Tag Archives: cary grant

Eva Marie Saint: Oscar Royalty

20 Jul

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It’s amazing that actresses today who strike Oscar gold with their first foray into film are immediately subject to the Oscar curse. This should not to be confused with the Oscar Love Curse – in which actresses from Vivian Leigh to Julia Roberts to Sandra Bullock win the little gold man of their cinematic dreams, only to lose their significant others in real life immediately after. No, I mean the Oscar curse where an actress hits paydirt her first time out and is relegated to terrible roles forever after. One classic beauty who defied this particular tinseltown superstition is the legendary Eva Marie Saint.

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Eva Marie was a little known though already incredibly talented actress on Broadway and television when Elia Kazan cast her as Edie Doyle,  Marlon Brando’s love interest in On The Waterfront (1954). The film was a tremendous hit – sending Brando into the stratosphere and taking Saint with him. The breakout role for the beautiful blonde resulted in an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Eva Marie was crowned the latest Hollywood princess of cinema – with every director circling her for their film. But Eva Marie was smart and, in a town that eats their own on a regular basis, chose her directors and her roles wisely.

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On the Waterfront showed the diminutive blonde as a naive though curious young woman who had little experience with men – let alone the domineering and larger than life presence of Brando. Maybe that’s what was so refreshing about her – she was able to keep her head amidst the carnage of Kazan’s black & white world. Saint’s performance was the perfect contrast to the rest of the film’s cynical world view. She stood out as pure and unaffected. It was a performance that deserved the Oscar, so the pressure was on for Eva Marie to find roles that would not typecast her – even at a time when so many actresses were interchangeable.

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To understand the role is to understand how acting as an art was changing in Hollywood. Eva Marie was part of a new breed of realism. She was able to convey a vulnerability without being weak at a time when women were still constrained in the “50’s mentality” of what a woman’s role was. That’s why I loved her next huge hit and the one that introduced me to her. Of course, I’m talking about Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959). In choosing Saint, Hitch was to transform Eva Marie from her trademark sweet, naive blonde persona into a femme fatale. Always the obsessive-compulsive auteur, Hitchcock literally took the scissors and cut Saint’s locks. It was a gamble that turned Saint into a sophisticated, world-weary spy who is able to control men in the dangerous world of espionage.

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Playing opposite the dapper and always glamorous Cary Grant, Eva Marie more than held her own in Hitchcock’s suspense classic. The performance was controlled and masterful. It was sophisticated and modern to have a woman so capable of holding her own – a realism that was rare for film of the day and set a tone that would be as influential to the spy genre as On The Waterfront had been for crime dramas. And all the while, Saint captivated audiences with that beautiful face that only let you see what she wanted you to see – until the end.

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Eva Marie’s role in North was a revelation to many who had remembered her as the diminutive blonde in Waterfront. She had matured as an actress between 1954 and ’59 and audiences knew it was no accident she had received the Oscar nearly a decade before. But to her credit, Eva Marie was more interested in spending time with her family than being in the Hollywood limelight. Her marriage to Jeffrey Hayden (1951) is one of the most enduring in Hollywood, largely because Eva Marie put her marriage and her two children first before her career. So, in a way she eluded both the Oscar curse of work and marriage falling apart, post winning her gold statuette.

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Now, at age 90, Eva Marie is still very active in Hollywood. While her roles have been sporadic over the intervening decades since North By Northwest, Saint has been nominated for Emmy’s in standout television roles. And as Oscar royalty, she’s been active in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Eva Marie is a judge in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowships for Screenwriting – the single-biggest amateur screenwriting award that gives aspiring scribes the opportunity to break into show business with their cinematic dream projects. Many a newbie screenwriter has been blessed with meeting Eva Marie at the annual Finalist dinner and Awards in early November. What a treat it would be to meet the legend in person!

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Eva Marie Saint is one of Hollywood’s greatest success stories. She is one of the few that has TWO Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – both for her film and television work. Makes you wish more actors were as down to earth, generous and inspirational as her. And it makes you wonder if Hollywood’s biggest stars of the day will still be around – and still so inspirational – when they’re in their 90’s. Seems like the industry has changed too much for that to be possible. Then again, Eva Marie called her own shots back when it really was an old-boy’s club.

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Here’s to Eva Marie, one of the most gorgeous and talented actresses of Hollywood. Oscar royalty who never looked down on anybody, but instead used her talent and compassion to lift them up. If you haven’t seen On The Waterfront and North By Northwest then rent them as soon as you can. And for a different film experience altogether, watch Eva Marie in Raintree Country (1957), 36 Hours (1965), and the formidable A Hatful of Rain (1957) one of the first Hollywood movies to tackle drug addiction.

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Deborah Kerr: Eternal Beauty

3 Sep

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Deborah Kerr was a mighty star known for her ladylike composure and beautiful, delicate features. The late 1940’s and 50’s saw her playing refined characters like Sister Clodagh in Black Narcissus (1947) and Princess Flavia in The Prisoner of Zenda (1952) among many others. But times were changing and Kerr, the Scottish born beauty whose mother made her lie on the floor for hours on end to make sure her back had “perfect posture” – found that her public persona was threatening to make her Hollywood career short-lived.

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Deborah knew she needed a drastic change and in 1952 it came. She went up for the role of Karen Holmes in “From Here to Eternity” (1953) the film adaptation of the famous James Jones novel depicting military life in Hawaii on the eve of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  Kerr was up against Joan Crawford, who infamously demanded her own director of photography for the role. The studio balked and Kerr was given the role of an unhappily married military wife who falls for the charms of Burt Lancaster.

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Kerr said the famous beach love scene with Burt was torturous. They had to wait for the perfect wave to wash over them while they made out. Trouble was you never knew when the perfect wave was coming and they had to do the scene over and over and over again. By the end of the shoot, Kerr said she and Lancaster had sand everywhere – in their mouths and “in other places, too.” The gamble to her career worked like wildfire. The sexy new Kerr was suddenly the talk of Hollywood, opening up roles for her that she would never have gotten before.

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Of course, the two most famous roles were to come for Kerr: “The King and I” (1956) and “An Affair to Remember” (1957) with Yul Brenner and Cary Grant, respectively. Kerr was magical in both and beautiful beyond measure. She was also newly confident and reassured in her roles. The famously shy actress was nominated for six Oscars – but never won until given an honorary statuette in 1994.

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Kerr quit movies and television altogether in 1986. She said it was because she was shocked and disgusted by all the sex and violence in movies and TV. And this was 1986! The graceful and elegant Kerr had a great sense of humor and a sensuality that many of her co-stars and fans remember of her.  She once said in an interview that when she kissed Cary Grant in “An Affair to Remember” that she really was in love with him. The fact, she says, that they weren’t trying to swallow each other – didn’t make their kissing sessions any less passionate.

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I’m grateful that “From Here to Eternity” came along and the perfect time to bring Kerr out of her shell. If not, then we may never have seen a deeper, more intense and passionate side of the Scottish actress – a side that made her fans and future generations realize that you can be graceful, refined, sensual and sexy all at the same time. Kerr embodied her characters in a way that has made her a favorite even today. That kind of timeless quality is rare and Kerr will always be remembered for being as beautiful in a full-length gown dancing and singing with Yul Brenner as she was in a bikini on the beach smooching Burt Lancaster. And that, as they say, is real range.

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A rare unpublished portrait of Kerr as beautiful as any supermodel today.

Grace Kelly: Grace in 3 Dimensions

29 Jul

Beautiful. Graceful. Classy. Elegant. Brilliant. Grace was a glamour girl of the highest order. Her style was evergreen, never fading into trends of the past but excelling into tomorrow’s classic looks. She was a dream come true for haute couture and Hollywood. Leading men swooned when they first met her. Director fell in love. Even good old Alfred Hitchcock who couldn’t get enough of watching the star on the set of Rear Window, a movie about voyeurism.

Grace’s timing was impeccable. She came onto the silver screen scene when there was a changing of the guard. When cinematic lions such as Gary Cooper and Clark Gable were in the twilight of their careers. Both easily twice Grace’s age, they nevertheless rallied for her affections both on-screen and off. Cooper was the sheriff in High Noon who young wife (Grace) doesn’t want to see him die. Clark Gable, however, was Grace’s true-life crush on the set of Mogambo set in the jungle. Gable was a gentleman, however, and let the rising star down as easy as he could. Grace would have to console herself with future leading men – such as Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window and Cary Grant in How to Catch a Thief.

On screen, my favorite pairing was Grant and Grace. They were magical to watch, both gorgeous and on top of their game. The rapport between these two goddess made you feel like you were a voyeur. The two of them together were so much chemistry-fueled lust created when two massive stars collide. I still get shivers when I watch Grace on film. She is as glamorous in color that most stars were in black & white. I can’t imagine what she must have been like to meet in person. Maybe that’s what Hitchcock was thinking when he released Dial M for Murder in 3D when it was first released. The prospect of seeing Grace in 3 Dimensions must have driven every man, woman and child to the theaters. Hitchcock always knew how to market a movie and with Grace as his star – his job got exponentially easier.

When Grace exited the silver screen to become a true life princess, many were devastated. The world lost her to Monaco and the feeling was that Grace left in her prime. I always wonder about the movies she would have made if she’d stayed. So many more chances to bask in the glow of the most beautiful blonde the silver screen had ever seen in color. Grace was an amazing actress, even more than a fashion icon. She straddled both worlds so well and would utilize both her talents when transitioning to the private, luxurious world of royalty. But I fear she did it too soon. Realizing too late there was more that she could have accomplished had she not stepped into a guilded cage.  At least that’s my take on her, especially in light of her later years and the horrible car crash that would take her life.

But that’s much too much reality for this blog. Here I like to dream and remember my leading ladies as I first found them. The goddesses of light that illuminated my early life and defined for me what beauty, intelligence and passion all wrapped up in the visage of a gorgeous woman could do to a mortal man. Especially upon repeat viewings. And for me, Grace was the accessible goddess – the one who would listen to you, make you smile and laugh – and if you were very, very lucky give you a memory that would last you forever. In 3D!

Jean Arthur: The Funny Blonde with Brains

22 Feb

Jean wasn’t the drop dead gorgeous leading lady I usually fell in love with as a kid. She was the funny, best friend type who found romance and love almost as an aside to the antics that took center-stage in her movie vehicles. She was tough and didn’t take any guff and only after seven reels (that’s old time movie talk for when movies where eight 10 minutes reels) did she melt into her leading man’s arms and surrender to his charms. This was the formula that worked and worked well with Jean. And no film brought out her tough-girl turned all gooey-eyed for love than “Only Angels Have Wings” opposite the formidable Cary Grant with an assist from Will Rogers and a very young (almost unrecognizable) Rita Hayworth.

The film was directed by Howard Hawks, a man’s director, who spun the story of a far outpost where the mail is flown by tiny airplanes over gargantuan mountains and cavernous chasms. The fly-by-night (literally) outfit is run by Cary in one of his serious Joker/hard customer roles that he was perfect for early in his career. In walks Jean, sparks fly initially, but then she sees the brutality of how these men live and die and decides to take a walk. But then she comes back, deciding Cary is a good man underneath. The storyline is contrived, but so well constructed and true to character that eccentricities don’t matter. Ya see, Cary had his heart broken and ever since lived by a code of honor and logic. Jean doesn’t get it until Rita walks in, then realizes what she needs to do to win over Cary. But ya see, to win over Cary you have to act like he acts, be tough and unsentimental. That’s what this script was all about from one uncompromising frame to the next – until the very end where Jean wants Cary to tell her to stay and wait for him. But Cary’s character would never do that. Instead he lets a double-headed coin do all the talking for him, and you see him take off in a plane on another dangerous mission while Jean melts on the ground.

I thoroughly enjoyed “Only Angels Have Wings” and fell head over heels for Jean in the process. She made a ton of movies in the 30’s – mostly lightweight comedies with Jimmy Stewart (Mr. Smith Goes To Washington) and Gary Cooper (Meet John Doe) but it’s with Cary that she really lets her hair down and does some of her best mugging for the camera.

Jean was beautiful, funny and accessible. She was one of the boys. The sexy, smart and ball’s out kind of dame that makes guys like me wish we lived back in those days when smart, sassy and moxie where everyday words. I’ll have to settle for watching Jean on screen and dreaming of her smile and infectious laugh that colored everything she said in a high-lilting voice. Jean’s dialogue sparkled along with her eyes, with a personal style that today’s stars would die – or pay exorbitant amounts of money – for. Reese Witherspoon is today’s Jean Arthur, only Jean had better material and equally better Leading Man material. But I’m splitting blonde hairs now. The most important thing is that funny was sexy then as much as it is now. Only smarter. And funnier. And sexier.