Frequently I find myself backed into a corner by life (or work!) and don't have the time to devote myself to one of my in-depth movie profiles or actor tributes, so I look for something less involved in order to keep the gears of The Underworld moving. Sometimes, though it's been about two years now since the last time, I turn to TCM's wonderful series of classic movie star interviews called "Word of Mouth" in order to provide a comparatively easy post. We've collected a few more examples from this always delightful (but never lengthy enough for my taste!) project. The bad news is that sometimes I cannot recall what the subject being discussed was because too much time has passed since I saw it (and they no longer label the subject along with the name of the performer as they once did!) I'll try my best. For more posts of this nature, all with photos of stars, some of whom are rarely seen during the later stages of life, click on the Word of Mouth label in the column on the right. Oh, and DO stay tuned till the end of this post for a very
special Underworld incident!
This one was fairly unforgettable. Miss Gloria DeHaven, who was a teen actress during Hollywood's golden age and continued to act up through 2000, was reporting for makeup and hair early one morning and decided to wash her hair in preparation for the day's routine. As she was craning over the basin to wet her hair down, she felt two hands clasp her head.
Turns out it was no less than Miss Marlene Dietrich, offering to wash the young girl's hair for her, which made an indelible impression on her, to say the least! The starstruck and thunderstruck Dehaven could hardly believe her eyes that a mega-star like Dietrich was pitching in this way (though, truth be told, she greatly enjoyed doing this and DeHaven was far from the only recipient. A couple of her other "clients" wondered with good reason if the only hair Dietrich wanted to get her hands on was that on their heads! LOL)
Miss DeHaven is still with us today at age eighty-nine. Her first husband (of six years) was the handsome John Payne, with whom she had two children. She enjoyed a busy TV career from the late-1950s on and made her final feature film appearance in the 1997 Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau buddy comedy Out to Sea
Next comes 1950s actress Patrice Wymore, who was the widow of legendary swordsman Errol Flynn
. (They were separated at the time of his death in 1959, with him cavorting around with teenager Beverly Aadland, but were not divorced.) In her interview, she reflects on the caliber of his acting.
He was eternally frustrated by his image as a swash-buckler versus that of an actor who could really act. It seemed as if any time he truly tried to act with any sort of deep commitment, the box office take didn't match that of his adventure pics. Still, as Wymore points out, even in his westerns and sword-playing affairs, he accomplished something that few others could, which is slipping into all manner of period costuming without looking foolish and dashingly performing all sorts of memorable moves. And, yes, at certain times, providing some terrific acting. Wymore inherited the bulk of Flynn's estate and, after retiring completely in 1967, presided over his farm/ranch in Jamaica and ran a wicker business. She passed away in 2014 at age eighty-seven of pulmonary disease.
Tony Martin was a smooth-sounding singer of the 1930s and '40s who proceeded to a career in movie musicals. Most of his early appearances were brief or otherwise unspectacular, but in 1941's Ziegfeld Girl
, he was given quite a showcase, serenading Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner and (to a lesser degree) Judy Garland along with a parade of other beauties with the tune "You Stepped Out of a Dream." His large roles in movies still remained scarce, though there was that (not very good) western he starred in, Quincannon, Frontier Scout
Martin enjoyed a sixty-year (!) marriage to dancer-actress Cyd Charisse and together they made a rather dazzling couple. Sometimes forgotten in the shadow of that memorable union is the fact that for four years he was the husband of major musical star Alice Faye. They divorced in 1941 having had no children. Martin lived until 2012 when he passed away of natural causes at the ripe age of ninety-eight!
This next gentleman had a showy career in the mid-1950s, but it petered out into a (still considerable) string of TV guest appearances afterwards. John Kerr is known for The Cobweb
(1955), Tea and Sympathy
(1956) and South Pacific
(1958) among other movies.
Once the 1960s dawned, he found less and less big-screen work. He became an attorney while enjoying acting gigs on many popular television shows. He retired from the screen in 1977, but did pop up briefly in bit parts in two 1985 TV-movies. Kerr passed away of heart failure in 2013 at the age of eighty-one.
Though his TCM interviews center on his more famous parents, Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones, Robert Walker Jr. did enjoy a considerable career of his own. Not only did he appear on many TV shows (and is unforgettable as "Charlie X" in that particular episode of Star Trek
), but he also worked on films from Ensign Pulver
(1964) and The Happening
(1967) to The War Wagon
(1967) and Easy Rider
He worked rather steadily on TV and in the occasional movie up through 1993 (with a pop-up appearance in a 2012 independent film.) Only eleven when his namesake father died of a drug overdose, he was mostly raised by Jones and her next husband David O. Selznick. Now seventy-five, my biggest question is why he chose to wear what he did for this posterity-laden interview!
Noted film noir bad girl Audrey Totter reflects on her career with MGM. As the 1950s dawned, Totter gravitated more towards TV with a significant string of guest appearances. She also wound up with recurring or regular roles on Cimarron City
(1958-1959) and Medical Center
(1969-1976) before retiring completely in 1987.
Like many of the folks who appear in these clips (and in my posts on them), Totter lived a long life. She passed away in 2013 of heart failure at the age of ninety-five. Totter is featured, along with five other significant actresses of the film noir genre, in the book Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir and I cannot recommend that enough. It is a supremely captivating and rewarding read with the six careers examined in the first half and then their later lives, post-stardom, in the second half.
Reed-thin Sylvia Sydney had a pretty roller-coaster career with consid-erable stardom in the 1930s followed by a more sporadic one in the '50s and '60s. Then she came back with a bang in 1973's Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams
which landed her an Oscar nomination at age sixty-three. (It must have been a bit galling to see it taken by pre-teen Tatum O'Neal for Paper Moon
!) She remained busy from then on, popping up all over the place and working practically right up to her death (in the dreadful 1998 re-imagining of Fantasy Island
Always a fairly prickly personality, which was part of her appeal in later years, Sydney recalled how she longed to work for the exacting Fritz Lang on Fury
(1936) because of his intense attention to detail and the demands he made upon those working for him in front of and behind the camera. Sidney was eighty-eight when throat cancer claimed her in 1999. Fans will recall her ghostly, smoking secretary in Beetlejuice
(1988), with her open throat allowing wafts of cigarette smoke to waft out of it!
Julie Harris was an actress's actress with a rich stage background (five Tony wins plus five additional nominations and a Lifetime Achieve-ment Tony as well.) She also appeared in several wonderful films from The Member of the Wedding
(1952) to East of Eden
(1955) to The Haunting
(1963), to name a few. (Her one Oscar nom, for Wedding
, went to another stage fixture making her movie debut, Shirley Booth in Come Back, Little Sheba
Later in life, Miss Harris spent seven years playing Joan Van Ark's sometimes worrisome mother on Knots Landing
(1980-1987.) She won three Emmys for her television work over a nearly fifty-year span and was nominated numerous other times as well. In 2005, she was granted a Kennedy Center Honor. The woman who once told her high school drama teacher, "Acting is my life!" truly meant it. She died in 2013 of heart failure at the age of eighty-seven.
I wish I could recall the tale Karen Morley told because I seem to remember it being amusing and charming (at least based upon the selected photos.) Morley was a blossoming star in the 1930s (she was seen in ten movies in 1931 alone!), with Scarface
(1932) as one of the most memorable.
Her career was sidelined two ways. First, her marriage to director Charles Vidor didn't sit well with either her fans or her studio (MGM) as it went against her image as an ingenue. She did continue to work after leaving the studio in 1934 and had a modicum of success, but never with the same momentum she'd previously enjoyed.
Then, after divorcing Vidor in 1943 and remarrying actor Lloyd Gough, she found herself in the midst of the McCarthy Witch Hunt. Her career came to a crashing halt in 1947 when she refused to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Only a smattering of credits, mostly bits or as a TV guest, followed. She died of pneumonia in 2003 at age ninety-three (after having been considered for a featured role in the Drew Barrymore comedy Duplex
, which ultimately went to an actress named Eileen Essell.)
Talented French composer Maurice Jarre tells of being convinced by producer Sam Spiegel to provide the score for 1961's Lawrence of Arabia
with the promise of an Oscar in the end. Amazingly enough, Jarre did win the Oscar for his sweeping, rousing score, but he wasn't able to attend the ceremony as he was already working on another assignment by that time.
He relates his utter astonish-ment at, having asked Spiegel for his award (which the colorful producer had accepted on his behalf), being given the runaround until one day when he entered Spiegel's office and saw it, along with others, on display! He had to practically wrangle it from the other man's possession. He went on to many other nominations and two more wins, both for films directed by David Lean (who'd directed Lawrence
), Doctor Zhivago
(1965) and A Passage to India
(1984.) Mr. Jarre died of (unspecified) cancer in 2009 at the age of eighty-four.
Film and TV funnyman Red Skelton had a truly delightful tale in which he was cast in a Conrad Veidt film Whistling in the Dark
(1941) in a supporting role, but kept pleasing the director with his comic antics, ad libs and line delivery until his billing began to improve with each edit of the movie. By the time the film was set for release, he was top-billed!
He even went on to two more films (Whistling in Dixie
, 1942, and Whistling in Brooklyn
, 1943) featuring that character and directed by the same man, S. Sylvan Simon, who became a favorite of Skelton's for obvious reasons. Skelton (who I cannot deny is really not my cup of tea as a comedian) died of pneumonia at age eighty-four in 1997.
Joan Leslie has appeared in one of my prior Word of Mouth posts with regards to her work opposite James Cagney, but she has another one in which she discusses Robert Walker (the tormented father of Robert Walker Jr. who is shown a few entries above.) The two of them costarred in The Skipper Surprises His Wife
She describes his kindness and his profession-alism, but notes his intense depression and despon-dency. (His and Jennifer Jones' marriage came to a messy end when she left him for powerful producer David O'Selznick. Though he did remarry briefly in 1948, his life was never the same after he stumbled into alcoholism, emotional breakdowns and prescribed drugs.) For her part, Miss Leslie is still kicking around as we type at age ninety!
The afore-mentioned Tony Martin's wife Cyd Charisse has also appeared in a prior post of this type but here she is again, in a whole different interview (and looking much better than in the other one, I must say. I love the hair!)
Ms. Charisse has her share of detractors, but I've always admired her movement ability, her elegance and her everlasting sense of fashion sense! I loved the way she looked in Two Weeks in Another Town
(1962) as well as in Marilyn Monroe's unfinished final film "Something's Got to Give" with Dean Martin (also 1962), not to mention 1966's The Silencers
. Charisse died of a heart attack in 2008 at the age of eighty-six.
Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow, as Noel Coward once put it! The boyishly handsome actor with crystal blue eyes enjoyed a relatively brief run in the 1960s as a popular leading man and supporting actor in movies like David and Lisa
(1962), Bunny Lake is Missing
(1965), The Fox
(1967) and in particular 2001: A Space Odyssey
He's most highly regarded in The Underworld, though, for his work in 1966's Madame X
, a treasured favorite! He also costarred in the cult horror flick Black Christmas
(1974), which quite a few people hold in high regard. Mr. D still acts today, albeit in lesser known movies (nevertheless starring folks like Zoe Saldana, Mark Ruffalo, Patrick Wilson and Matt Bomer.) he is seventy-nine at present.
Time was you could scarcely turn on the TV or watch a movie without busy, useful character actor William Windom appearing in it! From Broadway to Hollywood he played everything from closeted homosexuals to racists to murderers, but with every sort of normal guy in between (including a friendly congressman on The Farmer's Daughter
He won an Emmy (with his only major on-screen award nomination) for the short-lived series My World and Welcome to It
in 1970. In later years, he played the entertainingly curmudgeonly local doctor on Murder, She Wrote
opposite Angela Lansbury whenever one of the weekly murders happened in her (apparently deadly!) hometown of Cabot Cove. Windom died of heart failure in 2012 at age eighty-eight.
This one was rather hooty. James Stewarts adult daughters Kelly and Judy (fraternal twins) are reminiscing about their legendary father and the way he spent quality time with them running movies on a home projector and screen.
Both of them very animatedly describe the way he slowly, method-ically and not very adeptly threaded the film into the projector as they would teeter on the verge of complete meltdown.
These gals both clearly take after their mother Gloria, who had very vivid blue eyes, blonde hair and, like them, a life-long love affair with the sun. They are sixty-four today. Stewart only married once and that was to Gloria in 1949 when he was forty-nine years old! The happy union ended with her death in 1994 of lung cancer at age seventy-five and he passed away from a blood clot in 1997 at age eighty-nine. Knowing he was going to die, he expressed happiness at being reunited with her.
I don't think I'd have recognized this man without his being labeled by the caption. Lyle Talbot began working in movies back in 1931 and embarked on a staggeringly busy career that lasted until 1987. He worked with everyone from Mae West to the notoriously lousy director Ed Wood Jr. From the earliest days of television, he was busily employed by the medium and eventually had recurring roles on The Bob Cummings Show
(1955-1959) and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet
(1956-1966) among others.
His interview concerned director William Wellman trying to trick both he and George Brent into throwing real punches at each other in the 1932 movie The Purchase Price
. Talbot balked at the stringent contracts that studios held performers to in the early days of Hollywood and joined others in bucking them. He was one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild, which went so far in establishing boundaries and benefits for actors. Talbot married for the fifth time in 1948, but it "took," resulting in four children and a happy union until her death in 1989. Talbot died in 1996 of natural causes at the age of ninety-four.
This next "Word of Mouth" delighted me as it was a combination of three actresses, each with a connecting bond. They'd all worked with and adored Mary Astor. (We love her, too!) June Allyson played her daughter in Little Women
(1949), Margaret O'Brien did the same in Little Women
as well as in Meet Me in St. Louis
(1944) and June Lockhart worked alongside her in St. Louis
as well. (Each lady worked with Astor on at least on other occasion also.)
Allyson relates how awkward it felt to be given the star dressing room and the star treatment when Astor had once been in the same position herself years before, but was now relegated to supporting status.
O'Brien affectionately spoke of how she could be stern on-set in order to keep everything in line and on time during filming.
Lockhart became elated at the very mention of her name, adoringly recalling how great an actress and a person she was. All three ladies clearly thought the world of her.
Our final participant is now and always has been a favorite, even more so recently for a reason that will be revealed in a moment! Dame Joan Collins
talks about her 1956 musicalized remake of The Women
(1939) called The Opposite Sex
, in which her bad girl character Crystal Allen makes one too many catty remarks to the wife of the man she's currently having an affair with. The woman (played by June Allyson) hauls off and wallops her across the face!
During filming, Allyson had been a bit hesitant about it, but in the heat of the moment she actually gave Ms. Collins a smack that not only sent her earring flying off out of the frame, but left an impression of her hand on Joan's face!
If you're a fan of Joan Collins, you must try to tune in to TCM tonight because she's a guest program-mer and will be chatting with Robert Osborne about her selections Gilda
(1946) and Boom Town
(1940) as well as both The Women
and The Opposite Sex
. The always-entertaining actress is eighty-two years young at present.
But what really sent us into the stratosphere recently was an e-mail from one of our faithful readers. A man from London, England, who happens to visit Poseidon's Underworld with some regularity and who happens also to be a long-time associate and personal friend of the divine Dame Collins took a moment to share with her one of my various posts about her! ("Joan of Art"
) She enjoyed the selection of pictures that I had collected and got a kick out of the captions I'd composed for each one. (She even relayed that one of the photos was taken by no less than Yul Brynner! Then there was the amusing factoid that I'd mis-labeled one photo with a child in it as having been of her sister Jackie when it was in fact her brother
Bill! I'll be correcting that...) She perused some other posts, mostly ones filled with those terrific old head shots of the stars and remarked that she was flattered by my interest in her and her career. Needless to say this made me VERY happy.
But that's not all! This friend of The Underworld did me a great kindness. He snapped a photo of Joan Collins holding up a menu from the restaurant at which they were dining (San Lorenzo in London) onto which she had personally written, "To Jon -- I really enjoyed your blog! Love Joan." (Yes, that's my real first name...) He next sent the photo to me via e-mail and then, in an even greater gesture, obtained my address and sent the menu directly to me!
(I must add that, although I treasure the photo, there was another one in which the pose and lighting was twice as good and which really showed Collins at her dazzling best, but I didn't post that as it seemed an invasion of her private evening with the friend and with Joan's now-grown daughter Katy. I include a cropped rendition as proof of her still-wonderful appearance.)
To say that the whole interlude put me over the moon is an understatement. I'm forty-seven years old and have no memory of my life without the joys of Joan Collins in it, be it from appearances on Star Trek
and other countless TV shows, her many movies and, of course, Dynasty
, of which I was a devoted fan. To think that I managed to capture her attention for even a moment, make her smile and actually have her know my name (apart from all the other millions of fans of hers) is a gift beyond measure. And if you were to know the incredible generosity of spirit and kindness that Collins showed the friend from their first meeting on, you would marvel that anyone at any time could ever have mistaken Collins for one of the villainous people she has often portrayed. What a pleasure to know that she is such a beauty inside and out. Till next time, Jon!