A Dog, a Dinosaur Bone, and a Delinquent… Go to the Beach with BACHELOR FLAT (1962)

After an unusually cold April, May suddenly feels more like a scorching July and makes me yearn for the beach. Or, classic beach movies. When I nostalgically recall of summers of my youth, silly sex comedies of the 60s often filled my days. I wasn’t old enough to see them first-run so my screenings were likely a decade or two later, running in syndication on television. Squeezed in amongst the carefree flicks of Annette and Frankie and Elvis, I have fond memories of Frank Tashlin’s BACHELOR FLAT (1962).

The story is simple enough and whips along with chaotic energy, driven by the basic premise of mistaken identity… and sex. Starring Tuesday Weld, Richard Beymer, Terry-Thomas, and Celeste Holm, BACHELOR FLAT offered a popular cast. Terry-Thomas portrays British professor Bruce Patterson, a highly-disciplined and mild-mannered college professor who seeks the calm, simple life: digging up dinosaur bones, the serenity of his beach house, and the love of his fashion designer fiancee, Helen Bushmill (portrayed by Celeste Holm). Problems arise when this (until recently) lifelong, shy bachelor is hounded by sex-starved women; many are his students, who find his old school British accent and stoicism more than just charming- also challenging and irresistible. The professor rents his beach house from Helen while she’s out of the country, building her international fashion career. Helen also rents her parking pad adjacent to her beach house to law school student Mike Pulaski (Richard Beymer), who lives in his modest camper with his cute dachsund dog, “Jessica.” Trouble brews again when a seventeen year old girl named “Libby” (Tuesday Weld) shows up, who claims to be a street-wise teenager delinquent on the lam from the law. She manages to charm both bachelors Bruce and Mike before her true identity is revealed. Even sweet “Jessica” finds trouble in a way that echoes a famous dog (Skippy) character, “George” from BRINGING UP BABY (1938).

At the time of filming, Tuesday Weld was eighteen years old yet had been acting since early childhood- a childhood where she was expected to be the bread winner and grew up fast. Very fast. By the time she turned a mere twelve years old, she had already spent the last 2 years battling heavy drinking, love affairs, a nervous breakdown, and a suicide attempt. Her ability to play a teen role for many years, coupled with her acting skills and professionalism, kept her in high demand. Weld’s private life was about as famous as the roles she turned down, including: LOLITA (1962), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), TRUE GRIT (1969), CACTUS FLOWER (1969). In this film, she seems much older than her character’s high school senior status, even though she’s playing someone her own age. Not surprising.

Not even 2 months after wrapping up his role as “Tony” on WEST SIDE STORY (he was nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance, Best Actor, Comedy or Musical), Richard Beymer began production on this light comedy, filmed over at 20th Century Fox studios and on location along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. No doubt this young actor was a hot ticket and on the rise to stardom. He was nominated in 1962 for another Golden Globe for “Most Promising Newcomer, Male” and a Golden Laurel award for “Top Male New Personality.” He continued to work, mostly in television, including his iconic return to the David Lynch famed “Twin Peaks” series (1989 – 1991, 2017). Beymer discovered his creativity exceeded beyond acting and pursued writing, cinematography, and filmmaking documentaries.

British born Terry-Thomas was an actor who found international appeal and fame. Born Thomas Terry Hoar-Stevens, he chose the stage name Terry Thomas when he tried his hand at theater after a long string of vocations that failed to pan out. He later added the hyphen, which he felt represented his signature gap between his teeth. With his trademark looks and catchphrases (“jolly good show”), Thomas was equally popular in films on this side of the pond. By the 1960s, he became a beloved actor in meatier character roles, often with a low-brow comedy edge, such as: IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (1963), HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE (1965), THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES… (1965), HOW SWEET IT IS! (1968). Thomas was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1971. He tried to pick up parts here and there in the 1970s and 1980s, but it grew more difficult to act as the disease progressed. He became nearly destitute financially, selling off his estate, living in a meager flat with growing medical costs and unable to work. Friends and fellow actors created a fundraiser on his behalf so he could live out his days in dignity. He died in 1990 at the age of 78 years old.

Celeste Holm was a successful and prolific actress across stage, television, and film. She gave strong performances early in her film career including GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT, 1947 (she won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her performance as Best Actress in a Supporting Role), THE SNAKE PIT, 1948, COME TO THE STABLE, 1949 (she was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress in a Supporting Role), ALL ABOUT EVE, 1950 (again nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role). Starting early in the 1950s, Holm transitioned to mostly television roles for the rest of her career, which continued right up until her final year. She passed away at age 95 in 2012, after working over a hundred acting credits.

Holm was a popular actress with a highly likable screen persona but somehow got stuck always playing second fiddle to the lead. Ya know, that Eve Arden type who was a gal’s best pal who would repeatedly play the bridesmaid, but never the bride. (In regards to both Holm and Arden, I’d say I’m dumbfounded as to why these first-rate actors could ever be considered second bananas.) Interestingly, Celeste Holm is finally the bride in BACHELOR FLAT, although we never quite make it to the wedding. It’s disappointing we don’t see more of Holm in this picture, as we do the other main cast. I would blame the youth-focused 60s for pushing the Weld and Beymer romance more, but Thomas gets a lion’s share of screen time in comparison. Then again, he’s being chased by bikini-clad young women (who also look too old to be in school) so that may explain his more generous screen time.

Director Tashlin was ready for a rom-com in familiar waters. He began his directing career with animated Looney Tune features in the 1930s and 1940s. With a strong instinct for slapstick and physical comedy, Tashlin transitioned to feature films, directing films starring powerhouses such as Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Jayne Mansfield, and Doris Day.

Fascinating trivia. What do Marilyn Monroe and Debbie Reynolds have in common with this film? There’s a little mystery surrounding a dress worn by Roxanne Arlen as “Mrs. Roberts,” a neighbor. At first sight it is clearly a copy of one of the most famous dresses in fashion in film history, the ‘subway dress’ worn by Marilyn Monroe in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH. But could it be the actual Marilyn dress designed by Travilla, which was later auctioned as part of the Debbie Reynolds collection? Was it loaned out by the studio for this film and altered to fit this actress? Many rumors and speculations have circled over the decades to this mystery. This article from The Marilyn Monroe Collection site breaks down the details. What do you think?

Is this the real deal- or a knock-off?

I believe 60s sex comedies are highly misunderstood. They’ve been given a bad rap as too silly and misogynistic. But I contend these films like BACHELOR FLAT are actually a parody of sexism and rooted in a deep history of physical comedy with nods to slapstick and screwball comedy. And who doesn’t long for the nostalgia of the summer flicks of our youth?

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This piece on Frank Tashlin’s BACHELOR FLAT (1961) is my contribution to the CMBA (Classic Movie Blog Association) Spring Blogathon. I am a proud member of this group of talented writers. Please explore the other bloggers’ submissions for this year’s “Fun in the Sun” theme.

A Sunny Tribute…THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1966)

When the classic film community discovered the sad loss of a beloved fellow blogger recently, Paddy aka Patricia Nolan-Hall of CAFTAN WOMAN, ANOTHER OLD MOVIE BLOG and LADY EVE’S REEL LIFE mobilized to create a blogathon to honor her memory.

When I think of Paddy, I am moved by her generosity and kindness. She was very committed to not only participating in nearly every single blogathon of her fellow bloggers, but she was also the most reliable blogger in our community to actually read all of our articles and reply with positive feedback. Her consistently kind and generous comments brought sunshine into all of our hearts. So, how do I possibly pick a theme or classic film to reflect her spirit?

It’s likely no secret that Doris Day is my favorite classic era actress. When I think of Doris Day, I would describe her as possessing many shared qualities as Paddy. I think they’d both appreciate a tribute via Frank Tashlin’s THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1966).

In the midst of the Russian/American space race (1957 – 1969), this film emerged, which reflected the pulse and the styles of the day, all with a light-hearted, comic twist. The silly premise involves Doris Day as a bubbly, clumsy widow, “Jennifer Nelson,” who works PR at an aerospace research lab while also working part-time on her dad’s (Arthur Godfrey) glass-bottomed boat as a “mermaid.” In one of her entertaining dives in the Catalina bay, she gets tangled up with Rod Taylor as “Bruce Templeton” – who turns out to be the genius inventor at the lab where she works. Romance blossoms and slapstick ensues as Taylor works to keep his top secret formula hidden from Russian spies. But could his new girlfriend be a space age Mata Hari herself?

Here’s my top reasons this film brings joy, worthy of Paddy’s sunny smile…

Physical Comedy. Director Frank Tashlin was no stranger to slapstick. His background prior to this film was directing cartoons for Warner Brothers from the 1930s and several Jerry Lewis films. When THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT runs through frenzied scenes of chaotic comedy and pantomime, it was by the director’s design. One such example is a silly, crazed scene between Doris Day and Dom DeLuise. He’s a technician up on a ladder. She’s carrying in a banana cream cake. You can imagine where it goes from there. Both Day (a PRO and veteran in physical comedy) and DeLuise (a relative newbie at this point) play this out with brilliance.

Character Actors Galore. For me, one sign of a great film, especially a classic comedy, includes a treasure trove of reliable supporting actors that really make a movie sing. In the 1960s and 1970s, many favorite character actors from the big screen found a plethora of work on the small screen, too. In this film, many are recognizable from popular tv series of the day including “Bewitched” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” You’ll recognize John McGiver (too many to list), Ellen Corby (of “The Waltons” fame), Edward Andrews (in addition to a ton of tv roles, he worked with Day in both THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963) and SEND ME NO FLOWERS (1964)), Dick Martin (a comedian on the rise who would premiere “Laugh-In” two years later and eventually directed comedy tv series including “The Bob Newhart Show”), Paul Lynde (who co-starred with Day in SEND ME NO FLOWERS), plus George Tobias and Alice Pearce. They essentially reprised their “Bewitched” roles as Mr. and Mrs. Kravitz, with Pearce again as the neighborhood snoop. Both Tobias and Pearce worked frequently across stage, film, and tv. Alice Pearce began her on-screen career as the sniffling, chinless character in ON THE TOWN (1949) and ended it just 2 weeks after her final performance on the tv series “Bewitched,” losing her battle to ovarian cancer. She won an Emmy posthumously for her beloved nosy neighbor character. There’s also a Robert Vaughn cameo with a nod to “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” He pops in and out quickly, so don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Paul Lynde in drag. In this era of Hollywood, drag was a gag. While used for humor, you just know Lynde was having the time of his life because he does it so well. He and Day pull off a rather funny bit in the ladies’ bathroom. Paul Lynde is one of the funniest comedy actors in the biz and he always delivers. Side note: I thought it was witty to use the “Templeton” name as Rod Taylor’s role because Day’s role in LOVER COME BACK (1961) is named “Carol Templeton.” And later, Lynde’s role as the gluttonous rat in the animated feature CHARLOTTE’S WEB (1973) was also named “Templeton.”

Spy spoof. This film was made when America was on course to reach the moon, with a contentious rivalry with Russia. Not unlike today, America was racing to master technologies first and held a deep mistrust of their biggest contender, Russia. The theme of the day was not only space age, but also of espionage. While the Cold War was an era of geopolitical tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States from 1947 to 1991, the James Bond books and subsequent films (first film, DR. NO released in 1962) were introduced, reflecting the tone of this time. As pop culture often dictates, comedies and parodies followed. While not as farcical as the spy parody CASINO ROYALE (1967), this film takes on these themes with a burst of comedic punch.

Homes of the Future. If the inventor of the “roomba” robotic sweeper tells you they weren’t inspired by this film, they’re outright lying. Well, perhaps they were inspired by the Jetsons cartoons first. At the center of this space age spy comedy is a very futuristic house. It’s supposed to be a reflection of its owner, the future-thinking inventor, Templeton (Rod Taylor). As a fan of Mid-Century Modern architecture and design, this concept was very on trend across America. In post WW2 America, housing was booming and practical. As we entered the space race era, designers/architects/home builders took it a step further by creating homes that captured both the aesthetic and high tech function of what they perceived to be the future. From the egg beater that pops up from below the counter to the robotic sweeper that goes rogue, these gadgets went on to be in everyday homes in real life but were first met with slapstick fodder with clumsy “Jennifer” (Doris Day), not unlike her character “Cathy Timberlake” in THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962) when she creates punch card chaos.

Another draw to this funny flick are the costumes. Always impeccable in her fashions, Doris Day looks incredible in a bright sunny yellow. But even in the more casual outfits befitting this character, Day manages to squeeze in some stellar looks in array of offerings. The costume designer was Ray Aghayan, who was nominated for multiple Oscars and famous for his costumes in FUNNY LADY (1975), LADY SINGS THE BLUES (1972), and “The Judy Garland Show” just to name a few. He was also the lifetime partner of Bob Mackie, who famously worked on “The Carol Burnett Show” and dressed stars, such as the iconic gowns of Cher.

This comedy was a film I discovered later in life. I’m not sure how I somehow missed this gem earlier in my Doris Day collection of classics. But it’s worthy of screening, in case you’ve overlooked it, too. Of course the number one reason to see THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT is Doris Day herself, paired with hunky Rod Taylor doesn’t hurt the eyes either. If you believe in heaven and such, I like to imagine that Paddy is reading this and it brings her a smile. I wish I could read the sweet and delightful commentary she would undoubtedly leave here, too.

10th Annual What A Character! Blogathon: Afternoon Edition

HOORAY! The moment has finally arrived. As we detailed in our announcement post with our fun banners created by co-host Paula, we are here to give tribute to our beloved character actors. As I tell my kiddos, “buckle up, buttercups!” because here comes the blogging event of the year!

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The tenth What a Character! Blogathon brings you an incredible array of supporting players, each bringing their own magic to every role. Thank you to all the bloggers who add their own talents of honoring these actors. Us three “WAC” hosts are trying something slightly different for this year’s special anniversary- the entries are being presented in three installments throughout the day. Be sure to visit for an enjoyable trip down movie memory lane:

The Morning Edition with Aurora at Once Upon a Screen

The Afternoon Edition with Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled

The Evening Edition at Paula’s Cinema Club at 9pm ET

As we noted in the announcement post, this tenth anniversary of What a Character! comes with give-a-ways from Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and The University Press of Kentucky, both of which are contributing books to ten lucky participants. We will gather entries and pick winners at random toward the end of the weekend. Winners will be notified on social media or by email.

Now let’s get this party started…

A Person In The Dark blog pays tribute to GEORGE TOBIAS, as she affectionately states, “For me, the best character actors are the ones who press that automatic happiness button that’s wired in our movie-loving brains…” Read more here in: George Tobias: Hey! That’s Abner Kravitz!

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Next up, Real Weegie Midget Reviews presents DIANA DORS. “Diana proved her worth in even more horror, comedies, dramas and even appeared in a pop video”… Read for yourself in: “FILMS and TV… Diana Dors in a Triple Dose of Horror and Suspense”

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Silver Screenings asks, “Who Is CHARLES LANE and Why Does He Matter?” As Ruth explains, “This is what an established character actor does: He or she saves time and extraneous explanation in movie storytelling. They add texture and subtext, and, in classic Hollywood, many of them had the best lines in the film.” 

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Taking Up Room invites us to go “Hanging Out With FELIX BRESSART” As they explain, “Affable, supportive, and a little goofy, Bressart was typically cast as the friend, the co-worker, the genius, sometimes the buffoon, or maybe a combination of all of those, but whatever shoes he landed in, he was always a welcome sight.” 

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A Shroud of Thoughts celebrates, “HANS CONREID: Scene Stealer In Radio, In Movies, & On Television” 

As Terry describes, “Hans Conried was a versatile actor who may have been best known for playing pretentious intellectuals, but he played a whole host of other character types as well.”

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Caftan Woman details the long life, love, and career of KATHLEEN HARRISON.  

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Finally, co-host Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club outlines why LURED is my favorite Lucille Ball film- with its riches of delightful supporting roles in … “The Cast of LURED (1947)” 

images-1Thank you for reading all these informative, fascinating, and delightful tributes. Thank you to my fabulous co-hosts Paula and Aurora. And, thank you to all our bloggers! Don’t forget to hang tight and then check back tonight for Paula’s evening edition for even more articles for this special WAC event. 

 

Cloris Leachman: What a Character!

“I don’t think “comedy” or “serious”. I always brought seriousness to comedy and comedic things to serious roles.” … Cloris Leachman

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At the beginning of this year (January 27, 2021) we lost an extraordinary actress. Cloris Leachman was an American actress and comedienne who spent seven decades making indelible impressions with every role, no matter how small.

Depending upon your age/generation, you may have been introduced to Leachman via a variety of roles that range from the “Gran” voice in the animated THE CROODS (2013), or as “Ida” on “Malcolm in the Middle” sitcom which earned her years of Emmy noms and wins, or as the oldest contestant on the 7th season of “Dancing With The Stars” when at age 82 she broke the record for their oldest dancer (which still stands today). Or perhaps, like me, you knew her first as hilarious characters in Mel Brooks films and as quirky “Phyllis” from the landmark show, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” No matter how you first came to know her, with her memorable performances across comedy and drama over the span of seven decades, no doubt you were hooked and left wanting to see more.

On April 30, 1926, Cloris Leachman was born in Des Moines, Iowa, heir to the family lumber business. But she had other dreams and studied drama in college. Her classmates at the Drama Department of Northwestern University included Paul Lynde, Patricia Neal, Agnes Nixon, Charlotte Rae, and Martha Hyer. She was titled Miss Chicago of 1946, performed with the Des Moines Playhouse, then headed to New York where she found her way into small roles in TV. For the next couple of decades, most of her career focused in television work.

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But her few films from the 50s and 60s were memorable, including her explosive role in Robert Aldrich’s film noir, KISS ME DEADLY (1955). Her performance as the terrified, hitchhiking runaway, wearing nothing but a trench coat, “Christina Bailey” was compelling enough to gain the sympathies from a hardened private dick like Mike Hammer- and from us, too. She also made the most of a bit part as “Agnes” in BUTCH CASSIDY and the SUNDANCE KID (1969). Apparently it was her idea to sing “The Sweetest Little Fellow” from Paul Robeson’s song “Mighty Like a Rose.” She was less than thrilled when she thought it sounded like a cat mewing, but they left it in anyway.

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Cloris won the Academy Award for her supporting roles as a cheating coach’s wife in a tiny, lifeless Texas town, “Ruth” in Peter Bogdanovich’s THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971). The film remains a classic with high praise from critics and established Leachman as a serious dramatic actor. But the 1970s would also bring Leachman immense popularity as a comedic actor in both television and film.

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As “Phyllis Lindstrom” Leachman portrayed Mary’s delightfully clueless, chatty, and self-absorbed neighbor/friend/landlady in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” from 1970 – 1975. Phyllis was a frequent guest in the first 2 seasons but appeared less so in seasons 3 through 5. Cloris Leachman was given a chance to expand the “Lindstrom” character when “Phyllis” became a spin-off in 1975. It lasted 2 seasons/48 episodes. “Rhoda” (1974 – 1978) and “Lou Grant” (1977 – 1982) were also spin-off shows from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970 – 1977).

This decade launched her film partnership with Mel Brooks. She would do a total of three films with Brooks, starting with her legendary “Frau Brucher” in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974). As one of my all-time favorite films, I can attest we quote “Frau Brucher” on a weekly basis in my home. It often begins if someone says something along the lines of “be careful” which I generally reply with, “zee staircase can be ver-we treacherous,” in my best Brucher accent. One of the reasons this film is considered side-splitting funny to this day is due to Cloris Leachman’s natural humor instincts.

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According to The Hollywood Reporter article (by Ryan Parker) published following the news of her death this year, Cloris got a kick out of making Gene Wilder break character on the YF set because he found her so hilarious…

“As I turned to Gene, he’d be laughing, his face was in two pieces laughing,” she said in the interview. “We did about 15 takes. I hear him laughing, and I have not said anything. I just tickled him to pieces.” She added, “Everything I did in the movie tickled Gene to pieces. And it was so much fun to work with him.” Brooks said of Leachman’s passing, “Such sad news — Cloris was insanely talented. She could make you laugh or cry at the drop of a hat. Always such a pleasure to have on set. Every time I hear a horse whinny I will forever think of Cloris’ unforgettable Frau Blücher. She is irreplaceable, and will be greatly missed.”

Her next Mel Brooks film would be as “Nurse Diesel” in HIGH ANXIETY (1977). This film is a spoof of practically every top-grossing Hitchcock film, but her character is more akin to a “Nurse Ratched” dominatrix wet dream. From her bullet bra that could give you stitches, her clinched teeth, and her penciled-on features, Leachman kept us all in stitches. Her last on-screen Brooks role was as “Madame Defarge” in HISTORY of the WORLD: Part 1 (1981), a parodic look at events from world history. One of my favorite lines she delivers with superb wit…

Madame Defarge: “We are so poor, we do not even have a language! Just this stupid accent!”

Fellow Revolutionist: “She’s right, she’s right! We all talk like Maurice Chevalier!”

Married to director/producer George Englund from 1953 to 1979, together they had 5 children, and 7 grandchildren. And yet, she somehow managed to work in 287 credits to her acting career- starting as an uncredited dancing patron in Edgar G. Ulmer’s CARNEGIE HALL (1947) starring Marsha Hunt, to her final film, a holiday film completed and ready to be released this year, HIGH HOLIDAY (2021).

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She earned eight Emmy Awards from 22 nominations, making her the most nominated and, along with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, most awarded performer in Emmy history. Here is a list of her many awards and nominations*:

  • Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (1972) for THE LAST PICTURE SHOW
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Comedy (1972, 1973) for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (CBS)
  • Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (1973) for “A Brand New Life: Tuesday Movie of the Week” (ABC)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Best Lead Actress in a Drama (1974), “The Migrants CBS Playhouse 90” (CBS)
  • Best Supporting Actress in Comedy (1974), “The Mary Tyler Moore” (CBS)
  • Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama Series (1975), “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (CBS)
  • Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music (1975), “Cher” (CBS)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1976), “Phyllis” (CBS)
  • Emmy Nomination, Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music (1976), “Telly… Who Loves Ya, Baby?” (CBS)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress in a drama or comedy special (1978), “It Happened One Christmas” (ABC)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special (1984), “Ernie Kovacs: Between the Laughter” (ABC)
  • Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program (1984), “Screen Actors Guild 50th Anniversary Celebration” (CBS)
  • Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (1998), “Promised Land” (CBS)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005), “Malcolm In The Middle” (FOX)
  • Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (2002, 2006), “Malcolm In The Middle” (FOX)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (2005), “Joan Of Arcadia” (CBS)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie (2006), “Mrs. Harris” (HBO)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (2011), “Raising Hope” (FOX/ Twentieth Century Fox Television)
  • Emmy Hall Of Fame, Honoree (2011)

The full list of all of her awards (all 28 wins and 42 nominations) can be found here: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001458/awards

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She really could do it all- from every genre to every medium. Drama, comedy, film noir, horror, westerns, sitcoms, holiday films, television, play productions, Broadway, film. Heck, she was even in an “After-School Special.” Most importantly, no role was ever too small for her because she stole every scene. I believe she is worthy of singing her praises because in addition to her obvious talent and vibrance, she possessed an authentic grounded appeal. Perhaps it’s that Midwestern hard work ethic. She seemingly held no vanities in order to get a good laugh, which is the sign of a natural-born comic. As a true working actor, she performed right up until the end, to the age of 94. She died from natural causes (a stroke) but it should be noted that the final medical reports revealed she had COVID-19 and it is believed that contributed to her stroke and subsequent death.

**This article is a contribution to the What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of Once Upon A Screen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club, and yours truly- Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled. I encourage you to explore all the contributing authors to this 10th annual blogging event, which tributes character actors, is being held Saturday, Dec. 4th, 2021.

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BREAKING NEWS! The 10th anniversary of WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon is here!

It all began with Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and an interstitial series of dedications the network has aired honoring character actors. You have no doubt seen them, video tributes to Edna May OliverBeulah BondiWilliam DemarestButterfly McQueen, and many other supporting players whose work stands the test of time. With these tributes WHAT A CHARACTER! was born and, unable to resist those actors, Paula, Aurora and I decided to dedicate a blogging event in their honor. Now, for the tenth consecutive year, we continue the tradition.

Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and @CitizenScreen,  Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and @Paula_Guthat, and yours truly Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled and @Irishjayhawk66, would like to extend this invitation to the 2021 WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon to all bloggers who appreciate the laughter, the good taste, the double takes, the heart, and the comfort all the character actors have brought us through the years.

This entry also serves as a heartfelt thank you to all who have participated in this event so graciously for nine years. The talent, enthusiasm, and passion with which you have approached our beloved character actors are beyond anything we could have imagined. We hope you join us again for this special celebration.

The WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon

When: Saturday, December 4
How:
  • Let the hosts know which character actor you choose by leaving a comment below
    • We prefer no repeats and character actors can be from any era of film or television
  • Please include the name and URL of your blog and your Twitter handle to help us promote your work properly
  • Publish your post on or before December 4
  • Include the event banner courtesy of Paula Guthat on your blog to help us promote this special event
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!

Giveaways!

A tenth anniversary is a big deal, a fact recognized by Turner Classic Movies and The University Press of Kentucky who have offered books to give away to 10 lucky U.S. and Canada participants of the WHAT A CHACRACTER! Blogathon.

From the TCM Library, we have 5 copies of The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter by Jeremy Arnold with foreword by Robert Osborne. A big thank you to Justin Gottlieb, Entertainment Marketing, Social Media Manager at Turner Classic Movies for securing these books for us.

While you may well be familiar with TCM, you may not know about The University Press of Kentucky, which has a wonderful array of film history-related biographies and analytical studies in its Screen Classics series. For our event, Director of Sales & Marketing, Brooke Raby has offered a sampling of their offerings, one copy of each of the following titles:

Charles Boyer: The French Lover by John Baxter

Natalie Wood: A Life by Gavin Lambert

Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King by Foster Hirsch

Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood by Robert S. Birchard

Radical Innocence: A Critical Study of the Hollywood Ten by Bernard F. Dick

Thank you to Raby Brooke for the terrific list of books.

Before we get to blogging with character, I want to express my appreciation and a hearty congratulations to my friends and co-hosts, Aurora and Paula. One decade down: forever to go. Happy WHAT A CHARACTER! Anniversary!

Chosen Actors & Participating Blogs

Cloris Leachman – Outspoken & Freckled

Hans Conried – A Shroud of Thoughts

Wally Cox – Journeys in Classic Film

Mildred Dunnock and Patricia Collinge – The Last Drive In

Hope Emerson – Shadows and Satin

Valerie Perrine – Real Weegie Midget Reviews

Felix Bressart – Taking Up Room

Jack Carson – Second Sight Cinema

Theresa Harris – Blog of the Darned

George Tobias – A Person in the Dark

Kathleen Harrison – Caftan Woman

Lucille La Verne – The Classic Movie Muse

Elisha Cook, Jr. – Whimsically Classic

Conrad Veidt – Lady Eve’s Reel Life

William Frawley – By Rich Watson

Doro Merande – Trivial History

Edward Everett Horton – Silent Film Music

Eugene Pallette – Top 10 Film Lists

Lillian Randolph – Another Old Movie Blog

Barry Fitzgerald

A shy little man, with a twinkle in his eye that left a big impression on screen. If there was a classic Hollywood version of a leprechaun, Barry Fitzgerald was it. As campy and stereotypical as that depiction sounds, Fitzgerald was indeed funny, but there’s no doubt this was a supremely skilled dramatic actor. Small in stature perhaps, but his performances in minor roles left unforgettable mark in Hollywood masterpieces.

Born William Joseph Shields on March 10, 1888 in Portobello (Dublin), Ireland, he was working as a civil servant when his younger brother Arthur Shields (eight years younger) was acting on stage and he decided to join along as a side gig. His brother Arthur fought in Ireland’s Easter Rising in 1916, and even though William did not, he decided a stage name of Barry Fitzgerald might be best to keep his brother’s politics distant from his acting pursuits. While initially keeping his day job for steady income, William realized he had a true knack for comedy, moonlighting on stage.

“Barry Fitzgerald” started at the famed Abbey Theatre in 1917. Working with playwright Sean O’Casey, he found himself in England, starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s JUNO and PAYCOCK (1930), based on O’Casey’s successful play. Touring with Abbey in the 1930s, and thanks again to a story by Sean O’Casey, both Barry and his brother Arthur were discovered by John Ford and starred (along with Barbara Stanwyck) in Ford’s THE PLOUGH and the STARS (1936). Thus began their transition to Hollywood.

In the 30s, 40s, and 50s, Fitzgerald had gradually become a not-overnight, mature-aged success. With his thick Irish brogue and tiny physique, he was not a fit for every role, but audiences and Hollywood adored him. In fifty-one film credits, he lit up the silver screen in even the smallest parts, including an Oscar winning performance. I’ll share a few of my favorites here…

Fitzgerald faces cat-astrophe in Hawks’ BRINGING UP BABY. Photo credit: Blonde at the Film

Fresh into his Hollywood career, one of my first memories of Barry Fitzgerald was in the minor role of the caretaker in Howard Hawks’ BRINGING UP BABY (1938). The screwball rom-com stars Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn as they chase after and mix up a couple of leopards- one tame and one a man-eater. The comedic chaos called for a delightfully confused Fitzgerald as Mr. Gogarty who thinks he surely must be nipping at the whisky too much to see such a ‘big kitty’ in Connecticut.

Barry reunites with his brother and John Ford in the beautiful masterpiece that tells the story of a family of a Welsh mining town in Ford’s HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941). It’s not easy to stand out in the powerhouse of the Ford stock company, especially in a film this beautiful. In my opinion, this film that was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won five, famously beat out CITIZEN KANE, deserves its reputation as a practically perfect film. And yes, the Shield brothers hold their own.

To me, there is no doubt that Barry Fitzgerald’s shining role was the one for which he earned his Oscar- for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, as Father Fitzgibbon in GOING MY WAY (1944). He delivers a truly heartfelt, sympathetic, and enduring performance as an aging priest. He’s set in his ways, very old school, resistant to change. But there’s a remarkable sweetness to this stubborn character. Perhaps it’s my own fondness for anything Irish, but an unforgettable scene is when Crosby’s Father Chuck O’Malley sings Fitzgerald’s Father Fitzgibbon an Irish lullaby as he reminiscences about his mother and his Erin homeland. It renders me weepy every time. The interesting thing about that film’s Oscar lineup, is that Fitzgerald was nominated for both Best Actor in a Supporting Role AND Best Actor in a Leading Role (competing against Bing Crosby who won). This was rectified by the Academy the following year when they outlawed such double noms within a single role. This Oscar win took place towards the end of World War 2, when metal rationing was still marching on. Fitzgerald’s statuette would normally be gold-plated bronze, but was made with plaster that year. As such, Barry accidentally and easily destroyed it in a golf swing mishap. Seems his line from the film about golf rang true. Barry Fitzgerald: “A golf course is nothing but a pool room moved outdoors.” Fitzgerald was known for playing Catholic priests but was, ironically, raised Protestant in real life.

I’ve made no secret that John Ford’s THE QUIET MAN (1952) is one of my favorite films of all-time. It couldn’t be as magical if it weren’t for John Ford’s passion to create a love song to Ireland, via his stock company. Fitzgerald steals every scene, especially when sharing scenes with larger-than-life presence of John Wayne and the dynamic beauty and sass of Maureen O’Hara. At my house, we often quote Fitzgerald’s Michaleen Oge Flynn from many of his witty lines. “When I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey. When I drink water, I drink water,” as O’Hara’s Mary Kate Danaher asks if he wants water for his whiskey.

Other films of note that I recommend, to see his range in dramatic roles within his filmography, are Rene Clair’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945), Richard Brooks’ THE CATERED AFFAIR (1956), and Jules Dassin’s THE NAKED CITY (1948). In the film noir THE NAKED CITY, Fitzgerald portrays Lt. Dan Muldoon. It’s a stark casting against type. Not exactly the gentle and cutesy character as typical from his past roles, Muldoon behaves like a real, work the work detective. The streets are gritty and the investigation is procedural. Nothing fancy or glam here. This police drama style set the tone for many crime dramas to come that spilled over into popular tv shows of the 1950s.

Barry Fitzgerald’s last feature film was George Pollock’s BROTH of a BOY (1959). Barry was a lifelong bachelor. He shared a Hollywood apartment with Gus D Taillon, his stand-in, who died in 1953. In 1959, Fitzgerald moved back to Dublin. Barry Fitzgerald died on January 14, 1961 at the age of 72 years old.


This article was my contribution to the 9th annual What A Character Blogathon. Co-hosted by friends and classic film gurus Aurora @CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen and Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club. Be sure to read all the fascinating and informative contributions from fellow film bloggers!

Welcome to the 9th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER BLOGATHON!

The anticipation is over! Today we bring you the first day of the 9th annual What A Character Blogathon, hosted by yours truly (@IrishJayhawk66) and my fellow co-hosts, the classic film loving ladies: Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club @Paula_Guthat and Aurora of Once Upon A Screen @CitizenScreen.

As announced, this annual event celebrates the supporting actors. Quirky and silly roles abound. Oft from the service industry, like a frustrated hotel house detective or the reliably sarcastic maid, to the cohorts like the cigar-chewing stage manager or perhaps the reliable sidekick. In so many ways, the character role is often our favorite scene-stealing performances of a film. We invited bloggers to scribe on their favorite characters. Let’s begin!

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films celebrates EVE ARDEN as the go to actress for a no nonsense, sassy, sardonic, witty, and capable gal pal or secretary: https://maddylovesherclassicfilms.wordpress.com/2020/12/01/the-9th-what-a-character-blogathon-eve-arden/

Ruth of Silver Screenings (@925screenings) reviews “The Enduring Appeal of the Character Actor” via  David Lazar’s new collection of essays, Celeste Holm Syndrome: On Character Actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age: https://silverscreenings.org/2020/12/03/the-enduring-appeal-of-the-character-actor/

For my own entry (Kellee @IrishJayhawk66), I’m honoring BARRY FITZGERALD, the tiny man with a big heart on the silver screen: https://kelleepratt.com/2020/12/05/barry-fitzgerald/

Kayla (@kaylar622) of Whimsically Classic gives us the deeper look at scene-stealer SZ “CUDDLES” SAKALL. As she says, “SZ will always be remembered for his colorful film appearances. His lovable, flustered persona is endearing as is the way he delivers his lines in mangled English. I absolutely love him and am always excited to see him when he pops up in a film.” https://whimsicallyclassic.wordpress.com/2020/12/05/what-a-character-blogathon-sz-sakall/

Wide Screen World takes a look at the film career of RAYMOND MASSEY, whose acting chops took him from the British stage to the silver screen of Hollywood and television to play historic figures such as John Brown to Abe Lincoln: http://widescreenworld.blogspot.com/2020/12/ray-massey-in-hollywood-and-england.html?m=1

Lesley (@zleegaspar) of Second Sight Cinema explores the “unsparing honesty” of Writer At Work: MARY ASTOR: https://secondsightcinema.com/writer-at-work-mary-astor/

Lady Eve’s Reel Life (@TheLaydeeEve) discusses MARCEL DALIO, who she says spanned a career of masterpieces of the French Cinema to classic Hollywood, bringing distinction, warmth and humanity to every role: http://www.ladyevesreellife.com/2020/12/marcel-dalio-what-french-character.html

Toni (@ToniRoberto) of Watching Forever gives credit where credit is due for RICHARD DEACON, as the often uncredited actor of quiet indignation: https://watchingforever.wordpress.com/2020/12/04/giving-overdue-credit-to-character-actor-richard-deacon/

Gill (@realweegiemidge) of Real Weegie Midget Reviews talks about the cinematic memories of DIANA RIGG: https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/remembrances/remembrances-2020/remembering-the-delightful-diana-rigg/

Jacqueline (@JacqTLynch) of Another Old Movie Blog explores the work of TOM TULLY “who exuded grace even in his most snide, sinister, and crusty roles, and yet who could display such unassuming warmth…” https://anotheroldmovieblog.blogspot.com/2020/12/tom-tully-what-character-blogathon.html

Paddy (@CaftanWoman) of the Caftan Woman bring us a peek into the prolific career of multi-facted character actor HARRY CORDING, “could be counted on to bring the menace or to let the hero show how brave he is by defeating the strong man”: https://www.caftanwoman.com/2020/12/what-character-blogathon-harry-cording.html

Can you guess who was the first African American given a long-term contract with a film studio? It may not be who you think. Le of Critica Retro (@startspreading) shares her thoughts on unsung pioneer, ERNIE MORRISON aka “SUNSHINE SAMMY” https://criticaretro.blogspot.com/2020/12/ernie-morrison-ou-sunshine-sammy-um.html

Maddy Loves Her Classic Film adds another entry with BERNARD HEPTON, “who left behind a wonderful array of performances for us to enjoy”: https://maddylovesherclassicfilms.wordpress.com/2020/12/04/the-9th-what-a-character-blogathon-bernard-hepton/


Check back throughout the day as entries continue to pour in. You can also explore the host trio’s twitter accounts for links, as well. To our participants, to our followers reading along, and to my fellow hosts… THANK YOU!! Enjoy….

Announcement: 9th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON


Borrowing a catch-phrase from our favorite home of the classics, Turner Classic Movies, Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled / @IrishJayHawk66), Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club / @Paula_Guthat) and Aurora, of Once Upon a Screen / @CitizenScreen) dedicate a blogathon to character actors for the ninth consecutive year. To the faces, the laughs, the drama presented by these wonderful actors whose names all too often go unrecognized we dedicate WHAT A CHARACTER! 2020.

The hosts extend this invitation to the WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon 2020, a slightly different event than in the past. We will all host the event on one day promoted across all three blogs. Please join us on December 5, 2020 as we pay tribute to the brilliance of the supporting players and the many films they made better.

Our objective with this TCM-inspired event has always been to spotlight lesser-known actors with talent to spare. We hope you are up for this challenge and are ready to have a bit of fun. All you have to do is adhere to the following guidelines and leave a comment with your choice of actor.

GUIDELINES:

  • Let at least one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.
  • Do not take it for granted we know exactly who you are or where your blog resides – please include the title and URL of your blog and your Twitter handle if you have one.
  • We will not accept previously published posts, or duplicates, since there are so many greats worthy of attention, but your choices are not limited to classics. You can choose any character actor from any era and from the movies or television, which has featured talented regulars since the beginning
  • Publish your WHAT A CHARACTER! post on or before December 5, 2020. 
  • Please include the gorgeous event banner in your What A Character! post. It would be great if you could help us promote this event.
  • Thank you for sending any of us the direct link to your post once you have published it. Searching on social media sites can lead to missed entries.
  • HAVE FUN and happy blogging!

PARTICIPANTS:

BEULAH BONDI … Aurora/@CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen

RICHARD ERDMAN … Paula/ @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club

BARRY FITZGERALD … Kellee/ @IrishJayhawk66 of Outspoken & Freckled

EVE ARDEN … Maddy of Maddy Loves Her Classic Films

GEOFFREY KEEN … Maddy of Maddy Loves Her Classic Films

HARRY CORDING … Paddy/ @CaftanWoman of Caftan Woman

ANNE REVERE … May of Brizzy Mays Books And Bruschetta

HERBERT MARSHALL … Tonya/ @tonyalit of Goosepimply All Over

RAYMOND MASSEY … Rich/ @ratzo318 of Wide Screen World

MARY ASTOR … Lesley/ @zleegaspar of Second Sight Cinema

DIANA RIGG … @realweegiemidge of Real Weegie Midget Reviews

SZ “CUDDLES” SAKALL … Kayla of Whimsically Classic

ERNIE MORRISON … Le/ @startspreading of Critica Retro

CELESTE HOLM … Ruth/ @925screenings of Silver Screenings

WITNESS for the PROSECUTION (1957)

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION: Billy Wilder Film Study

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Billy Wilder was known for his reverence for the structure of a screenplay, and subsequently, it influenced his films. In particular, he preferred that all screenplays and films be constructed in a three chapter format like a good play. Agatha Christie’s WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION was an international success on stage, and being tossed around as a possible film adaptation by producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr. The producers approached Marlene Dietrich to play the iconic role of Christine Vole (Vivian Leigh was also considered). Her only condition was that her friend, Billy Wilder, direct.

CREDITS:

Directed by: Billy Wilder

Produced by: Arthur Hornblow, Jr. (Edward Small Productions)

Screenplay by: Billy Wilder, Larry Marcus, Harry Kurnitz

Based on Agatha Christie’s 1925 original story

CAST:

Tyrone Power as Leonard Vole, the accused

Marlene Dietrich as Christine Vole/Helm, the accused’s wife

Charles Laughton as Sir Wilfrid Robarts Q.C., senior counsel for Vole

Elsa Lanchester as Miss Plimsoll, Sir Wilfrid’s private nurse

John Williams as Mr. Brogan-Moore, Sir Wilfrid’s junior counsel in the trial

Henry Daniell as Mr. Mayhew, Vole’s  solicitor who instructs Sir Wilfrid on the case

Ian Wolfe as H. A. Carter, Sir Wilfrid’s chief clerk and office manager

Torin Thatcher as Mr. Myers Q.C., the Crown prosecutor

Norma Varden as Mrs. Emily Jane French, the elderly woman who was murdered

Una O’Connor as Janet McKenzie, Mrs. French’s housekeeper and a prosecution witness

Francis Compton as Mr. Justice Wainwright, the judge

Philip Tonge as Chief Inspector Hearne, the arresting officer

Ruta Lee as Diana… She’s a young woman watching the trial, waiting for Leonard to be freed.  *(I had the immense pleasure of screening this film with Ruta Lee presenting a Q & A intro of her experience in this film at the 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. She was even more of a crowd-cheering delight than you could even imagine- with all the Hollywood glamour and effervescent energy decades younger than her eighty-five years.)

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Billy Wilder’s WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is essentially the same courtroom drama as Agatha Christie created, but Wilder enhanced the plot by playing up an extended focus on key characters. This was especially true for the witty banter between Elsa Lanchester’s nurse Plimsoll and Charles Laughton’s Sir Wilfrid. I don’t know what the Hollywood obsession is with fawning over cantankerous, obstinate men, but the formula has worked well. The two actors were married in real life, in a marriage of mutual convenience as Laughton was gay and Lanchester had more ambitions for a career than for a traditional family dynamic. It was said that both Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton had a crush on Tyrone Power.

Elsa Lanchester and husband Charles Laughton on the French Riviera in 1938

Elsa Lanchester, Charles Laughton on the French Riviera- the couple were married (of convenience) in real life.

Tyrone Power; Marlene Dietrich; Witness for the…

Both Dietrich and Laughton had crushes on Tyrone Power- can we blame them? 

The film starts with barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton) coming back home after several weeks of recovery from a heart attack. His doctors’ orders are to avoid stress; no murder trials especially. And yet, that’s exactly what he does. His new client, Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) challenges his curious mind through a maze of challenges of incriminating evidence, including a surprising show of loyalty from his wife, Christine (Marlene Dietrich).

There were concerns that Power looked older than his part due to years of alcoholism. In an odd twist of fate, even though it’s Laughton’s character that is constantly under a microscope for a bad ticker, Tyrone Power is the one who (in real life) succumbed to a heart attack during filming of his very next film, SOLOMON AND SHEBA (1959). As such, he was unable to complete that film, and Yul Brenner was brought in to complete. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957) was also the last motion picture feature for Una O’Connor. Her role provides comic relief, thanks to the enhanced dialogue.

Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, Charles Laughton and director Billy Wilder on the set of _Witness for the Prosecution_ 1957_

Billy Wilder enjoyed working with both Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton, admiring their professionalism greatly. From “Conversations with Wilder,” Wilder chatted about this in detail with Cameron Crowe…

BW: “Laughton was everything that you can dream of, times ten. We would stop shooting at six o’clock, and we would go up to my office and would be preparing for next day’s shooting. There were twenty versions of the way he could do a scene, and I would say, “ That’s it! All right!” And then the next day, on the set, he comes and he says, “I thought of something else.” And that was version number twenty-one. Better and better all the time. He was a tremendous presence. Tremendous presence, and a wonderful instrument, wonderful vocal instrument. When he spoke to the audience, they were very quiet. Because they knew. He did not just speak. He said something. And the sum total of it was a great performance. He only got one (Academy) Award, for THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY the VIII (1933). But he was an absolute marvel.”    

Vista on Instagram_ “Witness For The Prosecution (1957) An American Thriller Film Directed And Co-Adapted By_ Billy Wilder Based On A Novel Of The Same Name By…”

Secrecy is a critical element to the success of this film. Not unlike how Alfred Hitchcock handling of PSYCHO, the audience is firmly instructed to not reveal the climatic ending. Even the cast and crew were sworn to secrecy with the last 10 pages of the script saved until the final day of shooting.

The setting is prepared for Billy Wilder's fabulous courtroom drama _Witness for the Prosecution_, 1957_

Prepping the set

The Sketch Artist_ 18 Classic Film Costume Designs by Edith Head

Edith Head costume design for Marlene Dietrich in WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957)

As for the Hitchcockian feel of this film, Alfred Hitchcock said, “Many times, people have told me how much they enjoyed WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957). They thought it was my film instead of Billy Wilder’s. And Wilder told me people asked him about THE PARADINE CASE (1947), thinking he had done it.” 

BILLY WILDER & MARLENE DIETRICH - 1948

It was well-received by critics, fans, and at the box office. Even Agatha Christie herself said at the time that it was the only film adapted from one of her stories that she actually liked. (Later, she also enjoyed the Sidney Lumet version of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974).) While WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION was nominated for several awards, including 6 Oscars (including Best Picture nom), Marlene Dietrich was not one of them. She was so confident that she would be an Academy Award nominee, however, that she prepared the news to be included in her Las Vegas show opener. Alas, that never came to fruition.

Tyrone Power admires Norma Varden's hat in…

One more tidbit that I found of personal interest (and yes, spoilers abound). Ageism is a running theme in this story- with the challenge of aging actors behind the scenes. We see Tyrone Power as Leonard Vole, portrayed as the gold digger wooing Emily French (Norma Varden), depicted as the older widow of means. Furthermore, we are led to believe Dietrich as his war bride is somewhat more age appropriate to him than, say, a 22 year-old Ruta Lee. The 43 year old actor Tyrone Power’s aging reflected his ill health, but his charm and good looks persuade us to not believe our own eyes. Meanwhile, Dietrich’s master skills in camera lighting and makeup make us believe that there was a much wider age gap between Christine Vole and Emily French than in reality. (Dietrich was 56 years old and Norma Varden was 59 at the time of this film’s release.) I may chalk this up to yet another case for women actors being forced to play either much younger roles, (with the enhancement of makeup, lighting, and plastic surgery) or spinsters in their 40s and 50s. Despite the hodgepodge of ages, we are pulled into the superb performances and timeless storytelling for a classic courtroom drama of suspense that continues to captivate.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Celebrating Life, Death, and Ricky Gervais in GHOST TOWN (2008)

 

Randy Glass – Wall Street Journal Hedcut of Ricky…

Brit funny man Ricky Gervais is known for his brutal humor, as the controversial host of the Golden Globes, as the creator/writer/star of the original (2001 British version) “The Office,” and for his outspoken stances on atheism and animal rights. On his comedy styling, he never holds back and everyone is equally vulnerable to his verbal barbs.

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For a man who has very firm beliefs on the after-life (lack thereof in his case), Gervais has taken on the subject more than once in his career. In David Koepp’s GHOST TOWN (2008), Ricky is perfectly cast as the anti-social, easily annoyed, and cynical dentist Bertram Pincus. He’s the sort that will go out of his way to avoid social pleasantries to a dishonest and unkind effort. He goes through a life-altering experience when he comes out of a colonoscopy seeing ghosts. Turns out, Bertram discovers he was dead for seven minutes during the procedure and this has left him in a unique position where he is the only one who can see and chat with the dead.

Here is an example of Dr. Pincus’s typical difficulty in being ‘sociable’ with others, as he answers the pre-colonoscopy questionnaire:

Hospital Nurse: “Date of birth?”

Bertram Pincus: “Why?”

Hospital Nurse: “What day were you born?”

Bertram Pincus: “No, I understood the question. Why do you need to know that?”

Hospital Nurse: “Let’s leave it blank. Weight?”

Bertram Pincus: “Last night or this morning?”

Hospital Nurse: “You pick.”

Bertram Pincus: “Hundred eighty-two pounds.”

Hospital Nurse: “Number of alcoholic beverages consumed per week?”

Bertram Pincus: “Why do you need to know that?”

Hospital Nurse: “Well, they want to know.”

Bertram Pincus: “Well, I’m sure “they” want to know a lot of things, but I don’t want my intimate details auctioned off to the highest bidder, willy-nilly.”

Hospital Nurse: “I’ll put zero. Marital status?”

Bertram Pincus: “Pass.”

Hospital Nurse: “Profession?”

Bertram Pincus: “Irrelevant.”

Hospital Nurse: “Food allergies?”

Bertram Pincus: “I’m not going to be eating here.”

Hospital Nurse: “Are you allergic to sticking plaster?”

Bertram Pincus: “What a ludicrous question. I’m not answering any more of these, really.”

Hospital Nurse: “Do you smoke?”

Bertram Pincus: “Stop it.”

Hospital Nurse: “Do you wear dentures?”

Bertram Pincus: “Madame, listen.”

Hospital Nurse: “When was the last time you ate?”

Bertram Pincus: “A pertinent question at last. Yesterday, lunchtime. Thanks for asking. I had a tuna sandwich. Toast was soggy, but…”

Hospital Nurse: “Did you drink the laxative solution?”

Bertram Pincus: “Yes.”

Hospital Nurse: “Did it work?”

Bertram Pincus: “It was as advertised.”

Hospital Nurse: “Did you evacuate your bowls?”

Bertram Pincus: “I drank copious amounts of drain-cleaning fluid. What followed was fait accompli.”

Hospital Nurse: “Sir, what I’m asking is if you were…”

Bertram Pincus: “I shat. Okay? Good. Again and again. It was like a terrorist attack down there in the darkness and the chaos, the running and the screaming, okay?”

Hospital Nurse: “Fine with me.”

Bertram Pincus: “Good.”

Bertram Pincus: “Gross invasion of my privacy, this.”

Bertram hates people, dead or alive, so this poses an issue when he meets his neighbor Gwen (Tea Leoni), who is the polar opposite. Gwen is grieving the recent loss of her husband (Greg Kinnear as Frank) but her true nature is energetically bubbling with life.

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Frank is a sleazeball of a husband/ghost who cheated on his wife when he was alive and feels threatened now that his wife is potentially getting serious with a new man (Billy Campbell as Richard). Selfishly, he asks Bertram to get close to Gwen to help thwart her moving on, while threatening to have a multitude of ghosts all over NYC pester him if he doesn’t comply.

This film is essentially a formula romcom, but with a ghostly twist. As we watch Bertram fall for Gwen, we see him embrace kindness and shed his lack of humanity. He learns the life lesson in the beauty of unselfishly helping others.

Ricky Gervais, Ghost Town_

I can’t help but think that Ricky Gervais is secretly Irish. There’s a joke amongst my Irish rooted family that we look at death differently. Irish are known for embracing death, sometimes through poetry and song or via dark humor, as a celebration of life. We are unusually comfortable with the topic.

Not that Gervais wrote this screenplay. Director David Koepp (a popular screenwriter of modern classics like Jurassic Park) co-wrote this with John Kamps. This role suits Gervais well. As we watch Pincus evolve into a better human being, Gervais showcases his knack for making audiences laugh as easily as cry. The irony is of course that atheist Ricky Gervais is perfect for this heavenly role that focuses on the after-life head on.

With other projects since this role, Gervais has returned recently to a theme that tackles life after death. No ghosts or heavenly assertions, Gervais’s “After Life” (2 seasons, 2019 – 2020) on Netflix explores the life of a man in mourning, whose singular joy came from his recently deceased wife. He dwells in her memories, through flashbacks and home videos, and thoughts of suicide are frequent. He clings to his bitter, anti-social wit with a myriad of colorful characters that intersect in his life. Yet gradually he begins to see that life may be worth living when he becomes invested in their lives with small acts of kindness. This is especially true in his loyalty to his dog.

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With both of his roles in GHOST TOWN (2008) and “After Life,” Ricky Gervais displays a masterful ability to make us laugh and deeply touch our hearts, while centering on a topic that many find typically not very entertaining. Death is usually taboo in comedy, if addressed in earnest. Which he manages to walk that fine line of death in sincerity and comedic lines that induces snorting out loud. No easy task. As the best and generally most controversial comics often do, a brutally honest approach, with a mirror held up to society, is often the funniest.


*This piece was written in memory of Kathleen Feindt-Bailey (1960 – 2020), the recently passed wife of Steve Bailey, a friend, fellow blogger, and aficionado of classic comedy. See his work at: https://moviemovieblogblogii.wordpress.com/ or the The Life Goes On Blogathon, Hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlogII.

 

 

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