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Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Acting is no day at the beach, but Montgomery Clift takes advantage 
of his proximity to the ocean to peruse some scripts.

In the midst of filming The Big Lift and riding the wave of his current success, the film offers were rolling into Montgomery Clift. A savvy actor,  he was pretty good at weeding out the good prospects from the bad. One particular item that initially presented itself as a "goody" was the chance to collaborate with Billy Wilder. The project: Sunset Blvd. Wilder had in fact written the part of "Joe Gillis" with Monty in mind. Who better to portray the jaded, morally ambiguous screenwriter than the mysterious, multi-faceted Monty? For awhile, it seemed a done deal, and Monty and Billy went back and forth about the project over a period of months. Imagine the director's surprise when Monty's gave him a long-distance phone call from Berlin and informed him that he would not be taking the role. Billy was flabbergasted... and a bit miffed! After all, he thought that they had come to an understanding? Monty stood firm, insisting that the part wasn't right for him. In the end, Billy was stuck with the much more macho and cynical answer to his prayers, William Holden. Monty's decision turned out to be a blessing for the project, which went on to become a critically acclaimed masterpiece that reignited William's career. In retrospect, Monty always maintained that he was proud of his decision and thought the film was amazing. His refusal of the part was perhaps the simple result of his business acumen, and his knowledge that there was a better fit for the role out there, but many also made assertions that he found too many uncomfortable commonalities between the nature of Joe's relationship with the dominating "Norma Desmond" and his own relationship with his mother.

Fortunately for cinema, Bill Holden took no umbrage to being under a powerful
woman: with Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd.

Monty's perception about casting extended beyond his own career. On many of the projects he was involved with, he had definite ideas about whom should be cast opposite him. One such example occurred when he landed the role of "George Eastman" in A Place in the Sun. It was already announced that Elizabeth Taylor was to be his leading lady, after hearing the news of which Monty responded, "Who's Elizabeth Taylor?" One hopes he was being sarcastic. The role of his more ill-fated girlfriend in the film was still up for grabs, however. Monty had great respect for Betsy Blair (left), and he had become good friends with both her and her husband Gene Kelly. With her subdued and underplayed talent and her handsome but modest appearance, Monty thought she was the perfect fit for "Alice Tripp." He went to bat for her, but-- perhaps due to Betsy's leftist political leanings during the "red scare"-- the part went instead to Shelley Winters. Monty was displeased. Almost as critical of others' performances as he was of his own, he was vocal of his dissatisfaction with Shelley's portrayal of the forlorn assembly line worker. He thought she was coming on too strong and playing the part too pathetic and desperate from the get-go. Despite his misgivings, others praised Shelley's performance and many claimed that it was the best of her career. Betsy, as fate would have it, would finally have her own day "in the sun" 4 years later when she appeared as the plain Jane leading lady of Marty.

Oh, life's wondrous options: Monty and Shelley deal with the consequences
in A Place in the Sun.

Tippi Hedren (right) didn't really know how to react after the success of her first major film, The Birds. On the one hand, she was a bona fide actress now on her way to being a full blown movie star. On the other, the filming process with Alfred Hitchcock, the obsessive director who had discovered and essentially bought the young model, had been a debilitating and back-breaking one. "Sexual Harassment" didn't even begin to describe the abuse that she had suffered at the hands of the Master of Suspense. There were days when Tippi found herself cornered by a sexually demanding Hitch; there were days when birds were literally tied to her with string so that they were forced to remain close to her body for a shot, which led to them pecking and biting at her. Co-star Jessica Tandy was one of many watching in horror as the poor girl wandered from the set to her dressing room covered in bird sh*t. Unfortunately, there was no escape after wrap-- Hitch had Tippi under exclusive contract, which meant she couldn't get work anywhere else. The next torment was set to be Marnie, which included a demeaning rape scene that Tippi was not looking forward to in the slightest. A slight ray of hope entered the horizon when it was mentioned that Grace Kelly would be returning to the screen from her royal sojourn in Monaco to assume to lead role. Tippi was not at all upset that she was being replaced. It was like a Godsend! Unfortunately, politics got in the way, and Grace found herself unable to re-team with her still lovelorn director. Thus, the burden fell on the frail Tippi's shoulders again. Marnie remains a curiosity more than a triumph, though it does possess its merits. Then again, perhaps Grace simply smelled an over-complicated clunker and knew that re-entering the fray was not the best idea. After the film, Tippi underwent an arduous process of extricating herself from Hitch's maniacal control, but her career never took wing the way it should have after The Birds.

Hitch gives Grace a hand. His idolatry of her made him much
easier for her to handle, yet made life with him after her
Hollywood exit traumatic for the actresses to follow.

Barbara Stanwyck (left) had her eyes and ears open all the time for projects that either spoke to her or could serve to enhance her career. She got particularly excited when she learned that the controversial (and lengthy) Ayn Rand novel The Fountainhead was going to be adapted into a film. She was eager to play the role of "Dominique Francon," and when Lauren Bacall dropped out of the project, she campaigned heavily for the role. Contributing factors may have been the leading man-- Gary Cooper-- and the director-- King Vidor-- both of whom she had collaborated with so flawlessly in the past. It turns out that Ayn had insisted on Cooper's casting in the role, which had ousted original candidate Humphrey Bogart and, in effect, Lauren Bacall, who left after Bogie was denied. With the door open, Babs was more than ready to step into the role of the cold, scheming Dominique, whose reserve and isolation is penetrated by Coop's passionate, individualistic architect "Howard Roark." Unfortunately for Babs, an unknown, willowy ingenue with a Southern, scotch-coated drawl was cast in her place: Patricia Neal. Few were certain of the casting decision, including Coop, who saw Pat in early tests and thought that she was dreadful. Must have been early nerves, for Coop certainly warmed to her after filming began. The duo were able to make it the length of filming without giving into temptation, but as soon as the director called "that's a wrap!" they indulged in a lengthy and scandalous affair. Now see: had they cast Babs, they could have avoided that whole catastrophe. (In related, funny news, Coop later admitted to Ayn after his lengthy, heady courtroom speech that, while he had memorized his lines to a T, he had absolutely no idea what he had been talking about).

Coop and Pat embark on a dangerous partnership in The Fountainhead.

Much has been made of Errol Flynn and his tendency toward young ladies. Apparently there was some sort of court case about it... But few know the following story about how life very nearly imitated art. Errol's last major love affair was with the teenaged Beverly Aadland, otherwise known as the "Wood-nymph" (together right). Pushing 50, Errol was a mere fragment of the vibrant, young man he had been during his reign as Hollywood's favorite swashbuckler and ladies' man. Three failed marriages, financial troubles, and a devastating sense of self-loathing and regret only served to enhance his alcohol and drug addictions. On the one hand, he seemed to be a man who desperately wanted to live life to the fullest; on the other, he seemed to be resolutely committed to killing himself. Somehow, he was still working, albeit intermittently, and his relationship with the naive yet seemingly loyal Beverly buoyed his spirits, to perhaps a deluded extent. Stanley Kubrick was coincidentally hunting for actors for his upcoming Lolita, a movie that explored the scandalous obsession and sexual relationship between a middle-aged man and his teenaged step-daughter. To Errol, it seemed like kismet. Not only would he indulge in a role that explored his own demons, but he hoped to star in it with his latest paramour, Beverly, in order to help her own career along. Stanley was intrigued, not with the inexperienced Beverly, but with Errol, who seemed a prime candidate for "Humbert Humbert." It was not to be. Errol passed away before filming ever began, though it is questionable that, in his poor condition, he would have received the role anyway. The parts went instead to James Mason and Sue Lyon, the latter of whom made her film debut in the role of the dangerous nymphet.

The act of painting a woman's toe-nails is often used to exemplify emasculation in film.
James Mason illustrates the point with Sue Lyon in Lolita.

Much has been made of the recent speech Clint Eastwood made at the Republican National Convention. Some stated that he respectably blended his status as an entertainer with the political nature of the event; others said that his oration was clumsy, rambling, and misguided. Spoiler alert: Republicans dug it, Democrats did not. (Don't you just love election time)? Anywho, Clint's big send-off at the conclusion was his most infamous line: "Make my day." The eternal, squinty-eyed pro first delivered this quote through steely teeth in the now iconic role of 'Dirty' Harry Callahan. Dirty Harry (left) was a game changer in the cop drama, which blended realistic investigations with pulp, taut suspense, and an edge of comedy. The result, was pop-cultural history. Yet, another notorious tough guy almost played the most impersonated cop in history: John Wayne. No, that is not a joke.  (I'll give you a minute to recuperate). However, Duke turned the job down, not having confidence in the material nor in himself in the role. After the film went on to great success, getting Clint out from under his cowboy hat with a different holster, Duke had regrets. Clearly, he had missed out on a great opportunity. His solution was to take on a similar role in the film McQ as another vengeful Lieutenant. The results of this film would not be as stellar, and Duke would make but three more films before succumbing to cancer. He went out in a role that better suited him, that of a cowboy in The Shootist. Thus, while Clint won the cop war, Duke still owns the West. I kinda want to hear Duke ask me if I "feel lucky," though...


  1. so lucky for us Monty balked at Joe Gillis. Although a terrific actor I think Clift just a little too intense. Whereas Holden was able to play it tongue-in-cheek with a bit of sarcasm. ("I talked to a couple yes men from Twentieth, they told me no") Thanks Meredith

    1. I totally agree! I can't picture anyone else in that role. Bill fits it like a glove... or vice versa... In either case, it's gold! And obviously a favorite. ;)