorehead brought to life a raw and rugged plain quality of humanness that touched me so deeply, as did Davis’ incredible performance.
How impressed I was with her pantomime in The Invaders credited as ‘The Woman’ in Rod Serling’s sociological anthology fantasy series Twilight Zone… Moorehead had no dialogue in the episode yet she demonstrated so much art and emotion from her ‘primal woman’s’ body language.
She did win a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress -Laurel Award 2nd place for Top Supporting Performance for Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte 1964.
For many people she will be remembered as Endora, Samantha and Darrin Steven’s (the fabulous-Dick York) caustic ill-provoking mother-in-law from the netherworld? who hands down the legacy of being Bewitched… from 1964-1972. Initially Moorehead had turned down the role of Endora, and it wasn’t until Elizabeth Montgomery herself asked the actress to join the cast, never expecting it to last more than one season!
Moorehead did her string of horror films in the 70s that featured many fine actresses who had played fine ladies in their day, only to find Grand Dame Guignol roles waiting for them on the other side of fabulous fame…
What’s The Matter With Helen 1971 Curtis Harrington’s wonderful horror of personality psycho-drama where Aggie plays a Aimee Semple McPherson type character called Sister Alma co-starring with friend Debbie Reynolds and the incomparable Shelley Winters!
And then there’s always the campy & gruesome Dear Dead Delilah 1972 she plays Delilah Charles, appeared in Night of Terror 1972 a tv movie of the week… & Frankenstein: The True Story 1973.
Some very special clips of the immortal Aggie!
The much talked about ‘boiler scene’ Agnes as Aunt Fanny from The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
Mary Kane the picture of stoic motherhood in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941)
Agnes as Baroness Conti in Mrs. Parkington (1944)
Agnes as Aggie MacDonald in Johnny Belinda (1948)
Agnes as Warden Bond with poor Eleanor Parker in prison noir classic Caged (1950)
Agnes as mystery writer Cornelia Van Gorder in The Bat (1959)
Agnes as Madame Bertha Parchman in The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956)
Agnes as Mme. Morelli in The Seventh Cross (1944)
Agnes as the indomitable Velma Cruthers in Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Agnes as The Primal ‘Woman’ in a short clip -The Invaders ep. of The Twilight Zone 1961
Agnes as the vexing but always colorful Endora in television’s popular series Bewitched
With all my love & admiration, Agnes Moorhead… You are one of a kind! -Love, Joey
Now, it’s 1972 and IDA LUPINO reprises her role as brutal chief matron of her cell block, the new distinction is that of Claire Tyson.Tyson being a modern transformation from her original role as Amelia van Zandt in Women’s Prison 1955.She is as wicked as her last incarnation as cruel prison Matron, possessing that reptilian stare that could smack down the orneriest of Glory Stompers, Cycle Savage, Devil’s Angel or Mini Skirt Mobber, on a rampage, with just one look from those cold-blooded eyes.
Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski(Attack of The Giant Leeches 1959), produced by Edward K Milkiand and written by Rita Lakin. With a collection of 7os actresses to fill up the septic green environs of the prison system with their archetypal guises, The sage and kindly old timer, the tough loner black female outsider, a woman, but a ‘black woman’ doing time for her old man, in the pecking order there’s also the disturbed sylph who wanders aimlessly, until provoked by any random act, and of course let us not forget the essential queen bee who has a direct pipeline to the savage Claire Tyson. New in the mix is the bewildered new fish who has to learn the ropes fast if she’s to survive, and the renegade newcomer undercover, who dares to challenge the system’s status quo.
This ABC Movie of the Week entry stars the great Lois Nettleton as Sandra Parker an employee of the parole department who decides to go undercover as Sally Porter, so she can infiltrate Tyson’s den of maltreatment and sadistic foreplay that she wages over and engenders in the inmates of her cell block. After witnessing the result of a brutal beating death of one of Sandra’s parolees a returning inmate at the prison, Sandra plants herself undercover to try and unearth the prison brutality and bring it to light. She wants Claire Tyson prosecuted for the death of Ginger Stratton.
A photographer for a men’s magazine is disturbed by a recurring dream he has that he is killing his models by various gruesome means…Directed by William Byron Hillman and stars Michael Callan and Joanna Pettet.
A young woman is stabbed to death in an alley. The crime is heard and seen by some of the residents of a nearby apartment building, but not one of them tried to help and now they refuse to get involved with the police during the investigation.
Based on actual events. Directed by Richard T.Heffron with a stellar cast, including: Raul Julia, John P Ryan, Edward Asner, Luci Arnez, Art Carney, Diahann Carroll, Kate Jackson, Cloris Leachman, Tina Louise, and Nancy Walker.
A troubled wife is having a mid life crisis. She meets a lighthouse-keeper and they become lovers. They run off to Scotland. While making love on a beach, the lighthouse keeper dies, and that’s where the true story begins. True love never dies, Hugh comes back from the dead, to Anna’s wanting arms, but he’s not quite the same, and he’s decomposing! Directed by Fred Burnley, and starring Susan Hampshire, Frank Finlay and Michael Petrovitch.
The crazed brother of a condemned killer sent to the gas chamber swears vengeance on those he holds responsible for his brother’s execution. Directed by Boris Petroff, and starring Ronnie Burns, Pamela Lincoln and Darrell Howe.
Emmaline, who, as a teenager, discovered the drowned body of her aunt (Lynn Bari), returns to the family mansion as a married woman. Eventually, she falls for the caretaker’s nephew, and remembers who the real killer was. Directed by Robert M.Young, and starring Lynn Bari, John Conte, and Lorrie Richards.
A newlywed couple check into an old hotel, and soon the wife finds herself having hallucinations and wandering the halls aimlessly.. A voodoo priest has put a curse on Marianne and now wants to take her soul.
Directed by Noel Black and starring Kitty Winn and Peter Donat.
A mad scientist teams with an evil, disfigured woman to kidnap and operate on young women to make her look beautiful again. Directed by Jaime Salvador starring John Carradine, Regine Torne and Elsa Cardenas. Great Mexican horror thriller!
A trilogy of the Edgar Allen Poe stories, “The Case Of Mr. Valdemar,” “The Cask Of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” It starts with the house maid sitting down to read some stories on a stormy night. Directed by Enrique Carreras, with a screenplay by the great Narciso Ibáñez Serrador (The House That Screamed 1069)
Starring Narciso Ibanez Menta, Osvoldo Pacheco and Ines Moreno
It is the future ice age, humanity is dying off. So the survivors play a game called “Quintet” For one small group, this obsession is not enough; they play the game with living pieces … and only the winner survives. Robert Altman directed this sci-fi thriller, starring Paul Newman, Vittorio Gassman, Fernando Rey, Brigitte Fossey and Bibi Anderson.
A prominent London Psychologist seems to have taken his own life, causing stunned disbelief amongst his colleagues and patients. Directed by Charles Crichton and starring Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Richard Attenborough and Pamela Franklin.
Ben Gazzara plays Jocko De Paris, a sociopathic cadet lead in a Southern military academy. He manipulates several of the people into various stages of duress, in particular a cadet that Jocko terrorizes into dating a girl from the town named Rosebud…hhm? Directed by Jack Garfein and also starring Pat Hingle, Peter Mark Richman, Paul Richards, and Julie Wilson as ‘Rosebud’
A historian goes to a castle library to translate some ancient erotic literature. While there he discovers what he believes to be supernatural forces at work. Directed by Damiano Damiani and starring Richard Johnson, Rosanna Schiaffino and Gian Maria Volonte.
Although the police have termed her mother’s death a suicide, a teenage girl believes her step-father murdered her. Directed by Guy Green and a screenplay by Jimmy Sangster. Starring Peter Van Eyck and Betta St. John.
This is a Russian horror/fantasy film about a young priest who is ordered to watch over the wake of witch in a small old wooden church of a remote village. He must spend three nights alone with the corpse with only his faith to protect him. Based on a story by Nikolai Gogol.
This is a 70s version of the infamous tale of Bluebeard. A World War I pilot Kurt Von Sepper (Richard Burton) whom everybody envies as a “ladykiller” actually is one – after he beds the women he’s after, he murders them. Directed by Edward Dmytryk, and starring Richard Burton, Raquel Welch, Verna Lisi, Natalie Delon, Agostina Belli, Sybil Danning and Joey Heatherton.
An obese woman recently released from an insane asylum kills anyone who attempts to get her to stop eating. Director Nick Millard casts Priscilla Alden as Ethel Janowski who lives with her Grandmother, and doesn’t want anyone taking away her food!
The film takes place in rural Nebraska after WW1, six veterans head out together on their motorcycles and ride into the little town of Bingo. When one of them beats a local kid in a drag race, they are driven out of town.
They hide out at a farm house run by two sisters. One of them tries to rape one of the girls, who is part Native American, and now her sister wants revenge by casting a hex on them!
Directed by Leo Garen and starring Christina Raines, Hilary Thompson, Keith Carradine, Mike Combs, Scott Glenn, Gary Busey and Robert Walker Jr.
Stanley and Paul are hiding out from the law, so they rent a house in the suburbs, and decide that Paul should dress in drag, pretending to be Stanley’s Aunt Martha. Stanley brings a girl home one night, and since Paul is crazy and violent, he murders her. Now, Aunt Martha is a dangerous woman to approach! Directed by Thomas Casey and starring Abe Zwick as Paul and Wayne Crawford as Stanley.
Orson Welles plays Mr. Cato, the head of a witches’ coven in the town of Lilith, where he needs the powers of Pamela Franklin to raise his son from the dead. Directed by the fun Bert I. Gordon. Also starring Lee Purcell and Michael Ontkean
A wrong turn on a jazz singer’s road trip results in her car breaking down near an isolated lodge run by a faded starlet and a young, homicidal Elvis impersonator. Directed by Richard Robinson and David Worth, the film stars Leslie Uggams, Shelley Winters, Michael Christian, Ted Cassidy, Dub Taylor and Slim Pickens.
A psychopathic plastic surgeon transforms a young accident victim into the spitting image of his missing daughter. Directed by John Grissmer and starring Robert Lansing and Judith Chapman. An interesting thriller in the ‘surgical horror’ genre.
A female school teacher is implicated in a murder in a Sicilian town only hours after her arrival. The dead man insulted her on the bus on the way into town. Directed by Luigi Zampa and starring the beautiful Jennifer O’Neill, sexy Franco Nero, and James Mason.
Hoping to cure his violent seizures, a man agrees to a series of experimental microcomputers inserted into his brain but inadvertently discovers that violence now triggers a pleasurable response his brain. Directed by Mike Hodges and starring George Segal, Joan Hackett and Richard Dysart.
Starring Lorna Maitland, who’s married to Jim (James Rucker)but isn’t satisfied sexually. While Jim’s at work in the salt mine, she is raped by an escaped convict.(Mark Bradley) Strangely she finds him fascinating, as he has brought out her lustful side. One of Meyer’s best films! The cinematography is so starkly beautiful.
Director Mervyn LeRoy’s darkly psychological drama starring the incredible Jean Simmons as Charlotte a woman recovering from a nervous breakdown. Once she leaves the safe hospital environment, she must return home to face the same demons that were haunting her there from the beginning. Also stars Dan O’Herlihy, Rhonda Fleming, Efrem Zimbalist Jr.and Marjorie Bennett.
A suave but cynical man supports his family by marrying and murdering rich women for their money, but the job has some occupational hazards. Directed and starring Charlie Chaplin, Mady Correll, Allison Roddan, Robert Lewis, Audrey Betz, Martha Raye, Ada May and Marjorie Bennett.
Directed by Lewis Allen and starring Joel McCrea, Gail Russell , Herbert Marshall and Norman Lloyd. A mysterious figure is viciously killing people in a shadowy alley. Russell plays a Governess haunted by mysterious goings on. Scripted by Raymond Chandler and Hagar Wilde.Gail Russell also played Stella in the wonderful ghost story directed by Allen, The Uninvited…
Ida Lupino plays Amelia van Zandt the sadistic borderline, psychotic Warden/Matron of a co-ed women’s prison. She is a total institutionalist, exerting strict regulations, with no gray area for sentimentalism. For van Zandt it’s about the cold hard road to rehabilitation… her way… the hard way.
Lupino has described herself as “the poor man’s Bette Davis.” Ida Lupino moved to Hollywood from England, after filming I Lived with You starring the beautiful Ivor Novello. (The Lodger 1927). She started to make some noise as the hard-edged dame in the 40s, starring in 2 powerful Noir films They Drive by Night (1940) and High Sierra (1941), both starring opposite one of my all time favorites, Humphrey Bogart.
She starred in two other memorable films which are great contributions to classic Film Noir, Road House 1948 and On Dangerous Ground 1952. For more info about Ida Lupino, the actress, and how she got started as a prolific director of film and television you can read more her here.
Lupino, while a uniquely beautiful woman, has a face that can convey a heartlessness, a hollow shell of a woman, a militant spinster. ‘The Iron Maiden’, is what I’ve dubbed Lupino for these two particular inter changeable roles.
There’s also the wonderful Juanita Moore,Vivian Marshall, Mae Clarke, Gertrude Micheal as Chief Matron Sturgess, and one of my favorites, Phyllis Thaxter as the ‘nice girl’ thrust into a ‘bad situation’ who almost loses her mind from the claustrophobic and oppressive iron grip van Zandt keeps on her and the rabid choke hold she keeps on the jugulars of the other female inmates.
And don’t let Thaxter’s role fool you, I’ve seen her play ruthless psychotics in her own right on Boris Karloff’s Thriller episode air date Nov. 6th 1961 The Last of The Sommervilles as the conniving sociopath Ursula Sommerville. Interesting connection…Ida Lupino not only wrote the script for the episode but directed it as well!
Although a gritty Noir ‘women in prison’ film… could easily sway into campy territory, Lewis Seller’sWomen’s Prison stays very steady on a course of lensing the social implications of a corrupt and a brutal institution that extols credit for keeping the female riff raff out of the community while perpetuating the hard line, and struggle that many of these women face on the outside. Beating them down, and objectifying them as sexless social misfits who need to be kept away from ‘men’ and out of a ‘decent’ society.
Amelia van Zandt is the hyper exemplification of what can happen when too much power is given agency and allowed to culminate into a destructive force. van Zandt is the linchpin of brute force, and the submission required in order to control a group or perpetuate an ideal. The fact that she is female illustrates that it does not only have to be a patriarchal institution that can break a women’s spirit. It is here that elements of class and social capital come into focus and play a role in predetermining their fate.
Lupino’s character is similar to Hume Cronyn’s sadistic and un-empathetic Capt. Munsey in Jule’s Dassin’s brilliant Brute Force 1947:
In a way, van Zandt is just another ‘Boogeyman‘ created by an institution that dehumanizes it’s individuals.
Women’s Prison illustrates what happens when absolute control is given to a person or persons and that control goes unchecked, allowing their private or misguided motivations, mental health, ability to lead and quite simply the lack of understanding about the human equation to dictate the terms of the human condition in/of an isolated/insulated environment.
Who doesn’t love a good teeth grinding ‘Women in Prison’ movie! I know I can’t resist. And so I thought I’d pay a little tribute to two fabulous guilty pleasures of mine starring actress/director Ida Lupino!
The incredible Ida Lupino
I’ll go further in depth as to Ida Lupino’s extraordinary contributions to film and television when I do the full post!
The first film Women’s Prison 1955 is a taut Prison Film Noir piece starring the ineffable Ida Lupinowho gives a stunning portrayal of a brutally sadistic prison warden Amelia van Zandt who holds sway over these chained women, slowly exposing herself to be a psychotic, as she institutes her savage brand of rehabilitation!
Lois Nettleton plays parole officer Sally Porter who goes undercover to expose prison brutality at the hands of the vicious matron Clair Tyson! The film also stars Neile Adams, Hazel Medina, Kathy Cannon, BarBara Luna and the great Lucille Benson.