The Intriguing Everyman: Cult Star Stuart Whitman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpts from an Interview From Shock Cinema Magazine by Anthony Petkovich

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart Whitman and Rory Calhoun in Night of the Lepus

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

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

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

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

Stuart Whitman in The Sands of the Kalahari (1965)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart Whitman in Rio Conchos (1964)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolyn Jones and Stuart Whitman in Johnny Trouble (1957)

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

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

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

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

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

excerpts from an Interview From Shock Cinema Magazine by Anthony Petkovich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publicity Still from The Longest Day (1962)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Beneath the Sea (1971) made for tv movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMDB Trivia:

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

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

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

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

Filmography

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

From the Vault: Cry Wolf (1947) Next time you hear some odd noise in the night, just follow the memorable custom of your sex and stick your head under the bedclothes.

Cry Wolf (1947)

The howl in the night is the voice of danger.

Directed by Peter Godfrey (Hotel Berlin 1945, Christmas in Connecticut 1945, The Two Mrs. Carrolls 1946, The Woman in White 1948, Please Murder Me! 1956) With a screenplay by Catherine Turney based on the novel by Marjorie Carleton.

Cry Wolf stars Barbara Stanwyck in an atmospheric woman in peril film with co-star Errol Flynn who steps outside of his swashbuckling persona to play a pretentious misogynist who exudes a most sinister scowl throughout the film.

Though the film has been cast in the dark light as film noir — to me it is more of a straight forward suspense chamber piece. The trope of the dysfunctional family set in a landscape of ominous shadows does lean towards the labeling, also given to the theme of a woman in jeopardy and the ripples of paranoia throughout.

Sandra Marshall (Stanwyck) shows up at the estate overseen by Mark Caldwell (Flynn) claiming to be the widow of his nephew James Demarest (Richard Basehart). The funeral is to be the following day. Sandra tells Mark that James had paid her money to marry him in order to claim his inheritance, but only if he took a wife before he turned thirty. James had warned Sandra that his uncle Mark was planning on stealing his fortune. Mark is a suave yet brooding gentleman who is a scientist and has a secret laboratory in the house that no one is allowed access to. At night, there are torturous screams heard coming from the lab, yet Mark denies that there is anyone in that room. Sandra begins to suspect that James is not dead but being held captive in the lab and that Mark is some kind of mad scientist experimenting on his nephew.

Geraldine Brooks plays Julie Demarest, James’ neurotic sister who seeks out support and clings to Sandra. Julie fears for her life as well, suspecting that her uncle is also out to get her. He keeps a tight reign on her, locking her in her bedroom at night and standing in the way of her engagement. Helene Thimig as Marta plays a very sinister role as the obedient harridan,  bringing the food trays to Julie and making sure she stays in her room at night. The device of using the menacing servant in league with the mansion’s master works well in adding elements of terror and persistent tension.

I tried to find a word that would sum how I feel about this often insipid little suspense play with it’s embedded ‘psychology of false alarms’, and the one thing that kept popping into my mind was ‘nifty’. Though Cry Wolf lacks any of the complex dialogue that you might find in a Siodmak thriller, with measured sequences that flow like shadowy poetic milk, Cry Wolf does convey enough dread and the presence of Barbara Stanwyck sneaking about the mansion seeking answers, slinking up dumbwaiters, exhibiting her skill as a horse woman and basically confronting Flynn at every turn.

I also enjoyed seeing a very young Patricia Barry show up as Angela the maid. Jerome Cowan plays Mark’s brother Senator Caldwell who seems to keep his distance from his dysfunctional relatives as not to harm his political career.

I’ll leave the basic plot devices there and hope you’ll watch this ‘nifty’ little suspense thriller just to fill out your experience of some of the lesser recognized 1940s mysteries. And say, there’s nothing wasted by just watching Barbara Stanwyck hold her own!

Mark Caldwell: “I don’t know what plans you have in that devious feminine mind of yours, but if you’re trying to enlist Julie’s sympathy, don’t do it.”

Sandra Marshall: “And if i ignore your advice?”

Mark Caldwell: “I shall kick you out!”

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying we never ever cry wolf here at The Last Drive In!

 

 

 

From the Vault: Ace in the Hole (1951) It’s a good story today. Tomorrow, they’ll wrap a fish in it.

Rough, tough Chuck Tatum, who battered his way to the top … trampling everything in his path – men, women and morals!

Directed by Billy Wilder, and written by Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, and Walter Newman. Ace in the Hole stars Kirk Douglas as journalist Chuck Tatum, who Molly Haskell points out gives a “ferociously determined–over the top, sadomasochistic performance.” Jan Sterling is brilliant as she pulls off disdain and and a bitter indifference to her dying husband, with “tremendous, nervy gusto” and a quite witty toss-out of funny one liners. The cast also includes Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Frank Cady as Al Federber, Richard Benedict as Leo Minosa, Lewis Martin, Ray Teal, and Gene Evans. The film has a eye piercing grasp of realist cinematography by Charles Lang (The Ghost and Mrs Muir 1947,  Some Like it Hot 1959, Charade 1963, Wait Until Dark 1967), and a stirring score by Hugo Friedhofer and costume design by Edith Head.

Ace in the Hole can be categorized as a socio-noir film, not unlike the films of Elia Kazan. Writer Molly Haskell puts it this way:

Noir in Broad Daylight By Molly Haskell Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole “almost requires an honorary expansion of the term film noir. There are no private eyes in seedy offices or femmes fatales lurking in the shadows of neon-lit doorways, no forces of evil arrayed against a relatively honorable hero. This emotional snake pit, the darkest of Wilder’s dark meditations on American folkways, takes place under the relentless sun of a flat New Mexican desert. The noir is the interior inside a mountain tunnel where a man is trapped and suffocating, and inside the mind of a reporter rotting from accumulated layer of self-induced moral grime.”

Andrew Dickos says in Street With No Name that “Wilder’s film noirs are problematic cases because their visions are steeped in cruel and corrosive humor, distinctive in its own right and in its ability to function apart from the noir universe.”

Film Noir The Directors edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini–“Wilder’s sunlit visual style set outdoors in rural New Mexico daylight shows a brighter noir look while his bleak worldview slams media, reporters, TV, radio, even the American public. Wilder constructed a huge set near ancient ruins with chiaroscuro tunnels where Tatum shines a flashlight for eerie demon lighting. His antihero reporter is a failed writer in an extraordinary cold hearted performance by Kirk Douglas who is caustic and unsympathetic toying with a philandering married blonde femme.”

An unethical crackerjack journalist Charles Tatum –recently fired from his job in New York rolls into town– is literally towed in without a cent in his pocket, and is virtually stranded in the sleepy New Mexican town of Escudero. He boldly walks into the small newspaper office and offers himself up for sixty dollars a week to the editor Jacob Boot (Porter Hall) who wears suspenders and a belt, both. After a year of dull reporting, Boot sends Charles Tatum to cover a rattlesnake hunt. Charles takes photographer Herbie (Robert Arthur) along with him, looking for a real story that he can grab hold of. On their way to cover the rattlesnake hunt they stumble onto a local tourist attraction right off the main highway. There has been a cave in and Leo Menosa is trapped. Leo was sacrilegiously poaching burial possessions from the ancient Indian cave dwelling, and that perhaps sealed his fate. He sells the pots at his family’s general store/diner run by his wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling). Lorraine is a sassy and icy bleached blond who’s fed up with her life with Leo. Leo finds his legs pinned beneath heavy rocks with dirt and dust snowing all over his unshaven face. The sense of claustrophobia can make your own chest heave with the lack of oxygen each frame draws you inside the buried hole in the cave. 

Tatum hasn’t any morals and delays the rescue to develop a ‘human interest’ story — a real front page shocker!– that will probably get his job back at his cushy desk in New York City. He has his eyes on the Pulitzer Prize and not on the safety of the poor schnook who is buried alive in the cave. Tatum brazenly begins to manipulate the players around him so that he is in control of the story. He first arranges for the rescue operation to be diverted to the engineer going in through the top of the mountain which will prolong his recovery by a week instead of the 12 hours it could take to get poor Leo out. He ingratiates himself with the crooked sheriff angling for re-elecation and promises big time publicity. This puts him in a position to keep out other journalists from getting access to the story.

Charles Tatum: “I don’t belong in your office. Not with that embroidered sign on the wall; it gets in my way.”

Jacob Q. Boot : “Then it does bother you a little.”

Charles Tatum: “Not enough to stop me. I’m on my way back to the top, and if it takes a deal with a crooked sheriff, that’s alright with me! And if I have to fancy it up with an Indian curse and a broken-hearted wife for Leo, then that’s alright too!”

 

Herbie Cook: “The old man sure looked bad. Did you see his face?”

Charles Tatum: “Yeah.”

Herbie Cook: “Like the faces of those folks you see outside a coal mine with maybe 84 men trapped inside.”

Charles Tatum: “One man’s better than 84. Didn’t they teach you that?”

Herbie Cook: “Teach me what?”

Charles Tatum: “Human interest. You pick up the paper, you read about 84 men or 284, or a million men, like in a Chinese famine. You read it, but it doesn’t stay with you. One man’s different, you want to know all about him. That’s human interest.”

Jan Sterling wants to just take her suitcase and leave the poor slob in the literal dust and get out of there. But Tatum, after a hard two slaps to the face raising welts (I swear those slaps were real!) tells her that she is going to play the grieving wife for the public face of the story. She decides to stay around when spectators from all over begin showing up and the money starts flowing in. They renamed the film The Big Carnival, as the entire site becomes a voyeuristic masturbatory orgy of onlookers and parasites who want to see Leo in the midst of his predicament. The unsavory hawkers sell their goods, Carnivals set up a ferris wheel and rides, and pushing cotton candy and hot dogs, balladeers making up hero songs about Leo and swarming like ants all over the tragedy to feed off the situation for their own curiosity. The human interest story in the film is more about the way human nature is geared toward our tendency to be social piranha, than about caring individuals who want to reach out a hand and help.

Tatum and Sheriff Gus Kretzer (Teal) strong arm the construction contractor (Lewis Martin ) to taking a longer route to the the waning Leo to drag the story out for the week it will take for Tatum to make the headlines nationally. Drawing out the tragedy, Leo becomes a victim twice. The whole mood of the piece is claustrophobic and unsettling.

Lorraine throws herself at Tatum who treats her like garbage all the while Leo is daydreaming about getting out of the hole and celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary, for which he’s bought her a garish fur wrap.

From the beginning Tatum has pretended to be Leo’s advocate to get himself out of the hole. Bringing him the newspaper and cigars, offering him a chance to come with him to New York City once he gets out. Even as Leo is slipping away, Tatum keeps trying to suck more life out of the guy just to prolong the story. He’s like a man who has made a deal with devil and sold his soul for the story. He’s made it so he is the only one authorized to go into the cave and visit with Leo. Leo trusts him and considers him his friend, and doesn’t realize that he is exploiting him as a bargaining tool to get his NYC boss to rehire him back to the newspaper at $1000 a day.

The film is bold, in-your-face,and starkly grim. The frenetic outside “carnival” is offset by the closing in of the hole in the cave that is quickly closing in on Leo.

The film was a hit outside of the United States but did not do well in the U.S. Douglas and Starling were phenomenal in their roles. It was  hard to decide who was the worse human being, though, Tatum comes in first as the conundrum of the self-effacing self aggrandizing provocateur who laughs at the sampler in the office that boasts TELL THE TRUTH, and who then causes Leo to lose his life. “Bad news sells best. Cause good news is no news.”

Sterling had some of the best lines in the film.  “I met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my life, But you, You’re twenty minutes!”

When Tatum suggests that she get some rosaries and go with the ladies to pray for Leo she tells him–

“I don’t go to church, kneeling bags my nylons.” – Lorraine

 

In the end the devil catches up with Charles Tatum…

He says to editor Boot–“How’d you like to make yourself a thousand dollars a day, Mr. Boot? I’m a thousand-dollar-a-day newspaperman. You can have me for nothing.

The film possesses intense moments while Douglas stares into the abyss, his eyes on fire, his face locked in a monomaniacal grimace as Leo slowly takes his last breathes. There is not one atonement in Chuck Tatum’s character to iron out the cynicism of Wilder’s dark vision. There are few players who exhibit a scrap of humanity.

From Film Noir Reader 3 Billy WIlder interview by Robert Porfirio:

RB: Critics still haven’t written a great deal about it, but it was deeply affecting…{…}…being a depiction of how some people exploit others’ tragedies.

BW:   Our man, the reporter, was played by Mr. Kirk Douglas. Now, he was on the skids and he thought that a great story would get him back into the big time, big leagues. He remembered the Floyd Collins story.  Now, I looked up the Floyd Collins story. They composed a song, they were selling hot dogs, there was a circus up there, literally a circus, people came. I was attacked by every paper because of that movie. They loathed it. It was cynical, my ass. I tell you, you read about a plane crash somewhere nearby and you want to check out the scene, you can’t get to it because ten thousand people are already there: They’re picking up little scraps, ghoulish souvenir hunters. After I read those horrifying reviews about Ace in the Hole, I remember I was going down Wilshire Boulevard and there was an automobile accident. Somebody was run over. I stopped my car. I wanted to help that guy who was run over. Then another guy jumps out of his car and photographs the thing. “You’d better call an ambulance” I said. “Call a doctor my ass. I’ve got to get to the L.A. Times I’ve got a picture. I’ve got to move. I just took a picture here. I’ve got to deliver it.” But you say that in a movie, and the critics think you’re exaggerating.”

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying just give me a shout if you’re ever stuck in a hole and I’ll come running!

Piper Laurie: The Girl Who Ate Flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piper Laurie in The Mississippi Gambler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie in Has Anybody Seen My Gal

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

Victor Mature and Piper Laurie in Dangerous Mission (1954)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STAGE WORK:

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

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

CLASSIC FILM & TV CAFE 2014 by Rick

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

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

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

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

New York Times review by Jack Gould-

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Little Foxes that Spoil the Vines:

THE LITTLE FOXES (1941)

At the turn of the century the ruthless Hubbard clan has spread their greed and opportunistic fervor all throughout the South. Bette Davis commands the screen once again playing the hard-hearted Matriarch Regina who keeps an iron hold on her lovely daughter Alexandra (Teresa Wright). Regina is separated from her husband Horace (Herbert Marshall) who suffers from a serious heart ailment and is living in a sanitarium being treated by doctors in Baltimore. Regina summons her husband after her two conniving brothers Charles Dingle as Ben Hubbard and Carl Benton Reid as Oscar Hubbard conspire to make a killing by forging a lucrative merger with a Chicago cotton magnet. In order to come up with their part of the investment they must rely on Horace’s part of the money. Horace has been estranged from the family and his bitter wife, and has no intention of releasing any part of his money to the cunning Hubbard siblings.

Oscar is married to Birdie whom he only married for her money and the her family’s plantation which once he owned both begins to abuse her psychologically and verbally to the point that she takes to talking incessantly to anyone who will listen and quietly drinking away her sadness. Trapped in a loveless marriage, and receiving the brunt of such distasteful ire by her husband. She is like a sweet flower that has been trampled upon by the brutal ugly want of greed. Birdie is brought to life by one of the great character actors I can imagine, the wonderful Patricia Collinge who manages to make her pain seem so palpable it’s almost unbearable to watch.

Birdie doesn’t even like her own son with Oscar who is already showing signs of the father’s avarice. Leo is played by another favorite of mine, the versatile Dan Duryea, who manages to play a smarmy noodlehead. One of the lighter characters of the film are Jessie Grayson as the unflappable and sagacious Addie the maid who is the true person who keeps the household going smoothly. Richard Carlson plays David Hewitt who encourages Zanda to break away from under her mother’s thumb. The music by Max Steiner has his signature emotional washes of grand mood and the cinematographer Gregg Toland creates a claustrophobic chamber piece for the incredible ensemble cast to work their magic.

Here is one of the most powerfully consequential scenes of the film:

The beautiful heart that pulses within the rotten venomous soul of this old Southern Hubbard family, are those who in this one scene sum up all the love and compassion that director William Wyler presents to us with the help of Lillian Hellman.

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying The Last Drive In has Tender Grapes!

Quote of the Day! “Thieves’ Highway (1949)

THIEVES’ HIGHWAY (1949)

Directed by Jules Dassin with a screenplay by A.I. Bezzerides. It’s beautifully photographed by Norbert Brodine and features one of the most impressive scenes where a truck carrying apples rolls down a hill.

Film noir regular Richard Conte (Cry of the City 1948, The Big Combo 1955,The Brothers Rico 1957) takes the lead role as Nick Garcos in director Jules Dassin (The Canterville Ghost 1944, The Naked City 1948, Night and The City 1950, Rififi 1955) Thieves’ Highway, a film about the struggles of truckers and the harsh life they must endure. A shameless and crooked racketeer Lee J. Cobb as Mike Figlia swindles them out of their produce and their hard earned money. Nick returns from the army to find that his father has been crippled by the unscrupulous criminals who strong-armed his father into selling his produce. Nick takes on the thugs who ultimately caused a trucking accident in which his father loses his legs. He meets Rica, a prostitute, played by the sultry Valentina Cortez. There’s a sensuality and lonely hunger that both Conte and Cortez radiate as believable chemistry.

Conte has always been able to straddle both the dark side of noir and the deeply emotional depths making him an effective hero in Dassin’s visual masterpiece.

Nico ‘Nick’ Garcos: Hey, do you like apples?

Rica: Everybody likes apples, except doctors.

Nico ‘Nick’ Garcos: Do you know what it takes to get an apple so you can sink your beautiful teeth in it? You gotta stuff rags up tailpipes, farmers gotta get gypped, you jack up trucks with the back of your neck, universals conk out…

Rica: I don’t know what are you talking about, but I have a new respect for apples.

MonsterGirl Asks Writer, Film & Television Historian: Gary Gerani 🎃

Gary Gerani is one of the writers of (Pumpkinhead 1988, creative consultant on Pumkinhead II Blood Wings 1993, writer on Vampirella 1996, the short story Convention 2017, and Trading Paint 2019 with John Travolta)

PUMPKINHEAD combined gritty verisimilitude with the landscape of a dark evocative allegory. “I loved the demon creature Stan Winston and his guys created so much, I actually have him created from the original mold standing in the corner of my living room!” listen once a MonsterKid always a MonsterKid” says Gary Gerani to this MonsterGirl!

“Gary Gerani is a screenwriter, author, noted film and TV historian, and children’s product developer. He is best known for his contribution as co-writer of the Stan Winston-directed horror classic “Pumpkinhead,” and his groundbreaking 1977 nonfiction book “Fantastic Television.” This book is a real treasure, and there was and still is absolutely nothing like it out there as a bountiful of info for us nostalgic fans of vintage fantasy, sci-fi and horror television!

Over the years he’s created various comic books and a record number of trading card sets, working for the famous Topps Company. His graphic novels include “Dinosaurs Attack!” (inspired by his own Topps cards) and “Bram Stoker’s Death Ship,” an untold story of the Dracula legend. He also has his own publishing unit, Fantastic Press, in partnership with the popular comic book company IDW.”

Gary Gerani also contributes his humorous and thoughtful commentaries on several television anthology Blu-ray editions for The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Boris Karloff’s Thriller.

From Top 100 best horror films intro. What makes a good horror film special?

“Let’s look at the genre itself, and how our most imaginative filmmakers have approached and defined it. Whether an artist is working in color or black and white, silent or sound, widescreen or the latest version of 3D, he faces an infinite number of creative ways to involve and ultimately terrify a movie audience. Sometimes viewers are rudely jolted by visceral shocks, as with Terence Fisher or William Friedkin thrillers, other times they are gently escorted into darkly unsettling, dream-like environs that confound, intrigue and captivate (think Roman Polanski or Val Lewton) What all these approaches have in common is that they somehow manage to replicate the fragile, visceral quality of nightmares, transcending reality and touching us intimately in a way that no other genre can.’’-Gary Gerani

From the intro by Paul H. Schulman-“As a writer of science fiction articles and a collector of television art. Gary is recognized in New York Sci-Fi circles as the last word on the subject…(…)… Fantastic Television is the most complete and detailed treatment of the occult and science fiction TV shows existing anywhere. If you caught these shows the first time around, this book will be a visit from old friends. If you were too young to stay up that late, Fantastic Television will introduce you to a world of new friends!”

Incredibly concise and informative. Gary lists the credits for each of the series episodes. Extensive and valuable to any fantasy, sci-fi horror fans. There is nothing quote like this book released at that time, nor currently. Gary Gerani’s incredible book published in 1977 Fantastic Television -A Pictorial History of Sci-Fi, The Unusual and the Fantastic from Captain Video to the Star Trek Phenomenon and Beyond is filled with wonderful images. It is a complete overview of a precious world so many of us feel a longing and nostalgia for.

This fantastic book, covers some of my favorites The Twilight Zone, Boris Karloff’s Thriller, The Outer Limits, One Step Beyond, Irwin Allen Productions, Batman, Star Trek, The Invaders, The Prisoner, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, Kolchak, The Night Stalker, Made for TV Movies, British Telefantasy, (The Avengers ) American Telefantasy. (Dark Shadows)

Highlighting concise backstories and filled with descriptive plot summaries for each episode! Gary has added his voice to some of the most enigmatic, innovative and engaging television shows of fantastical historical relevance. Since it’s publishing in 1977 there has been nothing like this collection in print…

FANTASTIC TELEVISION -A Pictorial History of Sci-FI, The Unusual and The Fantastic from Captain Video to the Star Trek Phenomenon and Beyond…

With an introduction by Roger Corman!

Top 100 Horror Movies by Gary Gerani (Nov 9 2010)

🎃

THE STRIKING RETRIBUTION OF PUMPKINHEAD (1988)  Fairy Tale vérité

“That old woman scares the piss out of me!”

“For each of man’s evils a special demon exists…”

Directorial debut by creature creator & special effects guru Stan Winston (Winston who passed away in 2008 was a frequent collaborator with director James Cameron, owned several effects studios, including Stan Winston Digital. Winston’s expertise were in makeup, puppets and practical effects, and owned his studio which branched out to include digital effects as well… creating work in the Terminator series, Jurassic Park films, Aliens, the first two Predator movies Iron Man and Edward Scissorhands. Winning four Academy Awards for his work.)

With a screenplay by Gary Gerani and Mark Patrick Carducci, based on a story by Carducci, Winston and Richard Weinman. The origin of the story was a poem written by Ed Justin. Film Editor Marcus Manton. Cinematography by Bojan Bazelli (Body Snatchers 1993, Kalifornia 1993, Sugar Hill 1993, The Ring 2002), set direction by Kurt Gauger and music by Richard Stone. Creature effects designed and created by Alec Gillis, Richard Landon, Shane Patrick Mahan, John Rosengrant, and Tom Woodruff Jr.

Critical Reception

“A pleasant surprise is the characterization, which are well-developed for this genre… Even the teenagers, usually little more than cardboard monster horror fodder in horror movies, have shades of performance…”Louis B Parks, “Pumpkinhead brings new life to Spook Shows-The Houston Chronicle, October 14, 1988

“It does have heart. If you like your monster movies with a touch of sweetness, Pumpkinhead may be just your cauldron of blood … Henriksen has some affecting moments as the bereaved father.”–Philip Wuntch “If You Dig Homespun Horror, Check Out Pumpkinhead”-The Daily Morning News, October 14, 1988

Credits:

Cast: Lance Henriksen (The Right Stuff 1983, The Terminator 1984, Aliens 1986, Millennium 1996-1999 ) as Ed Harley, Jeff East as Chris, John DiAquino as Joel, Kimberly Ross as Kim, Joel Hoffman as Steve, Cynthia Bain as Tracy, Kerry Remssen as Maggie, George Buck Flower as Wallace, Brian Bremer as Bunt, Billy Hurley as little Matthew Harley, Lee De Broux as Tom Harley, Peggy Walton Walker as Ellie Harley, Richard Warlock as Clayton Heller, Devon Odessa as Hessie, Joseph Piro as Jimmy Joe, Greg Michaels as Hill Man, Madeleine Taylor Holmes as Old Hill Woman, Mayim Bialik as Wallace kid, Jandi Swanson as Wallace kid, Mary Boessow as Mountain Girl, Robert Frederickson as Ethan and Tom Woodruff Jr. as Pumpkinhead.

IMDb Trivia fun facts:

The dog actor, Mushroom, who played Ed Harley’s dog, Gypsy, also played Barney in Gremlins (1984).

Lance Henriksen gathered all of the silver dollars himself by visiting several pawn shops. He said that most of them fell through the floorboards of Haggis’ shack, where they may still lie.

Lance Henriksen had a set of dentures made to give him a more rural look. He also gathered all of his own props and wardrobe, including a WWII pump-action shotgun, his cap worn throughout the film and the silver dollars which he gives to Haggis.

The costume Florence Schauffler wore as Haggis weighed about 65 pounds.

The one scene that made Lance Henriksen most want to take the role was where the deceased Billy sits up and asks his father what he’s done.

Because of Stan Winston‘s request, the screenwriters made both Pumpkinhead and Haggis (the old woman), much darker than in the original script.

Stan Winston‘s two children can be glimpsed as members of the Wallace clan.

Pumpkinhead doesn’t really resemble a pumpkin. It gets its name from the fact that summoning it involves digging up a corpse that’s been buried in a pumpkin patch.

‘Fun’ was, in fact, the prevalent mood on the Pumpkinhead set. Despite many additional burdens and responsibilities, Winston brought the same sense of humor and lighthearted spirit to directing Pumpkinhead as he had to his creature effects assignments. “Stan was a blast as a director,” recalled Alec Gillis. “He was fun and completely relaxed on the set, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. I remember one day when we were in this cramped cabin set, and I was very tense and tired because Shane and I had just spent three hours applying makeup to the actress playing the witch. But then I looked over and saw Stan standing across the room, staring at me, with his glasses cocked at a weird angle on his head — just to make me laugh. There was my director, making an idiot of himself for nobody’s benefit but mine. That isn’t something most directors would do!”

From the sculpture, studio artists and mechanics created a suit and head, which was worn on the set by Pumpkinhead performer, Tom Woodruff Jr., To avoid wear and tear on the suit, Woodruff was glued into it at the start of the shoot day, and remained in the foam rubber construct for up to eight hours at a time.

The incantation:

“For each of man’s evils, a demon exists. You’re looking at vengeance. Cruel, devious.. vengeance.” Haggis (Florence Schauffler )the witch introduces Ed Harley (Henriksen) to the demon

The legacy of the demon of vengeance to be reborn with each time it’s called upon. Pumpkinhead is a meditation on vengeance, tragedy and loss within a darkly spun fairy tale.

Pumpkinhead is merely the hand of retribution and fate and a lesson in “be careful what you wish for”.  Pumpkinhead is a well written, Americana Gothic mountain magic mythology, and if you love Boris Karloff’s Thriller episode  – The Hollow Watcher– you’ll be mystified and moved by this contemporary telling of a rural boogeyman!

Pumpkinhead is a beautifully crafted story that merely illustrates what happens when the humble and quiet lives of innocent people who inhabit a world far from the city, and whose lives are shattered by the sudden intrusion of irresponsible and rude outsiders, who happen to be teenagers.

In the 1980s it is the given aesthetic that teenagers are the fodder in the slasher film or monster movie, they make for fun victims. Once again the teenagers wind up being the victims here as well with no differentiation between accountability or innocence. It is Pumpkinhead’s mission to purge the menace of outsiders.

When Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen who is a marvelous and underrated actor) was a boy in 1957 he caught sight of a mythical folklore creature called Pumpkinhead, a thing of local legend that can be summoned up in the name of vengeance. In the present, Harley wishes to call up this vengeful demon to exact retribution against the reckless teenagers who accidentally kill his little boy. When the irresponsible dirt biker Joel (DiAquino) runs down Harley’s son Billy, all hell will break free from the top of a rustic hill.

Harley pays a visit to the old witch Haggis (Schauffler) to help her bring his boy back to life. Haggis rasps and whistles as she incants using Harley’s blood to resurrect the demon, for she cannot raise his dead son, Haggis: Who are you? Ed Harley: Um, Ed Harley. I’ve come… Haggis: I’m afraid raising the dead ain’t within my power.

But she sure can conjure up the spirit of retribution in the form of Pumkinhead, who manifests the rage and wrath Harley feels. Haggis tells him to go to the old graveyard in the pumpkin patch and dig up the corpse of the body that is buried there, which she can use to embody the vengeful demon.  Be careful what you wish for, as Harley unleashes a creature that is unstoppable and leaves bodies in the wake of it’s ire. It’s a bloody night of fate coming to bear when Pumpkinhead begins to kill everyone in sight. And because Ed Harley’s blood has been infused with the creature, he feels it in his soul every time it kills, he is doomed to a sorrowful fate. Ed Harley: God damn you! God damn you! Haggis: He already has, son. He already has.

It’s too late once Ed Harley realizes that he has become transformed himself, a certain symbiosis has occurred between him and Pumpkinhead, and that his actions have consequences. Once summoned Pumpkinhead cannot be sent back to the pits of dark justice and and the hell fire of reprisal makes no distinction between the teens who are truly guilty of killing the young boy and the others who are complicit by proximity. 

Not unlike a Grimm Fairy Tale or a great rendition of backwoods boogeymen and American folklore does Pumpkinhead evoke a nightmarish landscape of cause and effect. Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead is a superb cautionary tale that warns against being thoughtful of others but moreover not allowing our blood lust for revenge to take control of our moral guidance Lance Henriksen is a good father and mild mannered until the swell of hatred takes hold and he develops an appetite for retribution. The film contemplates the unacceptability of death and a parents inability to mourn the loss of their child. The loss becomes a monster itself that inhabits Ed’s consciousness. In that way Pumpkinhead is just a manifestation of Ed Harley’s grieving. Like Walter Pidgeon’s Dr. Morbius in Forbidden Planet (1956) Ed Harley has unleashed his rural id.

The early scenes show him as kind and gentle, quiet and peaceful, almost living a dreamy life far away from the fast pace of the city –the torrid and declining American morality of urban living. This can seen when Ed and his son Billy are sitting at the kitchen table a poignant scene that sets up contrast from the brutality to come. When it comes to invade their quiet space, it sparks the series of events that spiral out of control. 

Pumpkinhead is fatalistic law, not really about evil, or a demon, that is why he took on the face of the person who chose to raise him up for their purpose. Ed Harley has a psychic connection with Pumkinhead. The colors are a fairy tale palate of vibrant strokes. The set pieces are extremely well thought out. The film is painted with the coldest blues and the hottest reds, that lend to the grim atmosphere and fantastical alternative surrealism. Gary Gerani was truly inspired by the work of the maestro director Mario Bava!

The sets designed by Kurt Gauger are perfectly creepy and effectively moody as with the old cemetery with it’s backwoods Gothic ambience. Pumpkinhead rises from a mound of putrid grass, his rustic grave covered pumpkin patch with its gnarled torment of trees and decaying earth lend to the moodiness of the film.

About GARY’S ANTHOLOGY COMMENTARIES:

The TV SERIES commentaries, being monster kids AND Gary Gerani sounds just like Gary Gerani

Jo: I figured I’d just ask you a few things and then you called me and I thought WOW he sounds just like Gary Gerani (having listened extensively to his commentaries on dvd box sets–We both Laugh hysterically)

Gary: And we determined that’s a very good thing…

Jo: And we determined that’s a very good thing. And I get to continue to listen to you (as he referred to himself as the living commentary) talk when I just re-watch the episodes. That’s the beauty of these anthology shows is that  you know you can watch them over and over again you always get something else it just brings you back to a place that just makes you feel, you know, good and familiar.

Gary: that’s probably where it starts right… we want to be in a place where we feel comfort and at home and what ever peculiar person we are we find that place for ourselves. You know all of us who found our way into horror and monsters, let’s face it we were mostly outcasts.

Jo: We’re outsiders yeah.

Gary: We related to the monsters cause they were outcasts.

Jo: That’s exactly it.

Gary: We got Frankenstein immediately.

Jo: I sympathized with him, I knew his pain. I knew we were both ‘the other’ You know when you become the other, then you start to relate to the characters that are outsiders and that’s why we start to fit in and we put ourselves in those stories, those spaces. You know because we belong there. We found a place for ourselves so….

Gary’s enormous knowledge has a way of cutting through any extraneous detail and manages to bring you not only into the story but provide so many interesting background tidbits, making history and insight accessible. With Thriller I never knew the staff of the show used to call the graphics that open the show “The Sticks” I hadn’t read that Douglas Heyes had doubts about Boris Karloff hosting the show initially because the first episodes were more crime based. It wasn’t Richard Widmark’s Thriller it was Boris Karloff’s Thriller. And they were competing with Alfred Hitchcock’s formatted suspense series. I knew from reading Stephen Jacob’s incredible authorized biography of Boris Karloff that Alfred Hitchcock was not too happy about Thriller that much I did know.

Douglas Heyes either based episodes on Robert Bloch’s stories or episodes he wrote. Hr told them it wasn’t working (the show) because the first episodes weren’t hosted by Richard Widmark. That’s when they brought Douglas Heyes in to make the show work. To get away from Hitchcock’s province of crime/suspense. They transformed Thriller into creepy tales and it evolved into the show with it’s original macabre vibe. 1) Hitchcock was pressuring the studio. 2) Twilight Zone at the time was perhaps fantasy 3) and ratings were suffering and no one was happy with the original approach.

There was such a confusion about the identity of the show, that they producer Hubbell was upset and embarrassed. Finally they brought in Robert Bloch and what they decided on was horror tales with a supernatural underscore and violent crime thrillers. The first was produced by recruiting Maxwell Shane for the crime stories and William Frye for the horror tales. And it worked…

Boris Karloff’s THRILLER:  anthology television series that aired during the 1960–61 and 1961–62 seasons on NBC

Gary added his commentary to the following Thriller episodes…

The Prediction with Lucy Chase Williams, The Hungry Glass with Marc Scott Zicree, Well of Doom with David Schow, Trio of Terror with David Schow, Mr. George with Lucy Chase Williams, Pigeons from Hell-solo commentary, The Grim Reaper with Ernest Dickerson, Tim Lucas and David Schow, The Weird Tailor with Daniel Benton, The Return of Andrew Bentley with David Schow, Waxworks with Ron Borst, La Strega with Steve Mitchell and Craig Reardon, The Hollow Watcher with Larry Blamire and David Schow and The Incredible Doktor Markesan with David Schow.

In talking about THE CHEATERS...

I love referential commentary and analysis. Gary compares the story of The Cheaters with Winchester ’73 in the way that both stories center around an object that flows from one character to the next and their individual outcomes. How we follow those peculiar glasses and how we follow the trail of the gun in each person’s possession. It’s a fascinating point and I love how he picked up on that. You can watch a beloved episode 100 times and you’ll always find your own slight slant on it at times, but commentaries imparted to us by historians like Gary Gerani help bring an even wider perspective.

It’s obvious to me, that Gerani is a huge fan of writer Robert Bloch. But who isn’t right. So another interesting point that Gary Gerani brings out, is that Robert Bloch’s story didn’t have the alchemist in the opening, the way Thriller adapted it showing veteran character actor (with the unusually carved rock features), Henry Daniell as inventor/alchemist Dirk Van Prinn creating the lenses that would become The Cheaters. The glasses that give the wearer the ability to see the truth about themselves. They also give the wearer the power to hear the thoughts of those around them. Which winds up being not only problematic but murderously fowl!

In Bloch’s actual written story, there’s a series of accounts by the people who wore the cheaters who met their deaths by wearing them. Their accounts are virtually told from beyond the grave. Again Gerani in his artful insightful way compares it to Joe Gillis (William Holden) in Sunset Blvd. Thriller changes this perspective by working in these graveside accounts by allowing Harry Townes the writer Sebastian Grimm to tell the story. He discovers the true powers of the cheaters, and writes a book about the origin and the ultimate end to the journey of these magical lenses marked Veritas on the bridge. He tells their stories to his wife surmising exactly what happened as we see it on screen.

In addition Gary Gerani mentions that people compare The Cheaters to Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. Essentially because Gray’s painting told the real story of what was lying beneath the surface of the man who never ages. It shows the truth about yourself. “And that truth isn’t very pleasant”- as Gary Gerani says. But Gerani says one of the main differences between this teleplay and “Bloch’s original story was even “bleaker” There is the same suggestion that the glasses and the painting tells the true nature of the person. “In Bloch’s story it’s much more universal, it’s made very clear it’s not just like Dorian Gray where there’s just one sinner–this is in all of us… It is perhaps the most dire perception of the human condition ever done, during a prime time show certainly here in this period…It seems to suggest that knowing thyself is knowing evil… within yourself or even the people around you…. Pretty much what Block is saying is that WE ARE THE MONSTERS… That’s essentially what The Cheaters is about-and There is no hope!

The Outer Limits original series 1960s (broadcast on ABC from 1963 to 1965)

Gary Gerani’s commentaries include:

The Architects of Fear, The Man with the Power, The Man Who was Never Born, The Zanti Misfits with David J. Schow, and The Special One with Michael Hyatt.

The Twilight Zone original Series (anthology television series created and presented by Rod Serling, which ran for five seasons on CBS from 1959 to 1964.)

One For the Angels, The Lonely, The Four of Us are Dying, A Stop at Willoughby with Marc Scott Zicree and A Passage for Trumpet.

Gary Gerani and I had a pleasant conversation on Sep 18th after I watched Pumpkinhead, I emailed him and we instantly hit it off, carrying on an exchange. Gary commented on a piece I wrote at The Last Drive In about one of the episodes of Boris Karloff’s Thriller, in which Gary has done numerous commentaries as you now know, he’s added his voice to some of the BEST television anthology box sets. We share a mutual love of Thriller as well as The Outer Limits.

A hell of a nice guy with a very keen mind and wonderful sense of humor. I wish we had known each other as little monster kids we could have enjoyed the same kinds of fantastical indulgence without me getting called MonsterGirl said with a pejorative connotation and being locked in a basement all day by a neighborhood bully! Don’t get me wrong it helped mold me into the sympathetic person I am who developed empathy for others. It’s always nice to discover another person out there who could wear Monster Kid as a badge of honor!

Gary Gerani had stumbled upon my blog by accident. and told me he was struck by the intelligence of my piece on The Cheaters. I of course was extremely flattered by this. He told me Pumpkinhead was influenced by Thriller, with the rural spookiness and atmosphere. Also The Outer Limits’ episode The Galaxy Being as Pumpkinhead also sort of gave off “psychic turbulence” very much like The Galaxy Being, with his electro magnetic windstorm.

Both are creatures who are what they are. One accidentally falls out of it’s orbit which is forbidden on his planet, as he winds up being transported on earth by radio basement scientist Cliff Robertson. Pumpkinhead however is summoned by the pain and lust for vengeance by Lance Henricksen after a band of outsiders riding their dirt bikes kill his beloved little boy. The local witch knows how to raise up Pumpkinhead who’s job it is to exact the law of revenge and judgement. He is a creature who serves the cosmic law.

I private messaged Gary on Facebook after I saw his lovely comment on The Last Drive in. I told him that I was a HUGE fan of his 1988 Pumpkinhead a moody atmospheric rustic boogeyman morality play. It had traces of our mutually inspired The Hollow Watcher for Thriller. A bucolic Boogeyman who exacts vengeance on the sinners of a small minded and tucked away rural town with it’s own creepy mythology.

I suspect Jeepers Creepers (2001) was influenced by Pumpkinhead which I believe is one of THE best dark fairy tale, cautionary tales of the 1980s. Pumpkinhead is a self contained dark little Americana Gothic story with it’s color filters that frame scenes that are at times a cold cold blue or a fiery red.

I stumbled onto the outrageously unusual film Pumpkinhead (1988) as most of us Monster kids do, we are lured by the uncanny on film since we were wee Monster folk. One of the true statements that can be said about Gary Gerani’s somber and atmospheric film, the American Gothic arcane back woods allegory is that it still embodies what made classical horror films work on an empathetic level and unlike today’s films that are like a buzz-saw to the synapse & sympathetic nervous system with all it’s pageantry of various body violations and torture. Back in the day even the gore somehow managed to set apart the artistic narratives with a story and at times the kernal of the moral message that lies withing the tale still came through. Pumpkinhead, attracts the monster lovers in us. Though Lance Henriksen regrets his brand of punishment, which cannot bring his little boy back to life, we somehow still cheer for Pumpkinhead as he acts as cathartic release for us.

I remember feeling excitement when Pumpkinhead coming to life as a little Pumpkin baby then rose out of his dirt hill grave, Stan Winston imbues him with a sort of gargoyle like smile. Does it look like Gary Gerani and Lance Henriksen  or perhaps Stan Winston — Gary supposes!

Gary-“We got really lucky with Pumpkinhead, in that everyone was on exactly the same page about what we wanted to achieve. “Deliverance in the daytime and Mario Bava at Night. Was our idea an attempt to combine gritty reality with evocative dark fairy tales. I loved the demon creature Stan Winston and his guys created so much, I actually have him made from the original mold standing in the corner of my living room!’ Once a Monster Kid, always a Monster Kid!

MONSTERGIRL ASKS:

About Stan Winston, Lance Hendricksen, and the colors of Mario Bava:

Gary: “Basically when we did Pumpkinhead originally Stan Winston wasn’t involved we had Armand Mastroianni director (He Knows Your Alone 1980, the Clairvoyant 1982, Tales from the Dark Side 1984-1987, Friday the 13th 1989-1990) he did a few other movies including several horror movies and he was our direct and it was like okay um, and one day the producers decided to go with Stan Winston partially because it was like Stan wanted to direct, we’ll let you direct this it’ll be your directorial debut just give us a state of the art monster that would normally be in a big budgeted film and if you can pull that off that would be great, well, that was part of the reason why they really wanted Stan is that they knew they would get a creature on the level of an alien or what ever. But Stan had shot second unit on Aliens and demonstrated his ability so we kind of felt oh okay he’s a great monster maker and he knows how to film too so oh so great so and then the next thing we heard was that Lance was gonna play Ed Harley. And Mark Carducci and I were ecstatic as I said anyone from The Right Stuff (1983) astronauts at any rate he was one of them and he had just been in Aliens and he made a real impression in that film so we were really ecstatic to get Lance. Uhm after that it really was finishing the script working with Stan Winston we really didn’t interact at all with Lance and not only that we were New York based at that point and uh so were our producers they were New York producers who did Pumpkinhead so we worked with Stan and he came out and we flew out and he came to see us and and we did all that and the next time that we got involved with Lance on the set of this film. Um Mark had come to L.A. to spend more time in L.A. to be around the production of the film I still had my full time job at Topps so I was limited in my time so I finally got out there at least for a week or how ever the hell long it was to at least be on the set and that’s when I met Lance and again a very very warm friendly complimentary empathetic kind of an individual.

We spent time just kind of walking with him around the set and he said uh “guys I wanted to congratulate you on the script I see a lot of scripts and this one I felt had something that really spoke to me and I wanted to tell you it doesn’t happen that often” He was saying all kinds of stuff like that. And we were so like Oh Thank you!! We were so so flattered So he instantly established himself with us as a guy that we really liked as friends and of course his performance was spectacular. Here’s the thing with Pumpkinhead this is something that has come up a few times uh there are people the people who have, the people who have problems with Pumpkinhead who have issues with it don’t really get it what we wanted and what Stan delivered was kind of an almost pseudo documentary kind of flavor and overview and almost objective and emotionally detached overview of an event of what happens when a crime occurs out in the “sticks” how do people deal with it, what goes on in this other little world? We almost wanted a procedural so we wanted the camera or the soul of the movie as it’s looking at these events to almost be impartial otherwise whenever you have a story of a man losing his son, it’s always very sentimental heavy with the emotions I said no no no no we wanted it almost to be dry that way it doesn’t slip into the pathos of the over sentimental plot it’s so easy to happen to a picture it will retain it’s dignity and be special.

And Stan, was a perfect director for that because Stan god bless him Stan was something of a cold fish in a lot of ways he was he was kind of a dry guy okay and it was perfect! for Pumpkinhead Ironically the second movie he made he was exactly the wrong guy emotionally he did the Gnome Named Norm aka Upworld which was an E.T rip off warm and fuzzy and (emphatically) he was the exact wrong guy and that’s exactly what we didn’t want in Pumpkinhead we wanted to be like I say an overview and let those emotional events just happen as you observe them and you can be able to react to them. We didn’t want to push that sentimental angle so Stan was perfect. And in keeping with that Lance played it that way too it wasn’t a big blubbery “oh my son” no he internalized all of that stuff and that’s why it’s powerful. When his son dies in his arms it’s really could have been an opportunity to be John Williams type music soar and the sadness to hit you over the head and no no it’s underplayed and the little boy just dies in his arms and says ‘daddy’ and he just kind of dies and ya know Lance caresses the body and you see his eyes looking outward and you say this is exactly right, it’s just what you need to feel, what you need to feel without being overdone or sentimental and Lance kept it that way all the way through and I think in my opinion that’s why the movie is good. Because of that angle it could have just degenerated into a Charles Band emotional over done or one of these other movies but because Stan wasn’t a guy like that and because we wrote it that way.

We sat down and discussed that with Stan because that’s what we had in mind. Originally in the script Ed Harley was out of the story in the first third after the accident happened he goes to witch sets it in motion and then it’s just a procedural you almost wanted it to be that detached . Finally I said no no it’s about this guy it’s about a story we got to bring him back and this will be about him. Uh but yeah and Stan was right on the same page with us, and that’s the movie being made. And we’re grateful to Stan in sense for being Stan you know every movie that’s being made is the director’s soul and persona and essence that comes out. I have a theory that the story, every time you see a movie that what ever personality or tone of the movie is, not only is it the director coming through but if he’s doing his job right I always felt it’s the id of the main character that determines the personality of the movie.

If you watch a Star Trek episode it’s Captain Kirk’s souls his id, it’s like a dream that the Captain is having in that particular adventure. So I always felt the main character in any story kind of determines you’re almost in his head and that determines the personality the story. And with Lance with this character it all fit together perfectly. And you have the right director, his personality was so right for it, so that was kind of lightning in a bottle. It isn’t like it hit the whole world in that way, you know people who love it, love it within the context of a fairly limited kind of universe but we’re very very proud of it. After we saw it we thought, we got so lucky, that we had all that in place in that point in time. We had the essence of the James Cameron troupe those guys when they were hot as a pistol. When they were the thing that was happening. Back then those were the guys within a horror picture a supernatural story, they’d been doing their science fiction stuff Aliens and Terminator. Here is the horror version of that whole flavor. And the fact that our creature even resembles the alien kind of idea. I loved that I said look he’s a life form we didn’t want anything melodramatic or phony or the devil in a traditional way, no he’s a creature, it’s suggesting that he comes from a different environment and maybe Hell art of rules but there’s a physicality there you can recognize as opposed to just a demon with the horns or usual bullshit. It was Lovecraftian having a creature like that walking around farm houses. How cool is that!”

Jo: It’s very cool. I love him (Pumpkinhead) And the interest thing is you know there’s a sympathy, you know, we cheer for him. When I first saw the film I fell in love with him. I said, you know I really like this guy. It’s true he’s picking off these teenagers but who cares! (laughs from the guts, Gary howls) They’re invading this quaint space. They’re intruding on this very closed universe , they’re invading the world. They came in and they brought their noise and their disrespect and they invaded this beautiful quaint little world and now they’re gonna pay for it. It doesn’t matter who ran Billy down. It really just mattered that they were all there in the way. And Pumpkinhead was just a manifestation of the rage. And it’s like a fairy tale. To me it’s a fairy tale. But I do see what you’re saying.”

Gary: You’re absolutely right that fairy tale thing it’s kind of interesting because on the one hand we really wanted a sense of reality in the daytime, we tell people we wanted deliverance in the daytime and Mario Bava at night. Where that whole otherworldly fairy tale beautiful horror kind of stuff can shine. But in the day as real and gritty as possible, so it winds up being a dark fairy tale and that kind of what it is and yet it was a nice mixture of gritty realism and also the way our cinematographer ( Bojan Bazelli )lit the film, our cinematographer lit the witches hut with oranges and all that.

Jo: Oh yeah the hottest reds and the cold blues they were beautiful.

Gary: Ohhhh god isn’t that beautiful! We had said listen our big influence was the tv series Thriller and The Outer Limits. If you can give us Conrad Hall’s photography in color we’d be so appreciative. That’s why you got those episodes that were noir, Orson Welles type compositions you know the beautiful black and white– all that kind of thing. And then The Outer Limits flavor comes through too because it was kind of like The Galaxy Being who brings his own lightning by accident sort of having a little bit of that flavor.

Jo: Right he comes out of an alternate space.

Gary: (after running into Lance at the florist in L.A.) –The next significant thing that happened with Lance he was giving an interview with somebody and they were talking and he mentioned that the thing that convinced him to do movie was one particular scene, okay, that when we wrote the picture when you’re collaborating with your writing partner in the script you’re both constantly pulling ideas back and forth and the end result is a combination of your thoughts and your partners thoughts. Some scenes he came up with, some scenes you came up with.

The scene that convinced Lance to do the movie happened to be a scene that I came up with I was so tickled. And the particular scene we’re talking about is when Ed Harley is driving back and he sees his little boy sit up, his dead little boy sits up in the car and says “What’d you do daddy?”

You know it’s a little hallucination and then he looks and of course the body of the boy is, and all that his conscience is rearing, it’s like his little boy is saying what have you done you know and that was my idea you know what ever and that was the scene that convinced Lance to do the picture. Good old Lance I’m so happy it was a scene that I came up with… And I remember coming up with it thinking how cool it would be to show his guilt by having a little shot of his son like that and the fact that that made the difference in Lance’s mind was like how cool is that.

And this is funny, the whole thing where the kids, the boy and the girl are getting into a car and what ever they’re doing they’re and the guy shows up with the shotgun. And basically tells them that they’re marked and that’s when they first think “marked” what do you mean whatever and then all of a sudden Pumpkinhead shows up, yeah it’s the guy with his dog right okay yeah the guy with his dog he fires a shot you know and says something like ‘empty your hands son’ or what ever which is he line he stole in reverse from True Grit where John Wayne say’s “Fill your hands you son of a bitch” I don’t know if that’s ever been said (laughs) but anyway, that guy with the shot gun no matter how many times like a dozen takes the gun wouldn’t fire and the gun expert was there and it just wouldn’t work and finally it finally worked and it’s amazing when you make a movie like half a night can be taken up with problem’s like this. Actually Lance comes into that scene and he fires at the creature but he wasn’t in that particular scene.

Jo: Where was it filmed?

Gary: it was in the Hollywood hills somewhere We managed to find locations that looked rural enough I just remember at the time that we just went all the way out to the hills there. Actually it’s amazing cause it does it does seem authentic. I though we faked it pretty nicely.

Jo: And I love the set designer, whoever designed the mound with the pumpkin patch and the gnarled trees

Gary: Isn’t that great talk about something out of a Mario Bava movie. You have the swirling mists you have It’s like Black Sunday

Jo: Or Black Sabbath, the composition of colors in Black Sabbath

Gary -Oh yeah the colors in Black Sabbath. The cinematographer knew how to use color the way you use black and white with darks and lights and all that stuff we were very lucky with Bojan Bazelli our cinematographer who went on to do very important movies not that this isn’t important but you know what I mean…

Jo: Yeah, Pumpkinhead’s important!

Gary: I feel much of what makes that movie good is that look that he gave us. In all fairness to Stan you think about that mound that we’re talking about, the burial mound and the grave yard and all that the shot that introduces that is this fantastic shot that starts the camera on Lance and this was Stan right umm obviously the cinematographer is achieving this shot for Stan but you got Lance walking almost knee level you’re on the level with the ditch coming toward you and then eventually he comes into sort of close up looks up and then the camera which is following him then rises high high high high so you see what he’s looking at which is the mound and then it keeps rising until you’re almost in the trees looking down at the mound —all in one shot and it was Stan who wanted that shot. And the cinematographer gave it to him. Fantastic shot absolutely beautiful shot. And in the burned out church with the camera following Pumpkinhead as the kids are running out of the church as the camera remains and you see through the slats in the side of the building as something is entering as one beautiful long continuous shot there are a few of those gorgeous camera moves throughout the picture. And that I give credit to Stan.

I HAD A FEW MORE QUESTIONS!

JO GABRIEL — Question #1) Since you’re basically still a Monster Kid in an adult’s body like me, is there another interesting character, science fiction themed, mythological or fairy tale based that is burning a hole in your brain waiting for you to bring it to life on screen? A departure from PUMPKINHEAD of course but as potentially ICONIC in its design (although sadly Stan Winston is no longer with us.)

GARY GERANI– About fifteen years ago, I tried to sell an animated musical based on THE GOLEM, with music by Billy (DUEL) Goldenberg. The theme of oppressed people resonated, and the amount of black magic involved really made it a great supernatural tale… kind of like FAUST meets FRANKENSTEIN. The Golem itself gradually takes on demonic features the longer it remains in existence after fulfilling its primary function as a super-warrior for justice. The creature’s relationship with Rabbi Lowe’s little boy provided the story’s emotional punch. Another classic demon I wanted to re-visit was Guy de Maupassant’s THE HORLA, which had been adapted into a reasonably effective 1963 Vincent Price movie, DIARY OF A MADMAN.

“So glad you enjoyed my THE OUTER LIMITS chats.  “Architects of Fear” turned out well, I thought.  The ZONES were a ball to do.  The ol’ Blu-ray sets won both Rondo and Saturn awards, so I guess fans were happy with them.”

JO GARBIEL — Question 2a) You’ve done commentaries for the groundbreaking 1960s anthology series The Outer Limits, Boris Karloff’s THRILLER and Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. What is your favorite episode for each and what makes it special for you?

PUMPKINHEAD has that wonderful rural boogeyman atmosphere like The Hollow Watcher episode of THRILLER which you lent your insightful commentary to!

Question 2b) Would you ever take a story from either of those three shows and put your own spin on it or adapt it in a more contemporary manner using sock puppets (just kidding) or feature film?

GARY GERANI –“Twilight Zone: Probably a toss-up between “Eye of the Beholder” and “Walking Distance.”  They were so many, many good episodes.  “Eye” hit all major ZONE areas: great central set-up, relatable, heartfelt humanity explored, social comment, incredible twist.  “Distance” gets right into your soul, and Gig Young, who was sorta burned-out in real life, was fantastic.  On top of everything else, both have brand new Bernard Herrmann scores to die for.
THRILLER: 1a)“The Cheaters” and “Pigeons from Hell.”  “Cheaters” is a tight, episodic scary tale, brilliantly executed, and with one hell of a horrific payoff.  “Pigeons” is atmospheric and dreamlike from beginning to end, a one-of-a-kind experience (although director John Newland’s “I Kiss Your Shadow” for BUS STOP around the same time comes close).  Once seen with her hatchet-arm raised, the zvembie is never forgotten!
THE OUTER LIMITS: “The Forms of Things Unknown” (final episode of S1 OL) is probably my favorite because it pushed cinematic storytelling to the max.  It was where Stefano’s sensibilities were going after a year of OL, as it was the pilot for a never-launched anthology.  If I had to pick a full-fledged OL, it would probably be “The Man Who Was Never Born.”  I differentiate between Seasons 1 and 2, by the way, since they were almost different shows.  Harlan Ellison’s “Demon with a Glass Hand” would be my favorite S2 show, followed by the two-part “The Inheritors.”  
2b)-When I was the West Coast Editor of Topps Comics in the 1990s, we were developing an OUTER LIMITS comic book in connection with UA.  The idea was to create sequels, prequels and remakes of classic episodes.  “The Galaxy Being Returns,” “Spawn of the Zanti Misfits,” “The Seventh Finger” and others were just some of the possible concepts I suggested.  Also in the 90s, my late writing partner Mark Carducci had briefly gotten the rights to WEIRD TALES magazine, and I was set to write a new version of “Pigeons from Hell” for a TV anthology along the lines of TALES FROM THE CRYPT.  Nether one of those projects came to fruition, sad to say.”
JO GABRIEL – Question #3-The 3rd question addresses what you said the other night when we chatted, that struck me as one of the truly interesting themes running through PUMPKINHEAD

PUMPKINHEAD is a self contained dark little Americana Gothic tale with it’s color prisms that frame the ethereal landscape at times –a cold cold blue or a fiery red.

I loved the way you talked about your vision of PUMPKINHEAD as ‘Deliverance’ by day and Mario Bava by night combined to make a gritty reality with a dark evocative fairy tale.’ So maybe you could expand on how that came together and/or working with Stan’s creation.

GARY GERANI – “Mark and I sat down with Stan Winston and discussed the project.  We were all monster kids, so we understood the old movie references instantly.  We all wanted that atmospheric look; I asked for “Conrad Hall-style cinematography, but in color,” and we had fun thinking of PUMPKINHEAD as a kind of OUTER LIMITS meets THRILLER in color.  It even had a main monster that, like the Galaxy Being, gave off his own lightning storm, what we called “psychic turbulence,” as he prowled the area.  Our original version of the witch was a bit more normal and seductively verbose (think “Jess-Belle” from TZ), but Stan wanted the primal, basic essence of a witch, more of a symbol than a real person, and asked that we reduce Haggis’ dialogue to what we wound up with (“Now it begins, Ed Harley”).  When we talked about Pumpkinhead appearing in the doorway of the burned-out church, Stan said, “I want The Thing in the doorway,” referring to the iconic silhouetted moment in the 1951 sci-fi classic.  Like I said, we all knew the movies.  Our very talented cinematographer fully understood the special flavors we were trying to achieve, and delivered big-time.”

TRAILER

A Trailer a Day Keeps The Pumpkinhead Away! (1988)

This has been your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl saying it’s been an absolute gas getting to know Gary Gerani, a regular guy with an enormous wealth of knowledge and nostalgia tucked into that endearing voice. And say — this Halloween–don’t avoid that pumpkin patch… if you’ve got nothing to feel guilty about that is…!

 

Rod Serling’s Night Gallery 9 Terrifying Halloween Treats!

*THE CEMETERY -PILOT TV movie AIR DATE NOV.8, 1969
*THE DEAD MAN-AIR DATE DEC. 16, 1970
*CERTAIN SHADOWS ON THE WALL-DEC.30, 1970
*THE DOLL-AIR DATE JAN.13, 1971
*A FEAR OF SPIDERS -AIR DATE OCT. 6, 1971
*COOL AIR-AIR DATE DEC.8, 1971
*GREEN FINGERS-AIR DATE JAN.8, 1972
*GIRL WITH THE HUNGRY EYES AIR DATE OCT.1, 1972
*SOMETHING IN THE WOODWORK AIR DATE JAN.14, 1973

Next time up, The Tune in Dan’s Cafe, Lindenmann’s Catch, A Question of Fear, The Sins of the Father, Fright Night and There Aren’t Any More McBanes.

Available on dvd: with Season 2 Audio Commentary from Guillermo Del Toro and from historians Scott Skelton and Jim Benson and Season 3 aslo with Audio Commentary from historians Scott Skelton and Jim Benson

There will be no need for spoilers, I will not give away the endings …

The way the studio wants to do it, a character won’t be able to walk by a graveyard, he’ll have to be chased. They’re trying to turn it into a Mannix in a shroud.—Creator Rod Serling

“Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collectors’ item in its own way – not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, and suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.”-Rod Serling Host

With the major success of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), after it was cancelled in 1964, Rod Serling continued to work on various projects. He wrote the screenplays for the movie versions of Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes and The Man based on the novel by Irving Wallace. In 1970 he created a new series, Night Gallery which were tales of the macabre based on various mystery/horror/fantasy writers, H.P Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood and even Serling himself. The show was produced by Jack Laird and Rod Serling. The show that ran six episodes each, part of four dramatic series under the umbrella title Four-In-One. In 1971, it appeared with it’s own vignettes on NBC opposite Mannix. In 1971 the Pilot for the show had three of the most powerful of the series. The Cemetery starring Ossie Davis, Roddy McDowall, and George Macready. Eyes stars Hollywood legend Joan Crawford who plays an unpleasant tyrant who is blind and is willing to rob the sight of another man in order to see for a short period of time. The segment was directed by Steven Spielberg. The last playlet starred Norma Crane and Richard Kiley as a Nazi who is hiding out in a South American country who dreams of losing himself in a little boat on a quiet lake depicted in a painting at the local art museum.

Then Night Gallery showcased an initial six segments and the hour long series consisted of several different mini teleplays. In its last season from 1972-1973 the show was reduced to only a half hour.
Night Gallery differed from The Twilight Zone which were comprised of science fiction and fantasy narratives as it delved more into the supernatural and occult themes. The show has a unique flavor in the same way Boris Karloff introduced each one of Thriller’s divergent stories, Rod Serling would introduce each episode surrounded by his gallery of macabre and morbid paintings by artist Gallery Painter: Tom Wright Serling would open his show with a little soliloquy about life, irony and the upcoming tale of ghoulish delights.

Rod Serling was not a fan of Night Gallery and did not have the revelatory passion and inducement to plug the show the way he did for The Twilight Zone, in fact the series was panned by the critics. Two of the shows Serling wrote were nominated for Emmy’s, “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” starring William Windom and Diane Baker and The Messiah of Mott Street “ starring Edward G. Robinson.

From Gary Gerani-Fantastic Television: A Pictorial History of Sci-Fi, the Unusual and The Fantastic
“No stranger to the interference of sponsors, networks and censors, Serling once again found himself locked by contact into an untenable situation..{…}… He owned Night Gallery, created it and it was sold to network and audience on his reputation . The competitor on CBS was Mannix, a formula private-eye shoot-and rough-‘em up. Serling felt that NBC and Universal were doing their best to imitate Mannix, with an emphasis on monsters, chases and fights. They turned down many of his scripts as “too thoughtful” Serling lamented. “They don’t want to compete against Mannix in terms of contrast, but similarity.” Not only was Serling unable to sell them scripts he was also barred from casting sessions, and couldn’t make decisions about his show—he had signed away creative control. As a result he tried to have his name removed from the title, but NBC had him contract-bound to play host and cordially to introduce the parasite to the TV audience.”

 

Continue reading “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery 9 Terrifying Halloween Treats!”

“Out Loud” Part 2– My Extraordinary Conversation with the Legendary Lee Grant…

Update! The Film Forum in NYC has put together a retrospective of 13 films and documentaries featuring some of Lee’s best work as an actor and director.

10th July 1970: Studio portrait of American actor Lee Grant, wearing a flower-patterned dress and  in front of a light backdrop, (Photo by Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Jo: Hi, Lee? It’s Jo, how’re you doing?

Lee: Hi Jo!

Jo: What’s going on? How’s your day?

Lee: Good so far.

Jo: So hopefully it’ll just even get better now. [laughs]

Lee: Of course!

Jo: Are you ready to talk a little bit?

Lee: Sure!

Jo: Ok, great! Um, God, I don’t even know where to start because I’m just really excited and very grateful that you’re spending time talking to me.

Lee: Sure!

Jo: Um, so, before I start asking you any questions, I mean I guess I could just start asking you some questions. We spoke a little yesterday, and you know how much I love your work. I’ve just followed you for such a long time. And I’m kind of in awe of you, so I’m a little starstruck. [laughs]

Lee: Oh, good! [laughs] You’re so cute and I don’t think there are many people who would say that any more. So it’s yummy.

Jo: No, that’s not true, let me tell you, you’ve got fans! There are so many people who just adore you. You are memorable! You are a beautiful spitfire. You’re complex, you’re powerful, you’re evocative and very memorable. So don’t think I’m the only one. [laughs]

Lee: Ok, I give in!

Jo: Ok, you give in!

Lee: I give in, I am memorable!

Jo: You are memorable, you really really are. I mean, seriously, it’s like every time something would come on TV, a show or a movie, and I would say “oh, Lee Grant is in this!” I would get so excited. No matter what it was, I would watch it. If it was like a television program, even if I wasn’t familiar with the show or the film, I’d be like “well, Lee is in it, I’ve got to see this now!” So I’m going to start asking away and hopefully they’re good questions.

Lee: Where’s Wendy?

Jo: Oh, Wendy’s here, too.

Wendy: I’m actually here, Lee. Hi! I’m the technical person so I’m here to make sure everything goes ok.

Lee: Hi Wendy. Ok!

Wendy: And I do have a question for you at the end, too. I couldn’t resist!

Jo: The sociologist in her!

Lee: You know, I’m just glad to hear from you girls. You were so alive and interested and interesting when we met, and here we are, what is it 3 months later? You meet someone on an airplane and you see somebody and you sit and you talk for 6 hours and then you get off and you never see them again. So this is nice!

Jo: It was really amazing to just walk into this big room with all these people fluttering about, swarming about like a hive. And then to see you standing there [Lee laughs] and you’re like this legend. This utter legend, stuck in the corner of a room!

Lee: Yeah, and you know, I’ve been writing a lot. And that deserves it’s own story.

Jo: It does. It definitely does… To walk over and just talk to you like that—I wanted to grab a big pot of coffee and a couple of chairs and just sit. So now we’re doing it, really.

Lee: We’re doing it! And I have the coffee, too. I’m not sure it counts, though.

Jo: So, I’m going to just start asking questions. And I think I told you yesterday that I do these little setups because it helps me bridge to the question.

Lee: Whatever, just go honey!

Jo: You were in films with diverging mainstream audience appeal… showing the wide range and versatility of your acting such as In the Heat of the Night with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger which dealt with racism. Valley of the Dolls became a cult pop sensation, and Plaza Suite where you were sublimely hilarious in Neil Simon’s timeless comedy at it’s best. What is it that makes you such a versatile actress?

Lee: Well, I was a very compelled actress. You know I was blacklisted for 12 years, and those were the years from age 24 to age 36. I couldn’t work in film or television because I was married to a writer who was called a communist and therefore I was asked to name my own husband in front of the Unamerican Activities Committee, and my loathing—I was going to say fear and loathing, but there was no fear. My loathing for that kind of activity and McCarthyism. You know, I can feel it in my stomach as I’m talking to you, it’s so great. It’s the feeling I have about Trump and that little lawyer Roy Cohn. You know, I was taken out of the acting system for the most important years of my life, I thought at the time. So when I came back, you know, they hired me for Peyton Place, and let me see, it would’ve been 1952-1964. Peyton Place at that time was the biggest television show in the country.

Jo: Yes, I just finished binge-watching it.

Lee: I went from near obscurity to being the bad girl—Stella Chernack—on Peyton Place which was seen by America three times a week. And not the same show three times a week. The appetite for it was so great that they did three new shows each week. So all of a sudden I was everybody’s bad girl. You know, and my hunger for work, for acting, for reestablishing myself, for getting back at the bad guy was so intense, that all the film or TV show had to say was “do you want to?” And I said yes. That was the title of my book, I said yes to everything. Yes, yes, yes because the appetite was unfillable, to work, to act. And with each part, you know you talk about my first movie, the movie that Norman Jewison directed, the one with Sidney Poitier and Rod Stieger.

Jo: Of course, In the Heat of the Night…

Lee: You know, when Norman interviewed me, he knew my background. This was a decade of intensely liberal filmmakers in Hollywood. Intensely liberal filmmakers. And the producer of Peyton Place, too. It was like they couldn’t wait to hire me. They couldn’t wait to make up for—and it makes me cry a little bit—all the years I didn’t work. Their generosity, their kindness, their focus, their need to say “you’re ok now, we got you.” And for them to see that as an actor I was ready to take on the kind of roles that they were ready to give me. And I was.

Jo: And with an extra fierceness. You probably had an extra fierceness to show yourself because you had this fuel, this anger. This impetus.

Lee: It wasn’t to sell myself, it was to act. It was to drop into that character and live that new life. After all I’m a method actress. And I was starved to act. So I just couldn’t get enough after wanting to act for all those young years. And I had to lie about my age because I was 36 when I got back in, so I got Mayor Yorty to change my driver’s license. We had no computers then so nobody would know. You know, it was like everything to get back that they took away.

 

Jo: Everything that they stole from you! You mentioned being a method actress…

When you act what are you tapping into, beyond the acting Method you studied, and beyond the imagination of little Lyova Rosenthal. You take words in the script and make them come to life like no other actor. Lee Grant has her own unique way of expressing herself. You bring a unique identity to each role. Did it come from starting out with Meisner, or teaching at Uta Hagen’s studio working with improvisation? Where does your genius come from?

Lee: It absolutely came from Meisner, because I was 17 when I went into the neighborhood playhouse. I was a failing high school student, and all I wanted were boys, boys, boys, and all I did was flirt, flirt, flirt. And when I went into that class and he gave me an objective. Jo, you know what an objective is—it’s to want something.

Jo: Oh yeah, yeah.

Lee: And the situation he set up with another boy in class was to get him out of the room, that he’d been a boyfriend and he wanted to get him out of the room. Well, this, there’s a Jewish word for it—a guerilla, a goomba, whatever it is, came out of me so this boy had no chance. The rage that I never knew—I never knew I had– this impulse, this fierceness, of carrying out that objective to get that poor guy out of the room. With my voice, with my hands, it overwhelmed me. It overwhelmed him. And my strength was born. My strength was born in that first improvisation at 17. And to be given the benefit of saying “I want to do this” and then within safe circumstances, which is the play, you get to carry it out. You may not carry it out in life, but in that room for that moment you can do anything because you have the objective.

Jo: That’s incredible. That’s an incredible background story. And I understand it’s like that moment, that epiphany when there it is, it’s born.

Lee: That was it. And that became my life. I that was it.

Jo: Well thank god for that because we’ve enjoyed the outcome of that.

Lee: Thank god for that is right! I could’ve gone any way, I could’ve been breaking up marriages.

Jo: Well, now I have a fun question—You are our favorite Columbo murderer… you were also in the Balcony with Peter Falk…

This is a 2 part question. You worked with Peter Falk in several roles, from plays like Prisoner of 2nd Ave, to an emotional episode of Ben Casey (you both gave a wonderfully passionate and heart-wrenching performance!), to the very post-modern The Balcony, and then, famously, as our favorite Columbo murderer the lady lawyer Lesley Willams in Ransom for a Deadman. What was it like to work with him? How did you end up working with him so much?

Columbo was one of those shows that was set up in such an interesting way because there were certain murderers who were ‘sympathetic’, and you were one of them. You could tell Columbo had a lot of respect for your character’s savvy. Did you enjoy playing cat and mouse with each other (like when you say to him “it’s always the jugular he’s going for” and then when you take him for that terrifying joy ride in your airplane and he doesn’t want to talk for a while, and you’re enjoying his discomfort)? How much fun were you both having on the set?

Lee: Oh, you’re so funny! [laughs]

Jo: And I promised myself I wouldn’t ask you about Shelley Winters (co-star in The Balcony), but maybe if we have time I’ll ask you about Shelley… [laughs](back to Peter Falk)

Lee: It was a good marriage.

Jo: That’s a good way to put it.

Lee: Yeah, it was a good marriage. All of the parts we played, or were thrown in to play together, since it certainly wasn’t planned. Peter was in it and I was hired, or I was in it and then Peter. And we found ourselves each time within a new situation with a new role to play with each other. Never the same role. And we were not friends.

Jo: You weren’t? Oh, that’s what I was curious about because it almost seemed like you had such a natural flow together.

Lee: I think that’s one of the things that worked for us. That we were familiar as actors and felt each other as actors, but we had no history that would get in the way of whatever that character was. Whoever he was playing went through many versions certainly, and in his big show, I was the enemy. So it was fun to attack him freshly in whatever character he was and whatever character I was at the time—friend, enemy, enemy, friend. And at each time find an actor who could spar with you, you know, fence with you.

Jo: And you did it so well. I mean it’s funny because with Columbo there are several instances in the series where there are sympathetic murderers. And Wendy and I both think that you’re one of them. You, and Joyce Van Patten, I loved her character.

Lee: Oh, Joyce is one of my best friends.

Jo: Ah, love her! And Ruth Gordon, we love the one with Ruth Gordon. If Ruth were here Wendy and I would try to get you three to sit and have lunch with us and celebrate the best Columbo murderers.

Lee: I would do it any time, to have lunch with Ruth Gordon any time. And Joyce is one of my three very very very very best friends.

Jo: We love her. She’s another one, we just light up when we see her. She’s so wonderful. That’s so nice to hear that you are such good friends. Tell her we said hi.

Lee: I knew Joyce Van Patten when I saw her on stage as a child actor. I saw her on stage when she was about 13 or 14.

Jo: Really? Wow, so you have a long history together.

Lee: We have a long history.

Jo: Awwww that’s wonderful. And it’s interesting that you both were that sympathetic murderer, and he really had that kind of respect for you. Because no matter what hell you put him through, like flying in that plane and making him suffer, you can tell he says, “don’t talk to me for a few minutes.”

Lee: Well the thing is also that I’m the worst driver in the world. I have no sense of direction. So getting me to fly a plane like I knew where I was going and I knew what buttons to push was such a kick for me.

Jo: Oh, that’s great! This is an interesting question and something I really wanted to know.…

Do you feel that your roles in non-mainstream films (pause) or television series like Peyton Place Do you feel like they were less constrained for you as an actor?

Lee: Than what?

Jo: Thank doing a major motion picture. The smaller television series.

I wish there were more roles for you like Stella Chernak, or the wandering mother/wife in the Neon Ceiling. Or Mrs Enders, the mother in the Landlord, or Marilyn Kim Novak’s neighbor in Middle of the Night. One of my favorites and you’re going to laugh at this, but sassy Edna from Storm Fear. They were very complex, and reflexive, and quirky, and substantive roles for women?

Lee: Wait, Storm Fear? (wonderful laughing hysterically)

Jo: Storm Fear directed by Cornel Wilde. It was that… ok I’m glad you’re laughing… I’m going to ask you about that now.

Lee: [laughs] Where did you ever get to see it?

Jo: Well I’ve seen most all your work anyway, but because I knew I was going to talk to you I started re-watching a lot of your films again because I just wanted to spend time with Lee Grant.

Lee: Oh honey, that’s funny.

Jo: Ok, I have my question about Storm Fear… this will make you laugh even more…

I get the sense Cornel Wilde didn’t give a lot of direction in Storm Fear. But Edna was a very bright light in an otherwise conventional heist movie. Edna was rough around the edges, likable, and kind. There’s a great scene where she’s walking in the snow, in her fancy boots and snow shoes, swinging her purse. And she says about her mink coat “if it gets left behind, I’m gonna to be in it.” And in the end, they leave Edna dying in the snow with her two broken ankles, a wad of cash, and her mink coat. We were so upset at the end for you! Is Edna still out there in the snow? What was your experience working on that film?

Lee: “I’ll kill ya!” Do you remember his reading of “I’ll kill ya!”? Cornel Wilde would say “ok, cut. Now listen to me Steve (Steven Hill), “I’ll kill you.” “I’ll kill you. Now you try it.” And Steve goes “I’ll kill you.” And Cornel would say “ok, you’ve got it Steve. Alright, and action!” And Steve would say “I’ll kill YA!” “I’ll kill YA!” [laughs]

Jo: [laughs] That’s too hilarious! So I suspected right… that you two did your thing and were the highlight of the film. There’s the great scene—you’ll remember this—where you’re walking in the snow in your fancy shoes. And you’re swinging your purse and you’re wearing the mink coat. And you say “If this gets left behind I’m going to be in it!” And that’s exactly what happens. They leave you dying in the snow with two broken ankles and a wad of cash in your mink coat.

Lee: [laughs] Falling down into the ravine.

Jo: You had fallen into the ravine. And Wendy and I are – I’m the kind of person, I yell at the television set—And Wendy and I were like “where’s Edna?” I’m like “what about Edna?!”

Lee: Thank you! Thank you! I needed that!

Jo: I’m like all upset, what are you leaving her down there in the snow for? Give some closure. Where is she? Rescue her! Dammit! Rescue her! She’s got broken ankles!

Lee: That is so funny.

Edna-“I hate you, you creep! I hate you!!!!”

Jo: But you were great in that. And those are the kind of roles that I really do love.

Lee: Well you know the thing about that is, historically speaking, that was an absolute crossover moment in my life, because I was still blacklisted. Cornel Wilde who was a really, really decent guy hired me as a blacklisted actress in an important part in which he wanted to introduce his wife, the non-actress, as the lead. With Dan Duryea, who is no small pickings. Dan Duryea is one of the great character actors of all time.

Jo: Yes, I love him.

Lee: Now Cornel hired me when I was still deep in the blacklist and nobody else would hire me. And we made enough money to have my daughter. She was conceived in Hollywood at that time because we had enough money to have another baby, and to have my baby, as I had two stepchildren. So you know it was a ridiculous thing, stomping in the snow with this big snowshoes and a black satin dress, and my blistered scalp because they dyed my hair from dark red to platinum blonde. So my head was all blistered. But bless Cornel Wilde. He did a remarkable and wonderful thing, and I had the most important thing in my life. Dina saved me through that whole blacklisted period. Having a little girl to take care of and to be there. And she was the best, the funniest, the sweetest, the most interesting. So she saved my life, and that came out of Storm Fear. I mean, it’s so interesting when you think about it.

Jo: It really is. And your performance is almost bright and glowing. There’s something emanating from Edna. I just love Edna. And maybe that’s what I was picking up on.

Lee: Oh yes, sweetheart. But having daughter Dina was the thing that held me together through the whole thing.

Jo: And she’s a hoot.

Lee: She’s the best. The best. I just came back from being with her.

Jo: I love that she’s in that episode of the Golden Girls when Blanche, Rue MacLanahan, keeps slamming the door in her face. It is just so hilarious. The comedic timing between the two of them is brilliant. I mean, she’s got your… she’s got the gift.

Lee: Yes, she does.

Jo: It’s in her genes. Ok, now we’ll move on and I’ll ask you another question—I’m glad we had a good laugh…

I loved the scene in Hal Ashby’s film the Landlord when you and Pearl Bailey are getting drunk on pot liquor, and you walk out with the ham hock in your bag. Mrs. Enders is such a fabulous character, did you have any particular inspiration for her character? Did you enjoy working with Pearl? And, do you have any great stories from that film? He’s a great director, and Mrs Enders is another fabulous character that you’ve played.

What was the inspiration for her character…?

Lee: Yes! [laughs] Well, my mother and my aunt, yes. And I had just finished doing In the Heat of the Night which was all about losing my first husband who died of a heart attack and Norman Jewison knew that and Hal Ashby was his editor at that time, so they knew that I would come in to do In the Heat of the Night with an experience that they knew I had, and Sidney and I really improvised that scene. But that’s how they knew me. And then as a friend they let me read The Landlord, and I said I can do that part and their whole image of me was of the grieving widow. And I said “let me just do it for you because that’s my mother, that’s my aunt.” And they told me that they had Jessica Tandy attached to it and I found some blonde wig, and I stood under the lights in the hallway so that I looked older. And I did it for them and they got it. And they gave it to me. So you know to go from the first, In the Heat of the Night, to Mrs Enders was just everything I ever wanted. To plumb both of those things. So it was just thrilling for me. First of all, the movie is a masterpiece. And it was Hal’s first directing job.

Jo: So it Was his first movie.

Lee: Yes, then he did the one with Ruth Gordon.

*Hal Ashby on the set of Harold and Maude with Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon.*

Jo: Wendy and I were sold on him after he did Harold and Maude.

Lee: Harold and Maude is one of the great masterpieces ever ever made.

Jo: It absolutely is…

Lee: And I wanted to do Ruth Gordon’s part, too. It shows you how hungry and stupid I was at the same time.

Jo: I wouldn’t say stupid.

Lee: Well, how hungry and ambitious.

Jo: Right.

Lee: Not ambitious, how starved I was. I was so starved that when you showed a piece of marrow bone, like Ruth Gordon’s part, I was like “let me have it, let me have it” but I never saw a piece of work as brilliant as her…

Jo: Oh yes, she is a whole other subject… she’s something else!

Lee: She is. She is to be worshiped.

Jo: I think so. But I mean so are you, really!

Lee: Oh, ok!

Jo: We’re worshiping you today! [laughs]

Lee: Worship away! [laughs]

Jo: Ok I’m going to ask you about Shampoo… I think there should’ve been more of you…

You won an academy award for Shampoo. We’re huge fans of the brilliant filmmaker Hal Ashby. People experience this movie as a 1970s, romanticized, sexual freedom film.

I experience the film as a deification of Warren Beatty’s insatiable sexual prowess running around with his phallic blowdryer. I just think there should have been a lot more of you. Do you think the film would’ve benefited from more development of the women characters and their sexuality? You also mention in your wonderful book that Warren Beatty tried to direct you and you almost quit the film. Do you think the film needed more of your vision and direction to bring the women characters more into focus?

Lee: Well I think there should’ve been more of me!

Jo: I think so!

Lee: I think there should’ve been a lot more of me in everything that I’ve ever been in. But unfortunately, there are other actors and there is a plot and there are other ramifications. So while I always think there should be a lot more of me, practically speaking it’s not the thing to do. I think that the woman I played was sound. I think her needs, her bitterness. The rejection of her within the Hollywood framework of that time. And that glowing gorgeous daughter played by…

Jo: Carrie Fisher.

Lee: She was the most beautifully white-skinned little girl, Carrie Fisher. And for me to be a mother who was hungry and rejected and to have that child right downstairs in the house. My character was just filled with conflict and unfulfillment. And all I seem to care about in that film was my coat and my hair and getting shtupped. And grabbing at whatever I could that would fill this emptiness. I hated Hollywood at that time.

Jo: But you were more interesting and intricate than Warren Beatty’s character. I didn’t find his character as complex as I did yours.

Lee: I don’t think that he intended to be… to be… you know, Warren wrote that with Robert Towne. A great, great, great writer. And the character he wrote was a very simple guy who likes to please. He likes to please everyone. He likes to please the Jack Warden character as much as he does with the women whose hair he does, his customers. He is guaranteed to please. Because certainly he’s not that attracted to me. Right before he goes to bed with me, my daughter seduces him. And you know one of the real arguments that Warren and I had in that film was that right before the scene when I come home and I go to Carrie’s door, and I’m expecting him to be there. I’m expecting him to go upstairs and make love to me. The day before we do that scene he sits me down at the table and he says “you know Lee, Felecia (which is the character I played), Felicia does not know when she opens the door to her daughters room that the daughter and him have…” And I was so enraged that he would tell me what to think before I open that door that I quit the next day.

Jo: I read that in your book!

Lee: Yes, I quit the next day. And of course he apologized and we moved on with the scene but I said “if you ever tell me what I’m supposed to think, I won’t be there.” But the thing was, that I opened the door and of course I knew that they had gone to bed. I mean, I’m no dummy!

Jo: Of course!

Lee: And my own need was so ferocious that it didn’t matter! And that’s the way I played that scene when I went upstairs. I kept on my coat. I kept on my curlers in my hair. I just pulled down my stockings and pulled him over to me. You know, it was my needs.

Jo: Right, yes. And it’s a powerful scene and a powerful role. And that’s why you won the Academy Award for it!

Lee: Well, you know I’d been nominated a lot of times.

Jo: Oh, I know.

Lee: So usually when you’re nominated and you don’t win then you’re just a thing in the way after that. At first it’s like “Lee, Lee, look this way!” And then when you don’t win, they want you out of the way.

Jo: That’s rotten!

Lee: But I knew even when I went up to get the award finally that I was now at the age where they wouldn’t hire me. That I was going into 50, and this was probably the last big big movie.

Jo: But it wasn’t.

Lee: Only one more.

Jo: What was the movie after?

Lee: Oh, the Jewish… the boat…

Jo: Oh, yes, Voyage of the Damned.

Lee: Yes, Voyage of the Damned.

Jo: I watched the scene where you cut your hair. It’s a very difficult movie for me to watch. And, I had a relative on the ship.

Lee: What?

Jo: Yes, she was a child and she survived it. She made her way back.

Lee: Where?

Jo: Eventually she made her way to France and she is now a biochemist and a professor at Harvard. I lost relatives in the Holocaust but she was on the ship and I don’t have her name in front of me. This is terrible. My brother has been doing historical research to find our relatives and where we came from in a small town that is now part of Poland.

Lee: That’s where my father came from.

Jo: Yes, and it was Austria at the time.

Lee: We’re little strong Polish Jews!

Jo: Yes, yes, and we came to New York and it made us even stronger.

Lee: Oh yes.

Jo: We’re tough.

Lee: Something about us makes us tough.

Jo: And my mother was Russian.

Lee: So was mine! My mishpucha, honey! [laughs]

Jo: My mishpucha, yes! [laughs] That’s why I called you bubbie (short for bubbeleh-friend not grandmother) yesterday and then felt bad. I said “I’ll talk to you later, bubbie!” [laughs] And then I was like “Oy, should I have said that?”

Lee: [laughs] I’ll be your bubbie!

Jo: Oh, good, good! Ok, so now I’m going to ask you about Stella Chernack because we were talking about that bad girl you played. Again, you won a much-deserved Emmy for that. And I did watch the entire show, because of you and I knew you were in it. So I watched Peyton Place… now, Stella is amazing. An amazing character.

Again, you won a much-deserved Emmy for your portrayal of Stella Chernak. Stella leaves her working class background in Peyton Place to become a biochemist, returning when her brother gets into trouble. This is when the writing and the show were the most cohesive and well thought out. It’s one of my favorite roles. Stella is very complex and there are lots of layers to your performance. She is a bit of a Tennessee William’s character, even in the way she struts the dusty streets of the town. Did you channel any of that feeling in her character? It was an intense character study and one hell of a performance. What did Stella mean to you?

Lee: Well, the whole thing was like stepping into heaven. First of all, Stella’s an angry girl.

Jo: Yes

Lee: And I was an angry girl. And Stella was fighting the unfairness of the things around her. And I had been fighting. So this was a funnel through which all of Lee and Stella’s resentment and anger and feeling of unfairness in the world around her could go. It was like made for me.

Jo: It gave you a place to channel that anger.

Lee: It channeled it. It channeled everything. And don’t forget that I went from obscurity into America’s favorite program.

Jo: Right, and one of the greatest characters, I think. Very complex. She was angry but she was also very sympathetic. You understood where she was coming from, you know?

Lee: Yup.

Jo: And that’s what I loved about her. That’s what you brought to the show. The show is really good. After you left, things just kind of went a little crazy but still I watched the whole thing. I love Barbara Parkins, and I love a lot of the actors on the show, too.

Lee: Barbara Parkins was given her first shot in that movie…

Jo: Yes, Valley of the Dolls

Lee: Valley of the Dolls, where I played Stella again as Sharon. You know, and Patty Duke. Those were their first shots after television. And of course it went down like a log.

Jo: The film is such a pop culture icon. I mean, people are fanatical.

Lee: That’s because it’s so bad.

Jo: Did you know that it was going to become a pop religious experience for some people?

Lee: [laughs]

Jo: It is, I’m telling you!

Lee: Because it’s so bad. [laughs]

Jo: But it is and it isn’t. I mean, yes, it is. [laughs] But it’s bad in a good way.

Lee: [laughs] It could be worse, but people embrace those things and raise them up.

Jo: I can see why. You do need that kind of alternative to the heavy stuff that’s out there. You need that counter balance of the delicious–

Lee: It was pop.

Jo: It was pop. And the acting was still good!

The name of your book is “I Said Yes to Everything.” And you did say yes to films like Visiting Hours, The Swarm, and Airport ’77— the last two big budget disaster films. I was sad you ended up floating face down in Airport ’77. Did you at least have fun making these films and working with actors like Olivia de Havilland and Jack Lemmon? Do you have any good stories to tell?

I watched you in Visiting Hours with the parrot.

Lee: Oh no! tisk tisk tisk! Don’t even talk about it!

Jo: Ok, I won’t talk about it. I won’t talk about Visiting Hours. We’ll bury it. Can I talk about the Swarm and Airport ’77 where you played Christopher Lee’s wife whose a lush?

Lee: Ohhh, absolutely! [laughs]

Jo: Ok [laughs]

Lee: Visiting Hours was what made me absolutely shut down as an actor and turn to directing.

Jo: I understand why.

Lee: You know, one of my very best friends, a writer, I took to see it in the movie house. And he wouldn’t talk to me on the way home—“you can’t need money that much.” And I knew that I couldn’t do…

Jo: Look, every actor has done that. Every single actor has done a movie like that.

Lee: Yeah, yeah. Well, Airport ’77– I loved doing Airport ’77.

Jo: Well, that’s what I was going to ask you.

Lee: I loved it. [laughs]

Jo: I mean, you ended up floating face down in the water. And again, Wendy and I were yelling “no!”

Lee: [laughs] Well I have to tell you I had it in my contract that I didn’t have to jump in the water. They had a double. But, when the water scene came up, 60 year old Olivia de Havilland raised her hand and said “let me be the first! Let me!”

Jo: [laughs] oh my god!

Lee: I was so shamed that when it came time for me to do it

Jo: You had to do it!

Lee: They said “well let’s get Lee’s double” and I went “no no no I don’t have a double!” I didn’t want them to know what a coward I was.

Jo: [laughs] So you did it.

Lee: So I just jumped! Because I wanted to be like Olivia, you know. She’s just so amazing.

Jo: Yes, she is.

Lee: What a hero Olivia de Havilland is. I mean, think about it.

Jo: We share the same birthday so every time it’s my birthday I always toast Olivia. Because, wow we have the same birthday and she loves cats.

Lee: I do too.

Jo: Oh, you do? I thought you were a dog person

Lee: Yes, we have 2 cats. But what a woman, what a spirit! Let me be the first, she said, climbing down from the rafters.

Jo: [laughs]

Lee: All through Airport ’77 she sat in the rafters with the lighting guys and chatted with them.

Jo: Do you know Wendy was a lighting designer before she was a sociologist.

Lee: Of course she was! Wendy the lighting designer sociologist, of course!

Jo: Same thing, right?

Lee: Same thing! Shed the light someplace!

Jo: Exactly, beautifully put. See, leave it to you. I have a few more questions, is that ok?

Lee: I’m just lying here on the chaise lounge in my nightgown as comfortable as somebody who just woke up.

Jo: That sounds lovely!

Lee: And having a wonderful time with you.

Jo: Oh good! We’re having a blast, too! There are several performances of yours I’ve never seen and that makes me upset because I’m a completist. I want to see everything you did. And in your book you write about the show The Defenders. I love the show, but that episode is unavailable. The particular episode that you did is not out, or not yet at least.

Like a few others, there are several performances of yours that I haven’t been able to see because they’re unavailable. For example, there’s an episode of The Defenders in which, as I read in your book, director Stuart Rosenberg lit you in a way that was your favorite. There was The Doctors and the Nurses, another incredible dramatic television series. And then there is the the motion picture An Affair of the Skin (1963) where you co-starred with the brilliant Diana Sands, who died tragically at 39. I would love to see your work in that film. Can you tell me about the film and about working with Diana?

Lee: I know, she was in… Raisin in the Sun.

Jo: Raisin in the Sun

Lee: Yes, and the other movie with Pearl Bailey… The Landlord

Jo: Yes! She was in the Landlord, too, that’s right. So you worked with her twice. What did you think of that film Affair of the Skin, because I don’t know much about it.

Lee: I don’t remember it. Vivica Lindfors was in it. And I just don’t remember it. I don’t remember what I did or anything.

Jo: Maybe somebody will find the film.

Lee: I hope not!

Jo: Ok, then maybe they’ll find a way to get it buried so it never comes out. Did you enjoy working with Diana because I love her work and I find it so tragic that she died so young. She was kind of one of the first Black women who had a much different kind of persona. She wasn’t doing the roles—well maybe Ruby Dee did—but she wasn’t playing the maids and she wasn’t playing the nurses.

Lee: Well, also Hal Ashby didn’t get them maids and nurses to play. The Landlord was a brilliant script and it highlighted the difference between the Long Island whites and Harlem. And Bo Bridges, I mean he was astonishing in it. His sweetness, his openness. You know, that was a script for the ages. And I personified again that kind of closed-minded rich stupid mother.

Jo: Well, insulated maybe.

Lee: Yes, totally insulated. You know no idea beyond the house and the garden and the friends what life was about at all. And it’s such an astonishing piece of work.

Jo: Yes, it was. Did you get to work much with Diana in that?

Lee: Yes, well, we hung out. And after the film was over I gave a party at the apartment in New York, as we all stayed in New York, and Diana and I were sitting there waiting for Hal because we both had a crush on him. And his girlfriend, who he later married, at the time she would not let him come.

Jo: Possessive! Oh really [laughs]

Lee: So Diana and I sat and drank wine and talked about how mean she was and how much we loved him. [laughs]

Jo: Did he help you pick out clothes, did I read that right?

Lee: Yes, he did. In the Heat of the Night.

Jo: Yes, in the Heat of the Night he helped you pick out the clothes. He was the editor on the film.

Lee: Yes, yes.

Jo: Ok, you might not want to talk about this movie either, and if you don’t want to you don’t have to. But first, I noticed recently you did an interview for a documentary on Boris Karloff? You worked with him on “Even the Weariest River” on the Alcoha Hour. And I haven’t been able to see it. A lot of the Alcoha Hour and those dramatic television performances from the 50s are hard to get. But Boris Karloff is my idol. I’ve always said I wanted him to be my grandfather, because he’s the most gentle soul. And I met his daughter Sarah and she’s just wonderful.

You worked with Boris Karloff in 1956 on the Alcoa Hour “Even the Weariest River” it hasn’t been released so there’s no way to see it. I have to ask you what was it like to work with him? Do you have any stories about working with him?

Lee: Well, you know, I just remember that when I was blacklisted and he was playing on Broadway, maybe it was St. Joan, I don’t know but there was something so gracious and so magnanimous, and so grandfatherly, and beautiful about him. And he would always sign all my petitions. I was little girl who couldn’t work. And, you know, it was dangerous to sign petitions, you know you couldn’t work either if you did. And Kim Stanley and Maureen Stapleton were ones who were always working on Broadway and also signed my petitions. But you know I hadn’t remembered working with him in this television movie. I know they brought it to me, and the people in it… I was the only girl. And it was during the blacklist so the director had to be a very very brave guy. A very brave guy. Because I was the only woman and he cast me in it.

Jo: So you stood out.

Lee: Yes, it was with Boris Karloff and Christopher Plumber. It’s a terrible movie.

Jo: Oh is it really? [laughs]

Lee: Yes, but very interesting. I mean because it’s all packed. In those days you shot on set. There wasn’t a closeup. You kind of walked into the shot.

Jo: Right, it was live theatre, really, right?

Lee: Yes, it was shooting live theatre. So it had that kind of rushed feeling. But the story was meaningful, and I was just so surprised to see me there. And I’ve just forgotten a lot of what I did.

Jo: Well I didn’t even realize you had done something with Boris Karloff.

Lee: I didn’t, either. [laughs]

Jo: [laughs] Well, you know he’s so iconic, and thinking of you and him together is such an interesting confluence. Ok, so I’m going to ask you about a movie you might not want to talk about…

Lee: Which could that be?

Jo: Ah, The Mafu Cage?

Lee: [laughs] Oh, yes!

Jo: Because you worked with Carol Kane. She’s brilliant, she’s such a noodlehead. She’s just something else.

Lee: Yes, she is.

Jo: I thought that The Mafu Cage, directed by Karen Arthur, is a very primal and dark film. It seemed like a difficult and disturbing narrative for both you and Carol Kane to step into. It’s a psycho-sexual mine-field, almost filmed like a stage play, about captivity and dependency. It must have been a tough movie to film. Was it difficult for you two seasoned actors? Can you tell me what the process was like for you?

Lee: Oh, of course! Oh, I don’t know, there must’ve been some spare time to do it. And it was a woman director, Karen Arthur. And I don’t remember what year it was. But I know I thought, why not? It was Carol Kane, who was a delicious friend. And it was an absurd concept. You know, for her to have this relationship with a…

Jo: An orangutan maybe?

Lee: It was a gorilla, you know, Carol and the gorilla. So I mean it was absurd enough to say why not? It didn’t take very long and so it was like going to a bad nightclub, you know what I’m saying?

Jo: Yes! [laughs]

Lee: Oh, let’s go in there and see what happens.

Jo: Yes, dark and scary and there’s a little journey in there.

Lee: Yes, yeah. It was a why not, you know?

Jo: But the thing is it’s an interesting, disturbing film but there’s a lot in it. And your performances, you made it a good film. I think it’s a really kind of an unsung horror/ psychological thriller. I don’t think it’s a bad film at all, maybe it could’ve been a stage play.

Lee: The thing is that Karen Arthur conceived it and directed it and she got Carol Kane and me, and James Olson, to do it. Wow! I would like to be able to say that I did that. That I pulled it off and made that movie. So it’s really Karen Arthur’s triumph.

Jo: Yes sure.

Lee: And any time a female director—especially at that time—with that concept, to pull it off and make that movie. You know, my hat off to her!

Jo: Yes, absolutely! She did a really amazing job because I walked away from the film kind of speechless. And thinking about things, and when a movie sends you away thinking about something, speechless, you know that there’s something going on there.

Lee: Yes and don’t forget there were no women directors then. There were like 2 in New York and that’s it.

Jo: Right, that’s another reason to applaud the film, the fact that her vision was realized. It’s very good. And then, this is one is probably one of my favorite performances of yours, The Neon Ceiling, where you play the mother who leaves her husband and just drives into the desert. It’s a special film…

In the Neon Ceiling you play a mother who leaves her husband and just drives — winding up in the desert with her teenage daughter. It’s a very unusual and special little film co-starring Gig Young and Denise Nickerson, a talented young actress. Wendy and I were really enchanted by it. I found your performance as Carrie Miller profoundly moving because it was so un-selfconscious and powerful. At the risk of sounding contrived what was your inspiration for bringing that character to life?

Lee: Well first of all, that character was the part of me I never got to play.

Jo: In real life?

Lee: In real life, yeah. The part of me in my first marriage where my husband fault with me, that I wasn’t this enough, or that enough, or, or, I was never enough. And I wasn’t smart enough. And so that whole beginning with the husband that I run away from. Where I can’t do anything right, I can’t even shop for groceries…

Jo: It kind of paralleled…

Lee: Yes, yes, and I had a daughter. I had Dina. So Denise was Dina. And so if I could’ve known how to run away, in my early years I would have. And going into the desert… the desert was a very new experience for me as a person. I’d never been in the desert. And the peace. Sitting on the back porch of this gas station and just looking out at the desert became, it became a totally new experience for me. And something that I needed but didn’t know that I need. And there was an Indian tribe there who would come and ask for the lunch that we had every day. It was like the small remnants of like what 20 people didn’t eat. And a woman in the tribe who was leading the tribe became a mentor. So she was so strong and so calm. And the things that she asked for were so real. That she became somebody I admired and wanted to be like. And she gave me a puppy.

Jo: That’s right, I read about the puppy Nusski given to you by the Sioux.

Lee: Yes!

Jo: Who was with you for many many years.

Lee: Yes, who came with us to New York. And Gig, he was so attractive and so hurt someplace.

Jo: I know, it’s so tragic.

Lee: He needed caring for. You know, and so did Denise in her way. She asked for it, he didn’t. And somehow me, tickled as I was, I felt a soul there that I connected with. And it was so beautiful and the writer created something that nobody else created.

Jo: Was that Carol Sobieski who also wrote for Peyton Place?

Lee: Yes, Carol Sobieski. She was extraordinary.

Jo: Yes, she’s a great writer.

Lee: She’s a great writer and I felt it was a privilege—a privilege of all the things I’ve done—being able to go there.

Jo: Yes, there’s something… I guess that’s what we’re doing, is witnessing a lot of your transformations on screen. We’re seeing, you know, you’re in the desert and you’re having this transcendence. And it’s coming through to your character, Carrie.

Lee: Yes, yes.

Jo: It’s such a beautiful performance. It’s so subtle and so quiet and so beautiful. And so painful.

Lee: Yes.

Jo: You convey all of that and that’s hard to do and you do it. You just pull it off like nobody else could. And that’s the thing I love are these other women that you play, are these roles and these women that deserve to be looked at. And I’ve certainly been having a great time delving into your work.

Lee: And have you! Wow!

Jo: Maybe I’ve been digging too deep!

Lee: You’ve found things I’ve forgotten. That one I knew is just so special. It’s interesting because Frank who directed it—Frank Pierson. A very very close friend, too. He also, much later he did The Life of Roy Cohn.

Jo: Oh, Frank Pierson.

Lee: Yes, Frank Pierson. On HBO, and he called me then and he said “do you want to be Roy Cohn’s mother? Or do you want to be the one who was killed? The spy.” Anyway, he was the writer who became the director, because he had nothing to do with writing that, Carol wrote it. And he came to be the night before and said, “you know, I’d like to do some changes in this. And you know she really isn’t as good as all that.” And I said, “well, hire another actor. Because if you touch this script. (The Neon Ceiling) ” You know why would you do that? Why, why? And he said “oh, I…” and I said “you don’t like women. You don’t like women.” And in that particular incidence, he didn’t. And in everything else—because I worked with him many times—he’s a great writer and a great director—but this was too simple for him.

Jo: I know of his work and have seen a lot of it. So they kept it the same way?

Lee: Absolutely, he took it back. And we left the next day.

Jo: We just have a couple more questions. And Wendy wanted to talk with you. You know, I saw a scene you directed—we’ll get into your directing in a minute—I watched a scene from Tell me a Riddle with Melvin Douglas and Lela Kedrova that you directed. And just the little scene that I saw ripped my guts up. I just—

Lee: Mine too.

Jo: It’s so heartbreaking. I know that you’re a wonderful director and I know it’s probably not hard to direct Melvin Douglas and Lela Kedrova, but you absolutely created this poignant journey. But Wendy here is a sociologist who teaches social movements and she shows documentaries in classes and has used your documentaries in classes. And she wanted to ask you about the documentaries that you did, you know back in the day when they became movies of the week and there was a wide audience for them. And you started asking the socially relevant questions.

Wendy: Hi Lee, I teach sociology classes and I use documentaries all the time. So I’m always looking for ones that are good and well done. And I was really intrigued by the ones you did in the 1980s. The ones that really gave voice to marginalized individuals. So you did the film about poverty—Down and Out in America—which is still unfortunately relevant today.

In the early 1980s you started directing documentary films, specifically films that give voice to marginalized individuals way before others were doing so Down and Out in America (the poor, transgender individuals WHAT SEX AM I , women in prison who killed their abusive husbands in self-defense , the Willmar 8, etc.). Some of these were released as movies of the week to very large audiences. What led you to start making these kinds of documentaries? Were there social and political triggers?

Lee: Yes, unfortunately it’s still relevant.

Wendy: And it was also, to me, when it came out in the mid-80s, very much a response to Ronald Reagan’s trickledown economics. You can really see it situated in that.

Lee: You put your finger right on it.

Wendy: And I talk about that when I teach inequality so it’s good to give students that context and history. Then there’s the documentary you did in the 1980s on transgender individuals, which no one had really done yet.

Lee: Yes, What Sex Am I?

Wendy: The Women in Prison, the Willmar 8, about women bankers who went on strike and I cannot find that one anywhere but I would love to use it because I teach about activism and social movements so I’m always looking for things about activism and I couldn’t find that one anywhere so I haven’t seen it. I was just curious about what made you switch, to not just directing, but directing these documentaries about marginalized populations. Like what were the social and political triggers of that for you?

Lee: Well, you know during the early years and not being able to say anything. And even when I was in LA, I was careful about what I said about it. You know, I acted in things that said things. And I have a best friend, Marybeth Yarrow, who had been married to Peter Yarrow. And in her small town in Willmar, there were 7 women who went on strike at the bank because bank president there would have them train these boys in the bank, and then have them be the women’s bosses. So these little boys that they would train would suddenly tell them what to do and get a higher salary. So the women went out on strike. And Marybeth read that to me, and I had just been at AFI and had taken a women’s directing workshop. Their first women’s directing workshop. I said let’s go there and make a documentary. And that kicked open the whole tunnel. Her husband, Peter, raised like 30,000 dollars and went to Willmar. It was the middle of the winter. So cold that you couldn’t open your mouth to ask a question.

Jo and Wendy: [laugh]

Lee: I mean your mouth froze. And those 7 women were out there on strike in front of the bank. They could hardly walk it was so cold. And you know it kicked open a door in me that had said, don’t talk, be quiet. You know, save yourself, don’t talk, be quiet. And I thought you know, thank God, I can do this. I can get away with this. I can put it on film. Finally, I’ve found my voice. I have found my voice. And it just meant everything to me. Finally, I’d landed on my feet and there was no fear. So I was just starved for that. And I made one after another after another after another. I loved that I had to go all different places and open all kinds of doors. You know our second film was in the prison system

Wendy: Yes, we saw parts of it.

Lee: You know, what a revelation! I was free! I was free! I was really free of the blacklist finally! And not only that, I had tools that could fight the blacklist. I could show what the truth was.

Wendy: Right, which is why I love showing documentaries because it shows students individuals—gives voice to individuals—who I can’t bring to the classroom.

Lee: Right, exactly.

Wendy: Especially the women in prison film, I don’t think anybody was talking about whether or not women should be in prison for killing an abusive spouse in the 1980s no one was covering that. And Down and Out in America is also unfortunately still relevant but also shows how devastating politics was in the 1980s while we tend to misremember it as being some golden era in America, right? Well compared to what we’re living in now…

Lee: Well, I don’t know whether you were able to get hold of my Texas film?

Wendy: I don’t think so.

Jo: No…

Lee: HBO was sued so it was only shown once.

Jo: Oh, about the children being taken away from their mothers…?

Lee: It was judges in Texas who took children away from the mothers and gave them to the fathers who were suspected of abusing them.

Jo: Oh my God! Wow.

Lee: Yeah.

Jo: You were sued for that?

Lee: HBO got sued, and that show was only on one time.

Wendy: I wonder if it’s in any college libraries someplace still?

Lee: I have it! So at some point I can lend it to you to make a copy of and you can use it.

Wendy: Oh that would be wonderful.

Lee: But also if and when this documentary thing happens in October and my films are shown.

Jo: Yes, the retrospective!

Lee: Yes, I can’t wait for the documentaries to be shown.

Wendy: And I have so many sociologist friends in and around NYC who would totally be there for it. We’re all big fans of well-made interesting documentaries.

Jo: And we’ll be there.

Wendy: Yes, I love to nerd-out on documentaries. Jo watches her classic films and I’m watching like 13th on Netflix…

Jo: Yes, she’s watching her serious and depressing documentaries. I mean, I’m just so dark because of what’s going on in the world in politics, because it’s like a Stanley Kubrick nightmare that you imagine would never happen in real life.

Lee: Yes, it’s so disturbing, this nightmare. It’s like having Roy Cohn as president, you know, because…

Jo: It’s dystopian…

Lee: Yes, and there aren’t words and there’s just no way to describe it… This is a nightmare.

Jo: And there’s a collective depression and angst that people are feeling in their lives.

Lee: And there is. It is.

Jo: And that’s what’s tragic and it’s America’s Id so then you’ve got the people that support him…

Wendy: I like to focus on—because I study social movements and activism—I like to focus on the activism.

Jo: Yes, she’s the glass half full person.

Wendy: Yes, I focus on the people making the change. That’s what my research is about and that’s what I try to teach my students to raise some hell. And voting. Because otherwise I’d just lose my mind.

Lee: Yes, all of us. I mean living within this screenplay, being a character within a screenplay that we loath and detest and want to get out of. And are trapped in.

Jo: Yes, exactly. That’s scary. Thanks for scaring us, Lee! [laughs]

Lee: [laughs] But it really has an effect.

Jo and Wendy: Yes, it does.

Lee: I mean, especially since we had Obama.

Jo: Yes, Well, is there an end in sight? When will we get out of this madness? We need relief.

Lee: Yes, it’s madness.

Jo: We need to be able to breathe again!

Lee: And I’m overwhelmed. It’s overwhelming. Everywhere I look is horror. And it’s not like oh this is something that really has been addressed, it’s not like we need to just shake this or show people… this is horror.

Jo: Yes, it’s organic horror.

Lee: And it’s death. It’s killing people.

Jo: If not only in body but also in spirit.

Wendy: And actually in body.

Lee: Yes, it’s killing people. All over the world. Yesterday I was listening to the television and Saudi Arabia hires African soldiers to kill other Arabs. Instead of doing it themselves they hire African soldiers into that Arab conclave that’s left—Yemen. It was like wow, hired professionals.

Wendy: We would just sleep better if we knew there were people in office trying to make things better instead of worse.

Jo: I just don’t understand it, how we got here.

Lee: We got here in a minute.

Jo: Yes.

Lee: And watch out for this. I feel that the way Bernie Sanders treated Hillary Clinton…

Wendy: Oh yeah don’t even get me started.

Lee: It was the beginning of the end. Kicked open the door for Trump.

Jo: Yes. When I saw his scowling face at the convention, I wanted to smack him.

Lee: Bernie, yes. He was so abusive to her. And of course all my leftie friends are like “but Bernie’s the best, Bernie’s…” But look how he’s treating her. It was like how my communist husband treated me. Like she’s a dummy, she’s Wall Street.

Jo: Yeah, we’re in agreement!

Lee: And I think there was a democratic disaffection—20% of democrats voted for Bernie and that’s what pushed this bully…

Wendy: Yup, and we can thank them for the Supreme Court and a lot of crap.

Lee: That’s right. You’re the only ones who get it!

Wendy: There are others that get it, but it seems like we’re few and far between. There’s a lot of us who are not Bernie fans for good solid reasons. I’m happy Bernie’s light seems to be dimmer this time around and he’s not polling as well as he did before. People don’t seem as excited about him now.

Lee: I’m just worried about it.

Wendy: Yeah, like are we going to get our acts together on the left?

Lee: Yes, are we?

Jo: Oh, but we should not totally veer off into politics. We should close with a good film or acting  question! I wanted to ask you about your performance in Electra. I was reading your book and almost peeing my pants laughing as you’re describing wearing that crimson red velvet gown? And it’s raining and you get drenched in the rain.

I read in your book about how you worked with Joe Papp on Shakespeare in the Park, playing Electra by Sophocles. I can visualize this powerful performance, the method training, that rainy day, you dragging Theoni’s Aldridge’s crimson gown, the heavy fabric soaked through across the stage. And there’s the audience floating away in the deluge as devoted as ever. You said it was the most risky, challenging role. Alfred Ryder a wonderful actor played Hamlet before this and his performance was televised, but it was a disaster, and it nearly ruined his acting career. Do you regret that your performance of Electra was not televised and recorded so that we could see it today? I would’ve loved to see you on stage, even in the flood.

Lee: And the whole audience is drenched!

Jo: And the papers are floating away, and you’re out there shouting. And the show’s ended and they’re still out there clapping in the rain.

Lee: Talk about a switch from bleak and bad, to emboldened and powerful playing Electra!

Jo: Yes, we needed some Electra!

Lee: Jo Papp gave me Electra and saw that I was ready to spew and all lessons he gave me, the teachers who came in to correct my language so that I was ready to take on that role. And to let go of all that rage and fierceness, under the cover of the state at Central Park. It was such a release for me to play that.

Jo: Yeah, you said it was a very risky role for you. Challenging.

Lee: Very. And he handed it to me.

Jo: Wow.

Lee: And what a thing to do.

Jo: A gift.

Lee: Yes, what a gift. What a thing to do. The most powerful theatre man in New York and the most liberal and radical, and gorgeous.

Jo: Gorgeous?

Lee: Gorgeous, gorgeous [laughs]

Jo: He knew you could do it. So in your book you mentioned that Alfred Rider had done Hamlet. And when they televised it and it didn’t go over very well. Electra… It doesn’t exist. Do you regret that there is no visual evidence of that performance?

Lee: No, no.

Jo: I wish I couldn’t seen you on stage. Even in Prisoner on Second Avenue I wash I could’ve seen you on stage. So you’re really not sorry that they didn’t televise it?

Lee: No. No, it’s an experience.

Jo: It’s one of those moments it exists like a firefly.

Lee: It was a live experience. Like a marriage. And you know it lifted me.

Jo: So you’re laying on your chaise, did you finish your coffee?

Lee: Oh, it’s half finished. I’m still in my nightgown. [laughs]

Jo: I could talk with you all day like this!

Lee: I know!

Jo: What is a great way to end this?

Lee: What’s a great way to end this?

Jo: Is there something you want to talk about? That we didn’t cover. You’ve got such an impressive career in theatre, film, and television. On both sides of the camera. You’ve worked with amazing people. You have great friends.

Lee: How about Al—who’s the one was who was thrown out of office? Al Franken? How about Al Franken. He didn’t have a choice to leave but I want him back. And that’s what I want to write about.

Wendy: What are you working on for writing?

Lee: I’ve just been writing in spurts, just things that I have to get out of my system, as you can hear when I talk to you. There are things I have to spew, and get down on paper to get it out of me. And so what’s I’m going to do, I’m going to write about the stupidity and short-sightedness of getting rid of the only one in Congress that I know of who could go up against Trump and just demolish him, with his humor and his knowledge. That was the stupidest action that could be taken.

Jo: I was so mad at him for messing up because we needed him. And so mad at him for stepping down.

Lee: He was pushed out. He was forced out. Did you read that New Yorker article about the woman who came to his defense?

Jo: No, we haven’t seen that one.

Lee: It’s like 2 weeks ago. So you can read it.

Wendy: I’ll look it up. I keep more up on the politics stuff than Jo does. Jo likes to live in her classic film bubble.

Jo: I like to live in my classic film world and if I don’t… I’ll go mad.

Lee: Oh, I understand. And I’m sorry to break through that.

Jo: No, no. It’s fine. And I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not proactive. I do what needs to be done.

Lee: Oh, I’m not accusing you, I’m just opening my arms and pulling you into my world.

Jo: Oh I love your world, and I know that. And it’s Wendy’s world. I hear about it… all about it, and friends who are very active.

Wendy: And we have friends who go to the TCM movie festival and a couple years ago you were there and made a speech, and they were all tweeting and texting about it, saying oh my God, this is so awesome! And I was like, of course, it’s Lee Grant! And that makes her even more amazing that you would give this really political speech!

Lee: It does, girls, it just makes me more amazing! Every single day.

Wendy: Hell yeah! People have to speak out!

Lee: On that note, we will end this.

Jo: Ok.

Lee: But I’ve had such a great time and I love you.

Jo: Oh, we love you too, Lee!

Lee: And I’ve had fun. And so we may not be still doing your thing, but we can still talk and still have a relationship.

Jo: We would love to stay in touch.

Wendy: And if you have copies of any of your documentaries, I would love it. If they would be easy for me to copy, because I would show them in class.

Jo: Maybe some day we could come into the city and have coffee with you.

Lee: Yes, maybe you can do that and take things and make copies, if you know how to do that. Because I don’t know how to do anything.

Wendy: Ok, I’m good with the technical stuff.

Jo: So next time, we’ll come into the city and do it.

Lee: Yes, we’ll do that. You’re both adorable.

Jo: Lee speaks truth to power and wants to be heard.

Wendy: Great, so we’ll be in touch.

Lee: Have a good day, girls!

Jo: Take care, Lee!

This has been YourEverlovin’ Joey saying what more is there to say… but I love you Lee Grant!

Quote of the Day! The Accused (1949)

Loretta Young plays Wilma Tuttle, a charming yet slightly repressed psychology professor, who after allowing one of her aggressively sleazy students Bill Perry (Douglas Dick) to drive her home, kills him in self-defense after he attempts to rape her. Wilma in a panic tries to cover up her sympathetic crime. Director William Dieterle creates a taut little psychological coil that unwinds as homicide detective Lt. Ted Dorgan (Wendell Corey) tries to solve the murder while tossing out the sharp edged lines. The investigation causes great angst for Wilma with Young’s inner monologues regaling us of her guilty conscience, amidst her budding romance with Warren Ford (Robert Cummins). The film co-stars Sam Jaffe as Dr. Romley.

Wendell Corey as Lt. Ted Dorgan-“You know sometimes I wish there were two of me. We generally do work in pairs. The idea being that one could be mean, the other one nice.

In my next life I’m gonna be a minister. Never have to pick on anybody but the devil.”

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying sometimes I wish there were two of me, so I could get more done!