Some Dames

23 Dec

Off hand, I can’t think of anything that links them aside from their sex. Even their talents were in different departments…but this week, when not hitting the books like crazy sauce in biographical prep for a drama, I’ve been spending my down (and sick) time in between, resting my eyes and writer’s cramp on some other dames I know.

…Old friends and teachers all-three. I’ve no idea how I selected this particular stream of films to follow other than, I guess, the ladies were a tonic I needed at the time, and wrapping up my last day off in a row, with sniffles and coughs and general “ick” about, all I can say is, “what a way to go.”

Women who defied and yet defined their particular archetypes, in a swirling dervish of talent.

…One: classy and refined…cast primarily as the elegant English Rose, though she was more of a fiery Scot in actuality.
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The next: one of the top screwball gals who defined the genre as Frank Capra’s favorite Leading Lady, all the while hating both fame and publicity second only to Garbo, in the annals of Hollywood history.
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And last, but certainly not least: a blonde with a voice that could shatter glass, who made bank (and an Oscar) in the ditz market, though in reality was neither blonde nor dim-witted, but sported a cultured mezzo speaking voice, and a recorded IQ of 172.
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These: my playmates for the week, serving up many, many laughs (and some tears too, as needed.) Excellent sport, to watch them at work in their own dynamics with costars, seeing how they cater each role and relationship accordingly. If I’ve seen these movies once, I’ve seen ’em a thousand times. And how you know a performance and the artist doing it is good is: it never gets old. You wait for those best bits of dialogue and looks and interactions, like a kid waits for Christmas. And because it’s saved forever on film, the joy of it landing with perfection…every time…is a surefire guarantee.

…And hot damn but these dames were good at the game. Played the hell out of the stereotype they were prescribed to (as most were in those years in Hollywood), meanwhile managing somehow to one up the system at the same time.

Deborah Kerr owned the entire world of beautifully bone-structured, stately English wife and motherdom…until she decided to flip it the finger, drop the accent, bleach the red from her hair and role in the sand having extramarital sex onna beach, somehow stumping the censors so hard they let it pass…as surely if saintly Deborah Kerr does it, it can’t be immoral in any way…can it?

Listen: nothing is quite as twisted as her end scene in “The Innocents,” as tear-jerky as her pretending she missed the appointment on top of the Empire State building on purpose in “An Affair To Remember,” or as frustrating as her chaste love, refusing to deny her final vows to the novate in “Heaven Knows Mr. Allison.” It’s true what they say about good girls, “when they are good, they’re good…but when they’re bad, they’re better.” Sometimes, you just need some, “From Here To Eternity.”

…And sometimes you need some Jean Arthur…who was virtually a ghost of a celebrity, hating everything to do with it, though one assumes, not the “acting” bit. She was said to refuse most PR responsibilities regardless of the contract, and suffered terrible stage fright, doubting her every choice and needing coaxing to go on often times. But when she was “on,” whatever she touched turned gold…helped greatly by the fact that people like Capra and Howard Hawks and George Stevens knew a good thing when they saw it. And put it up there with people like Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart.

…Awesome as her politically wry and pessimistic Saunders is in, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, ” and emotionally clobbered and confused in, “Only Angels Have Wings,” watching her navigate the physical requirement of fast-paced comedy like her Oscar-nom’d performance in, “The More The Merrier,” on a dime of precision that could stop just shy of a single bat of a wing before the butterfly effect…is fairly amazeballs. Especially knowing her confidence was at like zero, and yet she would still one day teach a class at Vassar, passing on that knowledge (through mind-waves I suppose) to none other than student Meryl Streep.

Finally, then comes my great binge for today: the brilliant blonde bombshell, Judy Holliday. “Bells Are Ringing,” “It Should Happen To You,” “Full of Life,” and “Pfft,” are choice…but nothing touches her “Born Yesterday.” How you know is: she won the Oscar fair and square…but in the only comedy competing in the biggest cinematic year in Hollywood history, since 1939…beating out veterans Bette Davis in “All About Eve,” and Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard.”

…She was 29 during filming, had nearly lost the role to every eligibly aged actress at the time, as though she had originated it on Broadway…they claimed she had no “star quality” to bank on. Even stranger twist of fate being, the role had been written for Jean Arthur, who in another fit of nerves, had pulled out just before it opened…leaving Judy three days to learn the role, cold. Not even having been an understudy.

…The show opened, as scheduled, and she would perform the role 1200 times, before finally landing the contract at Columbia, and giving a performance on film, so totally fresh and inventive…yet beat-perfect…that it slaughtered the acting competition in a year of diva-supremes.

Her particular “light” burned out far too soon, at 42, from cancer. But not before leaving several killer Comden and Green collaborations, a slew of Broadway performances, and a son behind. Not least of which, she was the only person to face the McCarthy hearings unscathed, beating him so coolly as to not name names or face blacklisting, by acting the part of the dumb blonde everyone still assumed she was, (and totally getting away with it.) Just beginning to finally break free of the stigma roles which made her a star, she had formed a plan, before a second battle with cancer, took her life.

…A sad ending, tragic for the loss of talent, and where else it might have shown. But then, much the same can be said of Jean Arthur’s early retirement after “Shane.”

Either way, I have them now. They belong to me and their performances, from grave to grinning, are glorious. It’s good to visit with old friends, and check in from time to time…and it had been too long. Sincerely glad to have had the chance (even if it cost me a cold) to meet up and check in again.

…The ol’ girls really hold up. They dont look as if they’ve aged even a single day. You should drop in on them sometime, yourself. 😉

– D

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