Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Disastrous Demise: Good Knight

Amid all the headlines of COVID-19 and other sociopolitical concerns, it may have slipped some folks notice that we recently lost one of our treasured performers, Miss Shirley Knight. Knight was the recipient of one of our very earliest tributes here (back when I was still capable of brevity! LOL) She also popped up here. An incredibly capable actress who succeeded on stage, on television and in films, Knight enjoyed a six-decade-long career and etched all sorts of memorable characters in the process. We celebrate her legacy today with this photo essay.
Shirley Knight was born on July 5th, 1936 in Goessel, Kansas and raised in a town with 13 houses and one church. Brimming with creativity, she studied opera at a young age and excelled at writing as well. When Joshua Logan filmed parts of Picnic (1955) in Kansas, Knight and her siblings worked as extras near a lake. (Their mother chided Logan for keeping her naturally blond children in the sun for interminable periods of time!)
After college, having settled on acting as a vocation after stumbling into it via a friend, Knight moved west and worked in the Pasadena Theater School, soon landing a Warner Brothers contract in 1959. (Just prior to this, she'd won a recurring role on a TV series called Buckskin and played a nun in Five Gates to Hell, 1959.) At Warner's she was put through all the paces of training, grooming and an endless treadmill of appearances on their slate of TV shows. She did not, however, become assigned to a regular role on one of their series. She was used in movies and as a versatile guest.
Knight wed in 1959 to fellow actor and later producer Eugene Persson. As a Warners contract player, she had to submit to a parade of publicity portraits from the fresh and pert in the prior shots to the rather corny and posed ones like these...
...to the outright tacky and ridiculous as seen here!
Amidst roles on shows like Bourbon Street Beat and 77 Sunset Strip, Knight was cast in the epic Edna Ferber adaptation Ice Palace (1960) as the daughter of Richard Burton and Martha Hyer who runs away with a half-Eskimo boy and later dies in childbirth. Things were about to look up a bit, however.
She was cast as the tender-hearted daughter of Robert Preston and Dorothy McGuire in the film version of William Inge's The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960.) Her world is shaken when she discovers that the boy she loves is disdained by many of the people around her for being Jewish. For this, barely a year after breaking into screen work, she was nominated for an Oscar, losing to Shirley Jones in Elmer Gantry. This would not be the last time she dealt with the subject of anti-Semitism, nor would it be the last time she was linked with Jones. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe, losing there to Janet Leigh in Psycho. Also nominated as Best Newcomer, she had to watch that one be split in a three-way tie (!) between Hayley Mills, Ina Balin and Nancy Kwan.
No special film role was planned for the burgeoning, break-through star and she was mired down in countless TV appearances on things like Bronco, Maverick, Lawman and Surfside 6. If she attempted to question her boss, Jack Warner would toss her off with a line like, "We don't want another Bette Davis at this studio." So she did what she was told, even if that happened to be a vaguely tawdry B movie like The Couch (1962) opposite a deranged Grant Williams.
Worse still was House of Women (1962) a re-teweaking of Warner's earlier success Caged (1950.) (Women even used twelve year-old footage from Caged in several of its scenes.) Knight played an inmate whose daughter is taken from her and who sleeps with the warden to try to get her back (!), but other circumstances lead to turmoil and a riot. These roles, though, were the price she had to pay in order to get something she truly wanted...
In this case what she wanted was Paul Newman. She was lent to MGM in order to play the role of Heavenly Finley in Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth (1962.) She was the pristine in appearance object of desire that led Newman back to what was a dangerous town for him.
Though the play was cleaned-up and diluted for the screen, she still made enough of an impression to once again walk away with an Oscar nomination. This time, the statuette went to Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker. Knight also was Golden Globe nominated but both she and Duke lost to Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate at that ceremony.
Still extremely busy on various TV programs, she now wanted out of her Warners contract with the writing on the wall that she would not be given any meaty film parts there. She played a photographer involved with Richard Widmark in Flight from Ashiya (1964) and then headed to New York where she did TV and, more importantly, Broadway. Her first show was Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters alongside no less than Geraldine Page and Kim Stanley! She had given birth to daughter Kaitlin only four months prior. She would work five times in all on Broadway.
By now on TV frequently in shows like The Defenders, The Virginian, The Fugitive and a memorable installment of The Outer Limits, Knight was back in films again with 1966's The Group. The heavily-promoted film turned its eye on eight college friends and their various romantic entanglements.
Knight had done the confrontational and controversial play Dutchman which was subsequently made into a 1966 film with All Freeman Jr. The rail-thin actress considered this one of her most realized movie roles as she'd had the chance to flesh the role out on stage prior to the film. The usually soft-spoken Knight won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for her searing, vivid work.
By this time, Knight was enjoying the freedom of working on stage and television in all sorts of parts from vulnerable to mysterious to bitchy and otherwise.
Frequently paired throughout her career with solid actors, she found herself opposite George C. Scott in 1968's Petulia. And she was gaining the notice of filmmakers who appreciated her approach to the acting craft.
Francis Ford Coppola had seen her in Dutchman and wrote The Rain People (1969) specifically for her. Her costars were a young James Caan (who, of course, went on to even greater success with Coppola) and Robert Duvall (ditto), with whom Knight had once done an episode of The Naked City. This same year saw the official end of her ten-year marriage to Persson, by which time she was already involved with (and pregnant by!) British writer John Hopkins. She had her second daughter with him and they remained together until his 1998 death.
The next several years were marked by a deliberate decrease in acting work as she raised her two daughters and lived much of the time in England. She did the film Secrets (1971) about members of a couple (Jacqueline Bisset and Robert Powell) each having an affair on the same afternoon. She also did the occasional TV gig and in 1974 costarred with Jason Robards in a television version of The Country Girl. That same year saw her on the big screen again in the thriller Juggernaut, as seen here.
Juggernaut had a great star cast including Richard Harris, Omar Sharif, Anthony Hopkins and David Hemmings among others and was a sort of disaster film by way of the story line which had a mad bomber threatening to blow up a cruise ship full of people and occasionally letting one rip as a warning. Her character was rather dreary, though, and to someone like myself, who'd been suckled on the goddessy glamour of Faye Dunaway in The Towering Inferno (1974) I was not exactly having it. Later, I came to appreciate the film on its own merits thanks to DVD.
She continued to work on TV, including a rendition of Friendly Persuasion with Richard Kiley, and picked up a Tony award for her work in the Broadway play Kennedy's Children. Then in 1976, she played a real-life person in 21 Days at Munich, all about the hostage crisis at the 1972 Olympic games. She portrayed German detective and negotiator Anneliese Graes opposite a gun-wielding Franco Nero.
Always drawn to projects with something to say, Knight costarred with Alan Arkin in the truth-based TV-movie The Defection of Simas Kudirka about a Lithuanian man seeking asylum in the U.S. who is denied and winds up doing a decade of hard labor in the USSR only to have it discovered that he is technically a U.S. citizen. Somehow, however, she was hornswaggled into taking part in one of the screen's all-time debacles, a decision for which I will be forever grateful! LOL
"Master of Disaster" Irwin Allen was famed for collecting important, all-star casts and then delighting in burning, drowning and crushing them to death (when he wasn't stinging them with bees as in The Swarm, 1978!) in his latest cataclysmic project. A highly ill-advised sequel to The Poseidon Adventure (1972), called Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979), bounced on and off theater screens and sank like a stone.
Knight appeared rather late in the proceedings as the elegant wife of a blind novelist played by Jack Warden. The two had been sheltering in their upside-down cabin, afraid to risk being separated or injured in an escape attempt when the movie's band of survivors happen to come their way.
This was close to my first exposure to Knight and I instantaneously fell in love with her regal attitude, highly articulate voice and concerned persona. All this in what is surely one of the most preposterous and tacky projects she ever took part in! Here she was paired with Shirley Jones, who'd once beaten her for an Oscar and now was a mousey nurse who wrenches Knight's arm back into its socket after a near-miss on some scaffolding. The movie is rancid, but I love it so much and Knight, who was stellar in so many things is indelibly seared into my mind from this small, inconsequential part.
Things were much better when she took part in the haunting 1980 TV-movie Playing for Time, based on a true story of female concentration camp internees who manage to extend their lifespan by working in an orchestra that entertains Nazi officers on site. Knight portrayed an ice cold guard who nevertheless develops a soft spot for a young Polish boy in the camp. She was Emmy-nominated for this role, losing to her fellow actress in the piece Jane Alexander.
Franco Zefferelli enlisted Knight to play Brooke Shields' mother in the highly-advertised movie Endless Love (1981) in which she observes her young daughter making love for the first time with humpy Martin Hewitt. Later, after much drama, she almost seduces him herself! This part earned her nominations for both The Stinker and The Razzie awards, ones she was happy enough not to win!
Knight pressed on, winning roles in movies such as The Sender (1982), as the suffocating mother of a man with telepathic powers and Prisoners (1983) opposite Tatum O'Neal (did she learn nothing from appearing with Brooke?!), which was deemed so poor that producer Ryan O'Neal prevented it from being released at all...! She also kept busy on the stage, essaying the role of Lola in Come Back, Little Sheba opposite Philip Bosco (and with the deliriously sexy Kevin Conroy as Turk!)
As always, plenty of TV was in the cards as well. She guested twice on Murder, She Wrote. Once with star Angela Lansbury, who'd shared in her loss for that second Oscar, and once in one of those eps that starred Keith Michell. Here, she played the sister of Dina Merrill! She also picked up her first Emmy for a guest role on Thirtysomething.
In 1994, Knight filmed a minuscule, but key, role in the deranged erotic thriller Color of Night, which endeared her to me even further than she already had been. Desperately evading the questions of a prodding Bruce Willis, she was all at once hysterical and yet strangely touching. The role of Edith Niedelmeyer is legend in my house.
Never one to worry about looking good in a role that didn't call for it, she immersed herself into the tormented persona of Peggy Buckley, a real-life daycare owner who was unjustly accused of wild allegations of sexual abuse. The film Indictment: The McMartin Trial earned her a Golden Globe and an Emmy.
Shown here with her actress daughter Kaitlin Hopkins, this was the Emmy ceremony at which she was granted two statuettes, one for Indictment and another for a guest role on NYPD Blue. I can recall my female roommate at the time hilariously throwing her hands up in the air any time we were watching any awards show in which Knight was nominated for something and saying, "Just give it to her already!" Ha ha ha! Not one to permit herself much of a break from acting, she returned in 1997 to the Broadway stage one last time in The Young Man from Atlanta and was granted a Tony nomination.
Knight felt no need to obscure her age or her weight as she matured. To paraphrase something Diana Muldaur had said about refusing cosmetic surgery, "Someone has to play the old ladies...!" She found herself in high demand as a supporting player in many projects of varying quality. From Stuart Saves His Family (1995) to Diabolique (1996) to Desperate Housewives and Maggie Winters, she was constantly working.
Another high point came when she was selected to play in the Jack Nicholson film As Good as It Gets (1997) as Helen Hunt's mother. In a role initially intended for Betty White, it came Knight's way when White balked at the inferred mistreatment of the movie's adorable dog Verdell by Nicholson's character.
Had Knight been permitted just a skosh more screen time or a little bit more meat to her role, she might have scored a final Oscar nomination, but it was not to be. (Though, of course, both Nicholson and her on-screen daughter Hunt waltzed off with statuettes.)
In the raucous Grandma's Boy (2006) as a dazed pillpopper, with - again - Shirley Jones or as the dowdy, frumpy, silly mother of Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009 and its 2015 sequel), Knight was reaching an entirely new audience of cinemagoers who couldn't possibly know that this wacky old gal had once been a slender, demure and very attractive ingenue. Fittingly, Knight's final role before her April 22nd death from natural causes at age eighty-three was in a movie called Periphery (2018.) She played a woman dying from a brain tumor who spends her final days trying to organize the love lives of her family. Rebecca De Mornay and Stacy Keach were among her costars.
We positively adored Miss Shirley Knight, who lent her endless well of talent to an unbelievable amount of stage, TV and screen projects over her lengthy, busy career. A treasured member of our own imaginary Disaster Movie Club, she will be missed.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

When it Rains, it Pours...!

Don't we know it! As I type this, we're in a national "shelter-in-place" situation thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic (and it even happens to be raining.) Wild times we're living in at the moment. But at Poseidon's Underworld, we're striving to carry on with what we do best which is to distract, entertain, perchance educate (in terms of entertainment history) and maybe even arouse. So we're trudging onward with our annual salute to April showers, the kind that take place indoors. Shout out to our cover boy for this edition, Mr. Alain Delon. It's always difficult to cough up new examples, but I've rooted around for some that are sprinkled about below. Here they are, so turn that valve and let's begin!

Now I can't lie. I have posted pics from this one in the past. Butt, er, But... I found a sharper, cleaner version of the movie, so it warranted an update! This is glorious Olympic champion swimmer-turned-actor Buster Crabbe in Search for Beauty (1934.) This is one of the last Pre-Code films to actually depict nudity on-screen, which is a treat for classic movie buffs.
As a recruiter approaches Crabbe right after a swim meet he's just nailed, he peels out of his one-piece and hops in a nearby shower.
The water is apparently cold as he ferociously hops around and scrubs himself off. Take note of where his next-door neighbor's eyes are drifting... Who could blame him?!
The gents in this set of pics are Captured! (1933.) They are detainees in a WWI German prison camp.
The film's star is Leslie Howard, an actor not known for showing much skin (and he doesn't here either.)
He's captured alongside his burly pal William Le Maire.
The angle here makes the man in front look twice as big as he is. It's actually the man next to him causing an optical illusion.
You can see in this cap that the actor is wearing a skimpy garment in the scene.
Hi cohort at the far right may be bare, at least in back, however...
Now I bet practically all of you have never seen these next ones. They are from a 1954 German film called 08/15, which was one of three movies based on books concerning the lives of common soldiers just prior to WWII.
Concerned less with the action of war or the horrors of  it, the movie focuses on the experiences of the conscripted men. We soon find out that these three are not alone.
Oh, if I had a buck for every shower scene that has a strategic wall or railing in place...! LOL
I had never, ever even heard of this movie, but I was alerted to it when I happened upon a publicity photo that was for sale online.
The photo in question reveals that the actors were wearing skimpy briefs while filming the sequence. (But why is it that the publicity people couldn't crop this so that the illusion wasn't given away?? Makes little to no sense...)
On the subject of publicity photos a) leading me to shower scenes in movies and b) giving away behind the scenes info, I give you this pic from 1967's A Guide for the Married Man. Walter Matthau and Robert Morse show more here than they do in the film!
The scene takes place in a snug locker room at their club.
The camera floats over a man getting a rubdown and heads towards our stars taking their showers.
Afterwards, we're meant to believe that they are trotting around the locker room naked on their way to get a towel... but we know better thanks to that publicity still!
The two (conspiring over how Matthau can cheat on his incredibly gorgeous wife!) are often thrown together in close quarters.
I bet you don't know which movie these steamy shower scenes are from...
They're part of a flashback sequence to life in the U.S. Army as experienced by one particular (and unusual) recruit.
Oddly enough, the horseplay going on in the corner doesn't involve the subject of the movie, but he is in the room there with them to the right, off-camera.
He becomes an object of derision because he isn't interested in joining his fellow G.I.s on their trip to a whorehouse that evening. The star of the film is one John Hansen in his on-screen debut (which also effectively wrecked any chance of an important career.)
He plays George Jorgensen Jr, who would soon be transformed into the title character of The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970.) Jorgensen made headlines as the most publicized early example of a male-to-female sex change.
Hansen was a nice-looking guy who bore more than a passing resemblance to Troy Donahue (and had one incredible mane of silky, sun-streaked hair.) As I recall, Leonard Maltin's movie guide stated that he was prettier as George than he was as Christine (!) and I have to concur...! The styling for Christine was horrendous.
During a recent viewing of Torn Curtain (1964), I was surprised to see a shower scene with Mr. Paul Newman. I'd completely forgotten about it.
Then again, it's quite forgettable! This is the most we ever see of him in the shower and his flesh-tone briefs are visible...
"I'm ready for my close-up!" LOL And this is four years after Janet Leigh's famous shower in Psycho (1960!)
As the Blu-Ray reveals, Newman is photographed like a god at times, his legendary blue eyes blazing off the screen. He does have a few brief scenes with no shirt (or a very open shirt), but this shower was a disappointment.
1970's The Strawberry Statement, in which college student Bruce Davison is having a confrontation with an antagonist in the shower.
Sorry the quality of these couldn't be a bit better. Many of these films have fallen into relative obscurity now.
Recognize young and slender Don Johnson? This is The Harrad Experiment (1973), in which college students take part in trial marriages with preassigned mates, with sexual relations encouraged.
Johnson arrives on the scene late and scarcely misses a beat before dropping trou and heading into the shower.
You know... I don't think I have ever seen a shower set up with a curtain split in the middle like this! But I don't get out much (especially these days!)
The reed thin Johnson emerges and does provide a brief flash of Don jr. (Junior Johnson?) in the film.
Here's one that's not too common. Peter Fonda in Killer Force (1976.)
The shaggy protagonist, who was often unclothed in his late-1960s and '70s films, is joined by costar Maud Adams.
No, I mean joined by Adams! LOL A towel gets conveniently caught up in the action as he pulls her into the tub. This little-known actioner has a very eclectic cast that also includes Telly Savalas, Hugh O'Brian, Christopher Lee and O.J. Simpson!
Semi-Tough (1977) a football-oriented comedy finds Kris Kristofferson and Roger E. Mosley in the shower.
Often in scenes like this, it's the background extras who wind up showing more skin than the leads. (Unless things have changed, the pay is more for movie extras who appear without clothing in a film.)
When it comes to football, though, it's hard to beat the Texas A&M Aggies in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982.) I set the stage by showing you the removal of their uniforms as they prepare to clean up for a trip to the title establishment!
I think all musicals should have a scene included like this one.
The on-screen action soon leads into the gang shower.
It's a bonanza of butts in there! (And if I recall correctly, an occasional brief peek at more.)
We go now from college to high school. (Not that the actors are actually high school age!) Anyone recall the TV series The White Shadow, about an NBA basketball player (Ken Howard) who becomes the coach of an inner-city school team? In this shot, their on a road game with some higher grade facilities. (Take a look at the shower stand, though. Cozy...!)
Back at their own school, the showers are far less shiny and new.
The series became noted for occasional episodes in which the guys sang classic songs in the shower, such as "Duke of Earl."
Fairly revealing camera angles for a 1978 TV show (which if I remember right, aired at 8:00pm.) The actors were not nude on set, even as slim as the margins are sometimes here.
Timothy Van Patten, seen at left here, says they wore basically transparent skin-tone briefs and on shower room shooting days, every secretary on the lot would come by to observe!
On at least one occasion, Howard took a shower, too, but he had a private stall in his office.
It's practically a foreign concept today that there was a time when a coach would shower in front of a student and casually converse while drying off...
...not to mention the group showering dynamic, which, while it had it drawbacks for some of those with shyness or other issues, created a bonding experience. Even the actors on this show cite these as among their favorite scenes.
I know they meant a lot to me when I saw them! LOL The poor video quality of this shot, for example, actually makes it all a little better because in the sharper DVDs (which I ordered not long after seeing these scenes) makes it more clear that Van Patten is wearing something.
Here we find one Andrew Dice Clay interrupting the shower of a health resort worker in 1988's Casual Sex?
We really only get to hear rather than see the shower, but you know I try to be as inclusive as I can be!
The startled - not to mention intimidated - employee is played by David Sargent, who you aren't likely to see in very many things as his career was brief.
This movie - which stars Lea Thompson and Victoria Jackson - is brimming over with typically amusing '80s clothing and hair.
You know this face, I believe...
The movie is Prison (1987) and the actor is Viggo Mortensen.
Mortensen was looking decidedly scrumptious here, despite the wounds on his head. He has a lengthy scene in nothing but some white briefs as well in this one.
If you happened to see Eastern Promises (2007, which also contained plenty of bloody injury as well!), you know that there was virtually no square inch of his body that wasn't shown at one point or another during a vicious fight scene in a bathhouse.
Some of you know actor Aaron Paul, who took a shower in the 2018 thriller Welcome Home.
After a wild night in which he was unknowingly drugged, he discovers some love bites on his person...
Not a particularly revealing shower, but I deny no one entry to The Underworld...
Our final visit to the shower is a whopper. It comes from the U.K. television show Footballer's Wives, which made a splash in 2002. This is our introduction to the team from the eye-popping pilot episode!
British TV has long been more lenient with nudity versus American network television. There was a period in the 1990s when the U.S. networks began to allow some brief rear and side nudity, but it eventually subsided.
Here, however, the camera is loving and lingering and even includes at least one brief glimpse of a half-mast frontal (more than what I have here. Unfortunately, I do not include frontal nudity here at P.U. -- I know. It stinks! LOL)
This is the 'baller who showed his stuff (intentional or not), Gary Lucy.
This is his rascally teammate, played by Cristian Solimeno.
It was episode six before we were treated to another decent shower scene.
That time, though, it was revealed that there is also a fun, sudsy group bathtub in the same room! (Why couldn't I have been better at sports....?!?!) Shown here are two other principles from the first season, Nathan Constance and Daniel Schutzmann.
The eighth (and last from that first season) episode offered yet one more butt buffet in the shower room...
And that season went out with a bang as there was still another pop-eyed glimpse of a player's appendage. No wonder the show was a hit! LOL
The extra shown with his back to us was naked all the time and took an eternity to dry off. Even without all this, the show had campy, deliciously sassy merit.
The End!