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

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

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

The ASTONISHING… RUTH GORDON!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maude-“Why do you say that?”

Harold-“Because they’re all alike.”

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

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

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Ruth Gordon 1975 photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt

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

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from Hugh Downs Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ruth and husband Garson Kanin… super writing team!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Which Way But Loose 1978

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Glenn Close

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

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

Lauren Bacall: Shock Treatment (1964) Dr. Edwina Beighley the female Caligari or it’s just like working with animals in a zoo!

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This post is in participation with The Lauren Bacall Blogathon hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.

The winsome & sultry Lauren Bacall steps out of character as screen legend, noir goddess & trend setting icon…

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To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Key Largo (1948) Dark Passage (1947) Young Man with A Horn (1950) Designing Women (1957) and so much more!

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… And embarks on a role as the icy cold psychologist/Animal Behavioral Researcher, and a Praying Mantis that is Dr. Edwina Beighley (pronounced Bailey) She’s a female Caligari who has experimented with her dangerous drug on animals as her subjects in Africa, conducting unorthodox experiments now on human subjects, in Shock Treatment (1964)

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She’s always griping in her condescending highfalutin way- at the hospital board members that she cant continue her (exploitative and nefarious) research the way she’d like, driven by her mission she craves money. Using mental patients now, not tigers, to continue her scientific analysis of how certain drugs effect the criminal mind and the resulting catatonia that follows.

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A seedy psychological thriller with oddballs and opportunists and one hell of a great cast, wasted?… Maybe, but deliciously fun to watch anyways! The film has it’s moments and if you’re like me and love a great jaunt into the exploitative- then indulge yourself!

Films like The Snake Pit, Lilith , David and Lisa, ( Bacall was also in a film about an exclusive psychiatric clinic- The Cobweb 1955, and earlier in 1950 she embodied the conflicted Amy North who struggled and studied to become a psychiatrist in Young Man with a Horn)…

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… show a reversibility of a plot narrative that usually exists in other film genres. The role that is interchangeable with the sane and the mad. the outside or insider, which suggests that there is no good outcome or moreover, no clear solution to the film’s ‘problem’ and that the film’s world is veritably unstable with Dr. Edwina Beighley at the center of the disorder!

Cinematographer Sam Leavitt (Anatomy of a Murder 1959, The Defiant Ones 1958) weaves in noirish shadowscapes & creates odd frames where one of the main characters will be relegated to the extreme edge while it allows the camera to focus all it’s power on the other of the central or peripheral actors/characters, creating the appearance of an off balanced conversation, that perpetuates the ‘offness’ of the story and it’s atmosphere…

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Shock Treatment (1964) Directed by Denis Sanders Shown standing, from left: Roddy McDowall, Ossie Davis; seated: Stuart Whitman

In the similar vein but far superior social commentary as Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963, it’s a story of an actor Dale Nelson (Stuart Whitman) willing to fake insanity and take money to infiltrate a mental hospital in order to get close to a homicidal maniac Martin Ashley (Roddy McDowall) who claims to have burned to cinders, the millions, he has hidden of his victim’s fortune, now buried somewhere on her estate.

ECT

“The most dramatic expression of psychiatry as a mechanism of enforcing conformity is seen in the film depictions of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) or commonly known as electroshock Treatment

in the 1960s and 70s ECT was recast in movie theaters as a torturous, barbaric, medieval practice in which individualistic mental patients were literally shocked into conformity. Vivid depictions of electroshock were depicted in films such as Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963 and Shock Treatment 1964.”

— Psycho Thrillers: Cinematic explorations of the mysteries of the mind by William Indick

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In fact, anti-conformity is Dale’s method of breaking into the hospital system by railing against conformity in the guise of intellectually and physically disturbing the social order. He smashes the window fronts of a department store.

During Martin Ashley’s (Roddy McDowall) trial for killing and beheading his employer, Dr. Edwina Beighley is the defense’s go to specialist on mental illness and key witness, their sympathetic psychiatrist who manipulates the court into allowing her to observe him at her State Psychopathic hospital for observation.

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On the stand Edwina- “I’m a fellow of the American Psychiatric Society..and the author of two text books now in use.-Psychiatry in Relation to Crime and Modern Usages of Hypno-Analysis” At present I’m assistant medical director at State Psychopathic Hospital.”

When asked if she’s familiar with the philanthropic organization known as The Townsend Foundation, Townsend being the old woman that Martin decapitated. Edwin answers with a swift and self-important confidence…

“More than acquainted as Mr Manning knows for the past several years I’ve been trying to get a grant from them to expand my research… ( deep sarcastic Bacallesque pause) I’m still trying.”

Then the public defender asks if she was present when Mr. Manning suggested that the defendant burnt up more than a million dollars. And does she agree with that accounting of the story…

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“No I don’t, the amount of money certainly is unusual but the act of destruction isn’t. Martin Ashely is a lonely secretive young man. Desperately in need of understanding friendship. This type of schizophrenic often is… He became convinced that (Amelia Townsend) was an enemy who was using her wealth to destroy his garden and return him to our hospital where he had been a patient  merely three years ago. To his disordered mind the decision was a simple one. Destroy the persecutor and her weapon… her money…”

Dr. Edwina Beighley is a cool, manipulative operator who is working on getting Martin a plea of insanity so he’ll be sent to her hospital under her care, that way she can make certain she’s up close and personal with him in order to access his secret… where he hid the fortune.

During Martin’s trial Mr. Manning who has been an executor of the estate asserts that the old woman was eccentric and hid huge sums of cash in her home, he tells the prosecuting attorney, “I couldn’t believe that anyone even a madman could bring himself to burn up more than a million dollars.”

Manning who testifies that the old lady had millions, also despises Dr. Beighley.

Manning confronts Edwina after Trial verdict

After Martin gets sentenced for a mere 90 days for observation.  Manning confronts Beighley in the courtroom. “Dr. Beighley I hope you’ll feel proud of yourself  Dr!”  Dr. Edwina Beighley not seeming rattled in the least- “And what is that supposed to mean?”
Manning- “ Why did you have to go out of your way to help that faker get away with murder and a million dollars?” 

She threatens to sue for liable so that she’ll collect enough from him, never having to apply for a grant again… He tells her that he’s “sick and tired of psychiatrists who try to play god, who tell us our mothers and fathers made us neurotic, and psychotic!”

“Mr Manning I’ve gone through analysis, all psychiatrists do, Now I suggest you try it!”

Dr. Edwina Beighley has the warmth of a cobra about to strike the jugular.

Edwina lab

This psycho-thriller also stars Stuart Whitman as struggling actor Dale Nelson  who is going to be paid $10,000 by Harley Manning (Judson Laire) to impersonate a mentally disturbed man, an incorrigible anti social bad boy who then purposefully gets arrested for destruction of personal property and disturbing the peace.

Whitman acting

Dale and Manning meet

IMDb notes that Anthony Perkins wanted the Stuart Whitman role

At the police station- Dale (Stuart Whitman) puts on quite a show as a crazy guy with a wad of cash in his pocket that he refuses to explain how it got there- he won’t co operate and goes off on a tirade that is deliciously absurd…“ The disciples of conformity are bleeding from the narrowness of your mind” 

Dale acts crazy police station

Manning figures that once Dale gets committed to the state asylum, he can befriend the psychopathic handyman/gardener Martin Ashley (Roddy McDowall with his usual flare for the overly-dramatic, deliciously deliriously overindulgence. ) who is just mad about roses and decapitates his employer Amelia Townsend (Beatrice Grenough) with a pair of garden shears when she interferes with his beloved garden.

Gardenig is fun

Naturally Dale Nelson succeeds in getting sent to Dr. Beighley’s State Psychopathic Hospital. He even learns about roses and horticulture in order to get close to Martin, hoping he’ll tell him where the money is hidden. Once Dale arrives and is interviewed. Edwina looks him over a bit, and she catches something about his performance, so she has her assistant do a background check on him.

Whitman being intaked

Dale interview hospital

Edwina watches dales intake

Edwina reads Dales file

Dale controntational Edwina intake

Dale gets Dr. Edwina Beighley to assign him to the garden as his work detail. There Dale finally meets Martin the gardener. At first he antagonizes him, but soon after they become good friends with love of flowers in common.

Dale and Martin gardening meet

Dale and Martin argue garden

Martin argues about his ability to raise beautiful roses and that he didn’t get to see flowers until he was 16. ‘You don’t get flowers at the orphanage Mister!… I’m the guy who crossbred the Pinocchio with the Fuselier… and it won the first show at the Pasadena in 1962.”

With no intention of trying to cure Martin Ashley of his homicidal criminal nature, Dr. Beighley finally gets him to confess his crime in detail, by subjecting him to hypnosis and pentathol for days where he finally winds up telling her where Mrs Townsend’s money is…

Edwin lunch Martin and Dale

Edwina, is rancorous, scornful and arrogant and by the end of the film, her mania to find the money might either be a sign that she herself is insane or is the catalyst for pushing her off the deep end… Another version of the inmates have taken over the asylum! And Dr. Edwina Beighley might just belong there BUT as the patient and not the doctor….

Edwina eventually finds out that Dale Nelson was paid and is planted in her hospital by her nemesis Haley Manning, who is determined to get her license revoked for her unethical practices.

edwina martin Dale window

When she discovers Nelson’s con-game, the sadistic Edwina Beighley  prescribes electroshock therapy, then injects a concoction of psychotropic drugs into his jugular vein to induce catatonia, causing him ‘horrible twisted images’ in order to render him useless and get him out of her hair so she can be the sole keeper of the fortune…

Believe it or not this over the top psycho-melodrama was scripted by Sydney Boehm who penned such great noir films as -High Wall 1947, Mystery Street 1950 Side Street 1949, The Big Heat 1953.

Dale talks to Cynthia

The film also co-stars marvelous character actors who play various archetypal characters, the troubled nymph with a mother complex Carol Lynley as Cynthia Lee Albright “Don’t touch me, I don’t like to be touched!”

Olive Deering as Mrs Mellon-“You’re stupid stupid do you hear me stupid”

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Ossie Davis plays Capshaw, who used to be an intern in the hospital and is now one of it’s residents. Paulene Meyers as Dr. Walden, and Timothy Carey as high-strung and marvelously hulking & nutty as usual.

Paulene Meyers and Carol Lynley

Carey and Whitman lunch

Shock Corridor &  Shock Treatment deal with the outside/inside structure which ends with pessimism as the main characters descend into madness…

Noir shot of asylum beds

From Part-Time Perverts: Sex, Pop Culture, and Kink Management by Lauren Rosewame she cites Peter Cranford a psychologist during the 1940s who said that for many patients in asylums “The words ‘punish’ and ‘shock treatment’ were often synonymous”

This is where the narrative and Dr. Edwina Beighley converge on a social truth behind the institutional edifice of mental health…

She shows her fellow colleagues the results of her research on a projector. Footage from when she had her own facility where she could use zoo animals in her experiments. On film she shows a tiger being injected with her drug and how it effects their aggression. She seeks to find out more about the chemistry of the mind.. to solve it’s mysteries. So that one day… her drug “will control mental illness as well a drug does Diabetes.”

Edwina tells colleagues human subjects

This brings out a great point of the story though it may be accidental since the film seems to be more about sensationalist entertainment than thoughtful reflecting on mental illness the way it was let’s say in Tennessee William’s Suddenly, Last Summer 1959.

In the scene where Edwina shows her footage, and the few scenes where both Capshaw (Ossie Davis) and Dale (Stuart Whitman) are subjected to shock treatment- it makes the strong connection between punishing the patient and the arousal of the sadistically inclined practitioners.

Lauren-Bacall-in-Shock-Treatment-1964

In her autobiography, Bacall refers to Shock Treatment as “truly tacky.” and when asked about the film she, commented, “You have no idea what Roddy and I went through making that movie.”   

Here’s what Time Magazine had to say about the film Cinema: Boredom in Bedlam-March 13, 1964 “Shock Treatment is more than a slip, it’s a Freudian pratfall. It makes a shambles of psychiatry and brings the art of film close to idiocy.”

McDowall and Bacall

It is definitely not one of Lauren Bacall’s memorable roles, it boarders more in the realm of the Grande Dame Guignol films that actresses were becoming famous for in the 60s… Yet, anything Bacall inhabited is like Midus’ golden touch, because she brings an inimitable flavor of sophistication and savvy even if it’s surrounded by trashy lunacy!

Let’s not end on an insane note! Let’s celebrate Lauren Bacall as she really was… an icon

Headshot of actress Lauren Bacall pictured with her chin resting on her right wrist, USA, circa 1945. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Headshot of actress Lauren Bacall pictured with her chin resting on her right wrist, USA, circa 1945. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

 

 

Monday Morning Mondo: Angel Angel Down We Go (1969) “My childhood was perfect. Paradise… lost. When you’re a fairy princess everyone dies on schedule, beautifully.”

“Why should Bogart Peter Stuyvesant go to war and kill strangers, when the pickings are better in his own bedroom?”

ANGEL ANGEL DOWN WE GO (1969) aka CULT OF THE DAMNED

Written and Directed by Robert Thom who is perhaps best known for his Wild In The Streets 1969. For me his film that really struck a chord was his configuration of childhood abuse in ,The Witch Who Came From The Sea 1976 while a little fractured, slightly queasy in it’s linear storytelling, was a startling, unsettling, imaginary, and often disturbing piece of work, much thanks to Millie Perkins’ performance.

Consider that Thom also wrote the scripts for Bloody Mama 1970, Crazy Mama 1975 and Death Race 2000 (1975). Angel Angel Down We Go is perhaps a psychedelic take on the Rasputin  archetype with a modern conflation of the Svengali mystique.

RASPUTIN-Mad Monk, Religious Pilgrim, Elder, Psychic or Faith Healer?
Stick an unkempt beard on him, shabby coat…the dark piercing eyes say it all….Egomaniac!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The film opens with Tara Nicole revealing to us, through Tara’s childlike imaginings, her childhood and the mythical parentage by the outre wealthy Steeles, they are as Demi-Gods from Mount Olympus. We see her musings in flashback and via graphic collage work that depicts her life as it was, as it is now, and as it will be.

Astrid Steele, ex-stag film actress, cigarette girl and all around whore to the masses. “Who ever said they slept with me, didn’t!”
Willie Steele, closet homosexual and absent father.
Gazing into her mirror Tara Nicole Steele. the richest girl in the world recalls her childhood…

Tara Nicole recites a glorified fantasy completely contrary to what her life truly is. She is being sarcastic, she is teasing us with the truth. She is the cultivation of a female monster, who’s lack of nurturing, exposure to abuse and mistreatment has manifested something abhorrent to the world, but mostly to herself, a self-loathing, loveless thing, vulnerable to the dark prince in Bogart Peter Stuyvesant, who will come to the palace and awaken her sleeping rage.

On the surface, A perverse, grotesque fairy tale , about an over-weight heiress who’s parents are hypocrites and superficial, living in a psychologically toxic battlefield of emotional turmoil, self-serving, repressed and angry enough to create a bitter, ugly and lonely world for their only child, a life Tara cannot live up to, nor can she satisfy the expectations put upon her nor fit into this artificial world.

Enter chaos, enter entropy, enter Bogart Peter Stuyvesant. Tara meets him at her coming out ball, a party thrown by her mother Astrid, not to celebrate her glorious daughter’s coming of age, but as a showcase for Astrid’s bejeweled necklace that ‘Marie Antoinette wore at her beheading’. An opulent bauble, a shiny thing, a symbol of the empty and idle collectors, wealthy American’s become with their plunder of the poor masses. So the film will inform you over and over again.

A lysergic cinematic (ACID CINEMA) tale about a tragic fat princess who refers to herself as ‘Virgin Americanis.’ Until she sees Bogart gyrating his pelvis in skin tight leather hip huggers on stage, she nearly swoons from the sight of his crotch. He is singing the film’s theme song, “Angel Angel Down We Go”. The theme is the Fall of The American Empire. The fall of the Steele family, the American Imperialist hypocrites who languish in their wealth, and self hating misery. Hallucinogenics for the now generation, and booze and pills still the drug of choice for the breed of uptight Americans.

Is there anti-fat sentiment in the film or is it as offensive as it intends to be so? As Tara represents the spoiled ‘fat’ and languid American Bourgeoisie when Roddy McDowall paws at Tara on the bed and spews out “God is America FAT!” while pawing her like a piece of meat.

“Only the poor know what’s really real. America doesn’t know. America’s FAT baby, good and FAT!… Oh God is America FAT… and Bogart Peter Stuyvesant love’s his country-he’s a patriot!”

Continue reading “Monday Morning Mondo: Angel Angel Down We Go (1969) “My childhood was perfect. Paradise… lost. When you’re a fairy princess everyone dies on schedule, beautifully.””