THE SILENT YEARS: When we started not giving a damn on screen!
In celebration of our upcoming Anti Damsel Blogathon on August 15 & 16, I had this idea to provide a list of bold, brilliant and beautiful women!
There was to be no indecent exposure of the ankles and no SCHWOOSHING! Not in this Blogathon baby!
From the heyday of Silent film and the advent of talking pictures, to the late ‘20s to 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, films were rife with provocative and suggestive images, where women were kicking up a storm on screen… The end of the code during the early 60s dared to offer social commentary about race, class, gender and sexuality! That’s our party!
In particular, these bold women and the screen roles they adopted have become legendary. They sparked catchy dialogue, inspired fashion trends, or just plain inspired us… All together there are 111 of SOME of the most determined, empowered and uniquely fortified femmes of classic film…!
First of course I consulted the maven of all things splendid, shimmery and SILENT for her take on silent film actresses and the parts that made them come alive on the immortal screen…. Fritzi at Movies Silently has summoned up thesefabulous femmes….
Now to unleash the gust of gals from my tornadic mind filled with favorite actresses and the characters that have retained an undying sacred vow to heroine worship… In their private lives, their public persona and the mythological stardom that has & still captivates generations of fans, the roles they brought to life and the lasting influence that refuses to go away…!
Because they have their own unique rhythm to the way they moved through the world… a certain kind of mesmerizing allure, and/or they just didn’t give a hoot, a damn… nor a flying fig!
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud”-Coco Chanel
Stars like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford managed to keep re-inventing themselves. They became spirited women with an inner reserve of strength and a passion for following their desires!
The following actresses and their immortal characters are in no particular order…!
Miriam Hopkins has a luminous, quiet dreamy beauty.
Born in Savannah Georgia Oct. 18th 1902 she died Oct 9, 1972-a chorus girl in New York city at the age of 20 she made her first motion picture after signing with Paramount Pictures called Fast and Loose (1930).
In 1931, she raised some eyebrows in 1931’s horror thriller Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde directed by Rouben Mamoulian’s.
InDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931),Miriam Hopkins portrayed the character Ivy Pearson, a prostitute who becomes mesmerized by Jekyll and Hyde a tale of sexuality in revolt. Though many of her scenes were cut from the film she still managed to get rave reviews for the mere 5 minutes she spent on the screen.
Frederick March walked away with the Oscar for Best Leading Man in that horror gem. Miriam Hopkins had been up for the part of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Windbeing that she was an authentic Southern lady, but the part… of course went to Vivien Leigh… “As God as my witness they’re not going to lick me”
Miriam would make three pictures with Ernst Lubitsch,The Smiling Lieutenant 1931, Trouble in Paradise 1932, and Design for Living 1933. Design for Living being my favorite!
William Wylerrevising the film release of The Children’s Hour 1961, had been based on his original theatrical presentation with Hopkin’s in what was called These Three (1936). In the remake, she plays Aunt Lily Mortar to Shirley MacLaine’s troubled Martha, stepping into the role that Hopkins once portrayed.
IMDb trivia: William Wyler cut several scenes hinting at Martha’s homosexuality for fear of not receiving the seal of approval from the Motion Picture Production Code. At the time, any story about homosexuality was forbidden by the production code.
Directed by William Wyler, cinematography by Franz Planer(Criss Cross 1949,Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961) working with Wyler they used effective mood changes with his lighting, creating an often provocative atmosphere. The film showcases some truly great performances by the entire cast, Audrey Hepburn,Shirley MacLaineandJames Garner (who sadly passed away on July 19th of this year.) Including Veronica Cartwright and Fay Bainter. Miriam Hopkins mixes a sad yet infuriating empathy toward her flighty judgmental and often elusive tie to the theatre she harkens back to. She is incapable of being there for her tormented niece.
The story concerns the struggle of two young and independent women trying to make a go of it by running a private boarding school for adolescent girls. The intrusion of a lie, ultimately founded on a malicious rumor concocted by the spoiled young niece Mary Tilford (Karen Balkin) begins to spread like deadly poison that Karen (Hepburn) and Martha (Maclean) are having a lesbian relationship. And the lie proceeds to ruin Karen’s engagement to Joe, worried parents flood to the school to pull out their children at risk of being exposed to that ‘love that dare not speak it’s name!’ and basically causes the ruination of Karen and Martha’s dream.
Whether the idea be true or not, the wake of the devastation of all the lives involved lead to poetic & unfortunate tragedy.
Martha and Karen’s quite independent business relationship and personal friendship seemed to challenge very conventional standards of a woman’s role, creating an uncomfortable pall over the town, the school and the women involved in the scandal, and we sense this dis-ease on film. This all seems to feed the accessibility of suspicion when Mary makes her accusation, fueled by things she’s overheard Aunt Lily recklessly say about Martha.
Mrs. Lily Mortar–“Friendship between women, yes. But not this insane devotion! Why, it’s unnatural. Just as unnatural as can be.”
Mrs. Lily Mortar:Any day that he’s in the house is a bad day. You can’t stand them being together and you’re taking out on me. You’ve always had a jealous, possessive nature even as a child. If you had a friend, you’d be upset if she liked anybody else. And that’s what’s happening now. And it’s unnatural. It’s just as unnatural as it can be.
Miriam Hopkins, is an added unpleasant moral eccentric and parasite who feeds off Karen and her niece Martha who have always had an apparently strained relationship because she’s money-grubbing, spineless and a user right from the beginning.
Miriam Hopkin’s Aunt Lily glides through the film like narcissus’ secretary waiting for that great part that is never coming. Supposedly on tour with a drama company, or just avoiding the scandal, when she could have cleared the women’s reputations and saved the school from being shut down.
At time’s she histrionic, over-theatrical, melodramatic and a relic of bygone days. Like an obsolete thespian Harpy who lingers around the house, tormenting poor Martha who is struggling with her own inner demons that Aunt Lily seems all too well to recognize.
Aunt Lily trying to stir up dramaturgical dust while teaching her pupils elocution, she shows herself to be out of fashion, a bit of an outcast, and as dried up as the dead flowers, the young conniving and at times socio-pathic Mary steals from the garbage to give to Lily as a ruse for being late to class.
Aunt Lily is needful, maneuvering and scheming as she insinuates herself into the lives of Karen (Audrey Hepburn) and her niece Martha (Shirley MacLaine) A non stop know it all… with a showy flare for dramatics.
At the school, Aunt Lily teaches the girl elocution lessons, music and theatre which is perfect for her narcissistic compulsion to inflate her own ego while pushing her highfalutin ideas of breeding “breeding is everything”. Lily is materialistic, money hungry and will use Martha for whatever she can get out of her.
After Lily accuses Martha’s relationship with Karen as being ‘unnatural’ And how her mood changes when ever Joe, Karen’s fiance (James Garner) is in the house. Martha throws her out. Paying her off so she’ll stay away. Hopkins does a truly perfect job of being the parasitic opportunist who offers nothing but grief.
I loved Miriam Hopkins as the gutsy Mrs. Shipton -‘The Duchess’ in The Outcasts of Poker Flats 1952.
Until 1970 when like most great screen sirens, who seemed to inevitably get handed that part of Grande Dame Guignol caricature of the fading Hollywood star. Hopkin’s last film was the brutally disturbing Strange Intruder in 1970. She playing the recluse Katharine Parker, who is befriended by a psychopathic woman hater, then terrorized by him- John David Garfield (Yes son of the great John Garfield). Gale Sondergaard plays her companion Leslie who staunchly remains at her side to no avail.
WhileMiriam Hopkinswho played Martha in the original filmThese Three (1936) agreed to play the part of Martha’s Aunt Lily, Merle Oberon, who played Karen in the original film, turned down the part of Mrs. Tilford.
Mr. Happy… Bosley Crowther once again fangs the performances of The Children’s Hour with his serpentine wit. Published in The New York Times review March 15th 1962
“But here it is, fidgeting and fuming, like some dotty old doll in bombazine with her mouth sagging open in shocked amazement at the batedly whispered hint that a couple of female schoolteachers could be attached to each other by an “unnatural” love.
If you remember the stage play, that was its delicate point, and it was handled even then with a degree of reticence that was a little behind the sophistication of the times. (Of course, the film made from the stage play in 1936 and called “These Three” avoided that dark hint altogether; it went for scandal down a commoner avenue.)
But here in this new film version, directed and produced by the same William Wyler who directed the precautionary “These Three,” the hint is intruded with such astonishment and it is made to seem such a shattering thing (even without evidence to support it) that it becomes socially absurd. It is incredable that educated people living in an urban American community today would react as violently and cruelly to a questionable innuendo as they are made to do in this film.
And that is not the only incredible thing in it. More incredible is its assumption of human credulity. It asks us to believe that the parents of all twenty pupils in a private school for girls would yank them out in a matter of hours on the slanderously spread advice of the grandmother of one of the pupils that two young teachers in the school were “unnatural.”
It asks us to believe the grandmother would have been convinced of this by what she hears from her 12-year-old granddaughter, who is a dubious little darling at best. And, most provokingly, it asks us to imagine that an American court of law would not protect the innocent victims of such a slander when all the evidence it had to go upon was the word of two children and the failure of a key witness to appear.
In short, there are several glaring holes in the fabric of the plot, and obviously Miss Hellman, who did the adaptation, and John Michael Hayes, who wrote the script, knew they were there, for they have plainly sidestepped the biggest of them. They have not let us know what the youngster whispered to the grandmother that made her hoot with startled indignation and go rushing to the telephone. Was it something that a 12-year-old girl could have conceivably made up out of her imagination (which is what she was doing in this scene)?
And they have not let us into the courtroom where the critical suit for slander was tried. They have only reported the trial and the verdict in one quickly tossed off line.
So this drama that was supposed to be so novel and daring because of its muted theme is really quite unrealistic and scandalous in a prim and priggish way. What’s more, it is not too well acted, except by Audrey Hepburn in the role of the younger of the school teachers. She gives the impression of being sensitive and pure.
Shirley MacLaine as the older school teacher, the one who eventually admits in a final scene with her companion that she did have a yen for her, inclines to be too kittenish in some scenes and do too much vocal hand-wringing toward the end.
Fay Bainter is fairly grim as the grandmother but little Karen Balkin as the mendacious child is simply not sufficiently tidy as a holy terror to make her seem formidable. James Garner as the fiancé of Miss Hepburn and Miriam Hopkins as the aunt of Miss MacLaine give performances of such artificial laboring that Mr. Wyler should hang his head in shame.”
“I was born a character actor. I was never really a leading man type.” –Burgess Meredith
WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2014
It’s here again! The most fabulous blogathon honoring those unsung stars that add that certain singular glimmer to either the cinematic sphere or the small screen sky–The character actors we’ve grown to love and follow adoringly. Thanks so much to Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, Outspoken & Freckledand Paula’s Cinema Club for hosting such a marvelous tribute once again!
This post’s title comes from the opening narrative for Rod Serling’s favorite Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last.” ‘Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers’ From Season 1 episode 8 which aired on November 20th 1959.
Directed by John Brahm, “Time Enough At Last” tells the story of a little bespectacled bibliophile bank teller named Henry Bemis ,a bookworm, a slave to the iron fisted hand of time and all it’s dreary inescapable obligatory scars and yearnings.
Browbeaten by his wife, boss and even the public at large who see him as an outcast because of his ravenous appetite to read books! Henry can’t even sneak away to read a newspaper during work hours. He’s forced to resort to studying the labels on condiment bottles. She won’t even let him read the ketchup. His harpy of a wife Helen ( Jacqueline deWit) even blackens in the lines of his books at home, calling it “doggerel“– One day as fate would have it, he steals away to the basement vault of the bank to catch up on his beloved preoccupation, when –as many Twilight Zone episodes had been infused with a dose of Rod Serling’s nihilism (as much as there is his hopeful message), the feared 50’s bomb annihilates our vision of the world that was swarming just a few moments before. Suddenly poor Henry seems to be the last man on earth. But wait… perhaps not poor Henry.
As he stumbles through the debris and carefully placed set pieces– the remnants of man’s destructive force, Henry comes upon the city’s public library filled with BOOKS!!! Glorious books…
While he must struggle against the approaching loneliness of the bleak future ahead, he begins to see the possibility of a new world where he could dream, and wander through so many scrawled worlds. Already an outsider he could finally live a life free to be as his boss rebuked him, a “reader.’
Henry starts to amass various piles of selected readings. There was time now. Time enough at last to read every word on the written page without interruption, interference or judgement.
Yet…fate once again waves her fickle finger via The Twilight Zone and leaves bewildered Henry without his much needed glasses, now they have fallen on the great stone steps, crushed by Henry’s own feet. As with every role Meredith brings to life the character of Henry Bemis with so much mirth and pathos.
He’s always just a bit peculiar, idiosyncratic, eccentric, lyrical, salty, sometimes irascible, but always captivating and distinctive, His voice, his persona, his look, his style… Burgess Meredith could always play the Henry Bemises of the world and grab our hearts because he has that rare quality of being so damn genuine.
Let’s face it even when the prolific Burgess Meredithis playing a cackling penguin– nemesis to the caped crusader Batman or the devil himself (alias the dapper and eccentric Charles Chazen with Mortimer the canary and his black and white cat Jezebel in tow) in The Sentinel 1977 based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz and directed by Michael Winner–he’s lovable!
He always manages to just light me up. Ebullient, mischievous and intellectually charming, a little impish, a dash of irresolute cynicism wavering between lyrical sentimentalism. He’s got this way of reaching in and grabbing the thinking person’s heart by the head and spinning it around in dazzling circles with his marvelously characteristic voice. A mellifluous tone which was used often to narrate throughout his career. (I smile even at the simplest nostalgic memory like his work on television commercials , as a kid growing up in the 60s and early 70s I fondly remember his voice for Skippy Peanut Butter. Meredith has a solicitous tone and whimsical, mirthful manner. Here’s a clip from a precious vintage commercial showcasing Meredith’s delightfully fleecy voice.
And his puckish demeanor hasn’t been missed considering he’s actually played Old Nick at least three times as I have counted. In The Sentinel 1977, The Twilight Zone and Torture Garden! While in FreddieFrancis’ production he is the more carnivalesque Dr. Diabolo–a facsimile of the devil given the severely theatrical make-up, goatee and surrounding flames… he is far more menacing in Michael Winner’s 70s gem as the spiffy Charles Chazin.
And while I resist even the notion of redoing Ira Levin/William Castle and Roman Polanski’s masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby if, and I’m only saying if… I could envision anyone else playing along side Ruth Gordon as the quirky and roguish Roman Castevet it could only be Burgess Meredith who could pull that off!
Also being a HUGE fan of Peter Falk’s inimitableColumbo– I ask why why WHY?! was Burgess Meredith never cast as a sympathetic murderer for that relentless and lovable detective in the rumpled rain coat to pursue! Could you imagine the chemistry between these two marvelous actors!
Burgess Meredith all of 5′ 5″ tall was born in Cleveland Ohio in 1907. His father was a doctor, his mother a Methodist revivalist. We lost him in 1997 at the age of 89. That’s when he took his “dirt nap…”the line and that memorable scene from Grumpier Old Men 1993that still makes me burst out laughing from the outlandish joy of it all!… because as Grandpa Gustafson (Meredith) tells John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) about how he’s managed to live so long eating bacon, smoking and drinking his dinner–what’s the point…? “I just like that story!”
Burgess Meredith said himself, that he wasn’t born to be a leading man, yet somehow he always managed to create a magnetic draw toward any performance of his. As if where ever his presence in the story was, it had the same effect as looking in a side view mirror of the car “Objects are closer than they appear”–What I mean by that is how I relate his contribution becoming larger than the part might have been, had it been a different actor. Like the illusion of the mirrored reflection , he always grew larger in significance within the story–because his charisma can’t help but consume the space.
He took over the landscape and planted himself there like a little metaphysical essence, animating the narrative to a higher level of reality.
Meredith started out working with the wonderful Eva Le Gallienne joining her stage company in New York City in 1933. His first film role was that of Mio Romagna in playwright Maxwell Anderson’sWinterset 1936 where Meredith plays the son of an immigrant wrongfully executed for a crime he did not commit. He also joined the ranks of those in Hollywood who were named as “unfriendly witnesses’ by the House Un-American Activities Committee finding no work, being blacklisted in the 1950s.
During the 1960s Meredith found his way back in various television roles that gave us all a chance to see and hear his incredible spectrum of performances. One of my personal favorites, dramatically potent and vigorously absorbing was his portrayal of Duncan Kleist in Naked Citytelevision series episode directed by Walter Grauman (Lady in A Cage 1964) Hold For Gloria Christmas
The groundbreaking crime and human interest series NAKED CITY– cast Meredith as a 60s beat poet & derelict Dunan Kleist who is literally dying to leave the legacy of his words to a kindred spirit.
A powerful performance told through flashback sequences that recollect his murder as he storms through the gritty streets and alley ways of New York City a volatile alcoholic Greenwich Village poet trying to get back his precious manuscript of poems that were stolen as he bartered them away bit by bit for booze -he has bequeathed his work to the anonymous Gloria Christmas. The chemistry between Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart who plays his estranged wife is magnificent exuding years of anguish and disappointment. Heckart is another character actor who deserves a spotlight.
BURNT OFFERINGS 1976–Dan Curtis’ priceless treasure of creepy camp featuring Karen Black, Oliver Reed and once again uniting the incredible Eileen Heckart with our beloved Burgess Meredith as the ominous Roz and Arnold Allardyce.
Another memorable role for me, is his spirited performance as Charles Chazin alias The Devil in one of my all time favorite horror classics The Sentinel. “Friendships often blossom into bliss.” – Charles Chazin. Ooh that line still gives me chills…
Many people will probably love him for his iconic character study of a crusty cantankerous washed up boxing trainer named Mickey in the Rocky series of films. Or perhaps, for his colorful cackling or should I say quacking villain in the television series Batman -his iconic malefactor — The Penguin!
IMDb fact-His character, the Penguin, was so popular as a villain on the television series Batman (1966), the producers always had a Penguin script ready in case Meredith wanted to appear as a guest star.
Burgess Meredith will always remain one of the greatest, most versatile & prolific actors, character in fact… beloved and eternal…
“Like the seasons of the year, life changes frequently and drastically. You enjoy it or endure it as it comes and goes, as it ebbs and flows.”- Burgess Meredith
“I’ll just take amusement at being a paradox.”- Burgess Meredith
[on his childhood] “All my life, to this day, the memory of my childhood remains grim and incoherent. If I close my eyes and think back, I see little except violence and fear. In those early years, I somehow came to understand I would have to draw from within myself whatever emotional resources I needed to go wherever I was headed. As a result, for years, I became a boy who lived almost totally within himself.”- Burgess Meredith