So drag yourself back to The Last Drive In for!
Coming up… BRIDES OF HORROR 1960s!!!
I’ve loved Barbara Rush for as long as I can remember. In every role where she graced the screen she left a lasting impression on me. I’ve followed her career from major motion pictures to wonderful dramatic television programs. To me, she is one of the great screen stars of all time — there is no one quite like her and her subtle emotional layers of acting that get peeled away with each scene. Barbara Rush possesses an inimitable grace and fine beauty. She has a transcendent gracefulness and a speaking voice that pours like honey. And when her words are meant to cut it’s not with knives or claws but with a feather quill carefully placed, an intelligent stroking, a gentle lash across the heart to cause the hurt. She has the finesse of diamond cut. She moves with great poise of a dancer, a beautiful gazelle stirring in the gentle quiet spaces of silent woods. A smile that beams like the sunniest of days.
When I think of Barbara Rush I think of a versatile acting style and an ability to draw out deep emotions. She delivers all of her lines with a deft swiftness that is subtle in all directions, ironically, witty, seriously thoughtful and always deeply from the heart.
When I see Barbara Rush I see beauty personified by elegance and an emanating dignity. Barbara Rush will always remain in my eyes, one of the most gentlewoman of the screen. No matter what role she is inhabiting, she brings a certain kind of class that is not learned, it’s inherent. The actress also is the most kind and generous with her compliments and her fond rememberances of her fellow actors and colleagues. She worked with some the finest actors in Hollywood, stage, and television, co-starring with the most notable actors such as James Mason, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Richard Burton and Kirk Douglas. Her roles were diverse– from savvy independent society girls, and disillusioned house wives, to an Irish spitfire and an iconic science fiction heroine.
She was born in Denver, Colorado in 1927 and graduated from University of California in 1948. Then she joined the University Players, taking acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse School for Performing Arts in Pasadena, California.
By Susan King Los Angeles Times: “She talks about everybody she’s worked with — even the notoriously difficult Joan Crawford — with an endearing sweetness that makes you feel like you’ve known her forever.
And in a way, we have…
She fondly recalls her time on the set with Niven and others. “I was just this foolish young girl,” she said of her character. “David Niven, he made me laugh so hard. They couldn’t [shoot] me because I was laughing so hard. I kept apologizing. He was a raconteur, always telling stories about what he did. Nunnally Johnson made me laugh all the time. I was really hopeless.”
Rush worked with Frank Sinatra in the 1963 comedy Come Blow your Horn and in the 1964 Rat Pack musical “Robin and the Seven Hoods.” She admitted she was nervous about working with Sinatra because she learned he didn’t rehearse. “I am from the stage,” she said. “I really can’t do [a scene] unless I rehearse. I didn’t know what to do.”
Rush talked to an actress (Carolyn Jones) who had just worked with him. “She said, ‘This is what you do, Barbara. You go up to him and say, ‘Mr. Sinatra?’ He’ll say, ‘Call me Frank. Now what I can do for you?’
So, she asked Sinatra if they could rehearse their first scene just one time. “He said, ‘Baby doll, of course. I’ll do that with you. Clear the stage. Get everybody to leave. Barbara and I are going to go over the scene.’ We went over the scene just once. From then on, he said, ‘Are you OK? Do you want to go over it again?’ He was just wonderful to me. And he gave me my wardrobe by Edith Head [from the film]. I wore the most wonderful clothes.”
Paramount signed Barbara her to a contract in 1950. She debuted with The Goldbergs (1950) as Debby Sherman, acting with Gertrude Berg as Molly Goldberg. The Goldbergs became a popular television show that deals with the human interest story of famous Jewish Bronx radio & TV family the Goldbergs, their typical struggles and hilarious moments. The show co-stars David Opatoshu and Eduard Franz.
Barbara Rush met actor Jeffrey Hunter and they fell in love. The ideal pair became one of Hollywood’s most beloved couples at 20th Century Fox. Barbara Rush and Jeffrey Hunter were married in December of 1950 until their divorce in 1955. Tragically Hunter died of a stroke due to a head injury in 1969.
Barbara Rush also turned to work on the stage. She garnered the Sarah Siddons Award for her starring role in Forty Carats. Making her Broadway debut in the one woman showcase, “A Woman of Independent Means” which also subsequently earned her the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award during its tour. Other showcases included “Private Lives”, “Same Time, Next Year”, “The Night of the Iguana” and “Steel Magnolias”.
Barbara starred in director George Templeton’s Quebec (1951) with John Drew Barrymore and The First Legion (1951) directed by Douglas Sirk co-starring along side Charles Boyer.
Barbara Rush in When Worlds Collide (1951)
During her time at Paramount, Barbara Rush appeared in the science fiction catastrophic end of the world thriller directed by Rudolph Maté —When World’s Collide 1951 co-starring Richard Derr, Peter Hansen and John Hoyt. Then came her role as Nora Logan in Flaming Feather (1952).
Sterling Hayden, Barbara Rush and Forrest Tucker Flaming Feather (1952)
Barbara Rush in Jack Arnold’s It Came From Outer Space (1953)
In (1953) she appeared in Prince of Pirates co-starring John Derek. That same year she would take on the role of heroine Ellen Fields in Jack Arnold’s sublime It Came from Outer Space that would become an emblematic performance of a smart and self sufficient leading lady in a science fiction masterpiece, that would leave a legacy for years to come. Ellen-“I just wish we had found just one of them really. Just one little monster to toss into the principles bedroom!”
In it, she co-stars with Richard Carlson who discovers an alien ship has crash landed in the side of a mountain. From the beginning Ellen supports him and doesn’t cower from the threat of extraterrestrials taking over her small desert town. She’s a strong feminist figure whose alien double wields a nifty ray-gun.
Then she starred as Oona in Taza, Son of Cochise (1954), In 1954 Barbara Rush appeared in director Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession co-starring Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson and Agnes Moorehead. Barbara plays Jane Wyman’s step daughter Joyce. Rock Hudson is a playboy who is seriously injured in a boat crash indirectly causing the death of Jane Wyman’s husband. When he tries to ingratiate himself into her life she becomes blinded. He spends the rest of his life trying to find a deeper understanding of life and the two fall in love.
That same year she appeared in director Rudolph Maté’s The Black Shield of Falworth with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. In 1955 Barbara Rush played Aga Doherty in Douglas Sirk’s Captain Lightfoot starring along side Rock Hudson, and acting with Jack Palance in the epic period piece Kiss of Fire (1955).
Barbara Rush in The Black Shield of Falworth (1955)
Barbara Rush and Jack Palance in Kiss of Fire (1955)
Captain Lightfoot 1955 takes place in 1815 Ireland struggling with the ordinary people of Ireland trying to separate themselves from the British Dragoons and seek their independence. Barbara is fiery and beautiful as Aga Doherty the daughter of an Irish Rebel Captain Thunderbolt played by Jeff Morrow. She falls for Rock Hudson a strong willed highwayman who strives to be like his hero Captain Thunderbolt. There is great chemistry between Hudson and Rush, as Aga adds a fiery spirit to the role, again exuding intelligence and that distinct sensibility to deliver lines in her sparkling cheeky manner.
Jeff Morrow, Rock Hudson and Barbara Rush in Captain Lightfoot 1955
Barbara Rush and James Mason in Bigger Than Life (1956)
In Bigger Than Life, mild-mannered schoolteacher Ed Avery (James Mason) suffers from severe headaches and blackouts. He is diagnosed with a rare inflammatory disease of the arteries. With death looming over him, he agrees to an experimental drug, cortisone. And at first he makes a remarkable recovery, but Ed begins to abuse the drug which causes wild mood swings and delusions of grandeur. Eventually he has a complete psychotic break and endangers the life of his family. Barbara Rush gives an emotionally heart wrenching performance as Ed’s beleaguered wife Lou who must support him through the madness.
Between 1954-1956 she appeared in 4 separate episodes of Lux Video Theater’s theatrical playets for television. Then in 1956 starred in World in My Corner with Audie Murphy and Jeff Morrow in this lesser known boxing noir. In 1956 Barbara also starred in the emotionally riveting drama Bigger Than Life with co-star James Mason as a teacher who progressively grows psychotic after trying a new drug.
Barbara portrays the sexy Pamela Vincent in the slick film noir Flight to Hong Kong with Rory Calhoun directed by Joseph M. Newman. Barbara appeared in director Nunnally Johnson’s hilarious romantic romp Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (1957) co-starring David Niven, Ginger Rogers and a quirky debut by Tony Randall. Afterwards Barbara appeared in director Martin Ritt’s No Down Payment (1957) co-starring Joanne Woodward, Sheree North Tony Randall and Jeffrey Hunter.
Bigger Than Life (1956)
Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (1957)
In Flight to Hong Kong 1956 she plays an independent, sophisticated writer from San Fransisco who pursues a fling with the swarthy smuggler Rory Calhoun because he is wild and different than any other man she usually meets. Pamela is smooth as she maneuvers through the plot leading him on. But, she exploits their passionate fling to write another best selling book and goes back to living a high society life, leaving Tony to flounder after hiding out for a year on steamers. Barbara is good at being cool, collected and coy in this film noir. She plays a very unconventional femme fatale.
1957 Barbara appears as the flighty Myra Hagerman in Oh, Men!, Oh! Women. The scene with her emptying her purse is hilarious and showcases Barbara’s comedic timing. Myra is no stranger to dating men which throws the stiffly composed therapist into a tizzy because of her past. She’s set to marry psychiatrist David Niven who shows off his talent for finesse and comedic fortitude and it’s a delight to watch the banter between Barbara and Niven.
You can tell the actors were having fun with their roles, and you can almost see Barbara Rush holding back the laughter in her scenes with David Niven. They had to do many takes, as she tried to keep a straight face with him.
in director Martin Ritt’s No Down Payment 1957 Barbara does a fine job of playing housewife Betty Kreitzer married to Herman (Pat Hingle) with an ensemble cast in a film concerned with 1950s collective aspirations toward the American Dream and upcoming middle class white suburban families with frailties and secrets that’s get aired out over nightly BBQs. Barbara’s character is the steady rock in the community. She goes to church, isn’t a drinker, and is devoted to her husband Pat Hingle but she does not push him to strive for anything more than being mediocre and mainstream. Barbara Rush as Betty plays this type of middle class American housewife with an expert amount of reserved.
Barbara then appeared with Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, and Dean Martin in The Young Lions (1958) about the intersecting lives of 3 soldiers, two Americans and Brando as a sympathetic Nazi soldier during WWII. Then cameHarry Black and the Tiger (1958) with theatrical television roles on Lux Playhouse “The Connoisseur” and Suspicion’s “A Voice in the Night.”
Marlon Brando and Barbara Rush in The Young Lions (1958)
In The Young Philadelphians (1959) Paul Newman plays Anthony Judson Lawrence an up and coming lawyer who is trying to navigate social pressures and balance his ethics while trying to make a place for himself in Philadelphia. Barbara Rush is wonderful as Joan Dickinson, the bright independent society girl who planned to marry Anthony. She wants him to stick to his morals, yet through misdirection by her father and the misunderstanding that ensues she becomes disappointed in the direction his career goes. The two part ways but fate brings them back together once again. Directed by Vincent Sherman.
Joan Dicknson “At least you have someplace to go.
Anthony Judson Lawrence “Haven’t you?”
Joan Dickinson “Are you kidding? I have no talents. Nothing. I was very well educated to be an idiot. And I was a good student.”
“I think Paul has made some really great films, he won Academy Awards and all kinds of things and he’s done some wonderful work. But you know just as far as an audience watching a film likes to hear a good tale told, I think this is one of his most enduring films. And I think of all the films that I’ve done the best one that’s played the most on AMC and Turner Classic Movies , they play it over and over again and I still get at least 20 letters about The Young Philadelphians. They love the story. And when I go on cruises and we play films and so forth they always want to see the young Philadelphians and it wasn’t even in color, that was a black and white film but the love story is enduring and they seem to like it a great deal. Towards the end of the film Paul wanted certain changes with the script and I think Vincent Sherman was amenable to that and Stewart Stern was brought in and so he came in and did certain scenes and I think it just kind of spiced the picture up a little bit. You know who else was in the film that I loved her… so often when I worked in film I worked with people that I admired a great deal so it was such a happiness to work with them to be able to work with them to be around them, was Alexis Smith. She was a wonderful woman. And I loved her scenes with him. And Otto Krueger, I worked with him on Magnificent Obsession, but I thought he was such a good actor. You know they have these wonderful character actors in it.” –Barbara Rush
Barbara commands the screen in The Young Philadelphians. She plays a substantive role once again, delivering intelligent dialogue with swift splinters of her humor and intellect running throughout. When Anthony asks her “how bout a hamburger” she briskly replies “I’m a chili girl” to show that though she is entrenched in high society she is her own girl and has a down to earth nature at heart. Joan is a likable character who is unfortunately mislead by her father (the wonderful character actor John Williams). She is gracious and thoughtful and not a spoiled ingénue. Instead, she exudes integrity. Joan had her heart set to marry for love. Throughout the film it is clear the powerful range of acting by Barbara Rush allows her emotions to build toward the films conclusion. As in each of her varied roles, her pacing temporally rises, finally to express her inner turmoil with beautifully achingly poignant moments.
No one cries quite like Barbara Rush. Though the film is a commentary on class and the focus is predominantly about the male relationships. Barbara’s contribution works perfectly to condemn the masculine stubbornness she maintains a dignity throughout the picture never losing her sense of belonging to the narrative.
In 1959 Barbara appeared in Sunday Showcase “What Makes Sammy Run? as Kit Sargent.
Barbara then appeared in The Bramble Bush 1960 directed by Daniel Petrie co-starring Richard Burton. The film deals with mercy killings and small town morals. Richard Burton plays a young doctor Guy Montford who comes back home to his small New England town in order to see his dying friend (Tom Drake) through his last days. Larry is suffering and begs Dr. Guy Montford to help him end his suffering which he does by overdosing him on morphine. Guy is haunted by the mercy killing and finds solace in the arms of Larry’s wife, Margaret, portrayed with a beautiful sensitivity by Barbara Rush. The chemistry is palpable and especially potent in the love scene when Burton and Rush kiss on the boat.
Margaret tells him “That’s the worst part of it. You know we had a passionate relationship our marriage was founded on it. It wasn’t so bad when we could still make love. Now he’s a stranger. A cold white sheet.”
From 1957-1960 Barbara appeared in Playhouse 90 “Alas, Babylon (1960) and “The Troublemakers” (1957). In 1960 Checkmate (TV Series) she plays Margaret Russell/Nikki - The Dark Divide, a disturbed young women with split personality. She makes a wonderful transition from repressed mouse to sexy femme fatale, giving a stellar performance of a woman conflicted by repression and self-possession. Barbara Rush then appeared in television’s Sunday Showcase, “What Makes Sammy Run?”
Barbara then plays Eve Coe in Strangers When We Meet 1960. Kirk Douglas portrays Larry Coe a suburban architect who loves his wife Eve. This is a role that Barbara once again summons versatility to switch gears and play the epitome of middle class etiquette and decorum. Larry becomes weighed down by his “perfect” marriage and his mundane work, until he meets the sexually frustrated Maggie (Kim Novak) whose husband is not only keeping her in a lovely marriage but wields a big dose of morality on his desirable wife. The two start a passionate affair which leads to a question of complacency, morality and the dilemma of self fulfillment.
As Kirk Douglas’s wife Barbara plays the “pushy housewife” who is practical and uptight and wants Larry to conform. But Larry falls for Kim Novak. Neighbor Walter Matthau finds out about the affair and feels emboldened to try to have his way with Eve on cold rainy afternoon. Coming close to an assault, Eve’s reaction is intense and brutal and Barbara Rush pulls it off without being overwrought yet believable as a woman who has been violated and frightened all while being processing the incident.
It’s a very intense scene played very well by Barbara. Afterwards she realizes why Felix might have felt empowered to make a pass, Eve telling Larry about the attempted assault- “I’ve been sitting here thinking what gave Felix the peculiar notion that I’d be an easy mark.” Barbara does an excellent job of playing the middle class housewife who fits a certain mold, but eventually catches onto the affair and her raw emotions begin to surface. It shows her range, serious and vulnerable.
She appeared in the 1960 episode of Theatre ’62, “Notorious”, and also in 1962 General Electric Theater’s “A Very Special Girl.” She appeared in four episodes of Saints and Sinners– “New Lead Berlin” 1963, “The Home-Coming Bit” 1963, “Luscious Lois 1962” “Dear George, the Siamese Cat is Missing” 1962. And she appeared in a Ben Casey “From Too Much Love of Living,” directed by Mark Rydell.
The Eleventh Hour episode “Make Me a Place” to me is one of Barbara Rush’s stand out performances. Wendell Corey plays a psychiatrist in the series who helps his patients find their way through the maze of problems. Barbara Rush gives an extraordinary performance as Linda Kinkaid, a fragile woman who has had a breakdown. And is under the impression she might be trying to kill herself again. Barbara plays the role carefully restrained without appearing hysterical relating some of the most powerfully emotional scenes I’ve experienced anywhere. Her performance will rip your heart out, and leave you in tears. She should have won an Emmy for that acting feat. The episode co-stars David Janssen.
1963 Come Blow Your Horn, Tony Bill plays Buddy Baker who leaves his parent’s (Molly Picon and Lee J. Cobb) stifling home and goes to live with his swinging stylish brother Alan (Frank Sinatra) who has a slew of women. Barbara plays the one steady classy lady in Alan’s life, the sophisticated mature Connie who wants a commitment from the playboy and teaches him what love really is. The chemistry between Sinatra and Rush is once again very dynamic.
In 1964 she appeared in The Outer Limits “The Form of Things Unknown” as Leonora Edmund co-starring Vera Miles. A powerfully atmospheric fairy tale written by Joseph Stefano. Barbara Rush and Vera Miles play Leonora Edmond and Kasha Paine who are at the mercy of a ruthless blackmailer Andre (Scott Marlowe). When the two women flee after poisoning him they stumble onto a mysterious house during a rain storm. There they meet the butler Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Colus who tends to the house belonging to the brooding young inventor Tone Hobart (David McCallum) obsessed with his time machine made up of clocks.
Both Barbara Rush and Vera Miles turn in outstanding performances amidst this dark fairy tale landscape. Both women’s very antithetical roles play off each other brilliantly. Stefano’s writing is layered with psychological maelstroms and the cast interpret the story magnificently without reducing it to a simple hour long television fantasy yarn.
Barbara continued to make several significant television drama appearances in 1965, including Kraft Suspense Theatre “In Darkness, Waiting,” Vacation Playhouse, Convoy, The Barbara Rush Show, Checkmate “The Dark Divide”, Dr. Kildare “With Hellfire and Thunder” and “Daily Flights to Olympus” co-starring James Daly, and in 1966 Laredo, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater.
Then came Robin and the 7 Hoods where she plays Marian, a classy vamp who’s outfits are divine. She’s cheeky, sophisticated, funny, and also cunning and deliciously mercenary as a mob boss who runs circles around all the hoodlums in the city.
In The Fugitive she plays Barry Morris’ wife Marie Lindsey Gerard in the episode Landscape with Running Figures (1965). It’s a dramatic performance as the wife of the man so driven to catch wrongly accused Doctor Richard Kimble that his obsession drives his wife away and into a dangerous situation. Barbara Rush conveys a woman who is repulsed by her husband’s mad course to bring the fugitive in. While leaving Gerard behind, she is injured in a bus accident and of course Dr Kimble is there. It is up the good doctor to get her the help she needs. Barbara plays the situation with pathos and intensity she is temporarily blinded and doesn’t realize that it is the man her husband has been pursuing who is helping her to safety. It’s one of the best episodes of the series. not least of which is due to Barbara Rush’s compelling, intuitive performance. “I should explain my marriage to you Mr. Carver (Richard Kimble’s alias) What you see before you is the losing end of a triangle. I lost my husband to a Will O The Wisp who drifted in and out twisting our lives. The little man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. He’s never there.”
in 1968 Barbara starred in Hombre with Paul Newman directed by Martin Ritt. In the Batman (1968-69) television series Barbara played villainess Nora Clavicle and the Ladies’ Crime Club and Nora appeared again in “Louie’s Lethal Lilac Time.”
She starred as Marsha Russell in the popular dramatic television evening series Peyton Place, appearing in over 75 episodes of the show until it’s end.
Barbara also appeared in four distinctive Medical Center episodes. A Life is Waiting (1969) is a very feminist episode that challenges the idea that a women’s body is her husbands property. Barbara Rush gives a powerful performance as Nora Caldwell, a woman who recognizes the tenuous hold she’s had over her identity and her place in her husband’s world. Barbara delivers thoughtful cutting oft dark comedic lines while giving an emotionally potent portrayal of a women fighting to be heard. In Awakening (1972) Barbara plays Judy whose husband has woken from a coma after three years. Judy has moved on from her marriage and blames him for the death of their 9 year old daughter. She gives a tour-de-force as a woman torn between her own needs, and ties to the past.
I would never resort to objectifying the great actress by reducing my commentary to just how beautiful she looks but I am bound to mention this or I’ll bust… Aside from her tremendous acting, I love her signature hair styles and her incredible fashion sense that has followed her throughout her career, on and off screen and to this day. And she carries it well.
Other television appearances during the 1960s-70s include Love, American Style 1970, The Mod Squad 1971 the television movie Suddenly Single 1971, Night Gallery 1971 “Cool Air” Cutter 1972 tv movie, Marcus Welby M.D. episodes “Silken Threads and Silver Hooks 1960”, & “Don’t Talk About Darkness 1972” McCloud 1972, The Eyes of Charles Sands 1972 tv movie, Cade’s County 1972, The Man 1972, Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law 1972. Barbara Rush plays Louise Rodanthe in the tv movie Moon of the Wolf 1972, Maude 1972 “Maude’s Reunion” Barbara plays old school pal Bunny Nash. Ironside 1971-72 episodes Ring of Prayer” &”Cold Hard Cash”, Crime Club 1973 tv movie, The Streets of San Francisco 1973 “Shattered Image”, Of Men and Women 1973 tv movie, The New Dick Van Dyke Show 1973-74, Medical Center 1969-1974 episodes “A Life is Waiting”, “Awakening”, “Impact”, & “Choice of Evils”, In Police Story 1974 “Chief” Barbara plays John Forsyth’s smart and stunning wife. She manages swift and clever lines quoting Shakespeare and being a dutiful and intelligent partner.
Fools, Females and Fun 1974 tv movie, The Last Day 1975 tv movie, Cannon 1975 “Lady on the Run”, Mannix 1968 episodes “A Copy of Murder”, & Design for Dying” 1975, Ellery Queen 1975-76 episodes “The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario”, & “The Adventures of Auld Lang Syne” 1975, The Bionic Woman 1976 as Jaime’s mother, ABC Weekend Specials 1977 “Portrait of Grandpa Doc” The Eddie Capra Mysteries “Dying Declaration” Death Car on the Freeway 1979 tv movie, The Love Boat 1979 2 episodes.
Barbara Rush also turned to work on the stage. She garnered the Sarah Siddons Award for her starring role in Forty Carats. Making her Broadway debut in the one woman showcase, “A Woman of Independent Means” which also subsequently earned her the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award during its tour. Other showcases included “Private Lives”, “Same Time, Next Year”, “The Night of the Iguana” and “Steel Magnolias”.
Barbara Rush still possesses that transcendent talent, beauty, poise and grace. She will always be someone special, an actress who is memorable.
Though Barbara Rush skill shows incredible range and depth in her performances, the one great role of a lifetime never seemed to come her way, though what ever she has appeared in is brightened immensely by her presence. To think of what might have been had there been even MORE substantive scripts offered to her, what she could have accomplished like many fine actresses, in addition to her already impressive career, it makes you wonder of the missed opportunities Hollywood made by not taking advantage of Barbara Rush’s marvelous talent.
Television became a wonderful avenue for Barbara Rush’s acting, and her performances are no less effective and adept than those in her major motion picture roles. To every performance, she brings an authentic reality to her characters with her bright engaging smile, the wisp of seriousness to her tone, streak of comedic talent within her ironic lilting mannerisms. Barbara Rush is an iconic actress who shows a special quality, spunk and spirit that begs to be cherished. I love you Barbara Rush, and will continue to enjoy the legacy of your work. You make me smile.
Barbara talking about starring in The Old Pros Radio Shows like Inner Sanctum at age 88!
Barbara Rush as adorable and kind as ever answers questions at the Aero Theater 9-29-2010
Barbara Rush still possesses that transcendent talent, beauty, poise and grace. She will always be someone special, an actress who is memorable.
Jo: Hi, Lee? It’s Jo, how’re you doing?
Lee: Hi Jo!
Jo: What’s going on? How’s your day?
Lee: Good so far.
Jo: So hopefully it’ll just even get better now. [laughs]
Lee: Of course!
Jo: Are you ready to talk a little bit?
Jo: Ok, great! Um, God, I don’t even know where to start because I’m just really excited and very grateful that you’re spending time talking to me.
Jo: Um, so, before I start asking you any questions, I mean I guess I could just start asking you some questions. We spoke a little yesterday, and you know how much I love your work. I’ve just followed you for such a long time. And I’m kind of in awe of you, so I’m a little starstruck. [laughs]
Lee: Oh, good! [laughs] You’re so cute and I don’t think there are many people who would say that any more. So it’s yummy.
Jo: No, that’s not true, let me tell you, you’ve got fans! There are so many people who just adore you. You are memorable! You are a beautiful spitfire. You’re complex, you’re powerful, you’re evocative and very memorable. So don’t think I’m the only one. [laughs]
Lee: Ok, I give in!
Jo: Ok, you give in!
Lee: I give in, I am memorable!
Jo: You are memorable, you really really are. I mean, seriously, it’s like every time something would come on TV, a show or a movie, and I would say “oh, Lee Grant is in this!” I would get so excited. No matter what it was, I would watch it. If it was like a television program, even if I wasn’t familiar with the show or the film, I’d be like “well, Lee is in it, I’ve got to see this now!” So I’m going to start asking away and hopefully they’re good questions.
Lee: Where’s Wendy?
Jo: Oh, Wendy’s here, too.
Wendy: I’m actually here, Lee. Hi! I’m the technical person so I’m here to make sure everything goes ok.
Lee: Hi Wendy. Ok!
Wendy: And I do have a question for you at the end, too. I couldn’t resist!
Jo: The sociologist in her!
Lee: You know, I’m just glad to hear from you girls. You were so alive and interested and interesting when we met, and here we are, what is it 3 months later? You meet someone on an airplane and you see somebody and you sit and you talk for 6 hours and then you get off and you never see them again. So this is nice!
Jo: It was really amazing to just walk into this big room with all these people fluttering about, swarming about like a hive. And then to see you standing there [Lee laughs] and you’re like this legend. This utter legend, stuck in the corner of a room!
Lee: Yeah, and you know, I’ve been writing a lot. And that deserves it’s own story.
Jo: It does. It definitely does… To walk over and just talk to you like that—I wanted to grab a big pot of coffee and a couple of chairs and just sit. So now we’re doing it, really.
Lee: We’re doing it! And I have the coffee, too. I’m not sure it counts, though.
Jo: So, I’m going to just start asking questions. And I think I told you yesterday that I do these little setups because it helps me bridge to the question.
Lee: Whatever, just go honey!
Jo: You were in films with diverging mainstream audience appeal… showing the wide range and versatility of your acting such as In the Heat of the Night with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger which dealt with racism. Valley of the Dolls became a cult pop sensation, and Plaza Suite where you were sublimely hilarious in Neil Simon’s timeless comedy at it’s best. What is it that makes you such a versatile actress?
Lee: Well, I was a very compelled actress. You know I was blacklisted for 12 years, and those were the years from age 24 to age 36. I couldn’t work in film or television because I was married to a writer who was called a communist and therefore I was asked to name my own husband in front of the Unamerican Activities Committee, and my loathing—I was going to say fear and loathing, but there was no fear. My loathing for that kind of activity and McCarthyism. You know, I can feel it in my stomach as I’m talking to you, it’s so great. It’s the feeling I have about Trump and that little lawyer Roy Cohn. You know, I was taken out of the acting system for the most important years of my life, I thought at the time. So when I came back, you know, they hired me for Peyton Place, and let me see, it would’ve been 1952-1964. Peyton Place at that time was the biggest television show in the country.
Jo: Yes, I just finished binge-watching it.
Lee: I went from near obscurity to being the bad girl—Stella Chernack—on Peyton Place which was seen by America three times a week. And not the same show three times a week. The appetite for it was so great that they did three new shows each week. So all of a sudden I was everybody’s bad girl. You know, and my hunger for work, for acting, for reestablishing myself, for getting back at the bad guy was so intense, that all the film or TV show had to say was “do you want to?” And I said yes. That was the title of my book, I said yes to everything. Yes, yes, yes because the appetite was unfillable, to work, to act. And with each part, you know you talk about my first movie, the movie that Norman Jewison directed, the one with Sidney Poitier and Rod Stieger.
Jo: Of course, In the Heat of the Night…
Lee: You know, when Norman interviewed me, he knew my background. This was a decade of intensely liberal filmmakers in Hollywood. Intensely liberal filmmakers. And the producer of Peyton Place, too. It was like they couldn’t wait to hire me. They couldn’t wait to make up for—and it makes me cry a little bit—all the years I didn’t work. Their generosity, their kindness, their focus, their need to say “you’re ok now, we got you.” And for them to see that as an actor I was ready to take on the kind of roles that they were ready to give me. And I was.
Jo: And with an extra fierceness. You probably had an extra fierceness to show yourself because you had this fuel, this anger. This impetus.
Lee: It wasn’t to sell myself, it was to act. It was to drop into that character and live that new life. After all I’m a method actress. And I was starved to act. So I just couldn’t get enough after wanting to act for all those young years. And I had to lie about my age because I was 36 when I got back in, so I got Mayor Yorty to change my driver’s license. We had no computers then so nobody would know. You know, it was like everything to get back that they took away.
Jo: Everything that they stole from you! You mentioned being a method actress…
When you act what are you tapping into, beyond the acting Method you studied, and beyond the imagination of little Lyova Rosenthal. You take words in the script and make them come to life like no other actor. Lee Grant has her own unique way of expressing herself. You bring a unique identity to each role. Did it come from starting out with Meisner, or teaching at Uta Hagen’s studio working with improvisation? Where does your genius come from?
Lee: It absolutely came from Meisner, because I was 17 when I went into the neighborhood playhouse. I was a failing high school student, and all I wanted were boys, boys, boys, and all I did was flirt, flirt, flirt. And when I went into that class and he gave me an objective. Jo, you know what an objective is—it’s to want something.
Jo: Oh yeah, yeah.
Lee: And the situation he set up with another boy in class was to get him out of the room, that he’d been a boyfriend and he wanted to get him out of the room. Well, this, there’s a Jewish word for it—a guerilla, a goomba, whatever it is, came out of me so this boy had no chance. The rage that I never knew—I never knew I had– this impulse, this fierceness, of carrying out that objective to get that poor guy out of the room. With my voice, with my hands, it overwhelmed me. It overwhelmed him. And my strength was born. My strength was born in that first improvisation at 17. And to be given the benefit of saying “I want to do this” and then within safe circumstances, which is the play, you get to carry it out. You may not carry it out in life, but in that room for that moment you can do anything because you have the objective.
Jo: That’s incredible. That’s an incredible background story. And I understand it’s like that moment, that epiphany when there it is, it’s born.
Lee: That was it. And that became my life. I that was it.
Jo: Well thank god for that because we’ve enjoyed the outcome of that.
Lee: Thank god for that is right! I could’ve gone any way, I could’ve been breaking up marriages.
Jo: Well, now I have a fun question—You are our favorite Columbo murderer… you were also in the Balcony with Peter Falk…
This is a 2 part question. You worked with Peter Falk in several roles, from plays like Prisoner of 2nd Ave, to an emotional episode of Ben Casey (you both gave a wonderfully passionate and heart-wrenching performance!), to the very post-modern The Balcony, and then, famously, as our favorite Columbo murderer the lady lawyer Lesley Willams in Ransom for a Deadman. What was it like to work with him? How did you end up working with him so much?
Columbo was one of those shows that was set up in such an interesting way because there were certain murderers who were ‘sympathetic’, and you were one of them. You could tell Columbo had a lot of respect for your character’s savvy. Did you enjoy playing cat and mouse with each other (like when you say to him “it’s always the jugular he’s going for” and then when you take him for that terrifying joy ride in your airplane and he doesn’t want to talk for a while, and you’re enjoying his discomfort)? How much fun were you both having on the set?
Lee: Oh, you’re so funny! [laughs]
Jo: And I promised myself I wouldn’t ask you about Shelley Winters (co-star in The Balcony), but maybe if we have time I’ll ask you about Shelley… [laughs](back to Peter Falk)
Lee: It was a good marriage.
Jo: That’s a good way to put it.
Lee: Yeah, it was a good marriage. All of the parts we played, or were thrown in to play together, since it certainly wasn’t planned. Peter was in it and I was hired, or I was in it and then Peter. And we found ourselves each time within a new situation with a new role to play with each other. Never the same role. And we were not friends.
Jo: You weren’t? Oh, that’s what I was curious about because it almost seemed like you had such a natural flow together.
Lee: I think that’s one of the things that worked for us. That we were familiar as actors and felt each other as actors, but we had no history that would get in the way of whatever that character was. Whoever he was playing went through many versions certainly, and in his big show, I was the enemy. So it was fun to attack him freshly in whatever character he was and whatever character I was at the time—friend, enemy, enemy, friend. And at each time find an actor who could spar with you, you know, fence with you.
Jo: And you did it so well. I mean it’s funny because with Columbo there are several instances in the series where there are sympathetic murderers. And Wendy and I both think that you’re one of them. You, and Joyce Van Patten, I loved her character. ( actually Lee was one of the more ‘ruthless’ murderers – maybe I just love her so much that I was on her side!)
Lee: Oh, Joyce is one of my best friends.
Jo: Ah, love her! And Ruth Gordon, we love the one with Ruth Gordon. If Ruth were here Wendy and I would try to get you three to sit and have lunch with us and celebrate the best Columbo murderers.
Lee: I would do it any time, to have lunch with Ruth Gordon any time. And Joyce is one of my three very very very very best friends.
Jo: We love her. She’s another one, we just light up when we see her. She’s so wonderful. That’s so nice to hear that you are such good friends. Tell her we said hi.
Lee: I knew Joyce Van Patten when I saw her on stage as a child actor. I saw her on stage when she was about 13 or 14.
Jo: Really? Wow, so you have a long history together.
Lee: We have a long history.
Jo: Awwww that’s wonderful. And it’s interesting that you both were that sympathetic murderer, and he really had that kind of respect for you. Because no matter what hell you put him through, like flying in that plane and making him suffer, you can tell he says, “don’t talk to me for a few minutes.”
Lee: Well the thing is also that I’m the worst driver in the world. I have no sense of direction. So getting me to fly a plane like I knew where I was going and I knew what buttons to push was such a kick for me.
Jo: Oh, that’s great! This is an interesting question and something I really wanted to know.…
Do you feel that your roles in non-mainstream films (pause) or television series like Peyton Place Do you feel like they were less constrained for you as an actor?
Lee: Than what?
Jo: Thank doing a major motion picture. The smaller television series.
I wish there were more roles for you like Stella Chernak, or the wandering mother/wife in the Neon Ceiling. Or Mrs Enders, the mother in the Landlord, or Marilyn Kim Novak’s neighbor in Middle of the Night. One of my favorites and you’re going to laugh at this, but sassy Edna from Storm Fear. They were very complex, and reflexive, and quirky, and substantive roles for women?
Lee: Wait, Storm Fear? (wonderful laughing hysterically)
Jo: Storm Fear directed by Cornel Wilde. It was that… ok I’m glad you’re laughing… I’m going to ask you about that now.
Lee: [laughs] Where did you ever get to see it?
Jo: Well I’ve seen most all your work anyway, but because I knew I was going to talk to you I started re-watching a lot of your films again because I just wanted to spend time with Lee Grant.
Lee: Oh honey, that’s funny.
Jo: Ok, I have my question about Storm Fear… this will make you laugh even more…
I get the sense Cornel Wilde didn’t give a lot of direction in Storm Fear. But Edna was a very bright light in an otherwise conventional heist movie. Edna was rough around the edges, likable, and kind. There’s a great scene where she’s walking in the snow, in her fancy boots and snow shoes, swinging her purse. And she says about her mink coat “if it gets left behind, I’m gonna to be in it.” And in the end, they leave Edna dying in the snow with her two broken ankles, a wad of cash, and her mink coat. We were so upset at the end for you! Is Edna still out there in the snow? What was your experience working on that film?
Lee: “I’ll kill ya!” Do you remember his reading of “I’ll kill ya!”? Cornel Wilde would say “ok, cut. Now listen to me Steve (Steven Hill), “I’ll kill you.” “I’ll kill you. Now you try it.” And Steve goes “I’ll kill you.” And Cornel would say “ok, you’ve got it Steve. Alright, and action!” And Steve would say “I’ll kill YA!” “I’ll kill YA!” [laughs]
Jo: [laughs] That’s too hilarious! So I suspected right… that you two did your thing and were the highlight of the film. There’s the great scene—you’ll remember this—where you’re walking in the snow in your fancy shoes. And you’re swinging your purse and you’re wearing the mink coat. And you say “If this gets left behind I’m going to be in it!” And that’s exactly what happens. They leave you dying in the snow with two broken ankles and a wad of cash in your mink coat.
Lee: [laughs] Falling down into the ravine.
Jo: You had fallen into the ravine. And Wendy and I are – I’m the kind of person, I yell at the television set—And Wendy and I were like “where’s Edna?” I’m like “what about Edna?!”
Lee: Thank you! Thank you! I needed that!
Jo: I’m like all upset, what are you leaving her down there in the snow for? Give some closure. Where is she? Rescue her! Dammit! Rescue her! She’s got broken ankles!
Lee: That is so funny.
Jo: But you were great in that. And those are the kind of roles that I really do love.
Lee: Well you know the thing about that is, historically speaking, that was an absolute crossover moment in my life, because I was still blacklisted. Cornel Wilde who was a really, really decent guy hired me as a blacklisted actress in an important part in which he wanted to introduce his wife, the non-actress, as the lead. With Dan Duryea, who is no small pickings. Dan Duryea is one of the great character actors of all time.
Jo: Yes, I love him.
Lee: Now Cornel hired me when I was still deep in the blacklist and nobody else would hire me. And we made enough money to have my daughter. She was conceived in Hollywood at that time because we had enough money to have another baby, and to have my baby, as I had two stepchildren. So you know it was a ridiculous thing, stomping in the snow with this big snowshoes and a black satin dress, and my blistered scalp because they dyed my hair from dark red to platinum blonde. So my head was all blistered. But bless Cornel Wilde. He did a remarkable and wonderful thing, and I had the most important thing in my life. Dina saved me through that whole blacklisted period. Having a little girl to take care of and to be there. And she was the best, the funniest, the sweetest, the most interesting. So she saved my life, and that came out of Storm Fear. I mean, it’s so interesting when you think about it.
Jo: It really is. And your performance is almost bright and glowing. There’s something emanating from Edna. I just love Edna. And maybe that’s what I was picking up on.
Lee: Oh yes, sweetheart. But having daughter Dina was the thing that held me together through the whole thing.
Jo: And she’s a hoot.
Lee: She’s the best. The best. I just came back from being with her.
Jo: I love that she’s in that episode of the Golden Girls when Blanche, Rue MacLanahan, keeps slamming the door in her face. It is just so hilarious. The comedic timing between the two of them is brilliant. I mean, she’s got your… she’s got the gift.
Lee: Yes, she does.
Jo: It’s in her genes. Ok, now we’ll move on and I’ll ask you another question—I’m glad we had a good laugh…
I loved the scene in Hal Ashby’s film the Landlord when you and Pearl Bailey are getting drunk on pot liquor, and you walk out with the ham hock in your bag. Mrs. Enders is such a fabulous character, did you have any particular inspiration for her character? Did you enjoy working with Pearl? And, do you have any great stories from that film? He’s a great director, and Mrs Enders is another fabulous character that you’ve played.
What was the inspiration for her character…?
Lee: Yes! [laughs] Well, my mother and my aunt, yes. And I had just finished doing In the Heat of the Night which was all about losing my first husband who died of a heart attack and Norman Jewison knew that and Hal Ashby was his editor at that time, so they knew that I would come in to do In the Heat of the Night with an experience that they knew I had, and Sidney and I really improvised that scene. But that’s how they knew me. And then as a friend they let me read The Landlord, and I said I can do that part and their whole image of me was of the grieving widow. And I said “let me just do it for you because that’s my mother, that’s my aunt.” And they told me that they had Jessica Tandy attached to it and I found some blonde wig, and I stood under the lights in the hallway so that I looked older. And I did it for them and they got it. And they gave it to me. So you know to go from the first, In the Heat of the Night, to Mrs Enders was just everything I ever wanted. To plumb both of those things. So it was just thrilling for me. First of all, the movie is a masterpiece. And it was Hal’s first directing job.
Jo: So it Was his first movie.
Lee: Yes, then he did the one with Ruth Gordon.
*Hal Ashby on the set of Harold and Maude with Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon.*
Jo: Wendy and I were sold on him after he did Harold and Maude.
Lee: Harold and Maude is one of the great masterpieces ever ever made.
Jo: It absolutely is…
Lee: And I wanted to do Ruth Gordon’s part, too. It shows you how hungry and stupid I was at the same time.
Jo: I wouldn’t say stupid.
Lee: Well, how hungry and ambitious.
Lee: Not ambitious, how starved I was. I was so starved that when you showed a piece of marrow bone, like Ruth Gordon’s part, I was like “let me have it, let me have it” but I never saw a piece of work as brilliant as her…
Jo: Oh yes, she is a whole other subject… she’s something else!
Lee: She is. She is to be worshiped.
Jo: I think so. But I mean so are you, really!
Lee: Oh, ok!
Jo: We’re worshiping you today! [laughs]
Lee: Worship away! [laughs]
Jo: Ok I’m going to ask you about Shampoo… I think there should’ve been more of you…
You won an academy award for Shampoo. We’re huge fans of the brilliant filmmaker Hal Ashby. People experience this movie as a 1970s, romanticized, sexual freedom film.
I experience the film as a deification of Warren Beatty’s insatiable sexual prowess running around with his phallic blowdryer. I just think there should have been a lot more of you. Do you think the film would’ve benefited from more development of the women characters and their sexuality? You also mention in your wonderful book that Warren Beatty tried to direct you and you almost quit the film. Do you think the film needed more of your vision and direction to bring the women characters more into focus?
Lee: Well I think there should’ve been more of me!
Jo: I think so!
Lee: I think there should’ve been a lot more of me in everything that I’ve ever been in. But unfortunately, there are other actors and there is a plot and there are other ramifications. So while I always think there should be a lot more of me, practically speaking it’s not the thing to do. I think that the woman I played was sound. I think her needs, her bitterness. The rejection of her within the Hollywood framework of that time. And that glowing gorgeous daughter played by…
Jo: Carrie Fisher.
Lee: She was the most beautifully white-skinned little girl, Carrie Fisher. And for me to be a mother who was hungry and rejected and to have that child right downstairs in the house. My character was just filled with conflict and unfulfillment. And all I seem to care about in that film was my coat and my hair and getting shtupped. And grabbing at whatever I could that would fill this emptiness. I hated Hollywood at that time.
Jo: But you were more interesting and intricate than Warren Beatty’s character. I didn’t find his character as complex as I did yours.
Lee: I don’t think that he intended to be… to be… you know, Warren wrote that with Robert Towne. A great, great, great writer. And the character he wrote was a very simple guy who likes to please. He likes to please everyone. He likes to please the Jack Warden character as much as he does with the women whose hair he does, his customers. He is guaranteed to please. Because certainly he’s not that attracted to me. Right before he goes to bed with me, my daughter seduces him. And you know one of the real arguments that Warren and I had in that film was that right before the scene when I come home and I go to Carrie’s door, and I’m expecting him to be there. I’m expecting him to go upstairs and make love to me. The day before we do that scene he sits me down at the table and he says “you know Lee, Felecia (which is the character I played), Felicia does not know when she opens the door to her daughters room that the daughter and him have…” And I was so enraged that he would tell me what to think before I open that door that I quit the next day.
Jo: I read that in your book!
Lee: Yes, I quit the next day. And of course he apologized and we moved on with the scene but I said “if you ever tell me what I’m supposed to think, I won’t be there.” But the thing was, that I opened the door and of course I knew that they had gone to bed. I mean, I’m no dummy!
Jo: Of course!
Lee: And my own need was so ferocious that it didn’t matter! And that’s the way I played that scene when I went upstairs. I kept on my coat. I kept on my curlers in my hair. I just pulled down my stockings and pulled him over to me. You know, it was my needs.
Jo: Right, yes. And it’s a powerful scene and a powerful role. And that’s why you won the Academy Award for it!
Lee: Well, you know I’d been nominated a lot of times.
Jo: Oh, I know.
Lee: So usually when you’re nominated and you don’t win then you’re just a thing in the way after that. At first it’s like “Lee, Lee, look this way!” And then when you don’t win, they want you out of the way.
Jo: That’s rotten!
Lee: But I knew even when I went up to get the award finally that I was now at the age where they wouldn’t hire me. That I was going into 50, and this was probably the last big big movie.
Jo: But it wasn’t.
Lee: Only one more.
Jo: What was the movie after?
Lee: Oh, the Jewish… the boat…
Jo: Oh, yes, Voyage of the Damned.
Lee: Yes, Voyage of the Damned.
Jo: I watched the scene where you cut your hair. It’s a very difficult movie for me to watch. And, I had a relative on the ship.
Jo: Yes, she was a child and she survived it. She made her way back.
Jo: Eventually she made her way to France and she is now a biochemist and a professor at Harvard. I lost relatives in the Holocaust but she was on the ship and I don’t have her name in front of me. This is terrible. My brother has been doing historical research to find our relatives and where we came from in a small town that is now part of Poland.
Lee: That’s where my father came from.
Jo: Yes, and it was Austria at the time.
Lee: We’re little strong Polish Jews!
Jo: Yes, yes, and we came to New York and it made us even stronger.
Lee: Oh yes.
Jo: We’re tough.
Lee: Something about us makes us tough.
Jo: And my mother was Russian.
Lee: So was mine! My mishpucha, honey! [laughs]
Jo: My mishpucha, yes! [laughs] That’s why I called you bubbie (short for bubbeleh-friend not grandmother) yesterday and then felt bad. I said “I’ll talk to you later, bubbie!” [laughs] And then I was like “Oy, should I have said that?”
Lee: [laughs] I’ll be your bubbie!
Jo: Oh, good, good! Ok, so now I’m going to ask you about Stella Chernack because we were talking about that bad girl you played. Again, you won a much-deserved Emmy for that. And I did watch the entire show, because of you and I knew you were in it. So I watched Peyton Place… now, Stella is amazing. An amazing character.
Again, you won a much-deserved Emmy for your portrayal of Stella Chernak. Stella leaves her working class background in Peyton Place to become a biochemist, returning when her brother gets into trouble. This is when the writing and the show were the most cohesive and well thought out. It’s one of my favorite roles. Stella is very complex and there are lots of layers to your performance. She is a bit of a Tennessee William’s character, even in the way she struts the dusty streets of the town. Did you channel any of that feeling in her character? It was an intense character study and one hell of a performance. What did Stella mean to you?
Lee: Well, the whole thing was like stepping into heaven. First of all, Stella’s an angry girl.
Lee: And I was an angry girl. And Stella was fighting the unfairness of the things around her. And I had been fighting. So this was a funnel through which all of Lee and Stella’s resentment and anger and feeling of unfairness in the world around her could go. It was like made for me.
Jo: It gave you a place to channel that anger.
Lee: It channeled it. It channeled everything. And don’t forget that I went from obscurity into America’s favorite program.
Jo: Right, and one of the greatest characters, I think. Very complex. She was angry but she was also very sympathetic. You understood where she was coming from, you know?
Jo: And that’s what I loved about her. That’s what you brought to the show. The show is really good. After you left, things just kind of went a little crazy but still I watched the whole thing. I love Barbara Parkins, and I love a lot of the actors on the show, too.
Lee: Barbara Parkins was given her first shot in that movie…
Jo: Yes, Valley of the Dolls
Lee: Valley of the Dolls, where I played Stella again as Sharon. You know, and Patty Duke. Those were their first shots after television. And of course it went down like a log.
Jo: The film is such a pop culture icon. I mean, people are fanatical.
Lee: That’s because it’s so bad.
Jo: Did you know that it was going to become a pop religious experience for some people?
Jo: It is, I’m telling you!
Lee: Because it’s so bad. [laughs]
Jo: But it is and it isn’t. I mean, yes, it is. [laughs] But it’s bad in a good way.
Lee: [laughs] It could be worse, but people embrace those things and raise them up.
Jo: I can see why. You do need that kind of alternative to the heavy stuff that’s out there. You need that counter balance of the delicious–
Lee: It was pop.
Jo: It was pop. And the acting was still good!
The name of your book is “I Said Yes to Everything.” And you did say yes to films like Visiting Hours, The Swarm, and Airport ’77— the last two big budget disaster films. I was sad you ended up floating face down in Airport ’77. Did you at least have fun making these films and working with actors like Olivia de Havilland and Jack Lemmon? Do you have any good stories to tell?
I watched you in Visiting Hours with the parrot.
Lee: Oh no! tisk tisk tisk! Don’t even talk about it!
Jo: Ok, I won’t talk about it. I won’t talk about Visiting Hours. We’ll bury it. Can I talk about the Swarm and Airport ’77 where you played Christopher Lee’s wife whose a lush?
Lee: Ohhh, absolutely! [laughs]
Jo: Ok [laughs]
Lee: Visiting Hours was what made me absolutely shut down as an actor and turn to directing.
Jo: I understand why.
Lee: You know, one of my very best friends, a writer, I took to see it in the movie house. And he wouldn’t talk to me on the way home—“you can’t need money that much.” And I knew that I couldn’t do…
Jo: Look, every actor has done that. Every single actor has done a movie like that.
Lee: Yeah, yeah. Well, Airport ’77– I loved doing Airport ’77.
Jo: Well, that’s what I was going to ask you.
Lee: I loved it. [laughs]
Jo: I mean, you ended up floating face down in the water. And again, Wendy and I were yelling “no!”
Lee: [laughs] Well I have to tell you I had it in my contract that I didn’t have to jump in the water. They had a double. But, when the water scene came up, 60 year old Olivia de Havilland raised her hand and said “let me be the first! Let me!”
Jo: [laughs] oh my god!
Lee: I was so shamed that when it came time for me to do it
Jo: You had to do it!
Lee: They said “well let’s get Lee’s double” and I went “no no no I don’t have a double!” I didn’t want them to know what a coward I was.
Jo: [laughs] So you did it.
Lee: So I just jumped! Because I wanted to be like Olivia, you know. She’s just so amazing.
Jo: Yes, she is.
Lee: What a hero Olivia de Havilland is. I mean, think about it.
Jo: We share the same birthday so every time it’s my birthday I always toast Olivia. Because, wow we have the same birthday and she loves cats.
Lee: I do too.
Jo: Oh, you do? I thought you were a dog person
Lee: Yes, we have 2 cats. But what a woman, what a spirit! Let me be the first, she said, climbing down from the rafters.
Lee: All through Airport ’77 she sat in the rafters with the lighting guys and chatted with them.
Jo: Do you know Wendy was a lighting designer before she was a sociologist.
Lee: Of course she was! Wendy the lighting designer sociologist, of course!
Jo: Same thing, right?
Lee: Same thing! Shed the light someplace!
Jo: Exactly, beautifully put. See, leave it to you. I have a few more questions, is that ok?
Lee: I’m just lying here on the chaise lounge in my nightgown as comfortable as somebody who just woke up.
Jo: That sounds lovely!
Lee: And having a wonderful time with you.
Jo: Oh good! We’re having a blast, too! There are several performances of yours I’ve never seen and that makes me upset because I’m a completist. I want to see everything you did. And in your book you write about the show The Defenders. I love the show, but that episode is unavailable. The particular episode that you did is not out, or not yet at least.
Like a few others, there are several performances of yours that I haven’t been able to see because they’re unavailable. For example, there’s an episode of The Defenders in which, as I read in your book, director Stuart Rosenberg lit you in a way that was your favorite. There was The Doctors and the Nurses, another incredible dramatic television series. And then there is the the motion picture An Affair of the Skin (1963) where you co-starred with the brilliant Diana Sands, who died tragically at 39. I would love to see your work in that film. Can you tell me about the film and about working with Diana?
Lee: I know, she was in… Raisin in the Sun.
Jo: Raisin in the Sun
Lee: Yes, and the other movie with Pearl Bailey… The Landlord
Jo: Yes! She was in the Landlord, too, that’s right. So you worked with her twice. What did you think of that film Affair of the Skin, because I don’t know much about it.
Lee: I don’t remember it. Vivica Lindfors was in it. And I just don’t remember it. I don’t remember what I did or anything.
Jo: Maybe somebody will find the film.
Lee: I hope not!
Jo: Ok, then maybe they’ll find a way to get it buried so it never comes out. Did you enjoy working with Diana because I love her work and I find it so tragic that she died so young. She was kind of one of the first Black women who had a much different kind of persona. She wasn’t doing the roles—well maybe Ruby Dee ( I forgot to include Cicely Tyson) did—but she wasn’t playing the maids and she wasn’t playing the nurses.
Lee: Well, also Hal Ashby didn’t get them maids and nurses to play. The Landlord was a brilliant script and it highlighted the difference between the Long Island whites and Harlem. And Bo Bridges, I mean he was astonishing in it. His sweetness, his openness. You know, that was a script for the ages. And I personified again that kind of closed-minded rich stupid mother.
Jo: Well, insulated maybe.
Lee: Yes, totally insulated. You know no idea beyond the house and the garden and the friends what life was about at all. And it’s such an astonishing piece of work.
Jo: Yes, it was. Did you get to work much with Diana in that?
Lee: Yes, well, we hung out. And after the film was over I gave a party at the apartment in New York, as we all stayed in New York, and Diana and I were sitting there waiting for Hal because we both had a crush on him. And his girlfriend, who he later married, at the time she would not let him come.
Jo: Possessive! Oh really [laughs]
Lee: So Diana and I sat and drank wine and talked about how mean she was and how much we loved him. [laughs]
Jo: Did he help you pick out clothes, did I read that right?
Lee: Yes, he did. In the Heat of the Night.
Jo: Yes, in the Heat of the Night he helped you pick out the clothes. He was the editor on the film.
Lee: Yes, yes.
Jo: Ok, you might not want to talk about this movie either, and if you don’t want to you don’t have to. But first, I noticed recently you did an interview for a documentary on Boris Karloff? You worked with him on “Even the Weariest River” on the Alcoha Hour. And I haven’t been able to see it. A lot of the Alcoha Hour and those dramatic television performances from the 50s are hard to get. But Boris Karloff is my idol. I’ve always said I wanted him to be my grandfather, because he’s the most gentle soul. And I met his daughter Sarah and she’s just wonderful.
You worked with Boris Karloff in 1956 on the Alcoa Hour “Even the Weariest River” it hasn’t been released so there’s no way to see it. I have to ask you what was it like to work with him? Do you have any stories about working with him?
Lee: Well, you know, I just remember that when I was blacklisted and he was playing on Broadway, maybe it was St. Joan, I don’t know but there was something so gracious and so magnanimous, and so grandfatherly, and beautiful about him. And he would always sign all my petitions. I was little girl who couldn’t work. And, you know, it was dangerous to sign petitions, you know you couldn’t work either if you did. And Kim Stanley and Maureen Stapleton were ones who were always working on Broadway and also signed my petitions. But you know I hadn’t remembered working with him in this television movie. I know they brought it to me, and the people in it… I was the only girl. And it was during the blacklist so the director had to be a very very brave guy. A very brave guy. Because I was the only woman and he cast me in it.
Jo: So you stood out.
Lee: Yes, it was with Boris Karloff and Christopher Plumber. It’s a terrible movie.
Jo: Oh is it really? [laughs]
Lee: Yes, but very interesting. I mean because it’s all packed. In those days you shot on set. There wasn’t a closeup. You kind of walked into the shot.
Jo: Right, it was live theatre, really, right?
Lee: Yes, it was shooting live theatre. So it had that kind of rushed feeling. But the story was meaningful, and I was just so surprised to see me there. And I’ve just forgotten a lot of what I did.
Jo: Well I didn’t even realize you had done something with Boris Karloff.
Lee: I didn’t, either. [laughs]
Jo: [laughs] Well, you know he’s so iconic, and thinking of you and him together is such an interesting confluence. Ok, so I’m going to ask you about a movie you might not want to talk about…
Lee: Which could that be?
Jo: Ah, The Mafu Cage?
Lee: [laughs] Oh, yes!
Jo: Because you worked with Carol Kane. She’s brilliant, she’s such a noodlehead. She’s just something else.
Lee: Yes, she is.
Jo: I thought that The Mafu Cage, directed by Karen Arthur, is a very primal and dark film. It seemed like a difficult and disturbing narrative for both you and Carol Kane to step into. It’s a psycho-sexual mine-field, almost filmed like a stage play, about captivity and dependency. It must have been a tough movie to film. Was it difficult for you two seasoned actors? Can you tell me what the process was like for you?
Lee: Oh, of course! Oh, I don’t know, there must’ve been some spare time to do it. And it was a woman director, Karen Arthur. And I don’t remember what year it was. But I know I thought, why not? It was Carol Kane, who was a delicious friend. And it was an absurd concept. You know, for her to have this relationship with a…
Jo: An orangutan maybe?
Lee: It was a gorilla, you know, Carol and the gorilla. So I mean it was absurd enough to say why not? It didn’t take very long and so it was like going to a bad nightclub, you know what I’m saying?
Jo: Yes! [laughs]
Lee: Oh, let’s go in there and see what happens.
Jo: Yes, dark and scary and there’s a little journey in there.
Lee: Yes, yeah. It was a why not, you know?
Jo: But the thing is it’s an interesting, disturbing film but there’s a lot in it. And your performances, you made it a good film. I think it’s a really kind of an unsung horror/ psychological thriller. I don’t think it’s a bad film at all, maybe it could’ve been a stage play.
Lee: The thing is that Karen Arthur conceived it and directed it and she got Carol Kane and me, and James Olson, to do it. Wow! I would like to be able to say that I did that. That I pulled it off and made that movie. So it’s really Karen Arthur’s triumph.
Jo: Yes sure.
Lee: And any time a female director—especially at that time—with that concept, to pull it off and make that movie. You know, my hat off to her!
Jo: Yes, absolutely! She did a really amazing job because I walked away from the film kind of speechless. And thinking about things, and when a movie sends you away thinking about something, speechless, you know that there’s something going on there.
Lee: Yes and don’t forget there were no women directors then. There were like 2 in New York and that’s it.
Jo: Right, that’s another reason to applaud the film, the fact that her vision was realized. It’s very good. And then, this is one is probably one of my favorite performances of yours, The Neon Ceiling, where you play the mother who leaves her husband and just drives into the desert. It’s a special film…
In the Neon Ceiling you play a mother who leaves her husband and just drives — winding up in the desert with her teenage daughter. It’s a very unusual and special little film co-starring Gig Young and Denise Nickerson, a talented young actress. Wendy and I were really enchanted by it. I found your performance as Carrie Miller profoundly moving because it was so un-selfconscious and powerful. At the risk of sounding contrived what was your inspiration for bringing that character to life?
Lee: Well first of all, that character was the part of me I never got to play.
Jo: In real life?
Lee: In real life, yeah. The part of me in my first marriage where my husband fault with me, that I wasn’t this enough, or that enough, or, or, I was never enough. And I wasn’t smart enough. And so that whole beginning with the husband that I run away from. Where I can’t do anything right, I can’t even shop for groceries…
Jo: It kind of paralleled…
Lee: Yes, yes, and I had a daughter. I had Dina. So Denise was Dina. And so if I could’ve known how to run away, in my early years I would have. And going into the desert… the desert was a very new experience for me as a person. I’d never been in the desert. And the peace. Sitting on the back porch of this gas station and just looking out at the desert became, it became a totally new experience for me. And something that I needed but didn’t know that I need. And there was an Indian tribe there who would come and ask for the lunch that we had every day. It was like the small remnants of like what 20 people didn’t eat. And a woman in the tribe who was leading the tribe became a mentor. So she was so strong and so calm. And the things that she asked for were so real. That she became somebody I admired and wanted to be like. And she gave me a puppy.
Jo: That’s right, I read about the puppy Nusski given to you by the Sioux.
Jo: Who was with you for many many years.
Lee: Yes, who came with us to New York. And Gig, he was so attractive and so hurt someplace.
Jo: I know, it’s so tragic.
Lee: He needed caring for. You know, and so did Denise in her way. She asked for it, he didn’t. And somehow me, tickled as I was, I felt a soul there that I connected with. And it was so beautiful and the writer created something that nobody else created.
Jo: Was that Carol Sobieski who also wrote for Peyton Place?
Lee: Yes, Carol Sobieski. She was extraordinary.
Jo: Yes, she’s a great writer.
Lee: She’s a great writer and I felt it was a privilege—a privilege of all the things I’ve done—being able to go there.
Jo: Yes, there’s something… I guess that’s what we’re doing, is witnessing a lot of your transformations on screen. We’re seeing, you know, you’re in the desert and you’re having this transcendence. And it’s coming through to your character, Carrie.
Lee: Yes, yes.
Jo: It’s such a beautiful performance. It’s so subtle and so quiet and so beautiful. And so painful.
Jo: You convey all of that and that’s hard to do and you do it. You just pull it off like nobody else could. And that’s the thing I love are these other women that you play, are these roles and these women that deserve to be looked at. And I’ve certainly been having a great time delving into your work.
Lee: And have you! Wow!
Jo: Maybe I’ve been digging too deep!
Lee: You’ve found things I’ve forgotten. That one I knew is just so special. It’s interesting because Frank who directed it—Frank Pierson. A very very close friend, too. He also, much later he did The Life of Roy Cohn.
Jo: Oh, Frank Pierson.
Lee: Yes, Frank Pierson. On HBO, and he called me then and he said “do you want to be Roy Cohn’s mother? Or do you want to be the one who was killed? The spy.” Anyway, he was the writer who became the director, because he had nothing to do with writing that, Carol wrote it. And he came to be the night before and said, “you know, I’d like to do some changes in this. And you know she really isn’t as good as all that.” And I said, “well, hire another actor. Because if you touch this script. (The Neon Ceiling) ” You know why would you do that? Why, why? And he said “oh, I…” and I said “you don’t like women. You don’t like women.” And in that particular incidence, he didn’t. And in everything else—because I worked with him many times—he’s a great writer and a great director—but this was too simple for him.
Jo: I know of his work and have seen a lot of it. So they kept it the same way?
Lee: Absolutely, he took it back. And we left the next day.
Jo: We just have a couple more questions. And Wendy wanted to talk with you. You know, I saw a scene you directed—we’ll get into your directing in a minute—I watched a scene from Tell me a Riddle with Melvin Douglas and Lela Kedrova that you directed. And just the little scene that I saw ripped my guts up. I just—
Lee: Mine too.
Jo: It’s so heartbreaking. I know that you’re a wonderful director and I know it’s probably not hard to direct Melvin Douglas and Lela Kedrova, but you absolutely created this poignant journey. But Wendy here is a sociologist who teaches social movements and she shows documentaries in classes and has used your documentaries in classes. And she wanted to ask you about the documentaries that you did, you know back in the day when they became movies of the week and there was a wide audience for them. And you started asking the socially relevant questions.
Wendy: Hi Lee, I teach sociology classes and I use documentaries all the time. So I’m always looking for ones that are good and well done. And I was really intrigued by the ones you did in the 1980s. The ones that really gave voice to marginalized individuals. So you did the film about poverty—Down and Out in America—which is still unfortunately relevant today.
In the early 1980s you started directing documentary films, specifically films that give voice to marginalized individuals way before others were doing so Down and Out in America (the poor, transgender individuals WHAT SEX AM I , women in prison who killed their abusive husbands in self-defense , the Willmar 8, etc.). Some of these were released as movies of the week to very large audiences. What led you to start making these kinds of documentaries? Were there social and political triggers?
Lee: Yes, unfortunately it’s still relevant.
Wendy: And it was also, to me, when it came out in the mid-80s, very much a response to Ronald Reagan’s trickledown economics. You can really see it situated in that.
Lee: You put your finger right on it.
Wendy: And I talk about that when I teach inequality so it’s good to give students that context and history. Then there’s the documentary you did in the 1980s on transgender individuals, which no one had really done yet.
Lee: Yes, What Sex Am I?
Wendy: The Women in Prison, the Willmar 8, about women bankers who went on strike and I cannot find that one anywhere but I would love to use it because I teach about activism and social movements so I’m always looking for things about activism and I couldn’t find that one anywhere so I haven’t seen it. I was just curious about what made you switch, to not just directing, but directing these documentaries about marginalized populations. Like what were the social and political triggers of that for you?
Lee: Well, you know during the early years and not being able to say anything. And even when I was in LA, I was careful about what I said about it. You know, I acted in things that said things. And I have a best friend, Marybeth Yarrow, who had been married to Peter Yarrow. And in her small town in Willmar, there were 7 women who went on strike at the bank because bank president there would have them train these boys in the bank, and then have them be the women’s bosses. So these little boys that they would train would suddenly tell them what to do and get a higher salary. So the women went out on strike. And Marybeth read that to me, and I had just been at AFI and had taken a women’s directing workshop. Their first women’s directing workshop. I said let’s go there and make a documentary. And that kicked open the whole tunnel. Her husband, Peter, raised like 30,000 dollars and went to Willmar. It was the middle of the winter. So cold that you couldn’t open your mouth to ask a question.
Jo and Wendy: [laugh]
Lee: I mean your mouth froze. And those 7 women were out there on strike in front of the bank. They could hardly walk it was so cold. And you know it kicked open a door in me that had said, don’t talk, be quiet. You know, save yourself, don’t talk, be quiet. And I thought you know, thank God, I can do this. I can get away with this. I can put it on film. Finally, I’ve found my voice. I have found my voice. And it just meant everything to me. Finally, I’d landed on my feet and there was no fear. So I was just starved for that. And I made one after another after another after another. I loved that I had to go all different places and open all kinds of doors. You know our second film was in the prison system
Wendy: Yes, we saw parts of it.
Lee: You know, what a revelation! I was free! I was free! I was really free of the blacklist finally! And not only that, I had tools that could fight the blacklist. I could show what the truth was.
Wendy: Right, which is why I love showing documentaries because it shows students individuals—gives voice to individuals—who I can’t bring to the classroom.
Lee: Right, exactly.
Wendy: Especially the women in prison film, I don’t think anybody was talking about whether or not women should be in prison for killing an abusive spouse in the 1980s no one was covering that. And Down and Out in America is also unfortunately still relevant but also shows how devastating politics was in the 1980s while we tend to misremember it as being some golden era in America, right? Well compared to what we’re living in now…
Lee: Well, I don’t know whether you were able to get hold of my Texas film?
Wendy: I don’t think so.
Lee: HBO was sued so it was only shown once.
Jo: Oh, about the children being taken away from their mothers…?
Lee: It was judges in Texas who took children away from the mothers and gave them to the fathers who were suspected of abusing them.
Jo: Oh my God! Wow.
Jo: You were sued for that?
Lee: HBO got sued, and that show was only on one time.
Wendy: I wonder if it’s in any college libraries someplace still?
Lee: I have it! So at some point I can lend it to you to make a copy of and you can use it.
Wendy: Oh that would be wonderful.
Lee: But also if and when this documentary thing happens in October and my films are shown.
Jo: Yes, the retrospective!
Lee: Yes, I can’t wait for the documentaries to be shown.
Wendy: And I have so many sociologist friends in and around NYC who would totally be there for it. We’re all big fans of well-made interesting documentaries.
Jo: And we’ll be there.
Wendy: Yes, I love to nerd-out on documentaries. Jo watches her classic films and I’m watching like 13th on Netflix…
Jo: Yes, she’s watching her serious and depressing documentaries. I mean, I’m just so dark because of what’s going on in the world in politics, because it’s like a Stanley Kubrick nightmare that you imagine would never happen in real life.
Lee: Yes, it’s so disturbing, this nightmare. It’s like having Roy Cohn as president, you know, because…
Jo: It’s dystopian…
Lee: Yes, and there aren’t words and there’s just no way to describe it… This is a nightmare.
Jo: And there’s a collective depression and angst that people are feeling in their lives.
Lee: And there is. It is.
Jo: And that’s what’s tragic and it’s America’s Id so then you’ve got the people that support him…
Wendy: I like to focus on—because I study social movements and activism—I like to focus on the activism.
Jo: Yes, she’s the glass half full person.
Wendy: Yes, I focus on the people making the change. That’s what my research is about and that’s what I try to teach my students to raise some hell. And voting. Because otherwise I’d just lose my mind.
Lee: Yes, all of us. I mean living within this screenplay, being a character within a screenplay that we loath and detest and want to get out of. And are trapped in.
Jo: Yes, exactly. That’s scary. Thanks for scaring us, Lee! [laughs]
Lee: [laughs] But it really has an effect.
Jo and Wendy: Yes, it does.
Lee: I mean, especially since we had Obama.
Jo: Yes, Well, is there an end in sight? When will we get out of this madness? We need relief.
Lee: Yes, it’s madness.
Jo: We need to be able to breathe again!
Lee: And I’m overwhelmed. It’s overwhelming. Everywhere I look is horror. And it’s not like oh this is something that really has been addressed, it’s not like we need to just shake this or show people… this is horror.
Jo: Yes, it’s organic horror.
Lee: And it’s death. It’s killing people.
Jo: If not only in body but also in spirit.
Wendy: And actually in body.
Lee: Yes, it’s killing people. All over the world. Yesterday I was listening to the television and Saudi Arabia hires African soldiers to kill other Arabs. Instead of doing it themselves they hire African soldiers into that Arab conclave that’s left—Yemen. It was like wow, hired professionals.
Wendy: We would just sleep better if we knew there were people in office trying to make things better instead of worse.
Jo: I just don’t understand it, how we got here.
Lee: We got here in a minute.
Lee: And watch out for this. I feel that the way Bernie Sanders treated Hillary Clinton…
Wendy: Oh yeah don’t even get me started.
Lee: It was the beginning of the end. Kicked open the door for Trump.
Jo: Yes. When I saw his scowling face at the convention, I wanted to smack him.
Lee: Bernie, yes. He was so abusive to her. And of course all my leftie friends are like “but Bernie’s the best, Bernie’s…” But look how he’s treating her. It was like how my communist husband treated me. Like she’s a dummy, she’s Wall Street.
Jo: Yeah, we’re in agreement!
Lee: And I think there was a democratic disaffection—20% of democrats voted for Bernie and that’s what pushed this bully…
Wendy: Yup, and we can thank them for the Supreme Court and a lot of crap.
Lee: That’s right. You’re the only ones who get it!
Wendy: There are others that get it, but it seems like we’re few and far between. There’s a lot of us who are not Bernie fans for good solid reasons. I’m happy Bernie’s light seems to be dimmer this time around and he’s not polling as well as he did before. People don’t seem as excited about him now.
Lee: I’m just worried about it.
Wendy: Yeah, like are we going to get our acts together on the left?
Lee: Yes, are we?
Jo: Oh, but we should not totally veer off into politics. We should close with a good film or acting question! I wanted to ask you about your performance in Electra. I was reading your book and almost peeing my pants laughing as you’re describing wearing that crimson red velvet gown? And it’s raining and you get drenched in the rain.
I read in your book about how you worked with Joe Papp on Shakespeare in the Park, playing Electra by Sophocles. I can visualize this powerful performance, the method training, that rainy day, you dragging Theoni’s Aldridge’s crimson gown, the heavy fabric soaked through across the stage. And there’s the audience floating away in the deluge as devoted as ever. You said it was the most risky, challenging role. Alfred Ryder a wonderful actor played Hamlet before this and his performance was televised, but it was a disaster, and it nearly ruined his acting career. Do you regret that your performance of Electra was not televised and recorded so that we could see it today? I would’ve loved to see you on stage, even in the flood.
Lee: And the whole audience is drenched!
Jo: And the papers are floating away, and you’re out there shouting. And the show’s ended and they’re still out there clapping in the rain.
Lee: Talk about a switch from bleak and bad, to emboldened and powerful playing Electra!
Jo: Yes, we needed some Electra!
Lee: Jo Papp gave me Electra and saw that I was ready to spew and all lessons he gave me, the teachers who came in to correct my language so that I was ready to take on that role. And to let go of all that rage and fierceness, under the cover of the state at Central Park. It was such a release for me to play that.
Jo: Yeah, you said it was a very risky role for you. Challenging.
Lee: Very. And he handed it to me.
Lee: And what a thing to do.
Jo: A gift.
Lee: Yes, what a gift. What a thing to do. The most powerful theatre man in New York and the most liberal and radical, and gorgeous.
Lee: Gorgeous, gorgeous [laughs]
Jo: He knew you could do it. So in your book you mentioned that Alfred Rider had done Hamlet. And when they televised it and it didn’t go over very well. Electra… It doesn’t exist. Do you regret that there is no visual evidence of that performance?
Lee: No, no.
Jo: I wish I couldn’t seen you on stage. Even in Prisoner on Second Avenue I wash I could’ve seen you on stage. So you’re really not sorry that they didn’t televise it?
Lee: No. No, it’s an experience.
Jo: It’s one of those moments it exists like a firefly.
Lee: It was a live experience. Like a marriage. And you know it lifted me.
Jo: So you’re laying on your chaise, did you finish your coffee?
Lee: Oh, it’s half finished. I’m still in my nightgown. [laughs]
Jo: I could talk with you all day like this!
Lee: I know!
Jo: What is a great way to end this?
Lee: What’s a great way to end this?
Jo: Is there something you want to talk about? That we didn’t cover. You’ve got such an impressive career in theatre, film, and television. On both sides of the camera. You’ve worked with amazing people. You have great friends.
Lee: How about Al—who’s the one was who was thrown out of office? Al Franken? How about Al Franken. He didn’t have a choice to leave but I want him back. And that’s what I want to write about.
Wendy: What are you working on for writing?
Lee: I’ve just been writing in spurts, just things that I have to get out of my system, as you can hear when I talk to you. There are things I have to spew, and get down on paper to get it out of me. And so what’s I’m going to do, I’m going to write about the stupidity and short-sightedness of getting rid of the only one in Congress that I know of who could go up against Trump and just demolish him, with his humor and his knowledge. That was the stupidest action that could be taken.
Jo: I was so mad at him for messing up because we needed him. And so mad at him for stepping down.
Lee: He was pushed out. He was forced out. Did you read that New Yorker article about the woman who came to his defense?
Jo: No, we haven’t seen that one.
Lee: It’s like 2 weeks ago. So you can read it.
Wendy: I’ll look it up. I keep more up on the politics stuff than Jo does. Jo likes to live in her classic film bubble.
Jo: I like to live in my classic film world and if I don’t… I’ll go mad.
Lee: Oh, I understand. And I’m sorry to break through that.
Jo: No, no. It’s fine. And I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not proactive. I do what needs to be done.
Lee: Oh, I’m not accusing you, I’m just opening my arms and pulling you into my world.
Jo: Oh I love your world, and I know that. And it’s Wendy’s world. I hear about it… all about it, and friends who are very active.
Wendy: And we have friends who go to the TCM movie festival and a couple years ago you were there and made a speech, and they were all tweeting and texting about it, saying oh my God, this is so awesome! And I was like, of course, it’s Lee Grant! And that makes her even more amazing that you would give this really political speech!
Lee: It does, girls, it just makes me more amazing! Every single day.
Wendy: Hell yeah! People have to speak out!
Lee: On that note, we will end this.
Lee: But I’ve had such a great time and I love you.
Jo: Oh, we love you too, Lee!
Lee: And I’ve had fun. And so we may not be still doing your thing, but we can still talk and still have a relationship.
Jo: We would love to stay in touch.
Wendy: And if you have copies of any of your documentaries, I would love it. If they would be easy for me to copy, because I would show them in class.
Jo: Maybe some day we could come into the city and have coffee with you.
Lee: Yes, maybe you can do that and take things and make copies, if you know how to do that. Because I don’t know how to do anything.
Wendy: Ok, I’m good with the technical stuff.
Jo: So next time, we’ll come into the city and do it.
Lee: Yes, we’ll do that. You’re both adorable.
Jo: Lee speaks truth to power and wants to be heard.
Wendy: Great, so we’ll be in touch.
Lee: Have a good day, girls!
Jo: Take care, Lee!
“The dichotomy of my genius status at home and my slightly below par status in the outside world gave me a sense of instability and unreality throughout all of my life about exactly who I was and what I was capable of. Could that be why I grabbed so ferociously at acting? Grounding myself in a structure that worked for me, the observant child?”
— And excerpt from I Said Yes to Everything -Lee Grant talking about Sandy Meisner and The Neighborhood Playhouse.
How do you start out a biography about someone who is a virtual legend?
When I attended the Chiller Theatre Expo I had the exciting opportunity to meet one of my favorite actors, Academy Award winner Lee Grant. This meeting turned out to be one of the great highlights of my life. While I’ve followed her work my entire life, after connecting with her, I began my exploration into Lee Grant’s life by immersing myself first in her incredibly honest and potent autobiography. “I Said Yes to Everything” is an expository journey written long-hand by Lee herself in classic black and white note books. It’s a well-written intimate portrait of a courageous and brilliant actor.
“Lee Grant’s I Said Yes to Everything is heart-stopping. More than just a show-business memoir or chronicle of the Hollywood blacklist era, it is a terrifying account of a gifted artist’s tumultuous journey—both personal and professional. You will feel every jolt of terror that Grant endured, wondering if you would have been as brave. Her triumph becomes our own. Readers of this gripping book will surely reach the final page shouting a victorious “Yes! To everything that is Lee Grant.” -Marlo Thomas
With every role Lee Grant undertakes —from stage to early dramatic teleplays, to television series and onto the big screen— she transports an inner truth and an understanding of the world’s pleasures, and too, it’s miseries. Never afraid to take risks, she turned a career that was at one time silenced, into a great triumph by reclaiming her place in Hollywood. She then forged her own road into directing, where her voice and compassionate vision helped marginalized people have their say as well.
This is the spirit of Lee Grant, a woman who kicked down the door, prevailed the madness of the blacklist and without settling. She become a formidable actress, director, a legend, and friend.
Reading about her incredible life story, I Said Yes to Everything, brought me closer to the actress whom I already admired and loved for so many years. It’s a reflexive reminiscence, at times brutal and at other times it evokes laughter. Lee Grant has a primal and candid sense of humor that is so invigorating to experience. And hearing it from Lee herself is life-altering and beyond meaningful.
I also reexamined a lot of her great work so I could surround myself with the essence of her talent. It not only fortified what I had already felt about her capacity to engage each role, I met several characters that I hadn’t seen before. And was completely knocked over by Lee Grant’s awe-inspiring performances. To have the opportunity to talk to someone you’ve known as an acting legend can make you quite star struck as you try to find your own voice without sounding like a fool. But Lee Grant is a real and raw person. She’s one of those people you meet by chance in life, striking up a wonderful connection as if you’ve known them for years. This is just another layer of greatness to an already great actor.
Lee Grant is one of the most expository of actors. She uses her distinctive voice, that moves along the walls of your mind like an elegant cat, with an expressiveness that brings to bear even the most subtle of gestures. She has an attentiveness to detail, and her extraordinary sensuality is deep-rooted with a swift and clever sense of humor.
As an actor, she brings and intimacy to her roles, complex, passionate sensual dynamic versatile, and authentic. A talent caught up in the net of the HUAC insanity that ruined lives, and literally took her act of belonging away in Hollywood and from an industry where time is essential in order to obtain recognition and primacy.
I suspected that Lee always put a little of her real self in each role. It turns out I was right as you’ll learn from our conversation about her performances. There is no one quite like Lee. Absolutely no other actor like her.
Lee with one of her original oil paintings.
Like David fighting Goliath, she kept her resilience during those dark years of the blacklist. She’s an actor who is truthful enough to bare her vulnerabilities, machinations, fears, fancies, the quirks and chinks in the armor— it’s all out there, and wonderfully bold and ballsy an individualist and unfailingly frank. She is fragile and fierce, honest, courageous and unwilling to be shut off or out.
The insanity of the McCarthy Era and fanatics like Vincent Hartnett tried to steal 12 years from Lee Grant. But she refused to be silenced. To this day she speaks truth to the powers that be. She has earned the right to be seen and heard. She’s a woman who has become a firebrand with her socially conscious lens as a filmmaker, documentarian, director, activist, writer and a mother to yet another gifted soul, Dinah Manoff. Talent and fierceness—it runs in the blood.
Lee Grant to me, is someone I’ll always regard with a sense of awe and respect. I’m incredibly honored that she allowed me a glimpse into her life and shared that sense of humor and her determination to be heard. And what a story she has to tell!
It is so easy to look upon Barbara Parkins’ exquisite beauty and make that the initial distinction you recall about her as an actress before recounting the roles she’s contributed to, the iconic roles that have heightened the dream factory of our cultural consciousness that is — film and television. As Betty Anderson of Peyton Place and Anne Welles in Valley of the Dolls. But beyond the glamour and the pulp and the melodrama and the camp, there is an actress who not only possessed an otherworldly beauty but a depth of character and quality. Who touched our hearts but was one of the earliest women to kick ass too! As Betty Anderson, she broke ground in a role that discussed women who began to reflect on their bodies being used as negotiable product for men, even in good clean small moralistic New England towns. And through a lot of painful, solitary self discovery learned to rely on her own self-reliance and newly mined self respect. Barbara Parkins was leading the way three years before Jane Fonda was flyin’ free up in space in 1968’s Barbarella.
I have always been drawn to Barbara Parkins, her inherent sensuality, sophistication, her dreamy voice. There’s a deep well of desire and poetry simmering below that obvious beauty. She brings that sensuality with her to every versatile role as an actress. And that is why I’ve been in love with her since the very first time I saw her.
Barbara Parkins was among the women chosen by famed photographer Patrick Lichfield to be included in his 1983 book, “The Most Beautiful Women”. Continue reading “Happy Birthday Barbara Parkins May 22”
Bradford Dillman is one of those ubiquitous & versatile actors who you find popping up just about everywhere, and whenever I either see him in the credits or think about some of his performances, I am immediately happified by his presence in my mind and on screen. It’s this familiarity that signposts for me whatever upcoming diversion I’m in store for, will be something memorable indeed.
He’s been cast as a saint, a psychopath, elite ivy league intellectuals with an edge, unconventional scientists, military figures, droll and prickly individualists, clueless bureaucrats, or drunken malcontents and he’s got a sort of cool that is wholly appealing.
Bradford Dillman was omni-present starting out on the stage, and major motion pictures at the end of the 50s and by the 1960s he began his foray into popular episodic television series and appeared in a slew of unique made for television movies throughout the 1970s and 80s, with the addition of major motion picture releases through to the 90s. His work, intersecting many different genres from melodramas,historical dramas, thrillers, science fiction and horror.
There are a few actors of the 1960s & 70s decades that cause that same sense of blissed out flutters in my heart — that is of course if you’re as nostalgic about those days of classic cinema and television as I am. I get that feeling when I see actors like Stuart Whitman, Dean Stockwell, Roy Thinnes, Scott Marlow, Warren Oates, James Coburn, Lee Grant David Janssen, Michael Parks, Barbara Parkins, Joanna Pettet ,Joan Hackett , Sheree North, Diana Sands, Piper Laurie, Susan Oliver and Diane Baker. I have a fanciful worship for the actors who were busy working in those decades, who weren’t Hollywood starlets or male heart throbs yet they possessed a realness, likability, a certain individual knack and raw sex-appeal.
Bradford Dillman was born in San Francisco in 1930 to a prominent local family. During the war he was sent to The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. At Hotchkiss, senior year he played Hamlet. At Yale he studied English Literature and performed in amateur theatrical productions and worked at the Playhouse in Connecticut. Dillman served in the US Marines in Korea (1951-1953) and made a pact that he’d give himself five years to succeed as an actor before he called it quits. Lucky for us, he didn’t wind up in finance the way he father wanted him to.
Dillman enrolled and studied at the Actors Studio, he spent several seasons apprenticing with the Sharon Connecticut Playhouse before making his professional acting debut in an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarecrow” in 1953 with fellow Studio students Eli Wallach and James Dean. Dillman referred to Dean as ‘a wacky kid’ but ‘very gifted’.
He only appeared in two shows in October 1962 of The Fun Couple in 1957 with Dyan Cannon and Jane Fonda before the play closed in New York only after two days.
We lost Bradford Dillman last year in January 2018. I was so saddened to hear the news. And I missed the chance to tribute his work then, but now that his birthday is here, I feel like celebrating his life rather than mourning his death, so it’s just as well.
Bradford Dillman wrote an autobiography called Are You Anybody? An Actor’s Life, published in 1997 with a (foreword by Suzy Parker) in which he downplays the prolific contribution he made to film and television and acting in general. Though Dillman didn’t always hold a high opinion of some of the work he was involved in, appearing in such a vast assortment of projects, he always came across as upbeat and invested in the role.
“Bradford Dillman sounded like a distinguished, phony, theatrical name, so I kept it.”
[about his career] “I’m not bitter, though. I’ve had a wonderful life. I married the most beautiful woman in the world. Together we raised six children, each remarkable in his or her own way and every one a responsible citizen. I was fortunate to work in a profession where I looked forward to going to work every day. I was rewarded with modest success. The work sent me to places all over the world I’d never been able to afford visiting otherwise. I keep busy and I’m happy. And there are a few good films out there that I might be remembered for.”
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 Heckart and 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 Meredith and 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!
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…
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) …
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 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.
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!”
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.
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!
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.
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 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
From TV Horror: Investigating the Dark Side of the Small Screen by Lorna Jowett & Stacey Abbott
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 Creature was 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.”
The Cat Creature was written by prolific horror-writer icon Robert Bloch, (Psycho (1960), Strait-Jacket (1964), The Night Walker (1964) a few episodes based on Bloch’s stories were used in Boris Karloff‘s anthology television serie Thriller—The Weird Tailor 1961, The Grim Reaper 1961, The Hungry Glass, The Cheaters, The Psychopath (1966), The Deadly Bees (1966), Torture Garden (1967) The House that Dripped Blood (1971), Asylum (1972) Bloch wrote for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Night Gallery, Circle of Fear and Star Trek.)
The story of The Cat Creature—
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!
From Wikipedia–Bastet was a goddess in ancient Egyptian religion, worshiped as early as the 2nd Dynasty (2890 BC). As Bast, she was the goddess of warfare in Lower Egypt, the Nile River delta region, before the unification of the cultures of ancient Egypt. Her name is also translated as Baast, Ubaste, and Baset. In Greek mythology, she is also known as Ailuros.
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 70s Barbara Parkins who 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 1975 with 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 Daughter is 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 Daughter plays 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 Scott as 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 Baby there 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
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 of Eye 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 Dark is “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.
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 Framing on 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 Beatty is 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 Deliverance 1972 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 Fox was 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.
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 Merrow as 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 Carr as 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 Terror 1978 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 Feet utilizes 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?
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.
Image courtesy of: Fangoria-from Torture Chamber (2013)