Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

THE LAND OF MORAL AMBIGUITY: HOLLYWOOD & THE HAYS CODE

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex Relationships are the accepted or common thing…”

Prior to the Production Code, LGBT characters were somewhat prevalent, if heavily stereotyped and exploited, in a number of major films. The 1920s especially were a time of shifting societal norms and expanding artistic experimentation. As women rode the first wave of feminism and prohibition was increasingly challenged, filmmakers began to expand their boundaries and feature more controversial plotlines. – Sophie Cleghorn

Pre-Code was a brief period in the American film industry between the dawn of talking pictures in 1929 and the formal enforcement in 1934 of the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC) familiarly known as the Hays Code. Pre-Code was a glorious time in the history of cinema. It was during the Depression Era, before the cultural politics of Clergy and reformer organizations came in and initiated the need for moral governance over the film industry. Their interference evolved into the Hays Code created to oversee silent and talking pictures.

In the late 1920s before the Hays Code, films began to speak becoming audible and more realistic as Hollywood recognized that many Americans knew all about sex. In the early era of talkies during the gutsy cinema of the Depression era, there was nothing stopping the studios from producing daring films. Hollywood movies weren’t afraid to show gay characters or reference their experiences. Ironically, queers were pretty visible onscreen at this time in American cinema. These characters left an impression on trade papers like Variety that called this phenomenon – “queer flashes.”

Also in the early twenties, there were notorious scandals on and off screen. Hollywood’s moral ambiguity was literally in the clutches of the Hays Code which the MPPDA used to wage a moral battle against Hollywood that they perceived would eventually lead to cultural ruination. The priggish William Hays was a deacon in the Presbyterian church, a former chair of the Republican party, and post master general before he was picked to lead the war on decadence in the movie industry. William Hays was appointed chairman of the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) from the year it was established in 1922 to 1945, but the Hays Code was not overturned until 1968. Hays and his code regulated film content for nearly forty years. The little worm.

W.C.Fields and Franklin Pangborn- Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)

The Hays Code became a series of self-imposed, perceived-to-be-moral guidelines that told filmmakers and the major studios what was permissible to do in their movies. The Code was established in 1930, and the MPPC set forth censorship guidelines that weren’t yet strictly enforced. And states had their own censorship boards and so their individual standards varied. Hays tried to contain his guidelines without the intrusion of government censorship, so he created his own Production Code that was for all intents and purposes optional for studios.

They felt that the liberal themes of films in the 1920s were contributing to the supposed debauchery infiltrating society. They championed government censorship as the solution to return society to its traditional moral standards (Mondello).

In June 1927, Hays publicized a list of cautionary rules. A construct of ‘Don’ts and Be Carefuls’. The document and empowering legislation spelled out guidelines for propriety on screen in classic Hollywood that became known as the Production Code. It was co-authored in 1929 by Martin J. Quigley, prominent Catholic layman, editor of the journal Motion Picture Herald and Reverend Daniel A. Lord, a Jesuit Priest. Their collaboration reflected a ‘Victorianism’ that would tint the freedom of Hollywood’s creative license. “The Production Code was a template for a theological takeover of American cinema.” “No picture should lower the moral standards of those who see it.”

“Just Ten of the Thous Shalt Nots”

Homosexuality

While the Code did not explicitly state that depictions of homosexuality were against the Code, the Code barred the depiction of any kind of sexual perversion or deviance, which homosexuality fell under at the time. -Wikipedia

The convict

“The courts of the land should not be presented as unjust…”

Prostitution and fallen women

“Brothels and houses of ill-fame are not proper locations for drama. They suggest to the average person at once sex sin, or they excite an unwholesome and morbid curiosity in the minds of youth…”

Bad girls

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing…”

Musicals

“Dancing costumes cut to permit indecent actions or movements are wrong… Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passion are forbidden…”

Adultery and the sanctity of marriage

“Adultery as a subject should be avoided… It is never a fit subject for comedy. Thru comedy of this sort, ridicule is thrown on the essential relationships of home and family and marriage, and illicit relationships are made to seem permissible, and either delightful or daring.”

NOT TO MENTION: GOD COMPLEXES-

Boris Karloff as Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s creation. Make-up by Jack Pierce.

By the time the sequel Bride of Frankenstein was released in 1935, enforcement of the code was in full effect and the Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s overt God complex was forbidden. In the first picture however, when the creature was born, his mad scientist creator was free to proclaim “Now I know what it feels like to be a God.”

‘Don’ts’ included “profanity,” “sex hygiene,” “miscegenation,” and “ridicule of the clergy.” There was a much longer list of ‘Be carefuls’ which indicated it was offensive to “show sympathy for criminals,” “arson,” “surgical operations,” and “excessive or lustful kissing” and of course “HOMOSEXUALITY.”

Hays appointed Colonel Jason S. Joy to be in charge of the supervisory agency, the Studio Relations Committee. Once the first talky The Jazz Singer (1927) starring Al Jolson was released a newly fired up rebel cry was heard from the hoity-toity do-gooders who raised objections against Hollywood’s immorality. What was once suggestive in silent pictures was now committed to sound, with all it’s risque humor and wicked context.

In 1934 censorship was tightening its strangle hold. Under pressure from the Catholic Church and other religious groups the Motion Picture Production Code made it so that any marginal gay characters became masked in innuendo, relying on queer symbolism instead. Several grassroots organizations were founded in order to pressure the film industry, the most influential of all was the Catholic Legion of Decency.

So, between the Code and state censorship boards, one might expect that films produced after 1930 would be exemplars of wholesomeness and purity. In practice, the men who enforced the Code on behalf of the MPPDA (Jason Joy and James Wingate) were wholly ineffectual, primarily due to the very small staffs they were allotted to keep up with the work of reviewing scripts, treatments and finished films while battling studios that weren’t especially thrilled by the bottleneck caused by the whole operation. The combination of bureaucratic sclerosis and the economic, political and cultural crisis brought about by the Great Depression ushered in a vibrant era of filmmaking and the introduction of many stars whose personas would forever be rooted in their pre-Code films.- Mike Mashon

The Code set in place since 1930 was a turning point in the history of self-regulation. With the strict enforcement of the Production Code, they attempted to influence the discourse in American film without coming out and definitively stating which contexts were strictly forbidden. Instead they issued phrases like “should be avoided” and “should not suggest.” Though a variety of controversial topics weren’t vigorously banned by the Production Code, gay characters WERE strictly prohibited. 

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) directed by Alfred Hitchcock- Peter Lorre

When the Hays Code was adopted in 1930, they articulated that, “though regarding motion pictures primarily as entertainment without any explicit purpose of teaching or propaganda, they know that the motion picture within its own field of entertainment may be directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking.”

When the MPPDA formally ratified The Code, they demanded that it be followed to the letter but it “lacked an effective enforcement mechanism” – and the studio heads openly defied it’s frame of mind and it’s puritanical spirit.

The movie studios had other pressing issues of concern. It was the Great Depression, and studios were barely making it, on the brink of ruin due to low ticket sales. They were quite ready to fight with states over censorship because sex and violence sells. They wanted to draw in audiences that would be titillated by gangsters, vamps, and racy subject matter. Popular musicals could entertain with disparaging racial clichés and glamorous, intoxicating imagery, with hints of queerness. You could also watch languid prostitutes on screen — everyone seems to long for Shanghai Lil, in the film that has it all, Footlight Parade (1933)

Filmmakers tried to switch around controversial subject matter that would not only push the boundaries but would promote ticket sales, with films that would attract a more sophisticated audience. Breen perceived these films to be less ‘dangerous’ a word he often used. They focused on the ‘gangster’ film with it’s violent content, and when they put their foot on that genre’s neck, Hollywood rolled out the ‘fallen woman‘ films. They tried very hard to get around the scrutiny and so they delved into making horror pictures, and racy comedies. These fare better as they fell under the heading of being ‘unrealistic’ which rendered them as innocuous material to the censors.

During the Great Depression, movies were an escape for audiences in dire need of distraction. The morally-charged stranglehold that was beginning to challenge filmmakers forced them to experiment with movies that were audacious and candid in different ways. Pre-Code actually challenged audiences to watch real life issues on screen. Pre-Code cinema offered some titillating truths coming out of the dream factory. Depression-era cinema exhibited gay characters, but generally in small parts and often used for comic purposes that managed to cue audiences in, with roles that were codified and readable as queer. ‘Queerness’ was railed against because it subverted traditional masculinity which was under attack by the new socioeconomic crisis in the country. Yet somehow, Hollywood found it to be a viable trigger for ideological gossip.

These films illustrated narratives that were thought provoking, worldly, and subversive. Movies dealt frankly or were suggestive of sexual innuendo, sexual relationships between races, mild profanity, drug use, promiscuity, prostitution, infidelity, abortion, intense violence, and of course, homosexuality.

William Wellman’s Safe in Hell (1931) starring Dorothy Mackaill as a call girl in hiding. Prostitution is a no no!

Filmmakers took risks delivering a portrait of America with a punishing realism, and a creative freedom to portray taboo themes like crime (gangs and guns, violence), social dilemma’s (drug abuse, poverty and political unrest). And sexual relationships (adultery, promiscuity, deviance = homosexuality). In the 1930s filmmakers also sought to stir up controversy by screening queer characters, in order to shock audiences and drive up their ticket sales. The result, movies became more lewd, ruthless and vicious between 1930 and 1934. And Hollywood was it’s MOST queer from 1932-1934.

Yet during the silent era to the mid thirties, gay characters were illustrated as stereotypes showcasing the popular tropes established by conventional hetero-normative gender bias. These archetypes were styled to be gender non-conformists. Queer men were fussy, effeminate and flamboyant. With high-pitched voices, the air under their feet and waving hands. Essentially, ‘fairies’ who were deployed as comic relief on the periphery of the drama. Real-life queers of the Depression era and later periods were exposed to cinematic images, the vast majority being caricatures in which gays and lesbians were often presented as targets of ridicule and contempt for their divine decadence. ‘Entertainers play with gender ambiguity in Broadway thru a Keyhole (1933).‘ (Lugowski)

Lesbians were at the other end of the spectrum. They were ‘masculine,’ demonstrating deep voices, cross-dressing in male attire, and were installed in male-dominated professions. They were often invalidated by the straight male characters, and were either played for the uncomfortable humor or shown as baffling to men. The PCA in it’s Hollywood’s Movie Commandments specified that there could be no comic characters “introduced into a screen play pantomiming a pervert.” (Lugowski)

Gender Reversals, Queerness, and a Nation in Crisis.–

In Michael Curtiz’s The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) Suddenly, queer imagery in film, typically in the form of comical representations of gay men, lesbians, and ambiguous sexuality, did not seem so funny any-more, least of all to those charged with applying Hollywood’s Production Code to film content. By “queer” imagery, I am focusing particularly on situations, lines of dialogue, and characters that represent behavior coded, according to widely accepted stereotypes, as cross-gendered in nature. As played by such prominent and well-established supporting comedy character actors as Franklin Pangborn, Edward Everett Horton, Grady Sutton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, and Ernest Truex, queer men tended to appear as one of two types.

The queer in his more subdued form appears as the dithering, asexual “sissy,” sometimes befuddled, incompetent,and, if married, very henpecked (Horton), and sometimes fussy and officious (Pangborn). Pangborn, however, was one of the actors who (along with the unsung likes of Tyrell Davis and Tyler Brooke) also played or suggested the other type, the more outrageous “pansy,” an extremely effeminate boulevardier-type sporting lip-stick, rouge, a trim mustache and hairstyle, and an equally trim suit, incomplete without a boutonniere. Although a number of actors played or were even typecast in such roles, one generally doesn’t find a circle of prominent supporting actresses whose personas seemed designed to connote lesbianism (the closest, perhaps, is Cecil Cunningham) lesbian representation occurs frequently as well, and in perhaps a greater range of gradations. At her most overt, the lesbian was clad in a mannishly tailored suit (often a tuxedo), her hair slicked back or cut in a short bob. She sometimes sported a monocle and cigarette holder (or cigar!) and invariably possessed a deep alto voice and a haughty, aggressive attitude toward men, work, or any business at hand. Objections arose because she seemed to usurp male privilege; perhaps the pansy seemed to give it up. -David M.Lugowski: Queering the (New) Deal-Lesbian and Gay Representation and the Depression-Era Cultural Politics of Hollywood’s Production Code

Filmmakers were encouraged not to promote lifestyles of a ‘morally questionable’ nature, so queers remained as humorous detours away from the central story. It was a subtle defiance that filmmakers were determined to feature queer characters in their films in spite of the ban. Because of the threat of boycotts, this created some maneuvering around the scrutiny. Queer identities were not portrayed with depth or realism, this marginalized group was relegated to one-dimensional stereotypes. They were never shown to be in romantic relationships and filmmakers relied on visual cues to signal the character’s identity.

Censors at the PCA, for example, were very worried about the three female characters in William Dieterle’s Dr. Monica (1934) starring Kay Francis. The film is the story of three women, an alcoholic, a nymphomaniac and a lesbian. In October 1935, Joseph Breen wrote a letter to RKO’s head B.B. Kahane concerned about Follow the Fleet (1936) starring Fred Astaire who gives a dance lesson to all male sailors. “We are assuming of course that you will exercise your usual good taste in this scene of the sailors learning to dance. There will be no attempt to inject any ‘pansy’ humor into the scene.”

Due to a new, stricter Motion Picture Production Code, gays were being swept under the rug in movies. In the late 1930s and 1940s the only way to circumvent the Code was by painting homosexuals as cold-hearted villains (The Celluloid Closet). Now it appeared that gays were committing terrible crimes because of their sexual orientation, implying that homosexuality leads to insanity. In a society where being homosexual was synonymous with being sinful, it is no surprise that Hollywood made the leap to correlating a homosexual orientation with malicious crimes and wicked urges (Weir).

Alfred Hitchcock is a visual magician who rolls out the answers gradually while deconstructing what is explicit to the narrative. He is one of the most measured auteurs, whose eye for detail links each scene together like a skillful puzzle. He has been studied, tributed, and –in my opinion–unsuccessfully imitated. Rigid to conform, he danced around the Hays Code like a cunning acrobat indulging his vision while deflecting the lax regulations. There are arguments that Hitchcock insinuated homophobic messages in some of his films. The queer characters were all deviants and psychopathic predators, who were the ones responsible for some of the most heinous murders on screen. For example, in his film Rope (1948) the two Nietzschian murderers are intellectual companions who get off on trying to perpetrate the perfect murder. They exhibit a romantic friendship with no sexual contact on screen. Yet there are cues that they are sexually aroused by each other’s mutual pleasure at killing a young boy. The Hays Code inhibited the depiction of a queer couple so Hitchcock had to subtly suggest their sexual relationship by dropping metaphors and visual clues. Though, it might be interpreted through a homophobic lens, and their homosexuality might be at the core of their cruel and immoral nature.

According to David Greven, Hitchcock’s homophelia ‘was through a larger conflict that Hitchcock’s cinema that filmmakers conducted their investigation of American masculinity, one that focused on fissures and failures. Homosexuality emerged as representative of these and also as potential new direction for American masculinity to take, not without serious risk but also treated with surprising, fascinated interest… Hitchcock’s radical de-centering of heterosexual male dominance, devising contemporary narratives of heterosexual male ambivalence that allowed for, at times depended on, an investment in same-sex desire as well as an awareness of its dangerous, pernicious seductions. Homophobia in both Hitchcock and the New Hollywood’s informed by an attendant fascination with the homoerotic that emerges from scenes of gender crisis and disorganization that are rife in both the Cold War and New Hollywood eras. 

Any illicit sexual behavior on screen considered as perverse would be demonized and exploited as immoral. Queers were shown as villainous, dangerous deviants who were fated for ruination and/or death.

There were several broad categories the Code was not vague about. Any movies depicting criminality had to essentially illustrate that there would be consequences. The message was clear, any flagrant criminal behavior is abhorrent and audiences should NOT feel sympathy, primarily through the implicit edict of “compensating moral values.”

Authority figures had to be treated with respect, and the clergy could not be portrayed as comic characters or villains. Under some circumstances, politicians, police officers, and judges could be villains, as long as it was clear that those individuals portrayed as villains were the exceptions to the rule.

Clearly there were some productive strategies of circumventing the Motion Picture Production Code. They enabled characters that performed behind the veil, under the radar of social acceptability, while dancing a step closer to the fringe. It allowed for ‘queering the screen’. I find it feasible to consider how Alexander Doty points out that ‘queering’ something implies that you are taking a thing that is straight and doing something to it. Rather it should be considered that it’s less about co-opting or subverting films – making things queer, and more about how something might be understood as queer.

It might be easy to read Zasu Pitt’s and Thelma Todd’s relationship, the brilliantly paired comedy twosome, as lovers. While they perform humorous heterosexual man hunting, they sure seem to be mostly interested in each other and sure look adorable in their pajamas! I wonder, as Big Daddy says, if there’s ‘something missing here’. Below, they are in the film short directed by Hal Roach – On The Loose 1931, with bobbed hair, leaning into each other in bed together, looking awfully intimate.

To be ‘queer’ is also to deconstruct existing norms and ‘destabilize’ them, making it harder to define, so that it is a clear picture of non-normative straight masculinity/femininity.

What was perceptible to those ‘in the life’ were expressions, gestures, of the term often used by the Hays Code, ‘deviancy.’ One of the things that the Code banned was in Clause 6 Section 2 on “Sex” was that “sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.”

Not that films during the reign of the Code were ripe with queer love stories, of course. There were none to be found beyond the foreign offerings of Oswald’s Different From the Others and Mädchen in Uniform. The most prevalent allusion to being gay was the flamboyant man who was the ambiguous bachelor or fussy asexual husband. If there was anything close to a butch woman, she could be an earthy farmer’s wife, a Marjorie Main or Patsy Kelly type (Both lesbians in real life). A tough as nails prison matron, a tyrannical madame or a risque night club owner. Perhaps shes an embittered heavy drinker or just one of the guys who is a faithful friend to the female lead. Maybe she never gets the guy or hasn’t met the right man. Perhaps she was married to a no good bum and is off men for good!.. And just sometimes, sometimes it’s because… well some of us would know why!

Thelma Todd joined up with Patsy Kelly in comedy series. Here’s a lobby card for their Babes in the Goods. The two became very good friends during their collaboration.

Patsy Kelly had started in Vaudeville and appeared in Wonder Bar 1931 centered around a Parisian club. Kelly played Elektra Pivonaka and sang two lively songs.

She is known for her ballsy, straight-forward, no nonsense persona, be it her tough as nails nurse Mac in Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964) or as Laura-Louise, attending to Rosemary (Mia Farrow) in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Kelly played very non-feminine roles, injecting a bit of her ‘in the life’ energy into the characters in every one of her roles. More often that not she had an unglamorous reputation as a funny spunky, brassy, wise cracking gal who played a lot of maids. She was outspoken about being an uncloseted lesbian, which hurt her movie career in the 1940s. But she had been a very successful actress on Broadway, returning to the stage in 1971 winning a Tony Award for No, No Nanette and Irene.

In director/screenwriter Sam Fuller’s sensationalist The Naked Kiss (1964), Patsy Kelly plays Mac the nurse, a hard-edged pussy cat. A no nonsense nurse who lives for helping children with disabilities, but there is no visible sign that she has the slightest interest in men, aside from a smart alecky comment about Grant bringing her back a man from Europe. Kelly might have wanted her role as an independent woman with a more offbeat way of stating that she is a tough dyke and expected Fuller to write her into the script that way. Knowing Kelly that’s a good assumption. The film is audacious in it’s scope for dealing with more than one theme, as taboo as prostitution, abortion and pedophilia.

The Catholic Legion of Decency used their influence to label gays as ‘sexual deviants’, not be depicted on screen. ‘Deviancy’ was used to refer to any behavior deviating from what was perceived to be normal in terms of romance, sex, and gender. Hays even ordered all ‘nance’ characters to be removed from screenplays.

The Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Hays Code tried to make symbolic gestures to maintain decency in films. The Legion of Decency were getting pressure from the Catholic Church. So in 1934 came up with A-acceptable B-Morally Objectionable and C-Condemned. Hollywood promised to observe the rules. Of the various subject matter that was restricted on screen-open mouth kissing, lustful embraces, sex-perversion, seduction, rape, abortion, prostitution, white slavery, nudity, obscenity, profanity.

But all this unsolicited attention caused the studios to be watchful of their off-screen personnel, and they also had to be certain that the Los Angeles Police Department received payoffs to keep their mouths shut. Though lurid and shocking subject matter was no longer tolerated on screen, the studios tried to continue to release their films without the intrusion of the Hays Office, even though from a commercial standpoint, sex sells.

Warner Bros.’ lack of cooperation with the Code until the bitter end and how Paramount, which was cooperative under B. P. Schulberg, decided to be “as daring as possible” under Emmanuel Cohen in 1932 and 1933. At MGM, Irving Thalberg’s resistance only really ended with his heart attack and journey abroad to recover in 1933. As James Wingate, Breen’s SRC predecessor, put things that same year: (Lugowski)

In 1934 Jack Warner ignored Breen’s letter and phone calls about a scene in Wonder Bar (1934) that explicitly demonstrates homoerotic desire. In it, one man cuts in to dance with another man, interrupting a woman who is dancing with her male partner. “May I cut in?”  she responds, “Why certainly,” as the man suitor grabs her chaperone to dance instead. The films stars Al Jolson who exclaims, “Boys will be boys!” Breen would later write, “It is quite evident that the gentleman [Warner] is giving me the runaround. He evidently thinks that this is the smart thing to do.” Wonder Bar  may have added a flash of queer diversion as part of the entertainment, but it is an incredibly offensive and racist film using a cast who are in Black face.

During the ongoing Depression era, sissy and lesbian characters of the period continued to be screened as effeminate and mannish with one change. They became progressively sexualized between 1933-34. As the Depression moved forward, the Code needed to establish a “suitable” masculinity in film that would satisfy the morality police. They wanted this accepted masculinity to mirror the public art imagery that was now being federally funded by the New Deal in the mid-and late 1930s.

Before 1934 the studios were able to ignore the Code’s denouncement and endeavor to censor the movie industry but Hollywood filmmakers could no longer disregard the regulations issued by the Hays Code. The Legion of Decency forced the MPPDA to assert itself with the Production Code and formed a new agency , the Production Code Administration (PCA). The Hays Code was formed in 1930 but it only began to have a profound impact on Hollywood when the Production Code Administration (PCA) began strictly enforcing it in 1934. The crusade to save America’s purity and squash the filth mongers began a cultural war.

It was a system of moral oversight, conservatives lobbied to enforce, using the PCA to compel the industry to drastically adhere to it. PCA is strongest in explaining how the Code tried to at once repress and enable discourse to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of viewers and to offend the fewest. (Lugowski)

And in 1937, the Production Code Administration (PCA), handed down Hollywood’s Movie Commandments that decried “No hint of sex perversion may be introduced into a screen story. The characterization of a man as effeminate, or a woman as grossly masculine would be absolutely forbidden for screen portrayal.”

The Code was detailed in two parts that reflected the foundation of Catholic principles. The moral vision and “particular applications a precise listing of forbidden material.”

The code was divided into two parts. The first was a set of “general principles” which prohibited a picture from “lowering the moral standards of those who see it”, so as not to wrongly influence a specific audience of views including, women, children, lower-class, and those of “susceptible” minds, called for depictions of the “correct standards of life”, and lastly forbade a picture to show any sort of ridicule towards a law or “creating sympathy for its violation.

The second part of the Code was a set of “particular applications”, which was an exacting list of items that could not be depicted. Some restrictions, such as the ban on homosexuality or on the use of specific curse words, were never directly mentioned, but were assumed to be understood without clear demarcation. Homosexuals were de facto included under the proscription of sex perversion.” — Wikipedia

The second part of the Code was a ban on homosexuality. Though it was not specifically spelled out, queers were the subject under review of ‘sex perversion.’ Though the Hays office would not stand for “more than a dash of lavender” as long as the representation (especially a non desirable depiction of homosexuality) was fleeting and incidental. Thus, “Pansy comedy” was tolerable in Pre-Code Hollywood. “Despite the watchful eyes of the Hays Office, the trade paper Variety remarked that Hollywood continued what were called “queer flashes” and “mauve characters” who sashayed through Cavalcade 1933, Our Betters 1932 and Sailor’s Luck 1932.

The industry moguls and business offices finally had to follow the rules, clean up the ‘sinful’ screen and adopt a symbol of moral righteousness, that came along with a seal. The Code would be certified by a Code Seal printed on the lobby cards of each Hollywood film. And the seal would be an emblem that would appear on the motion pictures themselves. Any film without a Code Seal would be fined $25,000.

After some revisions, they agreed to the stipulations of the Code. … negotiated cuts from films and there were definite—albeit loose—constraints, a significant … against homosexuals, all in clear violation of the Hollywood Production Code.

Any sexual act considered perverted, including any suggestion of same sex relationships, sex, or romance, was ruled out.

Thus, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the PCA scrutinized and censored, everything coming out of Hollywood and put it’s seal on each movie released. The Hollywood executives preferred to call it “self-regulation” and feared that censorship by the PCA would be even worse if they tampered with the creative ‘source’ of their product. Because of the studios’ defiance, Roman Catholics formed the National Legion of Decency, which became an influential group who would put Hollywood’s transgressions through the ordeal, of boycotts, picketing theaters, urging Catholics not to patronize these immoral movies or fall “under the pain of sin”, being met by hoards of angry protestors at the gates of the studio. Now religious groups and other moral traditionalists began a warlike campaign for the government to regulate what was shown on the screen.

Mae West: She Done Him Wrong 1933

Also government officials were bent on making gay people invisible from cinematic narratives and the United States Supreme Court handed down the ruling that filmmakers were not protected by the First Amendment in the matter of free speech. They considered Hollywood to be a powerful mechanism that to exploit ‘sinful’ behavior on the screen and influence American audiences. This laid the ground work for local governments that could weigh in and ban films from their theaters, if they considered them immoral. Hollywood could not afford to lose money at the box office from governmental authorities, by negative publicity, or from the threatening boycotts by rabid church groups.

Motion pictures could be regulated and run out of town by cities, states, and by ominous extension, the federal government.

“After all, censorship had been a fact of creative and commercial life for motion picture producers from the very birth of the medium, when even the modest osculations of the middle-aged lovebirds in Thomas Edison’s The Kiss (1896) scandalized cadres of (literally) Victorian ministers, matrons, and other variants of a sour-faced species known as the “bluenose.” By common consent, the artistically vital and culturally disruptive spectacle of the motion picture – an entertainment accessible to all levels of society and degrees of moral temperament, including unassimilated immigrants,impressionable juveniles, and other menacing types – required editorial supervision from more mature, pious, and usually Protestant sensibilities” -from Archives Unbound

Hollywood was in the grip of the Code that saw the ‘dream factory’ movie machine as a Hollywood Babylon. While the powers that be were busy policing the murmuration of taboos, Pre-Code was a brief moment in history, a fruitful period between 1929 to 1934. Hays then appointed someone who could intercede between studio moguls and anti-Hollywood groups, Joseph I. Breen. “The vulgar, the cheap, and the tawdry is out!”

The PCA had been known as the Hays Office but to those in Hollywood, once the oversight became an operation with teeth, it became known as the Breen Office. Breen came in to take over the weak Studio Relations Committee (SRC). The Code had consisted of thirty-six rules that informed Hollywood filmmakers to limit representation of, or normalization of subject matter considered by religious groups to be “unsavory or morally corrupt.” The SRC and the PCA were the inner mechanism within the film industry, shaping the content of the film and heading off any ethical problems the film might encounter before they reached the local censors.

Dorothy Mackaill Safe in Hell (1931)

Many scenarios disappeared from the movies by mid 1934: for example, audiences would no longer see women’s navels, couples laying in bed together, murderers going unpunished, any illustration of a bedroom that isn’t merely recognized as a bed chamber. The normalization of drug use, the glamourization of criminal behavior, or not following the law, and of course any overtly revealed gay or lesbian character. After 1934, women would not be sporting short haircuts and tailored suits, confidently smoking cigars. Men toned down the gushy gestures that would be interpreted as flamboyant. Gay men and women were transformed into dowdy spinsters and high-strung bachelors.

What we started to see was an ambiguity, a narrative uncertainty that took the burden of responsibility off of the filmmakers and dropped the perception of the content into the laps of the audience. Since the Code asserted that no picture should lower the moral standards of those who saw it, it was a law that bound Hollywood’s accountability for their plots. Ruth Vasey calls the antithesis of this “the principle of deniability” which refers to the ambiguity of the textual vaguery that shifted the message to the individual spectator. Lugowski cites Lea Jacobs, “under the Code ‘offensive ideas could survive at the price of an instability of meaning… There was constant negotiation about how explicit films could be and by what means (through the image, sound, language) offensive ideas could find representation.” The studios would have to come up with a structure of ‘representational conventions’, that could be understood by a more sophisticated audience yet would fly over the heads of more inexperienced spectatorship. Though producers felt the sharp sting of the Code as a mechanism of restraint, in terms of ‘queerness’ on screen, film studios could use the leverage of deniability to argue about the interpretation of certain scenes.

Once the limits of explicit “sophistication” had been established, the production industry had to find ways of appealing to both “innocent” and “sophisticated” sensibilities in the same object without transgressing the boundaries of public acceptability. This involved devising systems and codes of representation in which “innocence” was inscribed into the text while “sophisticated” viewers were able to “read into” movies whatever meanings they were pleased to find, so long as producers could use the Production Code to deny that they had put them there. Much of the work of self-regulation lay in the maintenance of this system of conventions, and as such, it operated, however perversely, as an enabling mechanism at the same time that it was a repressive one.-(Documents from the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., 1922 – 1939)

… by assuming that the social crisis over cinematic representation in the early 1930s was caused by the content of motion pictures. The institution of censorship in Hollywood was not primarily about controlling the content of movies at the level of forbidden words or actions or inhibiting the freedom of expression of individual producers. Rather, it was about the cultural function of entertainment and the possession of cultural power. (Tino Balio: Grand Design Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise 1930-1939)

Geoff Shurlock was appointed as acting director of the Production Code in the 1940s and as permanent director in 1954. Over the years, Shurlock would straddle the conflict, appeasing both movie producers, and morality mongers trying to persuade the Association Board that introducing more liberal thinking could protect the PCA from fading away. There were attempts to ease up on the Code, in 1954 he introduced an amendment that would eliminate various taboos, for instance, miscegenation, liquor, and some profane words, but producers felt that there weren’t enough considerations to the amendment and the Catholic Legion of Decency felt that even that much went too far. Shurlock had a tough time making everyone happy.

The 1950s witnessed a weakening of the Production Code to restrict specific representations such as adultery, prostitution, and miscegenation. By the beginning of the 1960s, the only specific restriction left was homosexuality = “sex perversion.”

In the 1960s, filmmakers pressured the Production Code Administration. In the fall of 1961, two films went into production that would deal with homosexual subject matter. William Wyler, who had initially directed Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon in These Three (1936), revealed that he was working on a more faithful treatment of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour; that dealt overtly with the love that dare not speak it’s name. Around the same time director Otto Preminger began to adapt Allen Drury’s political novel Advise and Consent 1962, which delves into the lives of Senatorial candidates that uncovers controversial secret, including Don Murray’s homosexual encounter.

Throughout Preminger’s career he challenged the restrictions of the Code, and eventually influenced their decision to allow homosexuality to be shown on screen. Also fighting to change the stifling rules was Arthur Krim, president of United Artists, who threatened to ignore the Code and release the film without the mandatory “seal of approval” forcing them to amended its ideological strangle hold.

On October 3, 1961, the Production Code Administration backed off: “In keeping with the culture, the mores and values of our time, homosexuality and other sexual aberrations may now be treated with care, discretion and restraint.”

In order to maintain control of the Administration’s power at least in terms of how homosexual’s were portrayed on film, they insisted that the subject be infused with medical overtones, to show it as an ‘illness’. Sympathy or illness in psychological terms, were two key factors. The Code’s changed the use of the word “sex perversion” and replaced it with “homosexuality.”

Don Murray –gay bar scene in Advise and Consent 1962

Another interesting shift was that they owned up to the fact that “mores and values of our time” were changing whether they liked it or not, people were become more in touch with the freedom to express their sexuality, society was becoming more permissive, the love generation was upon them and sexual representation was a fearless exploration reflected by a new generation of film goers.

Otto Preminger was the only major producer able to successfully release films without the Production Code’s Seal of Approval. He defied the Code (Hadleigh) with movies like Advise and Consent (1961) The Man with Golden Arm (1955) Anatomy of a Murder (1959) Wendell Mayes said “Look at the record–you’ll discover that many of the changes in the Code were a result of Otto Preminger breaking the rules”

Though the Code had been revised in 1961 to open up the door for portrayals of gays on screen, the sissy effete and predatory dyke took on a more sinister role. Because they had been hidden in plain sight using symbology that hinted at either failed masculinity or women performing masculinity. When the MPPA ratings system was established in 1968 gays on screen were starting to kick the doors open but what was awaiting them was an even crueler denouement than during the reign of the Code. Queers were now portrayed as suicidal, predatory or homicidal maniacs. And much like the coded gay characters under the Production Code, things moved very slowly in terms of progress for positive representations of being ‘queer.’

DIrk Bogarde and Dennis Price in Basil Dearden’s brave film Victim (1961)

Between January and June 1962, five films were released that dealt with homosexuality, almost as many as in the previous three decades. One did not receive a seal of approval from the Production Code Administration, but was released nonetheless. Even without the seal of approval, British director, Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961) was reviewed in all the publications being considered. The liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal even disagreed with the Production Code Administration’s claim that the film made pleas ‘for social acceptance of the homosexual.’ “63 Still, the consensus among reviewers was that of the Production Code Administration and society at large: films should not and, for the most part, did not condone homosexuality. (Noriega)

This ban applied to all characters attracted to the same gender or characters who differed in their gender presentation or identity. While nudity and violence were quickly reintegrated into film canon following the abandonment of the Production Code, LGBT characters remained taboo. For decades after LGBT characters were allowed to appear in films, their sexuality and gender was shrouded in thinly-veiled innuendos and visual cues. If a character was to be openly same-gender attracted or transgender, they would be gruesomely killed or presented as morally corrupted. (Cleghorn)

Like the Code’s authors, film critics tend to examine the film itself, and not the discursive acts that surround a film and play a sometimes central role shaping its meaning(s). Contemporary gay and lesbian film criticism of Production Code era films operates on the same principle, with the added limitations that historical evidence and homosexual “images” censored. Thus, in order to ensure “the survival of subcultural identity within an oppressive society,” gay and lesbian film critics have employed a wide range of interpretive strategies to recuperate a history of homosexual images from the censored screen. The emphasis, therefore, has been on “subtexting” censored films from a singular presentist perspective. (Sophie Cleghorn)

Sources:

*Mike Mashon & James Bell for Pre-Code Hollywood Before the Censors-BFI  Sight & Sound Magazine (April 2019)

*Archives Unbound (1http://gdc.gale.com/archivesunbound/)

*Sophie Cleghorn: The Hollywood Production Code of 1930 and LGBT Characters.

*Wikipedia-Pre-Code

*David Lugowski-Queering the (New) Deal)

*Chon Noriega

During the period of Pre-Code, queer humor appeared in films such as Just Imagine (1930) and the The Warrior’s Husband (1933). The male characters were feminized because of their affinity for writing poetry. This asserted that they must be queer.

The Warrior’s Husband directed by Walter Lang, is a film primarily cast with women. Yet the air of queerness permeates throughout because the women, featuring a butch Queen, are Amazons. Gender is inverted and several other female rulers cross-dress and exude a lesbian vibe. It is inhabited by independent women and swishy men who camped it up as ‘queens’ amusing themselves by flirting with all the good-looking men.

The Warrior’s Husband image courtesy Peplums Blogspot.com

Like so much self deemed culturally aberrant, the homosexual appears with greater frequency and readier acceptance in Pre-Code Hollywood cinema “The thirties was surprisingly full of fruity character comedians and gravel-voice bulldyke character comediennes” film critic Andrew Sarris observed in his touchstone study The American Cinema “but it was always played so straight that when ((character actors) Franklin Pangborn or Cecil Cunningham went into their routines, it was possible to laugh without being too sophisticated.” Maybe in the later thirties the homosexual was played straight but in the Pre-Code era, he and she was playing queer. No sophistication was needed to read the same sex orientations as gender disorientations.- Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Miriam Hopkins got the part of free-spirited Gilda in Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living 1933. This original Noël Coward play actually featured a Ménage à Trois between the three Bohemian lovebirds in Paris of the decadent thirties. The film also starred Gary Cooper as artist George Cooper, and Fredric March as playwright Tom Chambers. The liberated Gilda becomes the girl both men fall in love with. They three make a pact to keep their mutual attractions platonic, but that doesn’t last too long, and they each begin a sexual relationship. When George comes back from a trip to Nice, he finds that Tom has taken up with Gilda. “I can’t believe I loved you both.”

Ben Hecht’s screenplay didn’t have a trace of any Coward’s romantic relationship between George and Tom. Ernst Lubitsch, known for his sophisticated style, directed memorable witty interactions between all four players. Edward Everett Horton as Max Plunkett plays Miriam’s bland suitor. Horton is, as usual, a whimsical idiosyncratic delight to watch. And Franklin Pangborn Mr. Douglas, Theatrical Producer is a perfect theatrical queen who is thoroughly annoyed when Gilda approaches him in the restaurant about Tom’s (Fredric March) play “Good Night Bassington”, as she leaves him with this thought, “There, read it, I’m sure you’ll adore it, it’s a woman’s play…”

Al Jolson “Boys will be boys” Wonder Bar (1934)

Any portrayal of on-screen “sex perversion” or homosexuality, even those connected with various tropes of ‘deviant’ sexual behavior were restricted after the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934.

Lending the Code moral authority even within the limits of pure love, asserted the Code delicately certain facts have been universally regarded by lawmakers as outside the limits of safe presentation Father Lord and Mr. Quigley saw no need to defile the document by typesetting long lists of “pointed profanity” or “vulgar expressions” Likewise, the prohibition against homosexuality dared not speak the name, but it didn’t need to spell it out. “Impure Love” the love which society has always regarded as wrong and which has been named by divine law… must not be presented as attractive or beautiful.”-Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Different From the Others (1919) Conrad Veidt and Fritz Schulz two musicians in love — during the period of Pre-Code.

But, outside of the United States, films were a little more adventurous. Austrian director Richard Oswald’s film bravely shows two men in love. The “third sex” was eventually mocked. One of the earliest films to feature two men in love was the 1919 silent film from Germany,  Different From the Others. Director Richard Oswald’s story of two male musicians in love had a typical unhappy ending, but it depicted gay people in a positive light. The film condemned the German law known as Paragraph 175, which outlawed gay behavior. Different Than the Others was censored soon after it was released. Starring Conrad Veidt it is considered the first pro-gay film.

Joseph Breen viewed any meaningful treatment of queer cinema as perverted. Conrad Veidt also gave an emotionally evocative role in The Man Who Laughs 1928, playing a violinist who falls for his student and is then blackmailed for it. The risking Nazi party in Germany attempted to erase these films from the screen, and this made Oswald to flee to the America.

But, the Hays Code made certain that no films of this type would be seen in the United States. Even books and plays with gay, lesbian or bisexual narratives were reworked and any content related to the subject was erased in order to meet the social code of the time.

Other non-American films included Dreyer’s Michael (1924) and Mädchen in Uniform (1931) directed by Leontine Sagan and again in (1958) with Lilli Palmer as Fräulein Elisabeth von Bernburg and Romy Schneider as Manuela von Meinhardis. And Viktor Und Viktoria (1933) directed by Reinhold Schünzel.

Mädchen in Uniform (1931) was directed by Leotine Sagan, and starred Dorothea Wieck and Hertha Thiele.

William Dieterle’s Pre-Code German film Sex in Chains (1928) stars the director as Franz Sommer a man sent to prison for manslaughter who, though longing for his wife, develops a close relationship with his cell mate. A fellow inmate informs Franz that he’s “lived to see someone unman himself, just so he could finally sleep.”

In 1927, during the Pre-Code period, director William Wellman’s Wings won an Academy Award for Best Picture, and it also depicted the first gay kiss between two men in American cinema.

Wings follows two Air Force pilots in World War I, Jack (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and Dave (Richard Arlen) who at first rivals for the affections of the beautiful Mary (Clara Bow) before they discover the underlying love they begin to feel for each other. During a boxing match at training camp gets to rough and Jack knocks Dave bloody and silly. Dave gazes up at Jack with an epiphany and the two walk off arm and arm as close ‘buddies’. The relationship is referred to as friendship, but the film paints a picture of two men falling in love.

Dave is mortally wounded in combat at the end of the picture, Jack embraces his dying ‘friend’ with a tender yet impassioned kiss while Mary looks on, framed with her on the outside looking in. Wellman humanizes the men’s close relationship in this scene when Jack leans into Dave to embrace him as he dies. He lets him know that nothing has meant more to him than their relationship. The moment feels sympathetic instead of exploitative, yet as he mourns Dave’s death. And though it is tinged with homoerotic elements, the case can always be made that it is a story about war, which brought two men closer together.

The Knocking Knees dance. Horton’s homosexuality – comedic, subtle and acceptable in The Gay Divorcee (1934)

In The Gay Divorcee (1934) crossing the threshold is the archetypal ‘Sissy’, Edward Everett Horton. Marginalized audiences were looking to the movies for any indication of the familiar, any little crumbs left as a trail to be picked up. For instance there is a moment in Johnny Guitar, the fiercely burning with sensual brawn, Joan Crawford. Bigger than life up on that screen, androgynous in her black cowboy shirt, strides down the stairs, gun in her holster waiting to confront coded dyke, Mercedes McCambridge. Many women’s chests, mine included, heaved a little with delight. That flutter of excitement hit us again when Doris Day sings the sentimental “Secret Love” in Calamity Jane (1953).

In Myrt and Marge (1934) Ray Hedges plays the flaming stage hand Clarence Tiffingtuffer he’s told “Here put this in the trunk and don’t wear it” speaking about one of the show girls costumes. In his boldly effete manner “If we got the runs on the show, the way the girls got in their stockings, I could put the 2nd down payment on my Kimono.”

Clara Bow, Willard Robertson and Estelle Taylor in Call Her Savage (1932)

From Call Her Savage 1932 purportedly the first on screen gay bar.

In director William Wyler’s These Three (1936) the relationship between Miriam Hopkin’s Martha and Merle Oberon’s Karen was delicately subtle and though to mainstream audiences might be seemingly obvious to interpret as two women attracted to the male lead, Joel McCrea. It revised Hellman’s play that centered around Martha’s love that dare not speak it’s name, for Karen. Sam Goldwyn bought the rights to Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour, a story depicting the supposed ‘carryings-on’ of two female teachers at a private school for girls. Though, These Three on it’s face is the story of a love triangle between two women and a man, it could read as Martha being more uncomfortable with the presence of Dr. Cardin (McCrea) because he is intruding on her closed relationship with Karen. The later screenplay adapted to film, The Children’s Hour (1961) directed by William Wyler, was boldly more explicit and revealed the true nature of Martha’s predicament and her struggling with her love for Karen.

These Three (1936) Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins

The Children’s Hour (1961) Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn

Coded characters in film were on the screen relaying messages and signaling to those of us who understand and who are “in the life: that movies can reflect the existence of a queer reality. These representations were not necessarily a positive, but films showed evidence that we exist. You would see it in a revealing gesture, or an air of difference about them, though it would be inconspicuous to audiences that were unaware of the cues.

Continue reading “Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

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”

Quote of the Day! The Hustler (1961) “You’re too hungry”

“A searching look into the innermost depths of a woman’s heart . . . and a man’s desires!”

The Hustler (1961)

Sarah to Eddie “You’re too hungry”

Director/Screenwriter Robert Rossen wrote the screenplay for Marked Woman (1937), They Won’t Forget (1937), Dust Be My Destiny (1939), Out of the Fog (1941), Blues in the Night (1941), Edge of Darkness (1943), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Johnny O’Clock (1947), Desert Fury (1947) and wrote the screenplay for Billy Budd. Rossen also wrote and directed All the Kings Men (1949), Mambo (1954), and the psycho-sexual labyrinth set in a mental institution in the early 1960s starring Jean Seberg-Lilith (1964) perhaps Rossen’s most dark and nihilistic vision of the human spirit yet. He directed John Garfield and Lilli Palmer in Body and Soul (1947). Robert Rossen was a pool hustler himself as a youth. Based on the novel by Walter S. Tevis.

Music by Kenyon Hopkins (12 Angry Men 1957, The Strange One 1957, The Fugitive Kind 1960, Elmer Gantry 1960, East Side/West Side 1963-46, Lilith 1964, television movies, Dr. Cook’s Garden 1971, Women in Chains 1972, Night of Terror 1972, The Devil’s Daughter 1973 and tv’s The Odd Couple 1970-73).

Robert Rossen is one of the most fascinating unexplored American directors, for his interesting viewpoint on alienation in the world and that constant elusive souvenir of the spirit one’s identity. Rossen has been quoted as saying that his favorite Shakespearean play was Macbeth. In it he said he found a “dramatization of the ambiguity of the human condition… man reaching for the symbols of his identity, rather than the reality, destroying yet finding himself in the tragic process.” 

In Rossen’s collection of works you can see the more aggressive symbols played out as the representations of male power, domination and violence as physical love. He told The New York Sun in 1947 that “Real life is ugly… but we can’t make good pictures until we’re ready to tell about it.”

Body and Soul (1947) written by Robert Rossen and Directed by Abraham PolonskyShown: back: William Conrad (as Quinn), Joseph Pevney (as Shorty Polaski) , John Garfield (as Charlie Davis)

After his gangster film Johnny O’Clock Rossen directed with the conventions of the crime genre Body and Soul (1947). Then Rossen directed The Hustler which used a breakthrough in technique and stretched the boundaries of social realism in the way Kazan had. The film like his All the Kings Men is still about the corrupt influences of money but on a deeper level it is driven by a darker motivation-the illusionary symbols of self worth, with George C. Scott’s character playing at Eddie’s weakness as a gambler and a seeker, like a devil daring him toward damnation. He is a sadist and ultimately seeks Eddies dependency and ruination and Sarah’s self-destruction.

Sarah tells Eddie “We are all crippled.” Sarah has the insight to see into the future yet she is beyond all the wounds inflicted in her life and can not forestall what will happen outside the confines of their little world that is her cluttered apartment. Sarah and Bert battle it out for Eddie’s soul. It is an ugly power struggle, and there are so many brilliantly executed frames that represent Rossen’s complex themes within The Hustler.

The film also co-stars Michael Constantine, Vincent Gardenia, Murray Hamilton and Myron McCormick who is always compelling in any role, plays Eddie’s devoted manager Charlie Burns who takes the journey with Eddie at first and winds up being pushed out by the hostile and rancorous Bert Gordon. Murry Hamilton is fantastic as he inhabits the coded gay character of the pretentious and effete gambler Findley.

The Hustler is a a moral allegory about life and the inter-relationships of miscreants, losers and lost souls struggling to find themselves in a gritty, unsatisfying world that permeates the world of the competitive underground sport of shooting pool. Fast Eddie has been working his way up to finally have a showdown with the reigning legend Minnesota Fats. The film is a restless contemplation merged with some dynamic scenes of maneuvering on the pool table.

The film opens with a smoke filled pool palace in Pittsburgh with a sign ‘gambling not allowed’. It’s a hangout for pool sharks, called hustlers. Paul Newman plays Fast Eddie, a smug young man who was born to take suckers for a ride, feeling that wood between his anxious fingers he can spot a ripe table waiting for him to swoop in for the kill. But Eddie with all his mythological ambition just doesn’t know when it’s time to quit. Eddie goes 25 consecutive rounds with the legendary Minnesota Fats and it appears like he’s got the marathon match in his corner pocket when he starts knocking back the whiskey, and can’t just take win with dignity he has to demolish Fats and allow his ego to drive the rest of the rest of the way home. The scene is shot in a dynamic half hour sequence using gorgeous black and white photography in cinemascope and Schüfftan‘s (who won an Oscar for his camera-work) eye for detail he honed on Fritz Lang’s surreal Metropolis, the film he developed special effects for. The sequence of this film is nothing short of riveting. The set up is mesmerizing as we are drawn into a timeless expanse as the different approaches to the game unfold, as pool stick meets ball, ball dances with ball and fills the pockets like cannon fire, while the spectators whose expressions are glued to every move as if in a trance.

Fats who is way more graceful and composed manages to win back his loot and leave the cocky and exhausted Eddie practically penniless. Eddie’s got a keen skill for the game but he doesn’t have self control or character. Bert Gordon played by actor George C. Scott tempts Eddie like Mephistopheles to sell his soul to him with the promise that he can not only make his dream come true of being the greatest, but to also avenge the ass kicking that he took from Fats. As cock-sure as Eddie appears, he has no fortitude and winds up abandoning his honor and his love for Sarah in order to seek the rematch with the Fat man.

Piper Laurie’s character Sarah Packard is a liberated forward-thinking woman who while bares the damages of life, is independent though alienated from the rest of the world because of her open wounds. She is trying to be a writer and drinks too much. She wants to be loved, and Eddie wants to be the best.

And so he sells his soul to Bert Gordon who is the films Faustian metaphor. The early 60s began an era of films that began to embrace controversial adult themed narratives, that dealt with race, class dynamics and the changing roles that were taking place with gender.

[Fast Eddie is bothered because Bert called him a born loser]

Fast Eddie: “Cause, ya see, twice, Sarah… once at Ames with Minnesota Fats and then again at Arthur’s, in that cheap, crummy pool room, now why’d I do it, Sarah? Why’d I do it? I coulda beat that guy, coulda beat ‘im cold, he never woulda known. But I just hadda show ‘im. Just hadda show those creeps and those punks what the game is like when it’s great, when it’s REALLY great. You know, like anything can be great, anything can be great. I don’t care, BRICKLAYING can be great, if a guy knows. If he knows what he’s doing and why and if he can make it come off. When I’m goin’, I mean, when I’m REALLY goin’ I feel like a… like a jockey must feel. He’s sittin’ on his horse, he’s got all that speed and that power underneath him… he’s comin’ into the stretch, the pressure’s on ‘im, and he KNOWS… just feels… when to let it go and how much. Cause he’s got everything workin’ for ‘im: timing, touch. It’s a great feeling, boy, it’s a real great feeling when you’re right and you KNOW you’re right. It’s like all of a sudden I got oil in my arm. The pool cue’s part of me. You know, it’s uh – pool cue, it’s got nerves in it. It’s a piece of wood, it’s got nerves in it. Feel the roll of those balls, you don’t have to look, you just KNOW. You make shots that nobody’s ever made before. I can play that game the way… NOBODY’S ever played it before.”

Sarah Packard: “You’re not a loser, Eddie, you’re a winner. Some men never get to feel that way about anything.”

Rossen wrote the screenplay and directed this gripping story of fast Eddie Felson, as he strives to knock Minnesota Fats down a peg and capture the title of best pool hustler in the country, taking Fats (Jackie Gleason who was perfect as he manifested the character of Fats, well-dressed, reserved and showed a deep reverence and concentration to the game.) on in a high-stakes game that challenges no only his keen gift for shooting pool but on the line is his self respect and his nebulous masculine identity.

Fast Eddie to Fats: You know, I got a hunch, fat man. I got a hunch it’s me from here on in. One ball, corner pocket. I mean, that ever happen to you? You know, all of a sudden you feel like you can’t miss? ‘Cause I dreamed about this game, fat man. I dreamed about this game every night on the road. Five ball. You know, this is my table, man. I own it.

Along the way, he falls in love with Sarah Packford immortalized on the screen in 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. Rossen has often dealt with the intricacies within the psychological landscape of his films.

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 (Has Anybody Seen My Gal 1952, The Mississippi Gambler 1953, Dangerous Mission 1954, Johnny Dark 1954, Ain’t Misbehavin’ 1955, and director Curtis Harrington’s Ruby 1977, Children of a Lesser God 1986, Dario Argento’s Trauma 1993, The Crossing Guard 1995, The Dead Girl 2006 and television series-Naked City, Ben Casey, The Eleventh Hour) discovered that Paul Newman was truly down to earth – “He really didn’t believe in himself as an actor at all. He thought he had great limitations, and owed everything to other people- the Actors Studio, Joanne- he seemed not to take credit for himself.”

Laurie didn’t make another film over the course of 15 years until she returned to the screen in Brian dePalma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie (1976), which earned her a second Oscar nomination as the religious fanatic archetypal devouring mother a role that would ignite a new fire under the icons of horror movie fiends and villains.

Sarah and Eddie meet in the bus terminal. They both have a drinking problem, especially Sarah who drowns her self-pity in booze. She was born with a deformity in her foot which makes her limp, and gives her a feeling of self hatred and undesirability that Eddie breaks through with his smooth talking swagger. He manages to reach in and touch her heart but his reckless abandon to win, overshadows Sarah’s cries for help and her self destructive nature cannot withstand the competition for Eddie’s soul.

Sarah Packard: I love you, Eddie.

Fast Eddie: You know, someday, Sarah, you’re gonna settle down… you’re gonna marry a college professor and you’re gonna write a great book. Maybe about me. Huh? Fast Eddie Felson… hustler.

Sarah Packard: I love you.

Fast Eddie: You need the words?

Sarah Packard: Yes, I need them very much. If you ever say them I’ll never let you take them back.

To achieve Sarah’s limp, Piper Laurie first experimented with walking around with pebbles in her shoes. “Finally, I just did it without anything, because Rossen didn’t want an obvious limp; he didn’t want it consistent because he felt he wanted the audience to be aware of it sometimes and not other times.”

The two shack up and set up house in Sarah’s apartment that is subsidized by her father’s money. Eddie is obsessed with winning. Their relationship is turbulent and dysfunctional, then enters George C. Scott as Bert Gordon a misanthropic snake in the grass who exploits Eddie and interferes with his relationship with Sarah. Once Bert Gordon slithers into the closed world of Eddie’s pool hustling and his love affair with Sarah, that world is corrupted, and Eddie begins to lose his way.

Ulu Grosbard later noted that the interior of Sarah’s apartment was built in a studio at 55th St. and 10th Ave. He said the actors’ dressing rooms there were very small and, in his memory, without windows, “like cells,” but that Piper Laurie furnished hers “as if she were going to live in it the rest of her life.” It was Grosbard’s impression that Laurie would sometimes spend the night there.

Bert Gordon: Eddie, is it alright if I get personal?

Fast Eddie: Whaddaya been so far?

Bert Gordon: Eddie, you’re a born loser.

Fast Eddie: What’s that supposed to mean?

Bert Gordon: First time in ten years I ever saw Minnesota Fats hooked… really hooked. But you let him off.

Fast Eddie: I told you I got drunk.

Bert Gordon: Sure you got drunk. You have the best excuse in the world for losing; no trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning… that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey. You’ll drop that load too when you got an excuse. All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. One of the best indoor sports, feeling sorry for yourself. A sport enjoyed by all, especially the born losers.

Bert Gordon: You’re here on a rain check and I know it. You’re hangin’ on by your nails. You let that glory whistle blow loud and clear for Eddie and you’re a wreck on a railroad track… you’re a horse that finished last. So don’t make trouble, Miss Ladybird. Live and let live! While you can. I’ll make it up to you.

Sarah Packard: How?

Bert Gordon: You tell me.

Fast Eddie: I loved her, Bert. I traded her in on a pool game. But that wouldn’t mean anything to you. Because who did you ever care about? Just win, win, you said, win, that’s the important thing. You don’t know what winnin’ is, Bert. You’re a loser. ‘Cause you’re dead inside, and you can’t live unless you make everything else dead around ya.

The Hustler is an extraordinary character study of the how humans bang into each other like the balls on the table, and no one really wins. It’s got a slick rhythm to it’s movement and editing by the wonderful Dede Allen and the Eugen Schüfftan (Metropolis 1927, Bluebeard (1944), Strange Illusion (1945), The Strange Woman 1946, The Bloody Brood (1959), Eyes Without a Face 1960,  Something Wild (1961) Lilith (1964) Eugen Schüfftan’s style is uniquely dark and almost mythic in it’s visual abstraction of reality.

IMDb trivia –

The picture was shot by Eugen Schüfftan, who had invented an optical effects process that employed mirrors to create backgrounds. According to crew reports, many of the pool room shots employed this process to varying degrees. The picture was also shot in CinemaScope, a wide-screen process usually reserved for big epics and action pictures.

The camera descends like Orpheus into the seedy smoky hidden world of the American pool hall, gazing at the sweaty mercenaries who hunger to hear the clicking and smacking of the balls making contact as they encircle the pool tables like birds of prey.

According to editor Dede Allen, an entire scene from this film was omitted after much deliberation between Allen and her director Robert Rossen. Even though both agreed that the scene, an impassioned speech by Paul Newman in the pool room, was possibly the best part of his entire performance, they had to throw it out because “…it didn’t move the story.” Newman, though Oscar-nominated, later claimed that the deleted scene most likely cost him the Academy Award. Dede Allen liked working with Robert Rossen because he was the kind of director who shot scenes from every possible angle, providing her with a wide range of cover footage that allowed for various interpretations and possibilities.

American actress Piper Laurie as Sarah Packard in ‘The Hustler’, directed by Robert Rossen, 1961. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

The film was also somewhat autobiographical for Robert Rossen, relating to his dealings with the House Un-American Activities Committee. A screenwriter during the 1930s and ’40s, he had been involved with the Communist Party in the 1930s and refused to name names at his first HUAC appearance. Ultimately he changed his mind and identified friends and colleagues as party members. Similarly, Felson sells his soul and betrays the one person who really knows and loves him in a Faustian pact to gain character.

When it was necessary to show some of the trickier shots, 14 time world billiards champion Willie Mosconi (who was also the film’s technical advisor) would play the stunt hands.

Otherwise Jackie Gleason who was already an accomplished pool plays and Paul Newman had never held a pool cue before he landed the role of Fast Eddie Felson. He took out the dining room table from his home and installed a pool table so he could spend every waking hour practicing and polishing up his skills

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying wrack ’em up and then join me for another go around here at The Last Drive In

 

What a Character! 2018 – Sassy Sisterhood: Eileen Heckart & Louise Latham

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.

Continue reading “What a Character! 2018 – Sassy Sisterhood: Eileen Heckart & Louise Latham”

The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon: the 60s: The Bold & The Beautiful

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HOSTED BY THOSE BRILLIANT, PROLIFIC & WITTY WRITERS- FRITZI FROM MOVIES SILENTLY, RUTH FROM SILVER SCREENINGS AND AURORA FROM ONCE UPON A SCREEN!

THE 60S:THE BOLD & THE BEAUTIFUL: 1960-1969

bold |bōld|
adjective
1 (of a person, action, or idea) showing an ability to take risks; confident and courageous: a bold attempt to solve the crisis | he was the only one bold enough to air his dislike.
• dated (of a person or manner) so confident as to suggest a lack of shame or modesty: she tossed him a bold look.

“I am my own woman” –Eva Perón

(source edited)- by Jürgen Müller‘s for TASCHEN’s Movies of the 60s- “Like no other decade before or since, the 60s embodied the struggle against a jaded, reactionary establishment. As the Vietnam War dragged on, the protests grew in scale and intensity. Revolution ran riot, in the streets and on the silver screen. The movies of the epoch tell tales of rebellion and sexual liberation, and above all they show how women began to emancipate from their traditional roles as housewives or sex bombs…”

Drew Casper writes, “Some films still styled along classic lines while others simultaneously embodied both the old and new approaches… Stirred the placid waters of the classical with grittier degrees of realism with their accompanying darker sensibilities.” –Postwar Hollywood 1946-1962

Women like Jane Fonda, Anna Magnani, Simone Signoret, Audrey Hepburn, Ann Bancroft, Piper Laurie, Angie Dickinson,Bette Davis, Joanne Woodward, Patricia Neal and so many more became iconic for breaking the old mold and grabbing a new kind of individualism without judgement and new kind of self expression.

Barry Keith Grant writes in American Cinema of the 1960s-“The decade was one of profound change and challenge for Hollywood, as it sought to adapt to both technological innovation and evolving cultural taste.”

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In the 1960s we began to see more films like The Group 1966, Valley of the Dolls 1967, Bunny Lake is Missing 1965, Who Killed Teddy Bear 1965, Mr.Buddwing 1966, Walk on the Wild Side 1962, A Patch of Blue 1965, The Explosive Generation 1961, The Young Savages 1961, Look in Any Window 1961, Pressure Point 1962, Claudelle Inglish 1961, One Potato Two Potato  1964, Lilith 1964, Butterfield 8,(1960), Cul de Sac 1966, The Pumpkin Eater 1964, Sanctuary 1961, Belle du Jour 1967, Lolita 1962, The Children’s Hour 1961, Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961, Rachel Rachel 1968, Up the Junction 1968, Darling 1965, To Kill a Mockingbird 1962, A Rage to Live 1965, Kitten With a Whip 1964, The Naked Kiss 1964, The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone 1961, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962 , Juliet of the Spirits 1965, Psyche 59 (1964) ,Lady in a Cage 1964.  & Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964

And of course the films I’m covering here. These films began to recognize an audience that had a taste for less melodrama and more realistic themes, not to mention the adult-centric narratives with a veracious Mise-en-scène

PS: I would have included Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby but that is my favorite film and plan on doing a special post in honor of this brilliant timeless masterpiece… and Mia’s quintessential performance.

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Though I’ve decided not to include Breakfast at Tiffany’s this is my little nod to Audrey Hepburn and cat…

As a little glance into a portion of cinematic history over the decade of the burgeoning sixties -The following are particular favorites of mine… Bold & Beautiful ‘as is’ and Beyond need of Redemption!

1960

ELMER GANTRY with JEAN SIMMONS as Sister Sharon Falconer & Shirley Jones as Lulu

Shirley Jones as good time girl Lulu Bains!

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Lulu Bains: “Oh, he gave me special instructions back of the pulpit Christmas Eve. He got to howlin’ “Repent! Repent!” and I got to moanin’ “Save me! Save me!” and the first thing I know he rammed the fear of God into me so fast I never heard my old man’s footsteps.”

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Elmer Gantry is always chasing dreams and always telling dirty stories is the smooth talking traveling salesman, brought to life by Burt Lancaster who portrays his character with a bit more sensuality than Sinclair Lewis‘ cold predatory con man. Gantry is a hard drinking provocateur and a lady’s man. Raised by a father who quoted verse, he has a swift grasp of the Bible and uses it to insinuated himself into Sister Sharon’s hell fire traveling road show. Though he is a skeptic, he sees a great light in Sister Sharon and the potential to fill the coffers with riches!

The sublimely beautiful Jean Simmons is as ethereally angelic as she is a pure sensuality. Sister Sharon Falconer is a young revivalist in the style of Aimee Semple McPherson. Sharon is at first righteous and unwavering in her convictions, she begins to awaken unto the spell of the charming and bigger than life Elmer Gantry. Elmer starts out poetically ruthless as he insinuates himself into Sharon’s life, until she loses her firm grip on her faithful mission and their attraction blossoms into a physical one.

One night he craftily sweet talks Sharon’s virginity away from her, though she is a very willing participant ready to be freed from the confines of her stifling religious prison.

Sharon struggles with her identity as a pious figure and a sexually aroused woman. Simmons is an actress of fine distinction who can work with that duality bringing to the screen a role with great complexity. She is also stuck in between the conflict that ensues between Elmer and her manager Bill Morgan (Dean Jagger) who doesn’t like nor trust Gantry’s influence over Sharon.

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Bill Morgan –“That’s pitchman’s talk, what do you know about the background of our work. The nature of revivalism is fertile it grew out of frontier life. Big city people are apt to be more cynical” Elmer Gantry “They’re more sinful too, and more lonely and more unhappy and Shara they need you more…” Bill Morgan “I’m against this!” Gantry “Bill Morgan you’re an old sourpuss. This is a passport to the promised land.” Bill Morgan- “I am not your boy, I don’t know how you deluded her but to me everything about you is offensive You’re a crude vulgar show off. And your vocabulary belongs in an outhouse” Gantry “Crude, vulgar, show off ha…you know something you’re right Bill. Let’s put it this way. You’re a five dollar text book, me… I”m a two cent tabloid newspaper… You’re too good for the people… I am the people…sure I’m common, Just like most people”. Sharon “The common people put Christianity on the map in the first place…Bill -“What are you saying that you want to go to Zenith?” Sharon says- “I wonder what God wants!”
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Sharon tells Gantry,“You’re so outrageous! I think I like you. You’re amusing, and you smell like a real man.”

Sister Sharon created herself from nothing and is now pragmatic and independent with a vision to capture the world, by building a temple for the people so she can share the good word of God. No more traveling as a revival side show attraction. She is brave, dedicated and faithful to the end. And I won’t spoil the ending– at least I will say that she is a true believer and a real woman filled with passion on both sides of the coin. She allows herself to be seduced by Gantry, yet still is fiercely dedicated to building her own tabernacle so she may offer comfort and inspiration to those in need.

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Sharon “ God chose me to do his work” Gantry-‘ Me Too Sharon “No I chose you…”

Shirley Jones is fabulous as Lulu Banes who was first seduced by Gantry while she was the Deacon’s daughter now…. a call girl from Elmer’s tawdry past, who tries to rake up a little gossip and cash as payback for Mr. Gantry ditching her. Okay, there’s some blackmail involved when she sees the opportunity because there’s sour grapes as Gantry left Lulu in the lurch, with a broken heart. But in the end, Lulu’s got integrity. She’s plucky, and has some of the best lines in the film and hey she’s not only a call girl… she a nice girl…

She’s so lovable that Shirley Jones won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress that year!

Elmer and Lulu

It’s interesting to hear that it took actor Author Kennedy to get Simmons potted on milk and gin before she felt comfortable enough to do the scene where the revival tent catches fire and flaming debris is falling around her head.

Both Jean Simmons and Shirley Jones caught the spirit in this film!

Elmer Gantry wound up being a very controversial film when it was released directed by Richard Brooks, adapted from the book by Sinclair Lewis with lush and pulpy cinematography by John Alton and a stirring score by the great André Previn. And terrific costume designed by the brilliant Dorothy Jeakins (The Sound of Music 1965, The Way We Were 1974).

THE FUGITIVE KIND with ANNA MAGNANI as Lady Torrance

“Let’s get this straight, you don’t interest me no more than the air you stand in.”-Lady Torrance to Val

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Directed by Sidney Lumet, The Fugitive Kind is based on the play Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams who also penned the screenplay. At this point there’s shouldn’t be any doubt about my passion for Mr. Williams or Anna Magnani.

Anna Magnani is a primal force of sensuality winning an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Serafina Delle Rose in the marvelous, The Rose Tattoo 1955. (“A clown with my husband’s body!”)

The Fugitive Kind has a gritty, allure not only due to the level of acting by Magnani and Brando or the evocative material it’s partly due to Boris Kaufman’s  (12 Angry Men 1957, On the Waterfront 1954) edgy cinematography.

Anna Mangani delivers another impassioned performance as Lady an equally potent role as a shop owner in Louisiana who is chained to a brutal marriage by her vindictive and dying husband Jabe (Victor Jory) when along comes Marlon Brando as Valentine “Snakeskin’ Xavier a guitar playing roamer who takes a job in the shop until Lady’s jaded loneliness and Valentine’s raw animal magnetism combust..

Brando plays the solitary Val, a drifter who’s presence is as commanding as a lion stalking. Val comes into the small town where Lady Torrance runs the shop, her husband Jabe is mostly bed ridden, dying of cancer, but also eaten up with jealousy and hatred toward his wife, foreigners and outliers. He’s vicious and controlling and Lady lives out her days caring for this angry and miserable man, until Val comes into her life, changing Lady’s stoicism awakening her heart releasing her desires.

Magnani gives a powerful performance of a woman starved from sexual pleasure, mentally abused by her husband and bemoaning the days when the wine flowed like a river at her father’s vineyard that was suspiciously burned to the ground.

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Lady-“What are you doing with a snakeskin jacket?” Val-“It used to be a trademark I was a, I used to be an entertainer in New Orleans.” Lady-“It fits warm alright Val It’s probably warm from my body Lady You must be a warm blooded boy,,, what are you looking for around here?” Val-“You might have some work for me.” Lady-“Hhm boys like you don’t work Val-“What do you mean boys like me” Lady “Ones that play the guitar and go around talking about how warm they are. I can hire no stranger with a snake skin jacket and a guitar and a temperature like a dog”

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Magnani manifests an authenticity that comes from a battered past and present, yet she exudes an enduring sense of love and passion. Lady dreams of fixing up the outside part of the store as a confectionery festooned with white lights and delicate atmosphere and Val can sing and play his guitar.

At first interviewing for a job is an awkward exchange. Once Lady and Val have a very intense and thoughtful conversation, she decides that she likes this strange talking boy and hires him to work in the store. The tension is visible even in the darkly lit scene and through the diffuse patch of light you can see their chemistry brewing.

Lady is taken with this strange talking boy who begins to tell her about people. “there’s two kinds of people in this world, the buyers and the people who get bought.” Then he tells her about a type of bird that has no legs so it can never land. It’s a meditative moment, and Brando is magnificent.
“…cause they don’t see ’em, they don’t see em way up in that high blue sky near the sun they  spread their wings out and go to sleep on the wind and they only alight on this world just one time, it’s when they die.”

Val is pursued by Carol Cutere, (Joanne Woodward) the quirky local tramp from a wealthy family, who worships his snakeskin jacket as well as his incredible ‘hot’ body. But, Val finds himself drawn to the evocative and more complex Lady. They begin an affair, fall in love and Lady gets pregnant. Will they be like the bird that can never land, only sleep on the wind and the day they land is the day they die…

Anna and Marlon
Lady Torrance: Are you a lady’s man? Valentine ‘Snakeskin’ Xavier: It’s been said that a woman can burn a man down… But I can burn a woman down, if I wanted to.
Lady -“Let’s get one thing straight… You don’t interest me no more than the air you stand in”

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1961

A COLD WIND IN AUGUST with LOLA ALBRIGHT as Iris Hartford

If you care about love, you’ll talk about a teenage boy and a woman who is all allure, all tenderness… and too much experience! – tagline

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Lola

“What’s more I don’t like to work in New York. I never have. I live here. I like it. I like this house. I like eating at home, I like living like a human being. Why should I knock myself out. this is my retreat you know.”

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Directed by Alexander Singer  with a slick burlesque/modern jazz score by Gerald Fried. 

Lola Albright  stirs the libido as a very classy ex-stripper Iris Hartford a very intoxicating woman who seduces a naive and inexperienced working-class boy, Vito Pellegrino (Scott Marlowe) who falls deeply in love with her. Soon Vito begins to feel the disparate reality of their relationship. Once his reality is shattered, discovering that she is a stripper, Vito ends the affair with Iris, seeking out a neighborhood girl who is of his own age.

Lola Albright has a very sophisticated way of coming across on screen with a reserved yet palpable dignity. But Iris generates an undercurrent of provocative and alluring intelligence. Marlowe has always been great as a either a clever playboy or whiny young man, who isn’t quite getting what he wants.

A Cold Day in August examines an authentic journey for a young boy who experiences his first sexual awakening with an older woman. And their socially unorthodox relationship not only serves the film’s exploitative narrative it comes across quite genuine because of Albright’s very real sexual magnetism and the attraction by an impressionable boy.

Hey you need a hair cut boy hasn't your mother told you?
“Hey you need a hair cut boy hasn’t your mother told you?”

Of course the film works on the level of titillation & taboo because Iris is not only older than Vito, she is ALL woman and then some for any man. She would be considered a tramp because she used to take her clothes off for a living. Her ex-husband comes back into the picture and pleads with her to fill in for a week in NYC, but that life was far gone by now.

When Iris first seduces Vito she feeds him a dish of ice cream after he fixes her air conditioner. It’s as if she’s rewarding a little boy for doing a good job. In the midst of these queer moments where she desires him yet infantilizes him, they do carry on a sexual relationship. Iris is a free sexual being who makes no apologies for who she is. It doesn’t take too long before Vito realizes that he’s way out of his league, but Iris does initiate him into the world of sex.

I have come to adore Lola Albright this year. In A Cold Wind in August she manifests a kind of existential sensuality as she can offer a nurturing kiss and then go on to take what she needs. She yearns for pleasure which is literally illustrated by her stripper costume of a sort of Queen of Outer Space gold lamé number complete with eye mask, it’s alluring and vulturous at the same time.

Youre a baby,,, such a beautiful baby
Iris strokes Vito’s face tenderly “You’re a baby… such a beautiful baby” 


THE HUSTLER with PIPER LAURIE as Sarah Packard

Sarah Packard: How did you know my name was Sarah? Fast Eddie: You told me. Sarah Packard: I lie. When I’m drunk I lie. Fast Eddie: Okay, so what’s your name today? Sarah Packard: Sarah.

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Robert Rossen (The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers 1946, All the Kings Men 1949, Billy Budd 1962 & Lilith 1964) wrote of all his films, they “Share one characteristic: The hunt for success. Ambition is an essential quality in American society.”

The Hustler is the story of Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) who has a penchant for self punishment and self destructiveness and in his cockiness likes to take on high stakes pool games. He has a dream of bumping Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) off the pedestal of fame. Eddie and Fats meet up and by the end of a very long marathon, Eddie is wiped out and whipped, which doesn’t help his enormous ego.

Eddie meets Sarah (Piper Laurie), a highly educated modern woman. She’s an independent loner, a bit morose, a bit jaded, but somehow she allows Eddie to work his charms on her until she is hooked. Still no matter what happens in the end, Sarah Packard speaks her mind and lives life on her own terms…

Sarah has a physical disability as she walks with a limp, and is referred to as a cripple.

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Finally, as the film progresses, whether Sarah feels that she is perverted and twisted because she sleeps with the repugnant opportunist Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) or drinks too much, or has the need to be loved because of her physical disability, Sarah Packard is such a real character that it breaks your heart.

Tensions arise when manager Bert Gordon signs on to promote Eddie. He’s a shady predator who tries to drive a wedge between Eddie and Sarah, and takes advantage of her one night while Eddie’s away.

Sarah reads poetry and uses alcohol as a way to balm her loneliness, but there’s a strength in her honesty that is very endearing. Talk about guts, Piper Laurie wanted to get a feel of authenticity for her character and so she hung out at the Greyhound Bus Terminal at night.

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IMDb fact: Piper Laurie didn’t make another film for the next 15 years, devoting the time to her marriage and raising her only daughter. She returned to the screen in 1976 in ‘Brian de Palma”s Carrie (1976), earning her second Oscar nomination.

And we all know how bold that performance was…. memorable & cringe-worthy!

At the party that Bert invites Sarah to come to, he whispers something in her ear that makes her toss her drink and run away in tears. The actress talked about this scene in her autobiography. She had met up with George C Scott many years later and “I finally asked him what he had whispered into my ear in the big party scene in The Hustler that elicits a violent response from me. We shot it perhaps three or four times and I could never figure out what he was saying… He told me he chose to use just gibberish, knowing he could never invent words or phrases as powerful as what my imagination could summon up. Probably true.”

That was a very cool approach to the scene which came off beautifully!

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The words Sarah writes on the mirror are “perverted”, “twisted” and “crippled”.
Piper Laurie The Hustler
Sarah Packard: I’m a college girl. Two days a week – Tuesdays and Thursdays – I go to college. Fast Eddie: You don’t look like a college girl. Sarah Packard: I’m the emancipated type. Real emancipated. Fast Eddie: No, I didn’t mean that… whatever that means. I mean you just don’t look young enough. Sarah Packard: I’m not. Fast Eddie: So why go to college? Sarah Packard: Got nothing else to do on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fast Eddie: What do you do on the other days? Sarah Packard: I drink..

THE MISFITS with MARILYN MONROE as Roslyn Tabor

Roslyn: “If I’m going to be alone, I want to be by myself.”

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The Misfits was initially written as a short story by Arthur Miller who was actually waiting for his divorce in Reno to go through before he could marry Marilyn Monroe. Based on a short story in Esquire Magazine, he specifically wrote it for his then wife Marilyn Monroe.

A beautiful divorcée Roslyn Tabor (Marilyn Monroe) who has been put through hell, takes up with a faded cowboy Gay Langland who is still strutting like a lady’s man in early-sixties Nevada. He’s a rugged individualist who wants nothing to do with earning wages. At first she meets up with Isabelle Steers played by the inimitable Thelma Ritter who can throw out a one liner like no one else, anything out of her mouth is gold.

Roslyn is in Reno to divorce her husband Ray. She meets up with Guido (Eli Wallach) who is building his ‘unfinished’ dream house for a wife who died during child birth years ago, yet he still holds a candle to her memory and suffers from WWII bombing raids He sets his sights on Roslyn but his friend Gay Langland (Clark Gable) a crusty old cowboy moves in first and the two start a tenuous relationship. Roslyn is kind and loves all animals, and still thinks kindness is always just around the corner.

Montgomery Clift plays an ambiguously sexual bachelor who drinks to try and take the pain away. All four are non-conformists who begin to form a type of family. Roslyn is thoughtful and sensitive and Gay is a typical male on the prowl. Along for the ride is Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift) who is the most trusting and kind. He is not committed to trapping the horses for pet food, and wishes to stop it too. The horses that roam free are symbolic of the beautiful spirit that Roslyn possesses. A bit sad but tender and kind. Roslyn tags along on a trip up in the mountains with Gable, Eli Wallach and Monty Clift much to Roslyn’s horror that they are capturing horses in order to sell them for dog food.

Marilyn meets Isabelle Steers right after her divorce is granted by the Washoe County Courthouse
Roslyn (Marilyn) meets Isabelle Steers (Thelma Ritter) right after her divorce is granted by the Washoe County Courthouse.

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Roslyn: If I’m going to be alone, I want to be by myself.

Marilyn Monroe later said that she had hated both the film and her own performance. I feel like she is selling herself short. She managed to navigate around the incredible testosterone on screen and off. Perhaps it was her innate sadness that shone through, but she brought a tremendous sensitivity that was an inner sort of beautiful… The Misfits is probably one of my favorite performances by Monroe, it seems like a close look into her sad yet dreamy soul.

A RAISIN IN THE SUN with RUBY DEE as Ruth Younger, CLAUDIA MCNEILL as Mother Lena Younger and DIANA SANDS as Beneatha Younger

Lena Younger crying “Oh God, please, look down and give me strength! “

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Lena Younger crying “Oh God, please, look down and give me strength! “

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A RAISIN IN THE SUN, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, 1961
A RAISIN IN THE SUN, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, 1961

Written by Lorraine Hansberry for the stage then adapted to film and directed by Daniel Petrie

Sometimes there are films and stories that I just immediately have to say “It’s some powerful good.” Maybe it comes from watching a lot of The Andy Griffith Show that has rubbed off on my conversational style. But regardless, A Raisin in the Sun is some powerful good! That’s what happens when an ensemble of incredible actors get together and tell a poignant story about family struggles, in particular, a Black family struggling in a privileged world that works very hard to keep Black people on the ‘outside’ of success, making them continually grasp at that mythical American Dream that just doesn’t exist, at least for most people.

Directed by Daniel Petrie  a story about racial oppression and assumptions. Illustrated vividly in the scene with the marvelous character actor John Fiedler who plays Mark Linder. from the Clybourne park un- “welcoming committee.”

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The woman form a strong wheel that keeps the family moving even when Walter Lee Younger (Sidney Poitier) takes his time coming to terms with his pride.

Mama Lena lived in a time where Black folk had fought so hard during the Civil Rights movement to witness a generation of young Black people to demand and obtain their rights. But there exists in the home a generation gap between her and her children. Walter Lee is a very proud young man who is frustrated with just being a chauffeur. When Lena’s husband’s insurance policy comes to the family, they each have ideas of how to spend it. Three very strong female characters satellite around one man whose identity rests on false notions of success reflected back at him through the lens of a white social class. But Walter Lee is continuously grounded by the strength of the women around him.

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Diana Sands as Beneatha (Dropping to her knees) “Well – I do – all right? – thank everybody! And forgive me for ever wanting to be anything at all! (Pursuing Walter on her knees across the floor) FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME!” Beneatha sarcastically apologizes for having dreams. To Walter, her dream seems kind of far-fetched. However, Beneatha is determined and she stands up to her brother for her right to want to become a doctor.

Beneatha is a progressive woman who railed against being a traditional wife and mother. She was way too independent and a strong female figure for 1962.

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1962*

Cléo FROM 5 TO 7 with CORINNE MARCHAND as Cléo

Florence, ‘Cléo Victoire’: Everybody spoils me. Nobody loves me.

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Cléo is a famous French Chanteuse awaiting the results of a biopsy. She is afraid that she will be told that she has cancer. We as are the spectators we watch Cléo spend two hours in her day until she finds out whether she is going to die. Sounds morbid, but director Agnès Varda (Varda herself was Bold & Beautiful– trained as a master photographer… and at the core or the soul of the French New Wave Cinema) weaves a whimsical visual dance as Cléo walks through the hours of her possibly tenuous life. The film is marvelous and Corinne Marchand as Cléo is a very captivating figure. In France it is said that the hours between five to seven are when lovers gather. Cléo wants to just keep moving in hopes of avoiding the results of her test. Throughout Cléo’s journey she is subtly restrained by the knowledge that she may be dying. Even as she sings torch songs, shops for hats and walks through the streets of Paris.

At 5pm she even visits a Tarot Reader. And just from experience, pulling The Hanged Man in a tarot reading is never really a good thing. And of course Death shows up as well. And the Death card should never be regarded as literal, but under the circumstances it would be frightening to a woman waiting for test results. She asks the woman to read her palm but she refuses, and so Cléo leaves frustrated.

Throughout Cléo wanderings, there are little interactions that lay on the periphery. Knowing that death could be looming overhead, Cléo seems to develop a heightened sense of awareness, even if the actions of  unessential characters are truly incidental surrounding Cléo while she is walking through her two hours.

Cléo wanders through out the streets of Paris with her maid in tow or her friend the nude model. The next stop is at the hat shop, where she proceeds to try on many fashionable hats. Several mirror shots showcase the use of iconography of the female image as seen reflecting back. Cléo looks magnificent in even the most outrageous of hats.

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Cléo and her maid come back to her apartment, that has a nice vast playful quality to it, with a piano, and a wonderful swing, and of course an opulent bed. Cléo reposes in her bed like royalty, as two fluffy kittens toss each other around. José Luis de Vilallonga credited as The Lover comes to see her. There doesn’t seem to be much passion between the two.

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great filmmaker Agnès Varda who fills the screen with photographic images so beautiful so rich… She too is bold & beautiful!

SATAN IN HIGH HEELS with GRAYSON HALL as Pepe

“You’ll EAT and DRINK what I SAY until you lose five pounds IN THE PLACES WHERE I SAY!” -Pepe

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I couldn’t resist paying homage to at least one exploitation film seeing this is about the 60s! With a flavor and atmosphere of night club noir surrounded by decadence and the sordid lives of it’s inhabitants it comes across with a low budget appeal, Satan in High Heels was filmed in New York’s old La Martinique cabaret. This isn’t a film about immorality, it’s plainly just some high art sleaze that is so fun to watch, mainly because of Grayson Hall. Hall has a languid graveled voice that is almost intoxicating to listen to. Putting aside the other two leading ladies voluptuous Sabrina who plays herself, Meg Myles as Stacy Kane a second rate stripper whose wardrobe consists of various leather outfits and riding crop, it’s Grayson Hall (of Dark Shadows fame) that brings the story to a boil as the ultra domineering Pepe– as cool as the center seed of a cucumber.

She’s jaded and cynical and is a New York City kind of Marlene Dietrich with her quick asides and Sapphic strut. Even when she’s taking long drags of her cigarette she can deliver a curt line that cuts to the point, “Bear up, Darling, I love your eyelashes.”

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After Stacy working the carnival circuit discovers her ex husband hanging around the dressing room with a load of cash, she grabs the doe and heads to New York City. Once she arrives she auditions at a night club as a singer, and is hired by the libidinous Pepe who wants to do a Pygmalion on the tramp. Belting out torch songs like “I’ll beat you mistreat you til you quiver and quail, the female of the species is more deadly than the male.”  Neither Stacy (Meg Myles) or Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes) Yikes get points for being buxom.

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Couldn’t resist this shot–Sabrina plays herself… Sabrina

It’s Pepe who is sophisticated and wicked that makes you quiver & quail? Hmmm I need to look that up!

THE L SHAPED ROOM with LESLIE CARON as Jane Fosset

“Everybody can’t wait to help me get rid of it!”-Jane

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Pregnant by this guy who offers her money to get rid of it
She is pregnant by this guy who offers her money to get rid of it!

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When it’s Bryan Forbes (Seance on a Wet Afternoon 1964,The Stepford Wives 1975) directing you know to expect something deeper and quietly intense. In The L Shaped Room Leslie Caron plays Jane Fosset a melancholy unmarried woman who is pregnant and on her own. She takes a room in a boarding house in London. While there Jane meets all the inhabitants of the decadent house where there dwells a collection of various misfits and outliers of society. Two working girls of the night persuasion, Pat Phoenix as Sonia, the man-eating Landlady who isn’t quite friendly, and the lovely old lesbian Mavis (Cicely Courtneidge).

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Cicely Courtneidge as Mavis the kind neighborly Lesbian

And then there’s the struggling on edge Toby (Tom Bell) who is a writer living on the first floor. The two strike up a relationship, as Jane decides whether to get an abortion or keep the baby. There’s also Johnny a black Jazz Musician ( Brock Peters) who gets upset when Jane and Toby start a sexual relationship. The story is human and moving and as deeply whimsical as the tenants who come and go. Leslie Caron is superb as a solitary girl with a serious dilemma, so much so that she was nominated for Best Actress. Caron is splendid as Jane who manifests a courage and striking dignity to live life on her own…

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1963*

THE BIRDS with TIPPI HEDREN as Melanie Daniels

Mitch Brenner: What do you want? Melanie Daniels: I thought you knew! I want to go through life jumping into fountains naked, good night!

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Alfred Hitchcock’s cautionary tale based on Daphne du Maurier’s best selling novel. The Birds was Hitchcock’s film , that not only demonstrated the precarious security of everyday life by contrasting a quaint California seaside town inexplicably besieged by angry birds. One of Hitchcock’s most frequent theme is the precariousness of social order and morality. And the introduction of Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels definitely shakes things up. There’s almost a supernatural connection, if not the mere symbolic one.

I couldn’t resist Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels who is no shrinking violet. She may be a relatively straightforward central protagonist – the rich spoiled girl from the big city whose complacency is then severely shattered. Melanie is still an independent woman who mostly keeps it together right up to the end. Okay once she’s trapped in the attic she sort of goes a bit fetal but come on people the natural world is attacking! –with beaks and claws!

Behind the scenes she might have had a mini melt down thanks to Hitchcock’s maneuvering to have her attacked for real. Melanie Daniels ascends into Bodega Bay like the birds, she is a warning of the dangers of strong, and non-conformist women, especially strong willed sexually free women. Are the people being attacked by just the birds or is the strength of Melanie Daniels presence to tear apart the claustrophobic relationship between son and mother and the quiet conventional community.

From Carol Clovers Men, Women and Chainsaws -Her Body, Himself.
in Poe’s famous formulation , the death of a beautiful woman is the “most poetic topic in the world.”

Hitchcock during the filming of The Birds said: “I’ve always believed in following the advice of the playwright Sardou”. He said ‘Torture the women.’

Clover comments that what the directors don’t reveal out loud about the women in peril theme is that “women in peril are at there most effective when they are in a state of undress” and assailed by a totally phallic enemy.

Melanie Daniels while trapped in the attic and justifiably shaken from the ordeal does not lose her ability to protect herself and give up and die.

In one of the most vivid and unforgettable scenes in film history (I would wager my one-of-a-kind Columbo doll that other people agree) is when Melanie is waiting outside the schoolhouse sitting on the park bench with the jungle-gym behind her. She sees a few birds gathering on it. As Hitchcock is known to do, he drags out the suspense until we are at the very edge. She sees a few more birds join in. She lights up a cigarette, as this extends the scene further. There isn’t the composed style of filming a scene where it would go right to the fright factor. Hitchcock manipulates Melanie and us the spectator. Once more she follows the movement of another crow heading toward the jungle-gym which now is revealed has hundreds of birds waiting to attack…!

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Melanie Daniels: I have an Aunt Tessa. Have you got an Aunt Tessa? Mitch Brenner: Mm-mm. Melanie Daniels: Mine is very prim and straight-laced. I’m giving her a mynah bird when she comes back from Europe. Mynah birds talk, you know. Can you see my Aunt Tessa’s face when this one tells us one or two of the words I’ve picked up at Berkeley? Mitch Brenner: You need a mother’s care, my child. Melanie Daniels: [pause] Not my mother’s. Mitch Brenner: Oh, I’m sorry. Melanie Daniels: What have you got to be sorry about? My mother? Don’t waste your time. She ditched us when I was eleven and ran off with some hotel man in the East. You know what a mother’s love is. Mitch Brenner: Yes, I do. Melanie Daniels: You mean it’s better to be ditched? Mitch Brenner: No, I think it’s better to be loved. Don’t you ever see her? Melanie Daniels: [pause] I don’t know where she is.

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Tippi Hedren and children in a scene from THE BIRDS, 1963.

HUD with PATRICIA NEAL as Alma Brown

“Boy… somebody in this car smells of Chanel No. 5, It isn’t me, I can’t afford it!”

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Directed by Martin Ritt and based on Larry McMurtry’s novel. From -Drew Casper Postwar Hollywood from 1946-1962 “Ritt Caught the parched, circumspect, empty quality of a middle-class WASP life in a Texan cattle community.”

The raspy attractiveness of Patricia Neal can make any film worth watching. In Hud she conveys a weary yet wise housekeeper/mother figure for the elderly widower Rancher and the Bannon men Hud and Lonnie. She has to deflect all the lustful advances by Hud, but she has grown comfortable with the blueness of her isolation, and has made peace with her troubling past. She handles the volatile Hud (Paul Newman) and nurtures the impressionable Lonnie (Brandon deWilde)

Patricia Neal won an Academy Award for playing the housekeeper Alma in Martin Ritt’s Hud, although she only appears in the film for 22 minutes! James Wong Howe creates a desolate, moody sense of Americana with his cinematography and Elmer Bernstein contributes his magnificent score.

Patricia Neal was particularly proud of one unscripted moment that made it into the film. While talking to Hud about her failed marriage, a huge horsefly flew onto the set. Just as she says she’s “done with that cold-blooded bastard,” she zaps the fly with a dish towel. Martin Ritt loved it and printed the take.

Paul Newman is the cold blooded Hud Bannon. He’s a ruthless reckless cowboy and a heartless uncaring miscreant who hurts everyone in his life. He’s self confident, drives a pink Cadillac and when he’s not swaggering slow like he’s a meandering playboy, who still lives on the isolated farm with his elderly father and his nephew Lonnie (Brandon deWilde) who worships him, he’s sleeping around.

Melvyn Douglas plays Homer Bannon, his father whom he clashes with. His father is a righteous man, filled with principles but his son is a self-indulgent outlier of society who cares for nothing and no one. Life is just about having ‘kicks’ It was that time in film history that the youth archetype were all looking for those ‘kicks’

Hud’s amoral lifestyle and the struggle between the good people who satellite around him create a dismal world for everyone. Alma and Hud develop a sexual banter between them. She’s attracted to his prowess and his good looks, but Hud only sees her as the help. He want’s what he can’t have, so she is a challenge to him that’s all. But Hud is abusive to Alma, he even parks his Cadillac in her flower bed.

Alma has a hearty strength and takes all the masculine posturing with stride. She’s as laid back as a cat taking a nap in the sun. Alma too has a sensuality that lies open, on the surface as she flirts with Lonnie and is aroused by Hud’s beautiful torso. The theme that is underlying through out Hud or I should say Alma’s part in the narrative is that women like to be around dangerous men. Alma doesn’t expect anything from Hud, understanding his nature all too well. He possesses a merciless kind of sexual desire that cannot be satisfied. But Alma does create a conflict for him…

In his cynical exchanges with Alma, he is contemptuous toward women and boasts a sexual confidence, that makes him one cocky bastard. But Alma is not a child nor is she an inexperienced woman. she is equally world weary and is titillated by his sexual innuendos.

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Hud Bannon: Man like that sounds no better than a heel. Alma Brown: Aren’t you all? Hud Bannon: Honey don’t go shooting all the dogs ’cause one of ’em’s got fleas. Alma Brown: I was married to Ed for six years. Only thing he was ever good for was to scratch my back where I couldn’t reach it. Hud Bannon: You still got that itch? Alma Brown: Off and on. Hud Bannon: Well let me know when it gets to bothering you.

Patricia Neal and Newman in Hud

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Hud Bannon: I’ll do anything to make you trade him. Alma Brown: No thanks. I’ve done my time with one cold-blooded bastard, I’m not looking for another. Hud Bannon: Too late, honey, you already found him.

1964

NIGHT OF THE IGUANA with AVA GARDNER as Maxine Faulk

Directed by John Huston based on the story by Tennessee Williams, Night of the Iguana.

John Huston loved placing a group of interesting people in a landscape that was inhospitable and sweltering.

Ava Gardner as Maxine Faulk is a sultry beauty that inhabits the tropical night like a panther moving through the brush.

A defrocked Episcopal clergyman the Rev. T Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) working as a tout guide in Mexico leads a bus-load of middle-aged Baptist women and a teenage girl on a tour of the Mexican coast. It is there that he wrestles with the failure and doubts that haunt his wasted life. While temporarily stranded he takes respite with Maxine who runs the small out of the way hotel. Ava Garner wields heavy dose of sensuality as she burns up the screen with her raw and unbound sexuality. Surrounded by young men whom she swims with at night. And not taking any crap from the busload of repressed Baptists and Sue Lyon as a young Nymphomaniac.

Shannon was kicked out of his church when he was caught with one of his parishioners, and now Charlotte Goodall (Sue Lyon) is a troublesome nymph chasing after him provocatively. Her guardian is Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall) an uptight lesbian who seems to hate all men, bus rides and humid weather besides. When Fellowes catches Charlotte in Shannon’s room she threatens to get him in trouble, so he enlists the help of his friend Maxine Faulk, and leaves the group stranded at her remote hotel.

Once Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr) and her elderly grandfather arrive, the atmosphere seems to shift and Shannon is confronted with questions of life and love. Everyone at the hotel has demons and the rich and languid air seems to effect everyone… Ava Gardner as Maxine waits patiently for Shannon to realize that they could have a passionate life together if he’d stop torturing himself..

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Judith Fellowes: (Grayson Hall) [Yelling at Shannon] You thought you outwitted me, didn’t you, having your paramour here cancel my call. Maxine Faulk: (Ava Gardner) Miss Fellowes, honey, if paramour means what I think it does you’re gambling with your front teeth.
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Hannah Jelkes: Who wouldn’t like to atone for the sins of themselves, and the world, if it could be done in a hammock with ropes, instead of on a Cross, with nails? On a green hilltop, instead of Golgotha, the Place of the Skulls? Isn’t that a comparatively comfortable, almost voluptuous Crucifixion to suffer for the sins of the world, Mr. Shannon?
The Night of the Iguana (1964) Directed by John Huston Shown: Ava Gardner (as Maxine Faulk), Richard Burton (as Rev. Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon)
Maxine Faulk: So you appropriated the young chick and the old hens are squawking, huh? T. Lawrence Shannon: It’s very serious. The child is emotionally precocious. Maxine Faulk: Bully for her. T. Lawrence Shannon: Also, she is traveling under the wing of a military escort of a butch vocal teacher.

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From Ava Gardner: “Love is Nothing” by Lee Server
Ava Gardner loved the chance to work with director John Huston.

The play had opened on Dec 28th 1961 at Broadway’s Royale Theatre with Bette Davis, Margaret Leighton and Patrick O’Neal.

“A typical Williamsian study of desire, dysfunction and emotional crisis. set in a frowzy Acapulco Hotel where defrocked alcoholic horny minister now tour guide The Rev T Lawrence Shannon haphazardly battles for his salvation aided and abetted by lusty innkeeper Maxine Faulk and wandering spinster Hannah Jelkes.”

Producer Ray Stark regarded the film’s formula should be a “mix of soul-searching, melodrama and lowlife exotica” which would capture Huston’s imagination.

Ava was cast to play the ‘earthy widow’ Maxine- Huston considered Gardner perfect as she was a Southern actress with ‘feline sexuality’. perfect to play one of Tennessee Williams’hot-blooded ladies!’

Ava Gardner wanted the role to be really meaningful. She did have several volatile scenes, for instance when she is exasperated by Shannon, to spite him Maxine impulsively rushes into the ocean to frolic with her two personal beach boys.

According to the book, “Ava had become sick with fear— of the physicality of the scene (how could she not look bad falling around in the water with her hair all soaked?), the sexuality of it (the two boys roaming all over her body as the surf rolled across them). and the physical exposure (the scene called for her to be wearing a skimpy bikini) Huston told her in that case, kid they would rewrite and shoot the scene at night and with minimal lighting. As she got more uncomfortable Huston suggested that she simply go in the water in her clothes (Maxine’s ubiquitous poncho too and toreador pants). ‘It’ll look more natural like that anyway’- Huston said.”

Houston even waded into the water with her, they had a few drinks, he held her hand and waited til she was ready to shoot the scene. And it came out beautifully with one take!.

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THE KILLERS with ANGIE DICKINSON as Sheila Farr

Johnny -“Pretty Cool aren’t you Miss Farr”
Sheila “Only when there’s nothing to be excited about”

Angie THe Killers 1964

Directed by Don Siegel This remake of Ernest Hemingway’s taut thriller has been given a 60s sheen of vibrantly slick color. In contrast to Robert Siodmak’s masterpiece in 1946. The femme fatale in this Post-Noir film is Angie Dickinson as opposed to Ava Gardner.

Don Siegel’s 1964 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Killers is quite a horse of a different colour. first off the obvious is that it is not in haunting B&W… The double – crosses are still in the picture. the big heist and the hidden doe…

And we don’t have Ava Gardner, but we do get Angie Dickinson. Cassavetes is a race car driver Lancaster was a mechanic… we don’t have the primal sexuality of Burt Lancaster we have the pensive arrogance of John Cassavetes.

The viewpoint of the story is not seen through the eyes of the victim, but the Kiilers who want to understand why the protagonist just stands there and lets himself be gunned down in cold-blood “just stood there and took it.

While Siodmak’s version is drenched in shadow and nuance, Siegel’s version is gorgeously played out like a taut violin string in the brightly mod colors of a 60s world. It was no longer the year of the dark and dangerous femme fatale that hinted at promises of a sexual joyride alluded to with suggestive dialogue and visual iconography. Now we have Angie Dickinson’s character Sheila Farr a modern sexually liberated woman who struts her stuff in the light of day.

In exchange for the two odd misanthropes —William Conrad and Charles McGraw as Al & Max who walk into the diner and make the first 12 minutes of the ‘46 classic incredibly memorable and a noir essential— now we have Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager as a snarling thug and a creepy neurotic. Henry Mancini scored the music for 1964 slick production which became a 60s cult classic and Miklós Rózsa scored the 1946 noir masterpiece

The two hit men Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager walk into a school for the blind and shoot down John Cassavetes. On the way back to Chicago Marvin’s character wants to know why he didn’t try to run when he had the chance. Also told in flashback, it pieces together the reason for him wanting to die. After Cassavete’s is washed up as a race car drive when he has a near fatal crash- he takes up with crime boss Ronald Reagan and tries to steal his woman- Sheila.

Lee Marvin The Killers 1964

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Angie on the set of The Killers The Red List

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Johnny -“You have money written all over you what do you want with me?” Sheila- “A hamburger and a beer” Johnny “na na I’m serious” “You know my story…. I’m pretty” Johnny-“and what does that make me?” SheilaSomebody I admire somebody I’d like to know “ Johnny -“put it in English Sheila “Alright, you’re a winner and I don’t like losers cause I’ve been around them all my life. Little men who cry a lot. I like you do I have to write a book?

DEAD RINGER with BETTE DAVIS as Margaret DeLorca & Edith Phillips

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Margaret: “Oh Edie I wanted to marry Frank so desperately” Edie “But you never loved him, you never made him happy… you ruined both our lives.”
Margaret “I’ll make it up to you. Remember remember when we were children? You were the one person I really loved.”

Edie“LOVED!!!!! You never loved anybody but yourself. Margaret “You have all the time in the world to find happiness. You can get rid of this place. You can get rid of it and take a trip.” Edie-“To outer space!” Margaret- “Money’s no object. How much would you like?- “YOU haven’t got that much!” ( Edie smacks the money out of Margaret’s hand.)

a dead ringer bette david Paul Henreid
Margaret DeLorca: You really hate me, don’t you? You’ve never forgiven me in all these years. Edith Phillips: Why should I? Tell me why I should. Margaret DeLorca: Well, we’re sisters! Edith Phillips: So we are… and to hell with you!

I simply couldn’t choose the 60s and not include a little psycho-melodrama, a bit of Grande Dame Guignol–without including my favorite of all… Bette Davis. Directed by actor/director Paul Henreid this extremely taut suspense thriller starring Bette Davis in two roles is a captivating story that grips you in the guts from beginning to end.

It’s 1964 Los Angeles and Bette plays twin sisters Margaret de Lorca and Edith Phillips.The film opens at Margaret’s husband’s funeral. The two sisters haven’t seen each other in twenty years.

Malden and Davis

Bette and Karl

Margaret has married very rich, with the man that Edith had planned on marrying. Edith lives a modest life and is dating a very fine police officer Sgt Jim Hobbson played by the wonderful Karl Malden. He loves his Edie who has a little jazz bar, is kind and simple and doesn’t share the arrogance and ruthless nature like Margaret. Margaret tricked Frank into marrying her, claiming she was pregnant.

One night Margaret comes to visit Edie and insults her by offering her some cheap clothes as a hand off plus Edie learns from the chauffeur that the pregnancy was all a lie. That Margaret ruined her chances of happiness. Adding to Edie’s troubles the property agent has give her the boot, since she’s 3 months late with the rent.

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Money's no object how much? You haven't got that much Now sit down!

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In a moment of rage with several ounces of premeditation -Edie shoots Margaret, assuming her identity, hopping into her sisters chauffeured limo and moving into the great house with servants and wealthy snobbish friends. Unfortunately it’s only a matter of time before Margaret’s smarmy lover Tony (Peter Lawford) shows up and discovers right away about the masquerade. Of course he blackmails Edie for his silence. Also Detective Jim Hobbson starts coming around thinking that Edith’s death was suspicious and not a suicide. What makes the film interesting is how Jim is the one person who could recognize Edie behind the elegant clothing, and at times there is a spark of awareness, but it just might be too late for Edie playing Margaret to turn things around. One particular exchange that is wonderful is the unspoken sympathetic relationship between Edie and Henry the quintessential Butler played Cyril Delevanti who has the most marvelously time worn face.

Cyril Delevanti Dead Ringer

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Bette

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Continue reading “The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon: the 60s: The Bold & The Beautiful”