All *kinds* of observable differences: The world of Ruth Gordon

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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!

Actress Ruth Gordon (Photo by © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Actress Ruth Gordon (Photo by © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

The ASTONISHING… RUTH GORDON!

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“The earth is my body; my head is in the stars.”-Ruth Gordon as Maude

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Maude:A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. *Reach* out. Take a *chance*. Get *hurt* even. But play as well as you can.”

I’ve been waiting to write about my love of Ruth Gordon for quite some time, and felt that this would be the best way to get off the pot and just start singing those praises for this remarkable lady of theatre, film and television. Ruth Gordon in so many ways channeled her true personality through the character of Maude, in life –she too always projected a spirit that played as well as she could…

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“Choose a color, you’re on your own, don’t be helpless.” –Ruth Gordon -An Open Book

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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.

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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.

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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)

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From the Arlene Francis 1983 interview with Ruth Gordon– actress, screenwriter and playwright…

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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.”

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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. “

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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…”

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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…” 

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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)

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Once Ruth Gordon personified the unforgettable Minnie Castavet in “Rosemary’s Baby” in 1968 she manifesting a lasting and unfading, enigmatic character that only Ruth Gordon could infuse with that unforgettable energy.

Minnie is perhaps one of the most vividly colorful film characters with her sly and farcical mispronunciations and a wardrobe that is distinctly tacky. Part cosmopolitan part menacing, no one could have performed Minnie Castavet quite like Ruth Gordon, that next door meddling neighbor who befriends an American housewife, who is secretly waiting to become the godmother to the devil’s unborn son.

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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.

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“ 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.”

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Ruth and husband Garson Kanin… super writing team!

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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.

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Ruth Gordon and Hal Ashby on the set of Harold and Maude 1971

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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 facta 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.”

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Ruth Gordon Jones was born October 30, 1896 in Quincy, Massachusetts. “growing up with the brown taste of poverty in her mouth.” As a child she wrote fan letters to her favorite film stars and received a personal reply from Hazel Dawn. So struck with stage actress Hazel Dawn after seeing her  perform in “The Pink Lady” in Boston, Ruth Gordon decided to go into acting. After high school she went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, and was an extra in silent films made in Fort Lee, New Jersey making $5 in 1915. She made her Broadway debut in 1915 as one of the Lost Boys later that year in Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up as Nibs. She garnered a favorable review by Alexander Woolcott, who at the time was an extremely influential theater critic eventually the two became close friends and he her mentor. Gordon was typecast in “beautiful but dumb” roles in the early 20s.

Ruth Gordon began to hone her craft and push the range of her acting ability which she revealed in Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, the restoration comedy The Country Wife in which she appeared at the influential theater–London’s Old Vic. She eventually found her way to Broadway, and landed a role in Henrik Ibsen’s A Dolls House during the 1930s.

Severely bow-legged, in 1920 she spent time in a hospital in Chicago where she had her legs broken and straightened.

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Ruth Gordon as Edward G. Robinson’s wife in director William Dieterle’s Dr. Erhlich’s Magic Bullet 1940
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Ruth Gordon with the great Greta Garbo in director George Cukor’s Two-Faced Woman 1941.
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She was married to actor Gregory Kelly from 1921-1927 when he died of heart disease. In 1929, she had a child (Jones Harris) with Broadway producer Jed Harris. She stared in plays in New York City and London, not doing another film until she played Mary Todd in director John Cromwell’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois 1940, co-starred with Edward G. Robinson in director William Dieterle’s Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet 1940 and appeared as Miss Ellis in director George Cukor’s film starring  Greta Garbo film Two-Faced Woman 1941 and co-starred with Humphrey Bogart in Action in the North Atlantic 1942.
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Ruth Gordon plays Ann Sheridan’s mother in director Lewis Milestone’s story of a small fishing village in Norway and the resistance to the Nazi occupation, Gordon plays Anna Stensgard the unassuming wife and neurotic mother who lives too much in the past in Edge of Darkness 1943.
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In 1942, active on Broadway again, she married writer Garson Kanin and started writing plays. Together with her husband she wrote screenplays for Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy like A Double Life 1947, Adam’s Rib 1949, and Pat and Mike 1952. She also wrote an autobiographical play “Years Ago”, that then became a film directed by the great George Cukor starring Jean Simmons, Spencer Tracy and Teresa Wright in The Actress 1953 about her life growing up and getting into the theatre.
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Ruth Gordon and her husband were included in a round up of theatre actors questioned by the House on Un-American Activities in 1947 and flown to Washington for questioning. Nothing came of the investigation.
In the 1960s she returned to Hollywood with roles in films and television adaptations–
The television movie version of Noel Coward’s 1941 play Blithe SpiritRuth Gordon manifests the spiritual medium Madame Arcati in the 1966 tv version.
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Ruth Gordon as Stella Barnard co-starring with Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld in Lord Love a Duck 1966.
Playing Mrs. Stella Barnard in Lord Love a Duck 1966 The film stars Tuesday Weld as the innocent attention seeking teenager from a broken home who aspires to become loved by everyone, wears 12 colorful cashmere sweaters given to her by friend and mastermind Roddy McDowall (who was 36 at the time playing a teen!) Director George Axelrod’s biting satire that pokes fun at teen beach movies of the 1960s, elitism and the adults that satellite around their machinations …

Stella Bernard: (Ruth Gordon) “You lied to me, Miss Greene. You permitted me to believe your father was dead.”

Barbara Ann: (Tuesday Weld) “Well, they’re divorced.”

Stella Bernard: (Ruth Gordon) “In our family we don’t divorce our men; we *bury* ’em!”

Where’s Poppa? 1970 In director Carl Reiner’s black comedy- Ruth Gordon lets it rip as the irreverent Mama Hocheiser who’s senile antics are driving New York attorney Gordon Hocheiser (George Segal) to the brink. When he finally meets the loving and naive nurse Louise Callan (Trish Van Devere) , worried his mother’s idiosyncrasies will ruin his budding romance, he grasps at any means to finally get rid of her! Ron Leibman is hilarious as brother Sidney!
 
Inside Daisy Clover 1965, for which Ruth Gordon returning to the screen after almost 20 years -was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe as Supporting Actress… One of my favorite directors Robert Mulligan creates a portrait of a tomboy (Natalie Wood) who dreams of being a singer, lives in a trailer and runs a beach side concession stand where she forges the autographs of Hollywood stars — suddenly discovered Daisy rises to stardom herself, falls in love with Robert Redford, only to turn her back on the viciousness of the business.
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Ruth Gordon plays her quirky card playing mother whom she calls ‘Old Chap’ who lives in her own world. Daisy loves her dearly, but the studio heads force her to hide Old Chap/Mrs. Clover in an old age home and tell the public she’s dead in order to project her star image without an eccentric & batty mother in her life. Ruth Gordon once again plays batty to the poignant level of art form.
Inside Daisy Clover co-stars Christopher Plummer, Robert Redford and Roddy McDowall, with a wonderful soundtrack “You’re Gonna Hear From Me” by André Previn and Dory Previn.
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Police (Harold Gould)-“You waited seven years to report your husband missing?” Mrs. Clover-‘The Dealer’ “I just started missin’ him this morning.”
Natalie Wood grew so fond of Ruth Gordon after working on the film Inside Daisy Clover that she made her the godmother to her daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner
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Gordon plays Alice Dimmock involved in a dangerous battle of wits with the menacing Clare Marrable who buries her victims in her lovely rose garden–Geraldine Page hires companions who have a nice savings built up and no relatives to come around looking for them in What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice 1969.
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WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? 1969 directed by Lee H. Katrin Produced by Robert Aldrich Music by Gerald Fried.
In this taut Grande Dame Guignol horror thriller Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice 1969 Ruth Gordon portrays Alice Dimmock who sets out to uncover the truth behind her companion’s (Mildred Dunnock) disappearance after she takes a job with the austere and cunning Clare Marrable, a prolific serial killer who sows the seeds of her rose garden with her victims.
Director Lee H. Katzin and Bernard Girard’s psychological thriller that positions two powerful actresses in a taut game of cat and mouse…
Geraldine Pages plays the ghastly & audacious serial killer Claire Marrable, whose husband left her penniless. In order to keep living a life of luxury and comfort she begins offing her paid companions who have stashed doe and no family to come looking for them. When Edna Tinsley played by Mildred Dunnock goes missing and becomes part of Mrs Marrable’s wondrous garden of roses, Ruth Gordon pretends to be Page’s companion in order to get to the truth about her missing friend.
Ruth Gordon was amazed at the showing of What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? She figured that by playing the part of a woman in peril at the mercy of the ruthless and calculating psychopath, performed perfectly by Geraldine Page, at the final moment of confrontation her split decision to for self preservation and become a murderer herself or be true to her inherent goodness allowing herself to be a victim. Ruth Gordon believed that it was this defining moment the goodness that ruled Alice’s heart and head would be the most powerful moments in the film. Yet, when the audience responded at this critical scene, to her surprise they screamed out “Kill her, kill her!” The audience had wanted Ruth’s character to live so badly…

from director Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude (1971)

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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.

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“You know, at one time, I used to break into pet shops to liberate the canaries. But I decided that was an idea way before its time. Zoos are full, prisons are overflowing… oh my, how the world still *dearly* loves a *cage.* “-the inimitable Maude
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Harold: “Maude” Maude: “Hmm?” Harold: “Do you pray?” Maude: “Pray? No. I communicate.” Harold: “With God?Maude: “With *life*”

Every Which Way But Loose 1978

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Ruth Gordon plays the impertinently, uninhibited Ma to Clint Eastwood as trucker Philo Beddoe & Orville (Geoffrey Lewis) who travel around the West Coast looking for street style prize- fights. Along for the ride are Beverly D’Angelo as Echo, and evasive love interest Sondra Locke as country singer Lynn Halsey-Taylor. There’s a hilarious assorted misfit motorcycle gang members and Philo’s pet Orangutan Clyde who’s always stealling’s Ma’s Oreo cookies!

Ruth Gordon reprised her role as the cantankerous Ma in Any Which Way You Can 1980.
Ma after Clyde has eaten her bag of Oreos-“Ohh! Stop that, ya goddamn baboon. No respect! No privacy! No nothing!”
 
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co-staring with Lee Strasberg in Boardwalk 1979

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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.

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She personified the unforgettable role as Minnie Castavet in “Rosemary’s Baby” in 1969. Manifesting an unfading, enigmatic character that only Ruth Gordon could perform.
Ruth Gordon started to get more regular film and television roles. Reprising the role of Minnie Castavet in the made for tv fright-flick Look Whats Happened to Rosemary’s Baby (1976) and played the devouring Jewish mother Cecilia Weiss in the television movie The Great Houdini 1976. And the television movie The Prince of Central Park 1977.
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Ruth Gordon was cast in the feature film The Big Bus (1976) among a terrific ensemble of actors. She appeared as Arvilla Droll in Scavenger Hunt 1979 and the very touching film about growing up and friendship- My Bodyguard 1980 in -Maxie (1985) Ruth Gordon plays Chris Makepeace’s kindly but rascally grandmother, while he finds a way to school bully Matt Dillon from beating him to a pulp, he finds an outcast that everyone is afraid of to be his bodyguard in Adam Baldwin. The film also co-stars John Houseman.
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Ruth Gordon co-stars with Chris Makepeace in 1980’s My Bodyguard
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Ruth Gordon co-stars with Glenn Close in Maxie 1985
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As the eccentric Marge Savage in the ABC tv Movie of the Week directed by John Badham starring Alan Alda- Isn’t It Shocking (1973) Gordon possessed the seamless ability to oscillate between a delightfully aerated conviviality and acerbic snapdragon capable of delivering the most colorful tongue lashing!
Alda plays a small town sheriff with his quirky secretary/sidekick Blanche (Louise Lasser) who is daunted by a string of mysterious deaths that are plaguing the elderly town folk. Edmund O’Brien plays Justin Oates an odd serial killer who is holding a lifetime grudge against his old friends who humiliated him in high school. Marge was his great love who might have done him wrong! Co-stars Lloyd Nolan, and Will Geer and the county coroner who uncovers the weird details that connect the murders.
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Lynn Redgrave stars with Ruth Gordon in the stage production of George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession.
Ruth Gordon was nominated for Broadway’s 1956 Tony Award as Best Dramatic Actress for playing Dolly Levy in Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker.” Ruth Gordon says that Wilder had been a tremendous help and influence to her, having ‘picked him up in front of The Booth Theater’ way back when. She won a Golden Globe award as Best Supporting Actress as Natalie Wood’s mother she calls Old Chap in Inside Daisy Clover, and a much deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Rosemary’s Baby.
She was nominated for a Golden Globe for playing Maude in Harold and Maude in 1971.
In the 1970s and 1980s she played parts in well-known television shows like Kojak as psychic Miss Eudora Temple in Season 2 “I Want to Report a Dream”, Rhoda, and Taxi (which she won an Emmy for.)
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and in the superb episode of Columbo as mystery writer Abigail Mitchell one of the most sympathetic murderess’ of the series as she avenges the death of her beloved niece with unrelenting Lt. Columbo dauntlessly nipping at her heels. And though Abigail finds Columbo to be a very kind man,  he tells her not to count on that. He must stay true to his calling as a homicide detective though we wish he would just Abigail get away with murder– in “Try and Catch Me.”
Ruth Gordon as mystery writer Abigail Mitchell: I accept all superlatives.

Ruth Gordon also had the distinguished honor of hosting Saturday Night Live in 1977.

Ruth Gordon died of a stroke at 88 in Massachusetts with her husband Garson at her side.
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“She had a great gift for living the moment and it kept her ageless.” 

— Glenn Close

Ruth Gordon had quite a unique way of expressing herself on stage, screen and in person and as Dick Cavett had said about the great actresses’ ability to always project her incomparable persona, what we get!  —  “It’s a lesson in something that only Ruth Gordon can teach.” And as she would say, she had “a lot of zip in her doo dah.” 

I’ll end by saying this about this astonishingly iconic character whose sagacity and spark will never dim, when asked that particularly interesting question, ‘if you had 3 people you could meet in Heaven who would you choose?’ Ruth Gordon, you would be one of them!- With all my love, MonsterGirl

Quote of the Day! Murder, Inc (1960) “I boiled a thousand two minute eggs and never did it right once…”

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Murder, Inc. (1960)

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This is one of the most searing neo Film Noir police procedural/syndicate treasure hunt and shadow eye candy featuring a truly frightening and frenetic performance by our beloved Peter Falk who not only manifested THE only possible rumpled detective in a raincoat, that– “just one more question” knows who the guilty party is in the first five minutes of meeting them, Columbo (sorry Lee J. Cobb) whose inimitable style began the television detecting technique where we know who did it.

As Columbo Peter Falk usually uses the art of ‘misunderestimation’ and quaint anecdotes about relatives who may or may not exist, as he politely taunts and squeezes with relenting loose end tying questions pushing the culprit into a corner they can not escape from. In Murder, Inc (1960) Falk is so dark and brooding as a little thug with a mad on at the world and no acuity toward right and wrong. The only time I saw him create a darker character that sent chills down the back of my neck was in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour that aired on December 13th, 1962 called Bonfire where he plays a psychopathic lady-killer who is posing as a firebrand evangelist.

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Peter Falk plays psychopath Robert Evans who has brought on a heart attack in the kindly rich widow Naomi Freshwater (Patricia Collinge) so he can take over her impressive house.

I am planning a very special tribute to the genius of Peter Falk and his unmade bed detective always on the prowl for the jugular, with a very different slant on the show, (no hints please) hopeful getting it ready by the winter 2017 if I can enlist the wit & wisdom of fellow Columbo-worshiping Aurora of Once Upon A Screen to join me in pulling it off!

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In his 2006 autobiography, Just One More Thing, Peter Falk attributes his performance as the crazed Reles in Murder, Inc. for launching his career! Not to mention that the great stage actress/teacher Eva Le Gallienne highly suggested after Falk was caught sneaking into her acting class as part of the American Repertory Movement, that he stick with it!

Peter Falk received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his ruthless, violent and misogynistic murderous thug real life hit man –Abe Reles.

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Real life hit man Abe Reles

film critic Bosley Crowther wrote:

“Mr. Falk, moving as if weary, looking at people out of the corners of his eyes and talking as if he had borrowed Marlon Brando’s chewing gum, seems a travesty of a killer, until the water suddenly freezes in his eyes and he whips an icepick from his pocket and starts punching holes in someone’s ribs. Then viciousness pours out of him and you get a sense of a felon who is hopelessly cracked and corrupt.”

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Reles who reigned over the Brownsville district of Brooklyn during the 1930s depression era, was a clever and shifty taker and hit-man who could make people’s murders appear like brain hemorrhages by using an ice pick in just the right way. Lawman Burton Turkus (Henry Morgan) whose book the screenplay is based on, together with Det. Sgt. William Tobin (Simon Oakland) keep track of this psychopathic criminal who is now working for the powerful crime boss Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter played as a self-indulgent burlesque man-child by David J. Stewart (Carnival Rock 1957, The Young Savages 1961) who runs the nationwide syndicate known as Murder Inc.

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Simon Oakland as detective Tobin and Henry Morgan as district attorney Burton Turkus.

Directed by Burt Balaban (Lady of Vengeance 1957) and Stuart Rosenberg who later went on to direct the sublimely thoughtful Cool Hand Luke 1967 starring Paul Newman, he also directed The Amityville Horror in 1979.

Filmed in CinemaScope Murder, Inc. possesses a gritty realism painted effectively by cinematographer Gayne Rescher  (A Face in the Crowd 1957, Man on a String 1960, Rachel, Rachel 1968 and Otto Preminger’s Such Good Friends 1971)

The film’s musical score is indeed a great companion to the mood, as Frank De Vol who usually works with Robert Aldrich (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962) creates a tense and bitter little pill, a flamboyant world within the universe of egocentric criminals, petty thieves, depression era storekeepers like the wonderful character of Mrs. Corsi (Helen Waters who only appeared one more time in television’s Naked City in 1958) who runs the little soda shop or Joe Rosen (Eli Mintz) who live in fear for their lives. De Vol’s score in addition to a live smoking performance by the late Sarah Vaughan make the film’s musical personality work very well with the visual story.

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The viciousness touches the garment district, the Unions, the burlesque clubs all the way up to the Borscht Belt where comedian Walter Sage (Morey Amsterdam) is hit by Reles at the request of Lepke. There’s cops on the beat and the feds looking to finally incarcerate and shut down Murder Inc. The film is seeded with little cameos by some actors first appearances, like Sylvia Miles as Sadie the loud mouth who gets Reles’ hand shoved in her face while in the phone booth.

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Joseph Campanella who is just a guy who gets killed in the hallway for what ever he did or didn’t do… and Diane Ladd as a showgirl.

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A small but slick performance by Vincent Gardenia as the mobs attorney Laszlo, and terrific stage performance by Sarah Vaughan singing Fan My Brow and The Awakening written by composer George Weiss. I saw Sarah Vaughan at the Westbury Music Fair back in the 1980s! she was nothing less than magical!

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The inimitable Sarah Vaughan singing The Awakening at the dance hall where Eadie works as a showgirl…
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Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles first meets with Lepke to take the job offer as hit man for the syndicate.

The basic gist is this–Reles (Peter Falk) and his flunky Bug (Warren Finnerty) meet with Garment District crime boss Lepke Buchalter (David J. Stewart) who wants to hire Reles as the syndicate’s new hit man. Lepke’s first task is for Reles to hit comedian Walter Sage (Morey Amsterdam) who has a headline act up in the Catskills. Sage has been holding out money from the slots and Lepke is a petty hothead (who constantly drinks milk) with a literal belly ache. Enter Joey Collins Stuart Whitman (I’ve had a long time crush on this guy and his eyebrows!) a singer, who knows Sage from show business, and since he owes Reles $600 which will soon be $1,000 with every day he doesn’t pay back his loan he feels cornered into helping Reles do him a ‘favor.’ Joey Collins (Whitman) is coerced into driving up to the Borscht Belt in order to lure Sage out of the club so Reles can do his dirty work with his nice clean ice pick!

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Reles can’t believe that Joey lets his wife mouth off to him like this. She tries to throw Reles out.

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Abe Reles: “I’m gonna tell you something about women. I never met one that didn’t need a rap in the head, and often.”

When Reles pays a visit to the small apartment where Joey and his refugee showgirl wife Eadie (May Britt) live, Eadie is not only rude, she tries to throw Reles out. Reles who obviously has an inferiority complex takes Eadie’s dismissal as a rejection of his manhood and he comes back while Joey is out of the apartment and brutally assaults her with his, “dirty hands, his dirty fingers.”

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Even after Joey’s wife is violated by this mad dog Reles, he is still paralyzed by fear and too dug into the lifestyle of making a few bucks from the gang to protect Eadie and just try and get away.

But Joey is so entangled and emasculated himself by the predicament he’s gotten himself into, he doesn’t even try to stand up to Reles, but rather feels he is trapped, though Eadie wants to just run and get as far away from Reles and the whole deal. While the couple stay together because they are forced into a dynamic by Reles, they no longer sleep in the same bedroom nor act as a married couple. The weak and shameful Joey should have listened to Eadie!

Reles sets the kids up in this glamorous apartment as a front.

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CapturFiles_45 "You see what you can get your hands on and you take!! Don’t ask questions… TAKE!!!”
“You see what you can get your hands on and you take!! Don’t ask questions… TAKE!!!”

Now that Lepke thinks he has everything under control he has Reles working full force taking out anyone who can fink on him. Reles gives a maniacal soliloquy about ‘taking’ manipulating the couple into living as a cover in his gorgeous apartment that is furnished with imported stolen goods and dope.

The police want to bring Lepke in because they have found a witness, small business man Rosen who Lepke warned already to keep his mouth shut. He should have had his trusted man-crush Mendy push down the elevator shaft when he had the chance. Rosen is seen brought in by detective Tobin by Lepke, Mendy and their lawyer Laszlo in the halls of the courthouse. Rosen is now, at least this time– a dead man…

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Mendy Weiss (Joseph Bernard) is asked by Lepke to kill Rosen himself, gunning him down right on the street in front of his shop, one pop in the guts, and then a bullet to the back of his head at Lepke’s request. Lepke comes to hide out at Joey and Eadie’s apartment, where he proceeds to demean and treat Eadie like a servant.

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Lepke barks at Eadie “I said two minutes. Do I have to get you a stop watch so you can tell two minutes… What’s a matter with you ha. What kind of a girl are you? Can’t cook. You don’t talk. I don’t understand you. What they teach you over there in Europe?”
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She answers him a stoic statue of ice “To be civilized.”
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Lepke intestinally insane-“Do you think I don’t know two minutes when I taste it? I told you a hundred times I have to be on a special diet. I got the most delicate stomach in the world!… Now go back and bring me another egg. Two minutes!!!!”

While detective Tobin (Simon Oakland) has been trying to shake things up and harass Reles and Lepke, even asking the small shop owners for their help, as Mrs. Corsi explains to Tobin that innocent people are being threatened, ‘acid thrown’ on their wares, even attacked just being seen talking with the police. She refuses to say a word. He can’t break the protective shield surrounding this gang, nor legally fight against a sly lawyer like Laszlo (Vincent Gardenia).

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District Attorney Burton Turkus (Henry Morgan) moves in and begins an all out mission to bring down Murder Inc. which has it’s tendrils in Chicago and Florida (What happened to New Jersey? hhmm)

Burton Turkus is interrogating Reles after he agrees to turn states evidence. He asks Reles how he can simply murder people without any feelings around it. Reles asks him how his first time on the job as a cop effected him. He tells Reles, he was shaky at first but “he got used to it.” Reles gives him a very matter of fact  ‘that’s your answer’ look.

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Before the police finally pick up Lepke, while in hiding Lepke gets paranoid about his people squealing so he orders a hit on anyone in Brownsville that can connect him to the syndicate, especially Joey Collins and his wife Eadie who are living with him and now know too much. Finally Eadie can’t bear it anymore and goes to the police and becomes an informant. Turkus takes Joey and Eadie into protective custody. Which isn’t so protective but hey, I won’t ruin the film for you.

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Once Reles realizes that Lepke is on his trail he agrees to spill the entire can of Murder Inc. beans on the operation too, knowing the law very well, and making a deal with Turkus for a lesser murder sentence and his promise of protection.

So Reles is also hidden away at the less than fortress-y Half Moon Hotel room watched over by disgruntled uniformed cops in Coney Island. I won’t give away the defenestration climax, but I will say that Lepke does finally face execution for his part in several unsolved murders. His last meal must have included a gallon of milk for that upset stomach disorder

You can absolutely say that it’s Peter Falk’s incendiary performance as the high strung little punk with a Napoleonic complex based on true life Brooklyn gangster “kid twist’ Abe Reles earning him the Academy Award nomination for his combustive performance and his myriad of colorfully vicious asides.

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Joey Collins: (Stuart Whitman) “Why’d you do it? Why did you kill him? Abe “Kid Twist” Reles: “Because he had bad breath.”

It’s what makes Murder, Inc (1960) work so well, but there’s a lot of little inlaid gems that make this neo-noir crime drama a conflagration of mind gripping tropes and wonderful little characterizations.

Murder, Inc is a neo-noir/documentary style/crime-drama masterpiece featuring not only Falk’s searing performance, but David J. Stewart as the despicable complainer -Lepke who ran the syndicate in New York City and was connected to all the major city crime bosses who oversaw big money, murder and mayhem like a miserable business, taking out potential stool pigeons, or little shop owners who just can’t pay their protection fees — Vicious brutal and utterly mesmerizing the film plays like a nightmare while the well intended but at times inadequate good guys who just can’t seem to legally or physically pin down the bad guys without getting their witnesses murdered. Or it’s suggested that there are also insiders in the police department and government that shield these criminals from prison time. Murder Inc spreads like an insidious disease taking over the city, but like all things violent -they must eventually self-destruct as Stuart Whitman who plays Joey Collins: says to Reles, after he is arrested “I’m gonna watch you fry! I’m gonna watch you fry! I’m gonna watch you fry!”

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Eadie (May Britt) is the film’s sufferer and sacrificial lamb as a woman who is either consistently abused and mistreated or woefully looked after by all the men in the film. She is surrounded by dread and ruin.

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Talking about Lepke–“He came in the door like a king. He came with a hole in his stomach. All the time he stayed I was his house maid. Two Minute Eggs… (she closes her eyes)….  I boiled a thousand two minute eggs and never did it right once…”

Edie "He came in the door like a king. He came with a hole in his stomach All the time he stayed I was his house maid. Two Minute Eggs (she closes her eyes) I boiled a thousand two minute eggs and never did it right once…”

“I boiled a thousand two minute eggs and never did it right once…”

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This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying I gotta go make a two minute egg! 

The Last Drive In: Let’s go to the snack bar!

Joey at the Drive In here… thinking it would be such a nice treat to offer up a brief yet deliciously fun post from the snack bar. What better way to enjoy an intermission between my long winded writing than to just get to the point and tickle your vintage TV taste buds with a little amuse-bouche!

TEN TASTY TELEVISION TRIVIA TID BITS TO TANTALIZE!

1) Lt.Columbo (Peter Falk) loves loves loves chili and he’s very fond of health cookies!

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Eating chili that’s usually served up by Timothy Carey

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A scene from Double Shock co-starring Jeanette Nolan as Mrs Lesh who offers Columbo some health cookies and milk

2) Chief Ironside (Raymond Burr) eats chili and they all like rum crunchy ice cream

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Here’s the Chief eating chili with Mark Sanger (gorgeous Don Mitchell) and the perky Officer Eve Whitfield (Barbara Anderson)

3) The Fugitive’s Richard Kimble (David Janssen) only drinks black coffee… he’s usually on the run

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in Moon Child Richard Kimble (David Janssen) barely gets to drink his cup of joe and crumble a few crackers into his bowl of chili before he’s in trouble…. again

4) The Golden Girls Dorothy Blanche, Rose and Sophia eat cheesecake.

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Betty White, Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty and Rue McClanahan are those Golden Girls eatin’ a cheese cake and talkin’ sex

5) Carroll O’ Connor is the inimitable Archie Bunker who likes either chicken croquettes or a tuna sandwich with an orange on the side and a Twinkie for desert!… in his lunch box.
And lovable Edith (Jean Stapleton) buys him Hhm hhm hhm ( Cling peaches) in heavy syrup when they’re on sale or serves up rice pudding with a drop of milk on top unless he doesn’t ask for it. Dingbat!!!! And of course there’s always beer…

6) Jim Rockford (James Garner) eats Tacos for breakfast… with no apologies!

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7) Andy and Opie enjoy anything Aunt Bee cooks as long as it isn’t those kerosene cucumber pickles. from The Andy Griffith Show

8) Beaver Cleaver will just not eat brussels sprouts but then again I think I’m the only one who loves them…

9) Harry Morgan as Officer Bill Gannon concocts the weirdest food combinations ever. Especially his recipe for BBQ sauce the secret ingredient is…- from Dragnet

10) The sublime chemistry of the Odd Couple’s Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) eats anything with ketchup on it, and Felix Unger (Tony Randall) doesn’t like pits pits pits in his juice juice juice… uh oh!

“MeTV Remembers the M*A*S*H Finale” Exclusive Broadcast Event
With Series Cast and Creators, Airing on Sunday, May 3
In honor of MeTV’s tribute to M*A*S*H here’s Hawkeye crying a river of liver!

And why say…. as long as we’re on the snacking subject if you’ve got any great additions to add, drop by The Last Drive In’s snack bar and let me know.

Your Everlovin’ Joey (MonsterGirl) saying hope you always enjoy the show!

What A Character Blogathon!… is back 2013- The unique Jeanette Nolan!

What A Character Blogathon 2013!

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Hosted by Once Upon A Screen- Outspoken & Freckled & Paula’s Cinema Club

As these fabulous bloggers say -“They are eccentric. They are unusual.  AND they are BACK!”

Character actors are the grease that spins the wheels of cinematic & television memories. I am so thrilled to be participating in this blogathon, because there are a lot of unsung actors that deserve recognition. Though it was a tough decision, I decided to focus on the inimitable Jeanette Nolan!

Jeanette Nolan

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Jeanette Nolan as the tightly wound housekeeper Mrs Peck in one of my all time favorite Columbo episodes Double Shock-“Yes, thank you I’m extremely fond of health cookies”-Columbo

Jeanette Nolan just kept popping up for me in film and television episodes until I couldn’t resist her often irascible charms, and quirky yet dignified demeanor. Okay okay, she’s played a truly bona fide hag at times. No one cackles and frets quite like a Jeanette Nolan crone.

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Jeanette Nolan in Boris Karloff’s 60s television show Thriller episode -La Strega

But, don’t let that fool you into thinking that she didn’t have an incredible depth and range of characterizations filled with heart and a sharply honed instinct for creating an atmosphere that drew you into it’s orbit, even when she was on the periphery of the plot and the main stars in the story.

I adore this woman and I’m so glad I get to share more than just a few of the memorable moments in Jeanette Nolan’s long career.

Jeanette Nolan was born in 1911 in Los Angeles California, She began her acting career in the Pasadena Community Playhouse.She made her film debut as Lady Macbeth in Orson Welles’ 1948 film version of Macbeth.

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Jeanette Nolan as Lady Macbeth in Orson Welles’ production of Macbeth
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Jeanette Nolan as Harriet Purcell in The Secret of Convict Lake 1951
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Jeanette Nolan as Nora Ericson in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 1962
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Jeanette Nolan as Mrs. Ewing Perryman in Chamber of Horrors 1966

Before her death at age 86 due to a stroke on June 5th, 1998 her career encompassed so many varied roles. Her last performance was in Robert Redford’s film The Horse Whisperer, where she plays Tom Booker’s mother “Ellen.” She played Bertha Duncan in The Big Heat 1953 and Nora Ericson in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 1962

If you can imagine she brought to life some of the most interesting characters in over more than 300 television shows. From Perry Mason, Doctor Kildare, Boris Karloff’s Thriller, Medical Center, The Twilight Zone, Naked City, I Spy, The Mother’s In-Law,  Ironside, Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, The Fugitive & Columbo and even played Rose Nyland’s (Bette White) mother Alma Lindstrom on The Golden Girls  just to name a few. Jeanette Nolan earned four Emmy nominations.

Nolan was married to actor John McIntire who died in 1991. And… Nolan actually provided the screams for Norman’s “mother” in Psycho (1960) Husband John played Sheriff Chambers.

Here’s Jeanette Nolan in one of Columbo’s memorable episodes ‘Double Shock’ as Mrs Peck who keeps a very tidy house.

As the oddball Annie in Dr. Kildare’s The Hand that Hurts, The Hand that Heals 1964

Jeanette as Bernadine Spalding in Emergency! Weird Wednesday 1972

As Dirty Sally Fergus on Gunsmoke

As Mary Fitzgibbons in ‘Triumph’ The Alfred Hitchcock Hour 1964

As Edith Beggs in Coming Home Alfred Hitchcock Presents 1961

As Hallie in The Secret- Medical Center 1972

As Mrs Fleming in The Reluctant Astronaut 1967

Jeanette Nolan as Miss Havergill The Invaders

As Mrs Grimes in The Right Kind of House- Alfred Hitchcock Presents

As Naomi Kellin in ‘Ill Wind’ The Fugitive

Jeanette Nolan in Wagon Train- “The Janet Hale Story”

As Granny Harrad in Boris Karloff’s television anthology series Thriller- “Parasite Mansion’

Jeanette Nolan as Mrs Downey in Say Goodbye Maggie Cole Tv Movie 1972

As Bertha Duncan in 1953 film noir classic The Big Heat

As Granny Hart in Twilight Zone’s ‘Jess-Belle

As Lady Macbeth in Orson Welles’ Macbeth

As Mrs Tibbit in Marcus Welby MD “Epidemic”

As Mrs Waddle in Rod Serling’s Night Gallery episode “The Housekeeper”

As Mrs Fitzgibbons in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour “Triumph’

Jeanette Nolan in Rod Serling’s Night Gallery “Since Aunt Ada Came To Stay”

As Judge Millie Cox in The Streets of San Fransisco “The Runaways”

Jeanette Nolan as Granny Harrad in Boris Karloff’s Thriller ‘Parasite Mansion’

Jeanette Nolan as Emma ‘Martha’ Benson in Perry Mason’s The Case of the Nine Dolls

Jeanette Nolas as Mrs Trotter in Alfred Hitchcock Presents “The Morning After”

As Edna Brackett in Quincy M.E. with husband John McIntire

Here’s to the inimitable character- Jeanette Nolan!!! Love Joey

Columbo: And The Quirky Little Detective in The Shabby Raincoat Says!

From Season 3, Episode 4: Double Exposure

Original Air Date16 December 1973
Robert Culp plays Dr. Bart Keppel an opportunistic  “motivational research specialist guru” who uses subliminal cuts to commit murder. But Lt. Columbo is onto him right from the beginning as usual!

Starring Peter Falk as the inimitable & tenacious, underestimated and hyper perceptive Detective Columbo who always comes prepared with thoughtful anecdotes about his family and his ever present cigar. He’s  shabby “like an unmade bed” but always lovable. The episodes are rooted in class conflict as Lt Columbo often inhabits the role of David up against the entitlement ridden criminal who thinks they’re a Goliath yet are no match for such a subtle and agile minded wit.

Columbo – “I don’t think it’s proving anything Doc, as a matter of fact I don’t even know what it means. It’s just one of those things that gets in my head and keeps rolling around in there like a marble.”

Just a quick note about Peter Falk, one of my favorite actors who created one of the most memorable characters of all time.

On June 4 2009 wife Shera Danese released a press statement asking for Falk’s privacy after a very public battle over conservatorship by his daughter. He has since retired from the business, due to illness and Alzheimers. I write this blog quote in honor of my admiration for his past work over the years, and wish the man peace and contentment on his journey.

MonsterGirl