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

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It’s that wonderful time of the year when we all get to celebrate those unsung actors with loads of character, thanks to Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula’s Cinema & Club & Outspoken and Freckled who are hosting the Fifth Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2016… This will be my fourth time contributing to this fantastic event, having covered Jeanette Nolan, Burgess Meredith and last year’s Agnes Moorehead. As many of you know, it’s often the actors on the periphery of some of our most favorite films that fill out the landscape with their extraordinary presence, a presence that becomes not only essential to the story, but at times become as memorable perhaps even larger than life when compared with the central stars themselves. I’m thrilled to be joining in the fun once again and am sure that it’s going to be just as memorable this year as ever before!

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

The ASTONISHING… RUTH GORDON!

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

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

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

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

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There’s a vast dimension and range to Ruth Gordon’s work both her screenwriting and her acting, the effects leave a glowing trail like a shooting star. With her quirky wisdom and sassy vivacity that plucks at your hearth, Ruth Gordon stands out in a meadow of daisies she is emblazoned as bright and bold as the only sunflower in the field. No one, just no one has ever been nor will ever be like this incredible personality.

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For a woman who is impish in stature she emanates a tremendous presence, a smile like the Mona Lisa, sporting a unique and stylish way she expresses herself with a poetic & fable-like language. Ruth Gordon is a character who dances to a different rhythm — how she sees herself and how she performs *life* is uniquely mesmerizing as it is burgeoning with all the colors of the universe.

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Ruth Gordon is a dramaturgical pixie, with a curious hitch in her git along… an impish dame who rouses and fortifies each role she inhabits with a playful, mischievous and almost esoteric brand of articulation.

In a field of different daisies Ruth Gordon is that sunflower that Maude soliloquies poetically to Harold —

Maude-“I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They’re so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?”

Harold-“I don’t know. One of these, maybe.”

Maude-“Why do you say that?”

Harold-“Because they’re all alike.”

Maude-“Ooooh, but they’re *not*. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All *kinds* of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow come from people who are *this”, (pointing to a daisy) yet allow themselves to be treated as *that*.” (she gestures to a field of daisies)

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

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Ruth Gordon 1975 photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Ruth Gordon never wanted to be told how to write nor be instructed on how to act… from her autobiography An Open Book- “I don’t like to be told how to act either. When I’m left alone thoughts come… ‘Don’t try to think’ said our New England philosopher, Emerson, leave yourself open to thought. If you find out stuff for yourself, you get to know what you believe; what you like, how to live, how to have a good time. It’s important to have a good time.”

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from Hugh Downs Interview

“ I did grow up to have character. And I’m always doing some damn thing that uh I don’t wanna do but I know it’s right to do. And I finally thought of something in my next book and I’m gonna have it in there and it’s a very important thing to remember. Just because a thing is hard to do doesn’t make it any good. You tackle something and you work at it and slave at it and say now I’m gonna do this I’m gonna do it and when you’ve done it better think it over and see if it was worth it… some easy things like falling off a log and stuff  those easy things probably just as good but a New Englander has to do it the hard way. “

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Arlene Francis “You once said ‘never face facts’ how can you avoid it?”
Ruth Gordon-“Oh my god look, we’re not facing facts now surely cause I might dry up and not have a thing to say in the world and then where would you be, you know… […] it would be stupid there are enough hazards in the world, I’m 85 now and I’m at my very best peak of my looks which might be an interesting thing to anybody because you figure, 18 why wouldn’t I be better looking than now?… “Don’t lets anyone tell their symptoms, it would be the most boring thing, even though everybody has so many… so the ‘don’t face your facts’ is if you face what’s the matter with you, you know we’d open a window and say goodbye everybody like tinker bell and take off and hope you could fly (she laughs) Don’t face the facts you know, I was 18 years old I was going on the stage didn’t know anybody in New York and I didn’t know anybody on the stage, and I wasn’t beautiful and I wasn’t tall which everybody was in those days, and uh I didn’t have any money and how was I gonna do this, so if I didn’t ‘not face those facts’ I’d say too bad she wanted to be an actress…”

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Ruth Gordon, who always dreamed of becoming a ‘film’ star, beside an astonishing stage presence talks about winning awards for her work–“ The main award that I really value is the award I give myself and people say Oh you don’t know when you’re good you know, the audience knows, people know but you don’t know Well that’s stupid I know when I’m good for myself You might not like it, they might not like it, the public might not like it, but I know that wonderful performance that doesn’t happen too often, when anticipation and realization come together because that night when it’s all perfect and is great and you know … that you’ve just taken off… that’s my award…” 

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Ruth Gordon is bold and vibrant and an actress who never shied away from taking the quirkiest and eccentric roles. From irreverent Ma in Every Which Way But Loose (1978)  the poignant Becky Rosen in Boardwalk (1979) to the perspicacious Maude in Harold and Maude (1971) George Segal’s tushy biting batty mother-Mrs. Hocheiser in Where’s Poppa? (1970) and of course the queen of campy kitschy New York City’s enigmatic coven hostess with the mostest– Minnie Castavet in Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

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

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

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Gordon appears as if she was cut from a mold that makes her seem like a rebel to the inner workings of Hollywood. And as extremely unconventional as she can be, there is always a depth and authenticity to the wackiest of characters she’s portraying. From the lyrically loving and life devouring Maude in Hal Ashby’s different style of love story.

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“ Well it’s a very good movie, I was absolutely wonderful Collin Higgins wrote a great movie Bud Cort was sensational, Hal Ashby became one of the top directors so how do you account for that, well it just happened. But, you see, some guy in Cambridge Mass. he wrote from the YMCA he wrote me a letter and he said, ‘I’ve seen Harold and Maude’ I don’t know how many times he’d seen it, and he said I’m at a loss to know why it means so much to me and I think about it , I think about it a lot and I finally came to the conclusion that it’s because to get through life you have to have somebody to tell it to’ that’s a very profound remark. I’ve had lovers I’ve have friends I’ve had family and I didn’t exactly tell it to them but Garson Kanin I tell it to him whether it’s bad whether I’m a failure whether I’m going grey. Somebody to tell it to. And it’s a very very necessary part of life. And in Harold & Maude Harold who was a kind of helpless geek with looks riches money everything he had … except knowing how to live. And Maude who didn’t have anything except she knew how to live. And Harold could tell it to her. he could tell it to her. She didn’t always have the answer. But he could pour it out. And so it was wonderful really, just pour it out, I said once even if I’m wrong agree with me because you know to Gar, have somebody you know would stand up for you.”

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Ruth and husband Garson Kanin… super writing team!

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Bud Cort remained very close friends with Ruth Gordon. Here he is talking about her tremendous influence on This is Your Life television show honoring the extraordinary actress/writer.

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

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from the Dick Cavett interview from September 19, 1969 expressing how if you had never seen Ruth Gordon on the stage “You would lament that facta lady who is one of the incomparable ladies of American Theatre. There have been cults about Ruth Gordon for years and years and years. When great performances on Broadway are discussed, Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie or Mildred Dunnock in Death of a Salesman, or Vivien Leigh or any of the classics are referred to Olivier in Oedipus, Ruth Gordon in *The Matchmaker* is always brought up as one of the masterpieces of all time. And she has been a wondrous presence in the theatre for over 50 years. Splendid comedian and a splendid comic writer.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A 79 old woman and a twenty year old lost soul meet at a funeral, and find love and life together in a darkly light comedy. Bud Cort creates an iconic figure of a young privileged young man disillusioned by life, who gets a kick out of antagonizes his priggish mother Mrs. Chasen (Vivian Pickles) with creative faked suicides. Once Harold is exposed to the wisdom and insight that Maude imparts, she manages to open up his heart and teaches him how to reach out and embrace the substance of life’s beauty.

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

Every Which Way But Loose 1978

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

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

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Lee Strasberg plays David Rosen and Ruth Gordon portrays wife Becky who own a wonderful little diner, a loving older couple who have lived in their Coney Island jewish neighborhood for 50 years, until a gang moves in and changes the communities quality of life by threatening the local store owners with violence if they don’t pay ‘protection’ money. When David defies them, they burn down the diner and desecrate the synagogue. Janet Leigh also co-stars as Florence Cohen.

Ruth Gordon manifests a marvelously warm and poignant chemistry with master actor/teacher Lee Strasberg.

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

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

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

— Glenn Close

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

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

The Mary Astor Blogathon: The Man With Two Faces (1934) A Caligarian Black Comedy with Astor as a Trilby like Sylph and the tell-tale Mustache in a Gideon’s Bible

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THE MAN WITH TWO FACES (1934)

or ‘Of Mice and Mustaches’

Man With Two Facs Lobby Card

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Mary Astor plays Jessica Welles a Trilby-Like Sylph who falls under the spell of her treacherous husband played by Louis CalhernRobinson’s role the tagline would suggest, “It’s the most unusual picture since “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”  is quite misleading as his character Damon is not a split personality, induced by mad science or a fractured id run amok. He is simply impersonating a fictitious mustache, spectacles and goatee wearing Frenchman in order to lure his vicious prey into his vengeful murderous trap. Louis Calhern is an archetypal Svengali/Caligarian figure and ultimately it’s Damon’s fake mustache accidentally left in a Gideon’s Bible that gives the crime away. Archie Mayo had actually directed Svengali in 1931.

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Astor and Calhern Archetypal Trilby and Svengali characters
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Barrymore and Marian Marsh in Svengali

The Man With Two Faces is a mystery thriller with comical overtones. Invoking Jekyll & Hyde is far off the mark as Edward G. Robinson only dons a disguise to rid his bewitched sister of her treacherous, conniving, abusive and murderous husband. The character of Damon is more like Zorro or The Lone Ranger exacting out a theatrical brand of vigilante justice. As an actor the milieu is perfect for him to wear a ‘mask’ posing as a producer to lure his tortured sister’s husband Vance (Yiddish for bedbug, pronounced ‘vants’ but it applies as Stanley Vance is quite the vermin) into his trap so he can kill him…

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Mary Astor as the bewitched Jessica Welles in The Man with Two Faces
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photo of Mary Astor courtesy of Doctor Macro

Mary Astor has a classy, understated beauty. She’s sophisticated and smart, refined and polished and worldly-wise. Often poised and self-possessed with a simmering kind of sexiness. Yet here in The Man With Two Faces, her light is just a bit diminished by the role of Jessica Welles who is forced to shape-shift from lovely star of the stage into a doll imprisoned in a fugue state.

I was thrilled when Dorian from Tales of the Easily Distracted and Ruth of Silver Screenings let me participate in The Mary Astor Blogathon. I wanted to pick a film that I hadn’t seen in order to enhance the fun of bringing some of her films to the attention of readers and really be inclusive while paying tribute to this great woman. I adore Mary Astor. And as much as I like The Maltese Falcon 1941, and simply adore Bogie, it wasn’t that iconic bit of Film Noir flight of fancy that brought Miss Astor to my attention. I hadn’t truly started to notice her work until I did an extensive feature on Robert Aldrich’s Grande Dame Guignol masterpiece Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964 It was then that I became taken in with Mary Astor’s performance as the bitter and time worn Jewel Mayhew. Then of course being a huge fan of Boris Karloff’s Television series Thriller, I am one of the few people who actually think Rose’s Last Summer was one of the finest episodes of that series. Mary Astor bringing her classy swank and snark to the role of Rose French. I became a devout fan of hers from that time on, and have started trying to devour as much Mary Astor as I can…

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It’s funny how most people might connect her with her role as Brigid O’ Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon 1941, but I think of her other contributions like Sandra Kovac in The Great Lie 1941 Mme. DeLaage  The Hurricane 1937 Antoinette de Mauban The Prisoner of Zenda 1937  and of course in Dodsworth 1936 as Mrs. Edith Cortright.

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Mary Astor and Walter Huston in Dodsworth 1936

The Man With Two Faces is a Warner Bros. black comedy not so much of a mystery, with tinges of the 19th Century melodramatic tradition written for the stage by George S. Kaufman and Alexander Woollcott with a screenplay by Tom Reed and Niven Busch. The original play opened in New York City in 1933 and had 57 performances. Margaret Dale who plays Aunt Martha originated her movie role on the stage. The original cast included Porter Hall and Margaret Hamilton (The Wicked Witch of the West from Oz)

Produced by Hal Wallis, Jack L Warner and Robert Lord and Directed by Archie Mayo (Svengali 1931, Bordertown 1935, The Petrified Forest (1936) Moontide 1942 Angel on My Shoulder 1946) and with the production and art design by John Houghs (Treasure of the Sierra Madre 1948, The Thing From Another World 1951)

Mary Astor as well as Mae Clarke (Frankenstein 1931, Waterloo Bridge 1931 and Public Enemy’s memorable grapefruit in the face girl) seem to be wasted in both these roles where the women are subverted ridiculed, demeaned and inconsequential. I wish Astor had more presence in the film… even the housekeeper Nettie has more spark to her character as does Aunt Martha. Astor just isn’t given enough layers to work with because she is in a trance most of the time, her character Jessica’s lack of affect doesn’t suit her usual spirited performances, here there are only little bursts of the dimension she is capable of.

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Ricardo Cortez titles

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David Landau and Emily Fitzroy

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I went to Syosset High School which was the town right next to Locust Valley… just a little sentimental factoid about your little MonsterGirl

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Jessica-“doctor dear why are you such a bother”
Dr. Kendall– “the bother was getting you well enough to act at all… if you think it’s been a picnic”
Jessica-“Alright I’ll rest but do you mind if I get a little excited, it’s the first time in three years… doctor why did all those people remember me?”
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Dr. Kendall-” Why shouldn’t they, you weren’t entirely unknown you know.”
Jessica-“I know but comebacks you know, you know what they are. Critics staying home out of kindness. And the Times saying you were ‘adequate’

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Damon throws books at Barry as he enters the dressing room
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John Eldredge as playwright Barry Jones
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Daphne-“Give the gentleman a cigar”
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Barry-Why, he missed me
Damon “Ah, just my luck I always get buck fever when I see an author
Barry-“Damon, I don’t know what you’re sore about your sister has a whole basket full of telegrams and everybody thinks it’s a grand play
Damon– “Yeah, grand for a high school strawberry lawn festival, somebody oughta stuff that second act and put it in a museum…”

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Barry– “You, you’ve had a hangover for the last ten years. You, you just hangover with him.”

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Daphne– “f I had known that, I’d never have acted in your play”
Damon– “Oh Daphne my love… you never acted in any play, never will.”

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Aunt Martha– “Well you’ve never said a truer word in your life Mr.Weston the work was just the medicine that Jessica needed”
Ben Weston– “Well I always knew she would act again.”
Aunt Martha “Well I didn’t. I was in front the night she collapsed. They dismissed the audience, you’d a thought she’d been drugged.”
Ben Weston– “A lot of people said it was drugs.”
Aunt Martha– “There were all sorts of stories around but the truth was that husband of hers… Stanley Vance.”
Ben Weston– “From what I’ve heard, he must have been the lowest form of animal life.”
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Aunt Martha– “You put it mildly”
Ben Weston– “What I can’t understand is, how a girl of Jessica’s type would… I mean to say, a girl with her brains and talent”
Aunt Martha -“Brains and talent don’t mean much to the Devil Mr. Weston.”
Ben Weston– “I don’t follow you”
Aunt Martha-“Did you ever see a snake with a bird Mr Weston? That’s Jessica and Stanley Vance. Horrible… of course you know the night she collapsed was the night he left. But this is something you may not know. The day she learned that he’d been shot dead in San Francisco was the day her mind began to heal….”

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Damon-“Why do you always break down, you did that tonight”
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Damon coaches Jessica on the finer points of her acting…

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“Hattie I’m famished”

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Daphne asks Barry to accompany her on a bit of Stormy Weather.  

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Mary Astor who plays actress Jessica Welles, is a delicate Trilby-like sylph who is married to a cold-blooded cad Stanley Vance (Louis Calhern The Asphalt Jungle 1950) Vance is a conniving, controlling Svengali/Caligari-esque cutthroat who not only bilks old ladies out of their fortunes but actually murdered his first wife. He seems to possess the art of hypnosis and uses it to manipulate Jessica into a state of virtual somnambulist enslavement. With the mere tilt of his head and leering eyes that penetrate she goes deeper under his control. In his presence she is a wilting flower, powerless, catatonic and as submissive as Trilby, a piece of clay to be molded in any form Vance desires.

Continue reading “The Mary Astor Blogathon: The Man With Two Faces (1934) A Caligarian Black Comedy with Astor as a Trilby like Sylph and the tell-tale Mustache in a Gideon’s Bible”

Postcards from Shadowland No. 8

Ace in The Hole 1951
Billy Wilder’s Ace in The Hole (1951) Starring Kirk Douglas and Jan Sterling
Brute Force
Jules Dassin’s prison noir masterpiece-Brute Force 1947 starring Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, and Charles Bickford
citizen kane-
Orson Welles- Citizen Kane (1941) also starring Joseph Cotten
devil and daniel webster
William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941
hangover square
Directed by John Brahm-Hangover Square 1945 starring Laird Cregar , Linda Darnell and George Sanders
House by The River
Fritz Lang’s House By The River 1950 starring Louis Hayward, Lee Bowman and Jane Wyatt.
i cover waterfront-1933
I Cover the Waterfront 1933- Claudette Colbert, Ben Lyon and Ernest Torrence
Jewel Mayhew and Wills Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte
Robert Aldrich’s Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964 starring Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotton, Mary Astor, Agnes Moorehead and Cecil Kellaway
Key Largo
John Huston’s Key Largo 1948 Starring Edward G Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Killers Kiss
Stanley Kubrick’s Killers Kiss 1955 Starring Frank Silvera and Irene Kane.
Lady from Shanghai(1947)
Orson Welles penned the screenplay and stars in iconic film noir The Lady from Shanghai 1947 featuring the sensual Rita Hayworth, also starring Everett Sloane
lady in cage james caan++billingsley
Lady in a Cage 1964 directed by Walter Grauman and starring Olivia de Havilland, James Caan, and Jennifer Billingsley.
long dark hall
The Long Dark Hall 1951 Starring Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer
lorre M
Fritz Lang’s chilling M (1931) Starring Peter Lorre
Mark Robson The Seventh Victim
Mark Robson directs, Val Lewton’s occult shadow piece The Seventh Victim 1943 Starring Kim Hunter, Tim Conway and Jean Brooks
Meeting leo-Ace in the hole with leo 1951
Kirk Douglas in Ace In The Hole 1951 written and directed by Billy Wilder
mifune-and-yamamoto in Drunkin Angel 48
Akira Kurosawa’s film noir crime thriller Drunken Angel (1948) starring Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune
Panic in the Streets
Elia Kazan’s socio-noir Panic in The Streets 1950 starring Jack Palance, Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes and Zero Mostel
persona
Ingmar Bergman’s Persona 1966 starring Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson
Queen of Spades
The Queen of Spades 1949 directed by Thorold Dickinson and starring Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans and Yvonne Mitchell
Saint Joan of the Angels 1
Director Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s beautifully filmed Mother Joan of The Angels 1961 starring Lucyna Winnicka.
shanghai express
Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express 1932 Starring Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook and Anna May Wong
The Devil and Daniel Webster
The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941
The Haunting
Robert Wise’s The Haunting 1963. Screenplay by Nelson Gidding based on the novel by Shirley Jackson. Starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn
the Unsuspected_1947
Michael Curtiz’s The Unsuspected 1947 starring Claude Rains, Joan Caulfield and Audrey Totter
Viridiana
Luis Bunuel’s Viridiana 1961 Starring Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey and Fransisco Rabal
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?
Robert Aldrich’s cult grande dame classic starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford-What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? 1962