It’s that marvelous time again, when one of the most enjoyable Blogathons has come around, it’s the 7th Annual What A Character Blogathon. And the reason I adore it so much –it’s purpose is essential in paying tribute to the memorable character actors who have often added the sparkle to the cinematic sky of movie stars– they touch our lives so profoundly because of their unique contribution as the characters they bring to life!
I want to thank Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club, and Kellee Pratt of Outspoken & Freckled. for giving me the opportunity to once again show my sincerest love for the actors & actresses who are so discernible within the art of film, television and theatre. It is their unforgettable performances that make it a much richer, a more compelling experience — as they are as much the stars who inhabit the dream of art because of their singular personalities.
I’ve been participating now for 7 years, and it’s always a great expedition to delve deeper into the career’s of the people who I’ve found the most enigmatic, extraordinary and uniquely engaging. This year I’ve been excited to pay special attention to two remarkable women, Eileen Heckart and Louise Latham.
For years I have always thought of these two women together, as one of those odd associations–yet unexplicable– that makes you put certain faces or impressions together in your head. Another example of two actors that often seem to merge in that vast noggin of mine — I’m always thinking of E.G.Marshall and Eli Wallach together. Heck, maybe, next year I’ll do the same double feature for them. As I adore them both!
It struck me that I should pair Eileen and Louise as a kind of sisterhood, for both of their uniquely extraordinary styles stand out and somehow stand together for me. And an interesting confluence happened as I went on my more intensive journey of discovering of these two fine actresses. I found out that Eileen Heckart and Louise Latham appeared together in a rare episode of The Doctors and The Nurses an hour long television medical drama that ran from 1962-1965. In a macabre tale reminiscent of a Robert Bloch story — the episode is called Night of the Witch, about a woman (Eileen Heckart) who is tortured by the loss of her 6 year old daughter, and seeks her own brand of retribution from the medical staff she believes is responsible. The hospital receptionist who is cold and unfeeling is portrayed by none other than Louise Latham. The fascination I’ve had to see this performance led me to hunt down a rare copy and now I own it and have put together a sample of it here for you. It’s a rather long clip of the episode in honor of them appearing together. It showcases both their talents. I hope you enjoy the excerpt And I am praying that the television series itself will someday find a full release as it is worthy of being re-visited for it’s groundbreaking content, incredible cast and performances.
As in past What A Character Blogathons, Burgess Meredith, Ruth Gordon, Agnes Moorehead, Martin Balsam, and Jeanette Nolan–each of these actors– had a way of elevating every single project they were involved in, making it just that much more fascinating, delightful, heart wrenching and unquestionably memorable because of their performance–no matter how small their presence, they changed the landscape and impacted the narrative.
It is my absolute honor this year to feature two of the most remarkable women whose legacy still lives on.
Eileen Heckart was born Anna Eileen Herbert, March 29, 1919 in Columbus Ohio. Nicknamed Heckie… Eileen Heckart moved to New York and began working in summer stock, taking classes at the American Theatre Wing. She referred to herself as ‘that lace curtain shanty Irish’. Heckart is a beloved American actress of screen, stage and television, with a body of work that spans the course of 58 years. She made her breakthrough performance in William Inge’s play ‘Picnic’ on Broadway in 1953, directed by Josh Logan. Heckart received a Theatre World award and Outer Critic’s Circle award for ‘Picnic’ in the role of forlorn schoolteacher Rosemary Sydney- Heckart relates the story of how she landed the part in a hilarious clip I’ve included here.
Heckart was disappointed when she lost her bid on revising her Broadway role in the film version of Picnic, as it went to Rosalind Russell. Yet Eileen Heckart did in fact get the opportunity to transfer her dynamic stage role as the drunk and despairing Hortense Daigle in the film version of The Bad Seed.
Eileen Heckart started working on Broadway as an assistant stage manager and understudy for The Voice of the Turtle in 1943. Her illustrious stage career includes Picnic, The Bad Seed, A View from the Bridge, A Memory of Two Mondays, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, A Family Affair, And Things That Go Bump in the Night, Barefoot in the Park, Butterflies Are Free, You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running, Veronica’s Room and The Cemetery Club. Her Off Broadway performances include The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds where she enthralled audiences with her unique and brilliant acting skill.
Produced and Directed by Glenn Jordan–co-starring Elizabeth Berger and Barbara Dana who appeared as Beverly with Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart in Naked City episode Hold For Gloria Christmas.
Eileen Heckart would joke that she would be most known for her role as the devastated mother of the young classmate Claude Daigle, Rhoda Penmark murders with her lethal tap shoes. Though a small role, it was mighty, as she summoned up from the depths of a mother’s despair, the inebriated and grieving “Drunk and unfortunate Ladies and Gentlemen” -Hortense Daigle in The Bad Seed 1956. An incisive performance like a spark that ignites anguish in your heart, and hits you like ton of bricks.
Heckart would go on to plays the Mrs. Baker who over-protectively smothers her blind son Edward Albert in Butterflies Are Free in 1972. A role she not only originated on Broadway, her performance won her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress that year. In the running for the Oscar were Geraldine Page in Pete and Tillie, Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure, and Susan Tyrrell in Fat City.
Heckart would win a Golden Globe for her role in The Bad Seed, and an Emmy Award for the PBS performance in Save Me a Place at Forest Lawn.
Eileen Heckart won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her appearance as Rose Stein on Love & War. She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1970 for Butterflies Are Free on both stages in New York and London, in 1961 for Invitation to a March, and Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Dramatic) in 1958 for William Inge’s The Dark at the Top of the Stairs for which she picked up a New York Drama Critics award in 1957 for her role as Mavis Pruitt.
Then given the honor of the Lucille Lortel Award for her outstanding body of work which was presented to her by friend Mary Tyler Moore. Eileen Heckart was pregnant with her third child at the time of filming The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960), subsequently Angela Lansbury took over the role.
In 2000 Eileen Heckart appeared on stage in the Off Broadway production of Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery, where she garnered acclaim for her simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking performance of a grandmother in decline from Alzheimer’s disease. In 2000, after winning the Drama Desk Award, the Lucille Lortel Award, the Drama League Award for her distinguished performance as Gladys Green and the Outer Critics Circle Award, she was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame and received an honorary Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement and “excellence in theater” an unfortunately too late attempt at rectifying her lack of well-deserved missed Tony Awards for earlier accomplishments.
It seems like Eileen Heckart would often inhabit the role of mothers. Ranging from the unyielding, overprotective, meddling Jewish mother, Mrs. Brummel in No Way to Treat a Lady 1968, the sympathetic tortured Ma Barbella in Somebody Up Their Likes Me 1956 to the down right slovenly drunk in her performance as Beatrice Hunsdorfer in her stage performance of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds. From Shirley Booth’s friend -the quirky Alma in Hot Spell 1958, or as Henrietta Pastorfield in Up the Down Staircase 1969 and even Roz Allardyce along side Burgess Meredith (Eileen would co-star with Meredith as Mildred Pepper in the incredible television series Naked City 1961 episode Hold For Gloria Christmas) in Burnt Offerings 1976 to the sublimely sage Ma in Zandy’s Bride 1974. She even portrayed mother Ruth Perkins, on the day time soap opera One Life to Live in the 1980s. And her very last role as Diane Keaton’s mother Catherine MacDuggan in The First Wives Club (1996).
One of her most beloved roles was that of Mary Richard’s Aunt Flo Meredith, in one of the most groundbreaking and memorable television series of all time The Mary Tyler Moore Show. As Flo, she embodies the independent spirit of a feisty journalist, a role she would reprise in the spin off Lou Grant.
Eileen Heckart, the Tony Award-honored actress whose stage farewell at age 81 in 2000 was as an ailing grandmother Gladys Green in The Waverly Gallery, Off-Broadway.
The great actress died Dec. 31, 2001, at the age of 82 after a battle with lung cancer. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her devoted son, author Luke Yankee released a biography about his phenomenal mother in 2006 –Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing up with Eileen Heckart.
I have been drawn to Eileen Heckart’s theatrical genius and inimitable style as far back as I can remember first hearing that uniquely recognizable voice, a combination of well traveled ‘gravel’ road and the finely intricate intonations and depth of an oboe. There’s a fiery, feisty and gutsy resolve in the manner of her wisdom, her droll temperament and her innate gumption. She possesses that rare quality of acting that cuts through the narrative and transforms by way of her performance the story which now opens up realms of emotion. Fine character actors like Eileen Heckart stand out as consequential to the work.
Some of my most favorite and memorable performances are Vera in Josh Logan’s Bus Stop (1956), Morris’ (George Segal) mother in No Way to Treat a Lady and the powerfully heartbreaking performance as Hortense Daigle in The Bad Seed. As Sister Veronica in the dramatic television series The Fugitive, and of course Aunt Flo on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. As Bea Miller in the episode called There Should Be an Outfit Called Families Anonymous! in the 1963 series The Eleventh Hour -a television show starring Wendell Corey that dealt with psychiatric problems. As spinster Lucille Baldwin who is saddled with her domineering mother played by Madge Kennedy in Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode Coming Mother (1961) and Paul Newman’s mother, Ma Barbella in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956).
The great lady of theatre Zoe Caldwell pays tribute and presents the Lucille Lortel Award to friend Eileen Heckart in perhaps the most poetic and perfect terms–
“In 1946 Eileen Heckart played in a play called “Burlesque” with Burt Lahr. Robert Whitehead was also in the company. And he said that even then… he knew that Eileen would someday play Gladys Green (The Waverley Gallery). Eileen Heckart doesn’t ever ‘play’ anything. Eileen Heckart is some sort of ‘strange magician’ who was seemingly bold… is subtle, and intricate and you can never ever find out how she does it.
I go always whenever I know Eileen is playing and I never ever can see how she does it. We went to the promenade to see Waverley Gallery and there was Eileen, the very focus of life while heading toward death- She made us laugh and laugh and laugh while she was gradually falling apart… And she made us weep and weep and weep. And I really still have Gladys Green in my head. And as she was limping off stage, I said to Robert we can’t possibly go back. And he said why not? I said because Eileen has become too dilapidated. And he said ‘Well I’m going.’ So we went, the door opened, and sitting before her mirror was the most elegant woman, in white linen trousers and white silk shirt and a glorious glorious jacket. And I thought –Oh my god she’s done it again! She isn’t dilapidated, but she made -me feel- all the humanity. And now she’s back, just being Eileen.”
Mary Tyler Moore on Eileen Heckart- Presenting the Lucille Lortel Award for her outstanding body of work and her extraordinarily acclaimed performance in The Waverly Gallery. Mary is struck by the simple kindness of Eileen Heckart as well as her bold and unapologetic humor!
“…for little kindnesses that nobody would even know about if I didn’t tell you about this one. When Eileen and I were working together on the series and she played my Aunt Flo, my husband and I were building a house in the country and I was describing to her this unimaginable wonderful country kitchen with everything you could ever want including a upholstered furniture by the fireplace it was just so great and I said but I feel like such a fool because I don’t cook, and I don’t know how to do anything. Well that Christmas I received her own needle pointed Sampler that came in a beautiful silver frame and it says, and it’s on my wall today, “Screw Gourmet Cooking.”
“If she were acting in Europe, she’d be queen of the boards. The barbarism of Hollywood typecasting deprives the world of her true talents.” -Marlene Dietrich
The one time she managed to quit smoking in her life, she had dinner with Bette Davis and wound up starting again.You can see how that could happen right! Bette could possibly make you do anything!
In order to get Heckart to agree to do “Bus Stop”, director Josh Logan read the entire script over the phone to her. It took two and a half hours while her whole family was waiting for dinner. She was in Arizona at the time because her son had recently contracted meningitis.
Heckart has always considered herself primarily as a stage actress. On the night she won her Oscar, she said to a reporter that the award was “nice”, but it’s not my life.”
“I don’t like sitcoms, it’s instant acting; it has nothing to do with talent. They shoot everything close-up… It’s very boring. You do television to make money so you can afford to act in the theater… Now who can afford (theater?) And people don’t want to think… You never used to hear them talk during a performance. Now they talk.”
(on entering the auditorium as a nominee on Oscar Night) “I just hope they pan the camera on me once. I paid a lot of money for this dress, and I want my mother in Columbus, Ohio to be able to see it.”
From 1994 Breathing Lessons (tv movie) as Mabel
Special Mention: Ellen (tv series) 1997 as Grandma, *The First Wive’s Club (1996) as the Diane Keaton’s interfering mother Catherine MacDuggan, *The Five Mrs. Buchanans (tv series) 1994-1995 as the Gorgon Mother-In-Law Emma Buchanan, *Breathing Lessons (tv movie) 1994 as Mabel, *Tales from the Darkside (tv series) 1988 as Rose Pennywell in Do Not Open this Box, *Heartbreak Ridge 1986 as Vietnam War widow Little Mary, *The Hiding Place (tv movie) 1976 as Katje the nurse working inside a concentration camp. *Alice (tv series) 1976 as Rose Hyatt in Mother-in-Law part 1 & 2, *The Streets of San Francisco (tv series) 1972 as Stella ‘Stell’ Charnovski in The Thirty Year Pin, *The Defenders (tv series) 1964 as Dr. Katherine Tasso in All the Silent Voices, *The Eleventh Hour (tv series) 1963 as Bea Millerin There Should be an Outfit Called Families Anonymous. *Ben Casey (tv series) 1963 as Polly Jenks in Dispel the Black Cyclone that Shakes the Throne, *The New Breed (tv series) 1961 as Harriet Dawson in Til Death Do Us Part (1961), *Heller in Pink Tights (1960) as Mrs. Lorna Hathaway, *Kraft Theatre (tv series) 1949-1957 4 episodes, * The Doctors and The Nurses (tv series) 1965 Night of the Witch as Harriet Watts, *The Little Foxes (tv movie) 1956 as Birdie, *The Trip to Bountiful (tv movie) 1953 as Jessie Mae Watts.
And live performances on television for prominent early television shows as Philco-Goodyear Playhouse Television 1949-1955 appeared in 6 performances. Kraft Television Theatre, Studio One, Suspense 1949-1955 appeared in 7 episodes, The Alcoa Hour and Playhouse 90. And Robert Montgomery Presents (tv series ‘Ride the Pink Horse’ 1950.
*Burnt Offerings (1976) as Roz Allardyce
*Mary Tyler Moore (tv series) as Flo Meredith in Lou Proposes and Mary’s Aunt Returns 1975-76
*Zandy’s Bride (1974) as Ma Allan
*The F.B.I. Story: The FBI versus Alvin Karpis, public enemy number one (tv movie) 1974 as Ma Barker
*The Victim (tv movie) 1972 as Mrs. Hawkes
*Butterflies are Free (1972) as Mrs. Baker
*No Way to Treat a Lady 1968 as Mrs. Brummel
*Up the Down Staircase 1967 as Henrietta Pastorfield
*The Fugitive (tv series) 1964-1967 as Sister Veronica in The Breaking of the Habit, Angels Travel on Lonely Roads Part 1 & 2
*Naked City (tv series) featured below as Mildred Pepper co-starring with Burgess Meredith as poet Duncan Kleist in Hold for Gloria Christmas 1962-1963 and as Virginia Cort in Her Life in Moving Pictures (not shown)
*Dr. Kildare (tv series) 1962 as Nurse Jenny Freesmith in The Soul Killer
*Alfred Hitchcock Presents (tv series) 1961 as Lucy Baldwin in Coming, Mama (1961)
*Hot spell 1958 as Alma’s friend
*The Bad Seed 1956 as Hortense Daigle
*Bus Stop 1956 as Vera
*Somebody Up There Likes Me 1956 as Ma Barbella
*Suspense (tv series) 1949-1952 appeared in 7 episodes
–The Murderer (1949) as Mollie
–Telephone Call as (1951) Mrs. Haskell