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Thursday, February 27, 2014

THE REEL REALS: Clifton Webb

Clifton Webb

Clifton Webb has a wonderfully unusual Hollywood success story. While he dabbled in film in his younger years and participated in some silent features, he would not hit it big until his breakthrough role in the iconic Laura when well into his '50s. If not recognized for his participation in that role, he is more classically remembered as the snooty yet surprisingly lovable know-it-all in the Mr. Belvedere, whom he played in a series of films. With his ever-polished look and impeccable style-- which labeled him as one of the "best dressed" men in Hollywood-- his poise and cynicism could easily be turned in his roles from wit and arrogance to that of a sinister viper at a moment's notice. He made comparatively few films in his career, mostly because of his late start, but his resume in the entertainment industry is actually quite hefty.

To understand Clifton, one has to know about his mother, Mabelle. Mabelle left her husband very soon after Clifton's birth, and her son would become her instant life partner. Their relationship was intensely close and-- one supposes-- emotionally overburdening to the growing boy. Clifton's identity would forever be attached to his mother, for whom he lived out all the ideal fairy tales of life on the stage. Clifton made his mother proud by working his way up from a nineteen-year-old ballroom dancer to a bona-fide Broadway thespian who worked with everyone from Al Jolson to Humphrey Bogart when treading the boards.

Eventually, he found his place in Hollywood, remaining a tactically closeted homosexual actor throughout his life and living with his mother until her death, after which he was inconsolable. He would only survive her a few years, but his performances in cinema hold up, which explains why they earned him three Oscar nods. His appearances in The Razor's Edge, Titanic, Sitting Pretty, and of course Laura have solidified his dignified and uncouth charms into the annals of history, which Mr. Belvedere himself would probably have to admit is at least moderately impressive.