After careful deliberation & shared concentration on some of the most groundbreaking and beloved classic television series, the final list is here! Visit Classic TV Blog Associations Blog (Link Above) to read how the list evolved…
I am proud to have been part of this project. Many of the shows included on the final list were series I suggested and while series such as Naked City, Boris Karloff’s Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Dark Shadows, Dr. Kildare, Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Leave It To Beaver didn’t make the ultimate tally, I am content that many many fans will agree it is an all inclusive collection of shows that contributed to our collective consciousness, influenced generations of series to follow and left indelible impressions in our hearts and minds.
The Twilight Zone
I Love Lucy
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
All in the Family
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
The Dick Van Dyke Show
The Andy Griffith Show
The Golden Girls
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Hill Street Blues
The Odd Couple
The Outer Limits
Your EverLovin’ Joey saying see ya soon and keep showing your love for those classic series that will forever remain –the finest television viewing experience for all time…
Your EverLovin’ Joey saying The Last Drive In is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge!
This Halloween season I’m covering those fierce women who graced the 1950s Science Fiction & Fantasy/Horror screen with their beauty, brawn and bravado! Like years past–I pay tribute to the Scream Queens of the 1930s & 1940s
MonsterGirl’s Halloween 🎃 2015 special feature! the Heroines, Scream Queens & Sirens of 30s Horror Cinema!
We’ve arrived at the 1950s decade’s deliriously dynamic dames… Who had to deal with mad scientists, gigantism, alien invasions and much more menace & mayhem!
Of course I plan on doing the 1960s and 1970s in the next year–and you’ll notice that I am listing some of our Queen B’s future films & television appearances of a supernatural or science fiction nature, and even a few scattered exploitation films that fit the bill. Added are a few photos to fill out the framework of their contribution to the genre. I’ve included honorable mentions to those who starred in at least one film and perhaps a few science fiction & horror anthology shows on television.
And I guess I should be super clear about this, so no one gets their hackles standing on end, not one actress who wound up only getting an honorable mention, (be it one of your favorites and believe me their are a few of mine on that smaller list), by any means does it imply that I think they have a less substantial participation in the decade’s genre.
All these actresses have performed in other types of films-other genres and dramatic roles and enjoyed a full career that transcends the science fiction & horror films they appeared in.
Allied together they created the fabric of the 1950s decade, colored by their unique and valuable presence to ensure that science fiction & horror/fantasy will live on to entertain and enamor a whole new generation of fans and aficionados.
Collectively and Individually these women are fantastic , and I feel very passionate about having put this wonderful collection together as a tribute!
I can’t begin to describe the admiration I’ve developed over the past several years, by delving into Beverly Garland’s long impressive career as a popular cult actress. All I can think of saying– seems crude– but it’s what truly comes to mind… Beverly Garland kicks some serious ass!!!
From historian/writer Tom Weaver-“For most fans of 50s horror there are just no two ways about it. Beverly Garland is the exploitation film heroine of the period. A principal member of Roger Corman’s early stock company, she was the attractive, feisty leading lady in such Corman quickies as It Conquered the World, Gunslinger, Naked Paradise, and Not of this Earth. In between Corman assignments she braved the perils of the Amazon River on writer-director Curt Siodmak’s Curucu, Beast of the Amazon, and a less harrowing Hollywood backlot swamp in Fox’s the Alligator People. Her 1960s film work included Pretty Poison, The Mad Room and the multi-storied Twice Told Tales with Vincent Price. Overall, this list of titles is unmatched by any other ’50s genre actress.”
The diverse, dynamic and uniquely sexy Beverly Garland was born in Santa Cruz, California. She studied with dramatics teacher Anita Arliss, sister to Hollywood actor George Arliss. Garland also worked in radio actually appeared semi-clothed in various racy shorts, until she made her first feature debut supporting role in the taut noir thriller D.O.A (1949) starring Edmund O’Brien. Beverly started out doing small parts in science fiction/horror films such as The Neanderthal Man 1955 and The Rocket Man 1954. But her cult/exploitation status was forged when she signed onto to work with legendary filmmaker Roger Corman, the first film takes place in Louisiana called Swamp Women. In 1983 Beverly Garland received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She worked right up until 2004 and sadly passed away in 2008.
There are so many credits Beverly Garland has under her belt, I can only list the few that are memorable for me, but here she is linked to her massive IMDb list of credits for you to peruse. One of the roles that stands out for me is her groundbreaking role in the late 1950s as Casey Jones a policewoman for NYC in the series called Decoy (1957) Garland finds herself in diverging & dangerous situations where she not only uses her sexy good looks but her smarts and her instincts to trap criminals from all walks of life. It’s a fabulous show and it shows not only how diverse Beverly Garland is but the show was a historical first for a woman starring in a dramatic television series.
Beverly Garland has performed in drama’s including a musical with Frank Sinatra directed by Charles Vidor The Joker is Wild (1957) Film Noir (The Miami Story 1954, New Orleans Uncensored 1955, Sudden Danger 1955, The Steel Jungle 1956, Chicago Confidential 1957, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Adventure, Exploitation, Westerns and Crime dramas & Thrillers like Pretty Poison 1968. For the purposes of The Last Drive In tribute to this magnetic actress, here are those performances in the genre I’m featuring both film & television series!
“The Memories of working with Roger Corman are pleasant because I got along with him very well. He was fun to be around and work with. We always did these films on a cheap budget, and people were always mad at Roger because he’d hardly feed us! And no matter what happened to you, your worked regardless… You could be dead and Roger would prop you up in a chair!”-Beverly Garland
From Beverly Garland’s Interview in “Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers: Writers, Producers, Directors, Actors, Moguls and Makeup” by Tom Weaver (McFarland 1988).
In The Mad Room (1969) her character was pregnant–so was she at the time, with her son James.
[referring to her 1950s Roger Corman cult films] “It’s funny today because it’s so ridiculous. But at the time, it was very serious! We were just actors doing our best, I think. None of us overacted. I’m not saying we weren’t good. We didn’t do it tongue-in-cheek. We really meant it. We gave our all. We were serious, good actors and we played it seriously.”-Beverly Garland
“Maybe I do come on strong, and people sense in me a strength and a positiveness . . . It’s really the way I look and act, not the way I am . . . Once you cut through the protective coating, I’m strictly molasses.”-Beverly Garland
Audrey Dalton– “I noticed you wrote a bit about Beverly Garland. She was such a dear friend of mine. She was in Pretty Poison with Noel Black who just passed away last year. Bev died years ago and even though she remained active in the Scarecrow and Mrs King for so long, she loved acting in “B” films the most.”
Waitress Nola Mason in The Neanderthal man 1954, Ludine in The Rocket Man 1954, Vera in Swamp Women 1956, Claire Anderson in It Conquered the World 1956, Dr. Andrea Romar in Curucu the Beast of the Amazon, Nadine Storey in Not of this Earth 1957, Joyce Webster in The Alligator People 1959, Ellen Winslow in Stark Fear 1962, as Alice Pyncheon in Twice-Told Tales (1963) Mrs. Stepanek in Pretty Poison 1968, Mrs. Racine in The Mad Room 1969, Science Fiction Theatre (TV Series) Katherine Kerston / Sally Torens– The Other Side of the Moon (1956) … Katherine Kerston– The Negative Man (1955) … Sally Torens, The Twilight Zone (TV Series) Maggie- The Four of Us Are Dying (1960) , Thriller (TV Series) Ruth Kenton– Knock Three-One-Two (1960)
Tom Weaver – “In your Corman movies you yourself generally played plucky, strong willed, sometimes two-fisted types.”
Beverly Garland- “I think that was really what the scripts called for. In most all the movies I did for Roger my character was kind of a tough person. Allison Hayes always played the beautiful, sophisticated “heavy” and I played the gutsy girl who wanted to manage it all, take things into her own hands. I never considered myself much of a passive kind of actress-I never was very comfortable in love scenes, never comfortable playing a sweet, lovable lady. Maybe if the script wasn’t written that way, then probably a lot of it I brought to the role myself. I felt I did that better than playing a passive part.”
Swamp Women (1956) An undercover policewoman helps three female convicts escape from prison so that they can lead her to a stash of stolen diamonds hidden in a swamp. Co-stars Marie Windsor, Carole Mathews, Mike Connors, Susan Cummings and Ed Nelson!
Also in Swamp Women 1956, Garland was expected to do her own stunts, even dropping out of a 20 foot tree. Roger Corman told her “When you’re killed you have to drop” Roger planted three guys underneath the tree to catch Beverly when she let’s go. “And when they killed me I just fell-dead weight on these three poor guys!” Roger told her “You’re really one of the best stuntwomen I have ever worked with.”
Even after breaking her ankle in Gunslinger 1956, Beverly was a trooper, she did all her fight scenes and worked to finish the film for Roger Corman, even though she couldn’t walk for weeks after that!
As Ellen Winslow, Garland takes a courageous role as a non-victim of abuse and assault, she pushes back head on against the grain instead of wilting from the trauma she prevails. The film showcases the gutsy quality Garland herself tried to portray in all her performances. in the darkly psychological Stark Fear (1962) A sadistic husband mentally tortures his wife, while eventually planning to murder her. Although no one believes her, she gets help from an unexpected source.
Beverly Garland recalls making Swamp Women co-starring Marie Windsor with Tom Weaver-“Swamp Women! Ooh that was a terrible thing! Roger put us up in this old abandoned hotel while we were on location in Louisiana- I mean it was really abandoned! Roger certainly had a way of doing things back in those days-I’m surprised the hotel had running water! I remember that we each had a room with an iron bed. Our first night there, I went to bed and I heard this tremendous crash! I went screaming into Marie Windsor’s room, and there she was with the bed on top of her-the whole bed had collapsed! Well, we started laughing because everything was so awful in this hotel. just incredibly terrible, and we became good friends.”
Carole Mathews, Marie Windsor and Beverly Garland in Swamp Women
Beverly Garland not only exuded a gutsy streak in every role she took, she shared the notable distinction of starring in one of Boris Karloff’s THRILLER episodes called Knock-Three-One-Two co-starring with the wonderful character actor Joe Maross who has a gambling problem and will be beaten to a pulp if he doesn’t pay his bookie. So he enlists the help of a psychopathic lady killer to murder his wife Beverly for her tightly held purse and large savings account!
Tom Weaver asks Beverly Garland if she enjoyed working on Twice-Told Tales (1963) — “Oh, I love it because I loved Vincent Price. He is the most wonderful sweet, adorable man! I don’t remember much about the movie, I just remember working with Vinnie and how wonderful he was.”
Tom Drake, Bill Elliott, and Beverly Garland in Sudden Danger (1955)
On working with Roger Corman on Gunslinger (1956) after Allison Hayes another seasoned actress and a bloomin’ trooper who broke her arm during filming. The working conditions were dismal but Beverly Garland isn’t a woman you can keep down. “I always wondered if Allison broke her arm just to get off the picture and out of the rain. It poured constantly. But what I adored about Roger was he never said, ‘This can’t be done.’ Pouring rain, trudging through the mud and heat, getting ptomaine poisoning, sick as a dog–didn’t matter. Never say die. Never say can’t Never say quit. I learned to be a trooper with Roger. I could kid him sarcastically about these conditions and laugh. That’s why we got along so well. On Gunslinger, I was supposed to run down the saloon stairs, jump on my horse and ride out of town. Now we never had stunt people in low-budget films. Riding, stunts, fights–we all did it ourselves and we all expected it, and we all just said it was marvelously grand. I told myself just to think tall. So my first take I thought tall and sailed right over the saddle and landed on the other side of the horse. The second take I twisted my ankle running down the stairs– a bad twist.”
About working with Roy del Ruth on The Alligator People–“He was sweetheart of a guy and a good director. The Alligator People was a fast picture, but he really tried to do something good with it. And I think that shows in the film. It’s not something that was just slapped together. It as such a ridiculous. story…).. I felt when I read the script and when I saw the film, which was a long time ago, that it ended very abruptly. It all happened too fast; it was kind of a cop out. But there really was no way to end it. What were they going to do-were they going to have us live happily ever after and raise baby alligators?”
On first seeing the cucumber creature that Paul Blaisdell designed for It Conquered the World–“I remember the first time I saw the It Conquered the World Monster. I went out to the caves where we’d be shooting and got my first look at the thing. I said to Roger, ‘That isn’t the monster…! That little thing over there is not the monster, is it?’ He smiled back at me , “Yeah, Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?’ I said, ‘Roger! I could bop that monster over the head with my handbag!’ This thing is no monster, it was a terrible ornament!’ He said, ‘Well don’t worry about it because we’re gonna show you, and then we’ll show the monster, back and forth.’ ‘Well, don’t ever show us together, because if you do everybody’ll know that I could step on this little creature! Eventually I think they did do some extra work on the monster: I think they resprayed it so it would look a little scarier, and made it a good bit taller. When we actually filmed, they shot it in shadow and never showed the two of us together.”
Beverly Garland as Clair talking on the radio to IT– “I hate your living guts for what you‘ve done to my husband and my world, and I’m going to kill you! Do you hear that? I’m going to kill you!”…) “So that’s what you look like, you’re ugly…) You think you’re gonna make a slave of the world… I’ll see you in hell first!“
Tom Weaver asks —“Do you ever look back on your B movies and feel that maybe you were too closely associated with them? That they might have kept you from bigger and better things?
Beverly Garland —“No, I really don’t think so. I think that it was my getting into television; Decoy represented a big turn in my life. Everybody did B movies, but at least they were movies, so it was okay. In the early days, we who did TV weren’t considered actors; we were just horrible people that were doing this ‘television’ which was so sickening, so awful, and which was certainly going to disappear off the face of the earth. Now, without TV, nobody would be working. No-bod-y. But I think that was where my black eye came from; I don’t think it came from the B movies at all.”
Tom Weaver-“Which of your many horror and science fiction roles did you consider your most challenging?”
Beverly Garland–“Pretty Poison. It was a small part, but it had so much to say that you understood why Tuesday Weld killed her mother. I worked hard to make that understood not a surface one, but tried to give you the lady above and beyond what you would see in a short time.”
The bewitchingly beautiful Audrey Dalton was born in Dublin, Ireland who maintains the most delicately embroidered lilt of Gaelic tones became an American actress of film in the heyday of Hollywood and the Golden Age of television. Knowing from early on that she wanted to be an actress while studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts was discovered by a Paramount Studio executive in London, thus beginning her notable career starring in classic drama, comedy, film noir, science fiction, campy cult classic horror and dramatic television hits!
Since then I’ve had the incredible honor of chatting with this very special lady whom I consider not only one of THE most ethereal beauties of the silver screen, Audrey Dalton is a versatile actress, and an extremely gracious and kind person.
Read More about this lovely actress Here: MonsterGirl Listens: Reflections with Great Actress Audrey Dalton!
Audrey Dalton’s made a monumental contribution to one of the biggest beloved 1950s ‘B’ Sci-Fi treasures and she deserves to be honored for her legacy as the heroine in distress, pursued by a giant bunny killing Mollusk “That monster was enormous!” –Audrey commented in her interview with USA Today.
Gail MacKenzie in The Monster that Challenged the World 1957, Baroness Maude Sardonicus in William Castle’s Mr. Sardonicus 1961 Boris Karloff’s Thriller (1960-1962)- Norine Burton in The Prediction, Meg O’Danagh Wheeler in The Hollow Watcher and Nesta Roberts in Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook.
Barbara Rush appeared in director Martin Ritt’s turbulent suburban drama No Down Payment 1957 with ex-husband Jeffrey Hunter though they weren’t married to each other in the film.
Barbara Rush, Possesses a transcendent gracefulness. She moves with a poise like a dancer, a beautiful gazelle stirring in the gentle quiet spaces like silent woods. When I see Barbara Rush, I see beauty personified by elegance and decency. Barbara Rush will always remain in my eyes, one of the most gentle of souls on the screen, no matter what role she is inhabiting. She brings a certain kind of class that is not learned, it’s inherent.
She was born in Denver, Colorado in 1927 and began at University of California. Then she joined the University Players, taking acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse. Paramount scooped Barbara up and signed her to a contract in 1950. She debuted with The Goldbergs (1950) as Debby Sherman acting with Gertrude Berg as Molly Goldberg -a popular television program that follows the warm, human story of famous Jewish Bronx radio & TV family the Goldbergs, and their everyday problems. Co-starring David Opatoshu and Eduard Franz.
Before joining the Goldbergs she met the strikingly handsome actor Jeffrey Hunter who eventually became a hot commodity over at 20th Century Fox. Barbara Rush and Jeffrey Hunter fell in love and were married in December of 1950. They became Hollywood’s most gorgeous couple, and the camera seemed to adore them. Their son Christopher was born in 1952.
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.
As time went on Barbara Rush co-starred with some of the most desirable actors in Hollywood, James Mason, Monty Clift, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman , Richard Burton and Kirk Douglas. Her roles ran the gamut from disenchanted wives, scheming other women or pretty socialites
Though Barbara Rush is capable of a range of acting, the one great role of a lifetime never seemed to surface for her, though what ever she appeared in was elevated to a higher level because of her presence.
Television became a wonderful avenue for Barbara Rush’s talent, she appeared in guest parts in many popular tv series of the 1960s and 1970s. She also co-starred in tv movies. One enjoyable character she played was a guest villain on the 1966 television series Batman as femme fatale ‘Nora Clavicle” Barbara Rush also played Marsha Russell on the popular television drama Peyton Place 1968-69
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 beauty, poise and grace. She will always be someone special someone memorable.
Joey Q: Did you ever imagine Jack Arnold’s “It Came from Outer Space” (1953) with you (in that black dress by Rosemary Odell) aiming that laser beam would become so iconic, and leave such a lasting impression on fans and film historians after all these years?
Barbara Rush: A: I’d never think that anybody who saw it needed to see it again, but if it left an impression, that’s fine. I loved the chiffon dress. It was too weird that these people that came from other space were too frightening to look at, so they took the form of regular humans. What I thought was interesting that these creatures didn’t actually want to be there and weren’t vicious at all. They were just trying to fix their ship and get it together. I remember thinking that with a lot of science fiction films; we were so afraid these creatures, but they were just trying to get away and weren’t threatening at all.
Joey Q: Is there a role you would have liked to play — let’s say in a Gothic thriller? Or was there ever a script for one that you turned down that you regret now? Were there any other high quality A-picture science fiction film scripts sent to you after “When Worlds Collide” (1951) and “It Came from Outer Space” (1953)?
Barbara Rush A: I don’t remember anything that was given to me to do other than those two pictures. That was all just orders from the studio. The science fiction film I admired the most was the picture E. T. – I just love that film and it is my favourite, but I never thought it was something I wanted to be in myself.
Joey Q: “The Outer Limits” is one of the most extraordinary anthology television shows of the 1960s. It was clearly ahead of its time, beautifully crafted and though-provoking. You star as the tortured Leonora in the episode “The Forms of Things Unknown” which is perhaps one of THE finest of the series written by Joseph Stefano, all due to the cinematography, lighting, and particularly the ensemble acting. Do you have any lasting impressions or thoughts about that role and/or working with Vera Miles, Cedric Hardwicke, David McCallum, and Scott Marlowe?
Barbara Rush A: I loved doing that show and loved Vera Miles. She was just the most wonderful person to work with. She was so funny. There was a scene where she had to run after me in the forest in the rain. After that miserable experience she told me:”Barbara, I promise you I’ll never chase after you in the rain, in the forest, ever again.” I thought the episode was very interesting, though.
Joey Q: In that same high calibre of dramatic television series, were you ever approached by William Frye, Doug Benton, or Maxwell Shane from Boris Karloff’s “Thriller” series or by Alfred Hitchcock for his anthology series? You would have been extraordinary in either television program! These shows were remarkably well-written and directed and I’m certain there would have been a perfect role for your wonderful acting style. Did you ever receive a script or were you ever interested in appearing on either of those shows?
Barbara Rush A: Unfortunately they didn’t really seem to want me. They never got in touch with me about anything. I would have loved to work for Hitchcock – I liked his films.
Joey Q: It seems that the early 70’s found you a niche in the macabre. Perhaps this is because you are such a consummate actress and the contrast of your gentility works well with the darker subject matter. In 1971 you co-starred with Henry Darrow in a short piece on Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery” – “Cool Air.” It was a Gothic romantic tale based on H.P. Lovecraft’s story about a woman who falls in love with a man who must remain in a refrigerated apartment dare something dreadful occur. Then, in 1972 you appeared in “The Eyes of Charles Sands” as Katherine Winslow co-starring Peter Haskell and Joan Bennett, a film about ESP and solving a murder. Then came “Moon of the Wolf” where you co-starred with David Janssen and Bradford Dillman, two very handsome leading men. Did you enjoy venturing into these uncanny story lines?
Barbara Rush A: I particularly enjoyed working with Bradford Dillman, who was a dear friend of mine. We more or less grew up together, in Santa Barbara. In one of these he played a werewolf and he’d have these hairy mittens as part of his costume and he’d come trampling in all the time – as a werewolf! I have a tendency to get very hysterical about how funny people can be, and he’d just make me crack up. We were shooting – I think in New Orleans or Mississippi, somewhere in the south – on location, so it was very hot. Poor Brad who had to walk around in those mittens.
IMDb trivia -Along with Leonard Nimoy, David McCallum, Cliff Robertson and Peter Breck, she is one of only five actors to appear in both The Outer Limits (1963) and The Outer Limits (1995) and the only woman to do so. She played Leonora Edmond in The Outer Limits: The Forms of Things Unknown (1964) and Barbara Matheson in The Outer Limits: Balance of Nature (1998).
Attended and graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara (1948). She graduated from the Pasadena Playhouse School for Performing Arts in Pasadena, California.
Is mentioned in the movie Shampoo (1975), when hairdresser Warren Beatty says “I do Barbara Rush’s hair”.
Was separated from second husband Warren Cowan in 1969 at the time she learned of first husband Jeffrey Hunter’s sudden death following brain surgery after falling down a flight of stairs.
Appears in No Down Payment (1957) with ex-husband Jeffrey Hunter, they both portraying married characters, but not married to each other.
She is one of five actors to have played “Special Guest Villains” on Batman (1966) who are still alive, the others being Julie Newmar, John Astin, Joan Collins and Glynis Johns.
“I can safely say that every movie role I was ever offered that had any real quality went to someone else.”-Barbara Rush
As Joyce Hendron in When Worlds Collide 1951, as Ellen Fields in It Came from Outer Space 1953 Night Gallery episode as Agatha Howard in ‘Cool Air’ released on December 8, 1971 based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft and The Outer Limits as Leonora Edmond in episode The Form of Things Unknown written by Joseph Stefano released on May 4, 1964, as Karen Lownes in Kraft Suspense Theatre tv series ‘In Darkness, Waiting (1965), as Nora Clavicle and The Ladies’ Crime Club Batman Series 1966, Moon of the Wolf (TV Movie) 1972
as Louise Rodanthe, as Katherine Winslow in The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972), The Bionic Woman (TV Series) – Jaime’s Mother (1976) … Ann Sommers / Chris Stuart, 1979 Death Car on the Freeway (TV Movie) as Rosemary
It’s finally here! The sixth annual What a Character Blogathon! 2017…
It’s great to once again be contributing to this wonderful blogathon. It’s become my favorite event each year. And I’m grateful to all three marvelous bloggers who put this bash together! It’s a fantastic line up so stick around for the next few days and enjoy the tribute being paid to those wonderful character actors and supportive players who made the movies full of… well CHARACTER!!!!!
Hosted by that fabulously fanatic film friend Aurora from Once Upon A Screen…
This year I’m focusing on one of my all time favorites, one of those great familiar faces–Martin Balsam!
“I think the average guy has always identified with me.“-Martin Balsam
“The supporting role is always potentially the most interesting in a film.”
“I’ll tell you, I still don’t feel whatever change you’re supposed to feel when your name goes up above the title. I think that’s because this star thing has never been the first consideration with me. Never. The work has always come first.”
Martin Henry Balsam nicknamed “The Bronx Barrymore” by columnist Earl Wilson, was born November 4, 1919 in the Bronx to Lillian and Albert Balsam. His mother was born in New York City to Russian Jewish parents, and his father was a Russian Jewish immigrant. Martin Balsam is like a comfortable friend, he could even be my father.
Martin participated in the Drama Club at DeWitt Clinton High School in New York. After high school, he attended the New School for acting. But when WWII started, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force. After WWII, Martin worked as an usher at Radio City Music Hall, and was selected by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasburg to join the Actors Studio. A struggling actor living in Greenwich Villege, Balsam started acting on Broadway in the late 1940s,“I ate a lot of mashed potatoes in those days. It was 1950 and I was 30 years old… I thought I had better learn to do something with my hands before it was too late.” He finally established himself as an actor in 1951 in Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo.” He won a Tony for “You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running” and an Obie for “In Cold Storage.”
After his success on Broadway, Balsam began working in television, becoming known for regular parts on shows like the United States Steel Hour, The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, Studio One in Hollywood, and the Goodyear Playhouse. In 1955 he starred in episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone , and as a result was offered the supporting role of Detective Milton Arbogast in Psycho (1960). After Psycho, he played strong parts in films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Cape Fear (1962) and The Carpetbaggers (1964). In 1965, he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for “A Thousand Clowns.” His later television appearances included a regular role as Archie Bunker’s Jewish business partner Murray in “Archie Bunker’s Place.”
During his 50 year film career he worked with top film directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Elia Kazan, Martin Scorsese, John Frankenheimer, and Sidney Lumet. After his success in the U.S., he accepted roles in European films, spending much of his later years in Italy.
Balsam was married 3 times. Actress Talia Balsam is his daughter, with his second wife, actress Joyce Van Patten. He died while in Rome from a heart attack on Feb. 13th, 1996 at age 76. He was survived by his third wife Irene Miller and three children, Adam, Zoe and Talia.
Balsam could play anything: a vengeful mob boss, a blustering pompous politico, a Mexican stagecoach driver, an Italian train line director, a flaming antiques dealer/caper crew member, a disgruntled subway motorman turned lukewarm hijacker with a tale-tell head cold.
Balsam could either play at being the old school seasoned good cop, or the jaded bad cop, a humble talent agent scraping by to make a living but comfortable with who he is, an average Joe, he was perfect as a non confrontational jury foreman, an over-eager opportunistic Colonel, or a quirky snake oil salesman in the wild west who keeps losing parts of his body. Several times he played the old Hollywood studio mogul, and a private investigator who gets more than he bargains for when he meets a psychotic old lady wielding a very large knife at the Bates Motel. And many more supportive parts that helped the sum total of whatever he was performing in to become even better because of his presence.
For over 55 years Balsam entertained us on the theatrical stage, in feature films, in television plays and tv series as well as serious made for tv movies. His roles run a wide range since his first appearance in 1949’s tv show Suspense, to later on appearing in several Italian crime thrillers in the 70s.
He deservedly got the nomination for the Golden Globe Awards – (1974) Best Supporting Actor – Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (Nominated) and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as Jason Robards brother Arnold in A Thousand Clowns 1965.
Martin Balsam is an everyman. His familiar comfortable face and voice is easy for us to make a connection with because he appears to be one of us. My father was raised in the Bronx and also worked in the garment district like Martin’s father -til the mid 70s- I myself am a Russian Jew. Whenever I see him in something I think to myself, now we have the whole mishpocha, he’s like kin!
Every performance of Martin Balsam seems to be seasoned with a dash of significant flavor -his presence always makes whatever he’s appearing in more potent, salient and that much more comprehensible.
He more often in his roles exudes an authentic and, likable personality. Balsam is a ubiquitous guy, his performances always manage to deliver an extra special bit of realism or something familiar that makes it feel special. He exudes true accessibility as an ordinary 5’7 guy. But he also has the ability to transcend that average guy persona we can relate to and adopt a quirky either lovable or despicable character. Yet- he is not only the everyman. He’s also one of the most versatile actors, never playing the same character or role twice. Sometimes mild-mannered, sometimes bombastic, at times a face of still waters, at times a volatile geyser of emotions!
While he does epitomize the ordinary guy, Balsam stretched his range that included Italian crime films, serious teleplays, made for tv movies, feature classic films as well as a few quirky offbeat films
It may seem easy to be an ‘everyman’, to portray an ordinary fella whose personality is based on conformity and quiet acquiescence. But to be a regular guy who possesses many layers and dimensions, who isn’t just a flat cut out figure to fill out the plot… that takes talent, that is acting magic!
Martin Balsam draws you in and makes the experience memorable. That’s what makes him one of the most versatile and recognizable actors. I wish I had been able to see him on stage in the theater, but I regret that I was too young to experience that great time in our culture when the New York City theatre was thriving with Strasberg trained actors.
Martin Balsam has been imprinted on our collective consciousness with his legendary death scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho 1960 as Detective Arbogast who gets up close and personal with Norman’s knife wielding rage filled mother only to stumble backwards (wonderful bit of camerawork by John L. Russell) down the staircase at the Bates Motel—the quintessential cinematic scene still remains a shocker today!
While Jason Robards delivers a superb portrayal of an iconoclast living outside of society, railing against conformity, trying to raise his wonderfully compassionate nephew in search of a name, played by Barry Gordon (who also did the character on stage) in the film version adapted from the stage play of 1962, A Thousand Clowns 1965, Balsam’s performance as his brother Arnold is the quintessential downtrodden man who has risen above the grind to find inner peace and satisfaction with who he is: Balsam plays Arnold without a hint of artifice.
It was this impassioned performance in A Thousand Clowns that won Balsam’s Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.
A few of my favorite performances are his flamboyant decorator/ in on the caper Tommy Haskins in director Sidney Lumet’s The Anderson Tapes 1971. And of course I particularly love his Harold Longman aka ”Mr. Green”, the reluctant subway train hijacker with a that pesky head cold, which ultimately gets him pinched because of an ironic ill-fated “atchoo” just as the dauntless Walter Matthau’s police Lt. Zachary Garberin is leaving his NYC apartment checking up on Longman as a suspect in the original 1974 classic version of director Joseph Sargent’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). I loved his portrayal of the wise Mendez in director Martin Ritt’s Hombre 1967, And then there’s Bianchi who is quick to pin the murder on everyone Poirot interrogates in director Sidney Lumet’s wonderful Murder on the Orient Express 1974. One of his most heartbreaking roles is that of Dr. Harry Walden, eye doctor who is beaten down and haunted by the ghosts of war, married to Joanne Woodward an ice queen in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973). As Professor Ruzinsky the dotty academic who translates the portion of Paradise Lost Balsam’s characterization of an eccentric adds humor to Michael Winner’s frightening 70s horror masterpiece The Sentinel (1977). And in Contract on Cherry Street (tv movie) 1977 Balsam plays the hardened and world weary Capt. Ernie Weinberg who is beaten down and beleaguered and just can’t deal with the reality of fighting against the system that allows criminals to reign over his beloved New York City.
Balsam started out as part of the Method actors led by Lee Strasberg along with actor and friend Shelley Winters who shared the stage with him in the 1950s.
Shelley wanted to return to the theater after feeling strangled by her 7 year contract with Universal Studios. At that time, she was friends with Method actors like Elaine Stritch, Ben Gazzara Kim Stanley Virginia Vincent Tony Franciosa (her then husband) Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and our wonderful Martin Balsam. Shelley wanted to do a Summerstock tour of her play Wedding Breakfast. Shelley and Marty met with a hot new director Sidney Lumet hoping at the end of the play they could shoot it as a film script. Unfortunately Shelley didn’t have faith in her erratic husband Tony Franciosa and so she cancelled the project, which made Lumet angry.
The two would come together again on television in 1964 for Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre “Two is the Number” Later once again they both co-starred in The Delta Force 1986.
At the Actor’s Studio Balsam was in the great company with friends and co-stars the likes of Geraldine Page, Rip Torn, Ben Gazzara, Julie Harris, Barbara Harris, Anne Bancroft, Maureen Stapleton, Jane Fonda, Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach, Burgess Meredith, Walter Matthau, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Estelle Parsons, Marilyn Monroe and Franchot Tone. Working with writers, Arthur Penn, Arthur Miller, William Inge and Clifford Odets.
You can see a full list of his work at IMDb but here is a list of some of my favorite Martin Balsam’s filmography stopping at the mid 1980s:
Television shows such as: Suspense 1949, Inner Sanctum 1954, Goodyear Playhouse (TV Series) 1954-1956, Kraft Theatre tv series 1958, Studio One in Hollywood (TV Series) 1957-1958, Decoy tv series 1958, Playhouse 90 (TV Series) 1958-1959, Have Gun – Will Travel (TV Series) 1958-1960, Roald Dahl’s Way Out (TV Series) 1961, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (TV Series) 1958-1961, The New Breed (TV Series) 1961, Naked City (TV Series) 1959-1962, The Untouchables (TV Series) 1961-1962, Route 66 (TV Series), The Twilight Zone (TV Series) 1959-1963, The Defenders tv series 1961-1964, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. tv series 1965, Dr. Kildare tv series 1926-1966, The Fugitive tv series 1967, The Name of the Game 1968-1970, The Six Million Dollar Man 1973, Police Story tv series 1973, Kojak 1974 tv series, Maude 1976 tv series, Quincy M.E. 1982 (Tv Series), Archie Bunker’s Place (tv series 45 episodes) as Murray Klein–Previously they had performed together in the The Sacco-Vanzetti Story on Sunday Showcase (1959)
Television Movies : The Old Man Who Cried Wolf (1970), Night of Terror (1972), Trapped Beneath the Sea (1974), Death Among Friends (1975), The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case (1976), Raid on Entebbe (1976), Contract on Cherry Street (1977), The House on Garibaldi Street (1979), The People vs. Jean Harris (1981), I Want to Live (1983) remake
Feature Films: On the Waterfront 1954 uncredited as Gillette, 12 Angry Men 1957 as the Foreman Juror 1, Time Limit 1957 as Sgt. Baker, Marjorie Morningstar 1958 as Dr. David Harris, Middle of the Night 1959 as Jack, Psycho 1960 as Detective Milton Arbogast, Ada 1961 as Steve Jackson, Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961 as O.J. Berman, Cape Fear 1962 as Police Chief Mark Dutton, Seven Days in May 1964 as Paul Girard, The Carpetbaggers 1964, Come Back Little Sheba 1965 as Doc Delaney, Harlow 1965 as Everett Redman, The Bedford Incident 1965 as Lt. Cmdr.
Chester Potter, M.D., U.S.N., A Thousand Clowns 1965 as Arnold, Hombre 1967 as Henry Mendez, The Good Guys and the Bad Guys 1969 as Mayor Wilker, Catch-22 1970 as Colonel Cathcart, Tora! Tora! Tora! 1970 as Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Little Big Man 1970 as Mr. Merriweather, The Anderson Tapes 1971 as Tommy Haskins, The Stone Killer 1973 as mob boss Al Vescari, Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams 1973 as Harry Walden, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three 1974 as Harold Longman aka Mr. Green, Murder on the Orient Express 1974 as Bianchi, Mitchell 1975 as James Arthur Cummings, All the President’s Men 1976 as Howard Simons, Two-Minute Warning 1976 as Sam McKeever, The Sentinel 1977 as Professor Ruzinsky, Silver Bears 1977 as Joe Flore, The Delta Force 1986 as Ben Kaplan, St. Elmo’s Fire 1985 as Mr. Beamish along side real ex-wife Joyce Van Patten.
Special note of Balsam’s Italian Crime films: Confessions of a Police Captain 1971 as Commissario Bonavia, Chronicle of a Homicide 1972 as Giudice Aldo Sola, Counselor at Crime 1973 as Don Antonio Macaluso, Smiling Maniacs 1975 as Carlo Goja, Season for Assassins 1975 as Commissioner Katroni, Meet Him and Die 1976 as Giulianelli, The Warning 1980 as Quester Martorana
HERE ARE SOME MEMORABLE SCENES FROM BALSAM’S IMPRESSIVE CAREER
A Thousand Clowns 1965″I have a talent for surrender”
Directed by Fred Coe Famous broadway play comes to the screen with memorable performances by all the principles in standout jobs by Jason Robards as a talented non conformist and Barry Gordon as his precocious ward. They struggle against welfare bureaucracy in order to stay together. Funny and poignant throughout. Martin Balsam’s performance as brother Arnold lends the axel of normalcy to the entire shenanigans with his fresh fruit and common sense filled equilibrium.
12 Angry Men 1957
Directed by Sidney Lumet. Martin Balsam plays the unassuming jury foreman who tries to keep the proceedings run by the rules but soon finds out that many of the jurors are racist, filled with rage, apathetic and just in a rush to get the ballgame even when a young man’s accused of murder’s life hangs in the balance.
Little Big Man 1970
Directed by Arthur Penn, Dustin Hoffman plays Jack Crabbe who recalls 121 of his adventurous years ending with General Custer’s Last Stand. Told in flashback it tells of numerous encounters in the Old West. One of the most touching relationships is with his chosen Grandfather Old Lodge Skins played by Chief Dan George. Martin Balsam is perfect as the irascible Mr. Merriweather a snake oil salesman who with each town he get’s chased out of, winds up losing an eye, an ear, then a hand then a leg. And after all that getting tarred and feathered to boot! But he still has a mouth to crack wise with and ponder life’s deep questions
The Carpetbaggers 1964
Directed by Edward Dymtryk. Howard Hughe’s like millionaire George Peppard Jonas Cord is a rude and unfeeling rich young tycoon makes movies love and enemies in the Hollywood of the 1920 & 30s. Alan Ladd as a Tom Mix clone helps in this his last picture. Carroll Baker is steamy very tame compared to the porno edged Harold Robbins novel. Martin Balsam plays studio Mogal Bernard B. Norman.
Murder on the Orient Express 1974
Directed by Sidney Lumet. Albert Finny is astonishing as Agatha Christies Belgian detective
Hercule Poirot who is stranded on the train by snow, and a murder where nothing is as it seems. With an extraordinary cast of characters Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset. Jean-Pierre Cassel, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Wendy Hiller, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, Richard Widmark, Michael York, Colin Blakely and of course Martin Balsam is animated and hilariously radiant as the Italian Bianchi -head of the train line, who suspects everyone!
Contract on Cherry Street 1977
Directed by William A. Graham
When Frank Sinatra’s partner is killed, NYC detective Frank Hovannes and his organized-crime squad go against the mob run by Martin Gabel, despite strong objections from his superiors and the legal-departmental restrictions that hinder him. Martin Balsam plays Capt. Ernie Weinberg a career cop who is just worn down by all the bureaucracy. The chemistry between Sinatra and Balsam is terrific. Very well done for a made for tv film. Good supporting performances by Harry Guardino and Henry Silva.
Directed by Mike Nichols. This black comedy about the absurdity of war stars Alan Arkin as a soldier during World War II. The dilemma of trying to avoid the insanity or to embrace it in order to get out of duty. Orson Welles plays a rabid general who keeps scheduling more and more bombing missions, and Martin Balsam as the blustering opportunistic Colonel Cathcart adds an extra edge of preposterous folly and audacity
Directed by Martin Ritt
Henry Mendez (Martin Balsam) plays a sage Mexican who himself has been treated less than by the white man because of his heritage. Mendez tells John Russell (Paul Newman -Hombre) the stagecoach line is shutting down because of the railroad and urges John Russell to return to his White Man’s roots and take over a boarding house left to John by his deceased stepfather.
Henry Mendez is the stagecoach driver paid by Alexander Favor to transport him and his family. Mendez decides to take the back road to Bisbee Arizona because of a suspicious group of men (led by outlaw Richard Boone), in the area. Alexander Favor (Fredric March) makes Henry do his dirty work and tell John Russell that he has to ride on top with Mendez when Alexander finds out that John Russell is a White Man raised as an Apache. Mendez doesn’t see the point in fighting this because he has seen how it isn’t worth making trouble. Co-stars Barbara Rush as Alexander Favor’s wife Audra.
Cape Fear 1962
Directed by J. Lee Thompson Cape Fear is a taut thriller about a lawyer (Gregory Peck) and his family being menaced by a vengeful psychopathic ex-con Max Cady played with authentic relish causing real chills by Robert Mitchum. CADY blames Sam Bowden (Peck) for sending him up the river and now that he is out. he’s got disturbing plans for his family. Martin Balsam plays Sam’s friend Police Chief Mark Dutton who tries to help him protect himself though it seems Cady has ways of getting around the law.
The Sentinel 1977
Directed by Michael Winner. This is a simple nightmarish adult fairy tale about a young model Alison Parker (Christina Raines) who has been picked by a secret cult of catholic priests to become the next sentinel to watch over the gates of hell, which happens to be a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. (the building is still there) While renting this lovely furnished apartment she meets a host of weird characters that may or may not exist. When odd occurrences begin to drive Alison mad, her boyfriend lawyer Michael (Chris Sarandon) looks for help from various criminal elements lock pickers, private eyes and our man Martin Balsam as Professor Ruzinsky to help translate a passage in Latin. Balsam is hilarious as the forgetful & nutty old professor. Co-stars Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith
Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “The Equalizer” aired February 9, 1958
Marty plays a mild mannered accountant Eldon Marsh who is called “little man” too often after the new company hot shot who is much bigger and stronger Wayne Phillips (Leif Erickson) humiliates him and steals his wife (Norma Crane). Eldon gets punched a lot but still defends his honor by challenging Phillips (Erickson) to a fight to the death
Naked City episode “Beyond Truth” aired July 7 1959
Directed by John Brahm
Martin Balsam plays Arnold Fleischmann who is haunted by a reoccurring nightmare. Arnold has served time in jail for manslaughter when driving drunk he hits and kills a little girl. Now his wife seeks out the help of Det. James ‘Jimmy’ Halloran (James Fransiscus) of the 65th Precinct to re-investigate the case, as she has never believed that Arnold was driving that night. But Arnold refuses to co-operate with the police and just want to leave it in the past. But the evidence does look like Arnold’s been framed for the killing and that the wrong man has been convicted. Balsam plays a sobering and sad guy who has come to accept the hand he’s been dealt.
The Twilight Zone episode “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine” aired October 23, 1959
Written by Rod Serling. Ida Lupino plays Barbara Jean Trenton a faded film star who lives in the past, constantly re-watching her old movies and shunning the outside world. Martin Balsam plays her agent Danny Weiss who tries to get her to come out of isolation, even getting her a part in a new film, though it’s not a lead nor glamorous role. Danny tries so hard to get Barbara to see that it’s no good living int he past, and though she refuses to embrace what’s new, Danny stands by her loyally ultimately with frightening and uncanny results.
Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams 1973 “I have to stand someplace, someplace that I’ve stood before!”
Directed by Gilbert Cates the story follows the journey of depression experienced by housewife Rita Walden. At the opening of the film, Rita loses her overbearing mother played by Sylvia Sidney. Martin Balsam does an incredible job of stoically navigating around Rita’s ice water emotions, though he has ghosts of his own that he quietly battles. Somehow through all the harsh words and bitter detachments, the couple seem to find each other again at the end. Balsam was nominated for the 1974 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor as Dr. Henry Walden unloved by his unemotional wife, finally articulates his feelings and confronts his pain head on while on a trip to France revisiting Bastogne where he was stationed during the war. It’s an outstanding performance which shows Balsam’s acting range, as he shakes off the average guy persona and reaches deep inside and bares his soul.
Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams 1973
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock After Marion Crane steals money from her employer and runs off into the night staying at the Bates Motel run by the gentle young man Norman -which leads to her terrifying demise, her sister and lover Lila Crane (Vera Miles) and Sam Loomis ( John Gavin) hires a private detective Det. Milton Arbogast to find Marion. Balsam plays the edgy Arbogast who isn’t buying sweet and humble Norman’s story that he’s never seen Marion Crane. Arbogast is not one to be put off, he suspects Norman’s mother knows something and secretly goes up tot he house on the hill to investigate. to his ‘down fall’ Sorry for that cheap pun!
The Anderson Tapes 1971
Director Sidney Lumet’s taut action thriller about an ex-con (Sean Connery) under surveillance who wants to pull off The Big Heist, consisting of loot and treasures from the affluent tenants of a high rise apartment where his lover/call girl (Diane Cannon) lives. Martin Balsam plays the wonderfully exuberant interior designer Tommy who helps out with the caper.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three 1974
Directed by Joseph Sargent -Walter Matthau plays the belly-aching gum chewing Police Lt. Zachary Garber chief of security on the New York City subway. A band of clever thugs led by Robert Shaw as Bernard Ryder aka Mr. Blue has hijacked a commuter train with,demanding a ransom of $1 million dollars or they will start killing the passengers one by one. Martin Balsam plays Harold Longman aka Mr. Green plagued by a really bad head cold, and sneezes throughout the film so much so that Lt. Garber recognizes it, even replying “Gesundheit” . Green is also a bit reluctant throughout the caper, but he’s disgruntled for having lost his job as a transit worker.
Well this is Joey giving you all the Bronx Cheer for me and Marty!!! But I mean it in the nicest way!
Today is National Twilight Zone Day!
Here’s to one of my all-time favorite episodes! Nick of Time aired November 18th, 1960-starring William Shatner, Patricia Breslin & that Jointy little Devil with the diamond eye!
Don and Pat are fresh scrubbed Midwestern newlyweds who wander into a stuffy little off the street sandwich shop, where the wheat toast is stale and the water tastes like swamp!
On their way to New York to find out if Don is going to be the next Office Manager/Accountant in his firm, the couples car breaks down and so does Don’s superstitious will when he can’t seem to move, after getting too many eerie answers from the Mystic Seer napkin holder…
Only a penny to learn your fate! It’s a tense and well thought out philosophical dilemma that only William Shatner could play to the hilt!
Got a penny, try your hand at fate!
You’re EverLovin’ MonsterGirl saying — Whether the answer is Yes or No.. Make up your own mind, it’ll see you free!
IMDb tidbit- Agnes’ death from cancer is often linked to other actors and crew members who worked on The Conqueror (1956). Including Susan Hayward, John Wayne and director Dick Powell, to name a few. The conspiracy theory behind the strong beliefs are that they were exposed while on location at the site which received heavy fallout from nuclear testing at the (then) Nevada Proving Grounds.
Fiercely private. Considered not beautiful because of her ‘hawk like’ face. I would boldly beg to disagree. Agnes Moorehead has a beauty that transcends the quaint and lovely upturned nose. She has a regal beauty as if royalty run in her veins, with a sage otherworldlyness and a voice like a chameleon that can change it’s tone and tenor to fit her myriad characterizations. I wish she and hope she knew that although she was THE consummate character actress for the ages, she too was as beautiful as any other leading star with a deep & fiery magnetism that draws you in ~
Agnes had that spark in her, since she was a very little Agnes, embodying, manifesting & emoting like the characters from the books she read and from theater. Her adoring father or mother would find her re-enacting scenes in her room!
Here’s a beautifully written snapshot of Agnes Moorehead by The Red List– data base by Romuald Leblond & Jessica Vaillat
“Wanting to become a comedian from a young age – her mother had become accustomed to discovering her daughter in her imaginary world and often asked her: ‘Who are you today, Agnes?’ – Agnes Moorehead appeared regularly on Broadway stages during the late 1920s. She rapidly became a celebrated radio actress and joined Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater on the Air from 1940. In 1941, Orson Welles offered the ‘Fabulous Redhead’ her first film role in Citizen Kane as the cruel and bitter mother of the lead role. The part soon shaped the other roles Agnes Moorehead would be offered while they privileged heartless authoritarian or neurotic women such as the menacing aunt of Johnny Belinda, in 1948. In 1943, on the radio, the American comedian delivered one of her most legendary performances in Sorry, Wrong Number for which she created an exhausting and dynamic presentation – ‘radiant and terrifying’. In 1964, she was cast as Samantha Steven’s sarcastic and buoyant mother, in Bewitched and, although she disliked the rapid pace of television series, the show helped install the actress in the pantheon of American pop culture icons. Quite an irony for a woman who didn’t ‘particularly want to be identified as a witch.”
Agnes Moorehead went on from her imaginative childhood musings to play some of the most colorful characters on stage, radio, film and television- perhaps her persona had been ‘shaped by Citizen Kane’ but Agnes obviously had a range of emotions and archetypes she could readily tap into as she is a natural, authentic artist… making her a cultural icon recognized by so many people & a even a new generation of avid fans!
Agnes -[commenting on the “Method” school of acting] “The Method school thinks the emotion is the art. It isn’t. All emotion isn’t sublime. The theater isn’t reality. If you want reality, go to the morgue. The theater is human behavior that is effective and interesting.” –from Charles Tranberg’s book I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead
Tranberg’s book is a wonderful read, he discusses from the beginning, the wealth of material he found at the historical society at the University of Wisconsin’s Historical Society. It’ is a marvelous place with marble floors warn down by years and the warm & musty smell of by-gone years, the building holds the archives to so many historical documents and films. For Agnes Moorehead, 159 boxes of material to be precise. He was not just a fan of Endora but her performances on old time radio in which she really shined. His book hints that her fire and brimstone Rev. John Moorehead with his sermons had a bit of the frustrated actor in the man, and why Aggie felt drawn to theater in the first place. He also read Shakespeare to the children. Her mother Molly was the boisterous outgoing flamboyant one who lived to be 106 and died in 1990… always saying what was on her mind, unless it was a strictly personal subject… sound familiar?
He also writes about Agnes’ spirituality and religious devoutness. That is ‘wasn’t a gimmick or publicity stunt’ she really was a devoted Christian. It might cause heads to tilt, how such a fundamentalist woman would pick a career where she would be surrounded by creative types, often gay people that would become her friends. And though she was not thrilled with the idea of playing a witch, she certainly conjured the most iconic embodiment of the vexing & colorful Endora.
“Lavender is just pink trying to be purple” she paraphrased Proust… by Quint Benedetti from his book- (My Travels with) Agnes Moorehead: The Lavender Lady: (more BEWITCHING than Endora)– he goes onto to say, “And now I can see all the hues of her personality in that statement: the royalty, the naivete, the selfhishness, the piercing intuition and sometimes the astonishing lack of it (her two marriages), the phoniness and the irrepressible humanity it contained, the coldness and the longing to be warm and sometimes the warmth, the insecurity and the yearning to be loved, the human simplicity touching greatness. Agnes Moorehead in a way did what so many actor and actresses never did. She left her mark on society both as an actress and as a person.” Benedetti knew Agnes Moorehead for ten years and was her personal assistant for five of those years.
In her long & unforgettable career – Agnes Moorehead’s film debut as Charles Foster Kane’s picture of stoic motherhood, the bitter and icy cold Mary Kane.
She went on to play the emotionally tortured Aunt Fanny in what Charles Transberg rightly refers to Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons as ‘a mangled masterpiece’ I would give anything to see the footage that RKO hacked to pieces… and the ending that should have been, where Fanny is playing cards in the boarding house with the other old maids. The more nihilistic coda that RKO feared would turn the public off in the midst of WWII.
Agnes Moorehead as the heartless & cruel Mrs. Reed who sends young Jane away to Thornfield in Jane Eyre-aside from mothers, aunts spinsters & old maids, Moorehead performs her first evil character! in director Robert Stevenson’s adaptation of Jane Eyre (1943)
Stage: Agnes began touring in George Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell (1951) & revival 1973, Gigi 1973 co-starring with Alfred Drake.
Selected Radio:– Mercury Theater founded with Orson Welles- Mysteries in Paris, The Gumps, The New Penny, The March of Time (1967-38), The Shadow (1937-39), The Mercury Theater of the Air (ensemble) The Campbell Playhouse, The Cavalcade of America (1938-41), Mayor of the Town
(1942-49), Suspense (1942-1960.) And of course in 1945 she played the women-in-peril-(in bed) Mrs. Stevenson in the CBS radio mystery program Suspense- Sorry,Wrong Number, which became “radio’s most famous play.”
According to Charles Tranberg, Agnes was offered a supportive role in the film version starring Barbara Stanwyck, saying that she wisely turned it down, coming to understand that she would always be considered a ‘character actress’ and not a leading lady. This would influence her decision to focus more on the stage, beginning with her affiliation with the acclaimed Don Juan in Hell and later her very popular one-woman show.
On December 10, 2008 Celebrating Moorehead’s 108th anniversary on Turner Classic Movies- Moira Finnie writing for Movie Morlocks published a wonderful interview with Tranberg when asked if Agnes enjoyed both the mediums of radio and stage, he answered “I think she liked the challenges offered by all he mediums she worked on. The stage because it’s proximity in front of an audience. Radio because she had to create a complex characterization without being seen and could use her voice in many different ways. Film because it offered her the opportunity to visualize a characterization. Television because of its intimacy.”
Moira Finnie’s piece is wonderfully insightful and witty. While watching David O Selznick’s Since You Went Away (1945) “It struck me for the hundredth time that the presence of Agnes Moorehead in many classic and not so classic films was often what gave a movie a spine.”
“She proved her versatility throughout her career. She arranged her aquiline features accordingly to convey a believable briskness, sometimes comforting, sometimes disapproving. She most often appeared as a pragmatic presence in many films that have etched themselves on our collective memory.”
Moira Finnie aptly says it perfectly, honing in on the essence of what truly makes Agnes Moorehead such a powerful performer, “The actress could shift her characterizations easily from vinegary disapproval to warmly compassionate to richly detailed portraits of good and evil women.”
Selected Films– Citizen Kane 1941 (Mary Kane), The Magnificent Ambersons 1942 (Fanny), The Big Street 1942 (Violet Shumberg), Journey into Fear 1943 (Mrs. Mathews), Jane Eyre 1944 (Mrs.Reed), Since You Went Away 1944 (Mrs. Emily Hawkins), Dragon Seed 1944 (Third Cousin’s Wife), The Seventh Cross 1944 (Mme. Morelli), Mrs Parkington 1944 (Baroness Aspasia Conti), Our Vines Have Tender Grapes 1945 (Bruna Jacobson) Dark Passage 1947 (Madge Rapf) The Lost Moment 1947 (Juliana Borderau), Summer Holiday 1948 (Cousin Lily), The Woman in White 1948 (Countess Fosco), Johnny Belinda 1948 (Aggie MacDonald-nominated best supporting actress) The Great Sinner 1949 (Emma Getzel), Caged 1950 (Ruth Benton progressive Prison Warden), Captain Blackjack 1950 (Mrs. Emily Birk), Fourteen Hours 1951 (Christine Hill Cosick) , Showboat 1951 (Parthy Hawks), Magnificent Obsession 1954 (Nancy Ashford), All That Heaven Allows 1955 (Sara Warren), The Left Hand of God 1955 (Beryl Sigman), The Revolt of Mamie Stover 1956 (Bertha Parchman), Jeanne Eagels 1957 (Nellie Neilson), Raintree County 1957 (Ellen Shawnessy), The Story of Mankind 1957 (Queen Elizabeth I), Night of the Quarter Moon 1959 (Cornelia Nelson), The Bat 1959 (Cornelia van Gorder) Pollyanna 1960 (Mrs. Snow), Twenty Plus Two 1961 (Mrs. Eleanor Delaney) How the West Was Won 1962-(Rebecca Prescott), Who’s Minding the Store? 1963 (Mrs. Phoebe Tuttle), The Singing Nun 1966 (Sister Cluny)
Nominated four times for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Mrs. Parkington (1944), Johnny Belinda (1948) and of course as Velma in director Robert Aldrich’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
It is the vitriolic, cantankerous yet loyal & righteous companion Velma to Bette Davis’ tragic southern Gothic has- been belle Charlotte that won my heart. Moorehead brought to life a raw and rugged plain quality of humanness that touched me so deeply, as did Davis’ incredible performance.
How impressed I was with her pantomime in The Invaders credited as ‘The Woman’ in Rod Serling’s sociological anthology fantasy series Twilight Zone… Moorehead had no dialogue in the episode yet she demonstrated so much art and emotion from her ‘primal woman’s’ body language.
She did win a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress -Laurel Award 2nd place for Top Supporting Performance for Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte 1964.
For many people she will be remembered as Endora, Samantha and Darrin Steven’s (the fabulous-Dick York) caustic ill-provoking mother-in-law from the netherworld? who hands down the legacy of being Bewitched… from 1964-1972. Initially Moorehead had turned down the role of Endora, and it wasn’t until Elizabeth Montgomery herself asked the actress to join the cast, never expecting it to last more than one season!
Moorehead did her string of horror films in the 70s that featured many fine actresses who had played fine ladies in their day, only to find Grand Dame Guignol roles waiting for them on the other side of fabulous fame…
What’s The Matter With Helen 1971 Curtis Harrington’s wonderful horror of personality psycho-drama where Aggie plays a Aimee Semple McPherson type character called Sister Alma co-starring with friend Debbie Reynolds and the incomparable Shelley Winters!
And then there’s always the campy & gruesome Dear Dead Delilah 1972 she plays Delilah Charles, appeared in Night of Terror 1972 a tv movie of the week… & Frankenstein: The True Story 1973.