Tuesday, July 17

If It's Tuesday It Must Be Weld

Pardon the pun of the title.  I borrowed from the film If It's Tuesday It Must Be Belgium because it seemed like the right thing to do.  Tuesday Weld was the bad girl of her day, the sex-kitten vixen.  Her name and behavior often hit the newspapers and were fodder for movie magazine fans.  She is only a year and a couple of months older than I am, so she's always been my girl.  She was me.  She was more rebellious and more liberated than I was, but I longed to join her in her travels and her mercurial ways.

The pesky film critic Pauline Kael once famously said that Weld didn't get the career she deserved.  While I don't question that at one level, I do at another and that is the one that asks whether Weld really ever wanted to be a big-deal movie queen.  I tend to think she didn't.  She never seemed to be playing the same game the Hollywood movers and shakers had in mind.  She often spoke her mind to the point where I think some doors were shut.  This was and is a fabulous actress and Kael does indeed get it right.

Her early life had some sadness.  Her father died when she was four and her mother, in need of money to help raise Tuesday and her two elder siblings, put Tuesday to work as a child model.  Soon she became the breadwinner of the family and along with the reversal of roles came more family problems.

I thought I had read that she became emancipated in her mid teens but I can't find anything to support that.  What can be supported is that she had a nervous breakdown at 9 and started drinking the following year.  At 12 she attempted suicide and around this time she had been having affairs with older men.  All of this reached the papers and also included comments by and about her mother.

It is not difficult to imagine that someone so young and beautiful and willful and talented, too, would become an actress.  She first did some television and then it was on to the movies.  The first time I recall seeing her was in 1958's Rally Round the Flag, Boys, a silly exercise in forgetability in which it could be said that Weld was the only thing worth watching or remembering.  Her teenage vamp completely made one forget such costars as Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Joan Collins and Jack Carson.  Imagine.

The teenage whirling dervish continued to be what she served up for a while on the screen.  It did make sense, too, since the suits simply took advantage of newsmaking items about her personal life.  She costarred with Richard Beymer, Fabian, Michael Callan and other young hunks of the day in films that also featured an older couple.

In 1961 things changed a bit.  She made Return to Peyton Place, hair darkened, and playing an incest victim to perfection.  And there was Wild in the Country the same year in which she was one of a trio rubbing up against Elvis Presley.  She began seeing him off screen as well and also the much older, Big John Ireland, from the same film.  She played the tramp.  Watching her undulating on the back steps with the horny Presley was hotter than fat on a fire.

She was growing up and being taken seriously as an actress.  She did, however, still do a lot of television.  In 1963 she was back to a teenage role but in a more high-profile film, Soldier in the Rain, and more than held her own alongside Steve McQueen and Jackie Gleason.  In 1965 ace director Norman Jewison signed her to compete with Ann-Margret for the affections of McQueen in the very fine Cincinnati Kid

Then came Lord Love a Duck in 1966.  It satirized teenagers of the period.  Since I was a teenager of the period, it particularly registered.  She wanted to be very, very popular and no one could pull that off a wink and an attitude better than Tuesday Weld.  This would not be the last satire she would make and it did seem, in fact, that she gravitated toward art house, satirical type stuff. 

What would you think of Tuesday Weld as Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde or her instead of Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby?  She turned them both down.  Ditto Lolita (migawd, the perfect role for her) and True Grit and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.

Sue Ann Stepanek

In 1968 she made the best film she has ever done, Pretty Poison.  Her Sue Ann Stepanek, involved in the most taboo of murders, matricide, was brilliantly realized.  She sure did know how to play bad, had a real knack for it.  She has always spoken slowly, a voice tinged with a lazy indifference and when that is coupled with mayhem of some sort, nobody is better than our subject.  And of course nobody did creepy better than co-star and co-conspirator Tony Perkins.  Together they were a team to be reckoned with.

Four years later they would make another film together, Play It As It Lays.  She would play an actress who has had a breakdown and Perkins was a homosexual producer, something they each knew a bit about.  No serious discussion of Weld could ever be done without mentioning her two films with Perkins.

In 1977 she played Diane Keaton's sister in the haunting Looking for Mr. Goodbar.  Even while Weld's part of the story was secondary to the main one, she garnered an Oscar nomination.

In 1980 she made Serial another satire and a rather biting one about the end of the 1970s in Northern California.  She is married to Martin Mull and no stone is left unturned surrounding these characters trying to find themselves.  Pass the pipe.  This is a little film, not seen, I fear, by too many.  It's really worth a gander.

The following year she again grabbed my attention alongside James Caan and Willie Nelson in the powerful Thief.  The year after that she appeared as Al Pacino's about-to-be-ex-wife in the much-maligned Author! Author!  So wrong.  She was so good.

In 1984 she made Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America which some people consider a masterpiece and others considered the worst film of the year.  She was involved with Jewish underworld figures in New York.  Her performance caused a lot of talk that usually ended with the word bravo.

She seems to have only worked sporadically in films in the last 30 years.  She has done some of her best work in television movies... many of them.

Many of her characters have been unsettling; one is often uncertain and unprepared for what they may say or do.  I always thought her characters were laughing at us; they often seemed to have little use for the conventions of life.  All of this is something she knew about in real life.  Maybe the characters weren't laughing at us.  Maybe she was.

As an adult, she became as reclusive as she once was public.  No longer the bad girl, she could act most actresses right off the screen.  One thing the adult Tuesday had in common with the young Tuesday is that they both did it their way, free of the restrictions and condemnations of others.  I admire that.

I always loved her physicality.  She has always been mighty pleasing on the eyes but it was more than that.  She used all her parts to utter perfection.  Her eyes penetrated and flashed.  Her nostrils flared.  Her lips pouted.  She twisted her hair.  As noted earlier, she undulated.  She had so many bits of business.  A fascinating actress to watch.

Answers to Quiz #4:

  1. The 10 Commandments
  2. The VIPs
  3. Peyton Place
  4. The Towering Inferno
  5. What's New, Pussycat?
  6. Big Fish
  7. The Best of Everything
  8. How to Marry a Millionaire
  9. Giant
10. The Hours 
11. The Long, Hot Summer
12. Airport
13. Chicago
14. Steel Magnolias
15. Chocolat
16. Hurry Sundown
17. Murder on the Orient Express
18. Anatomy of a Murder
19. The Bad and the Beautiful
20. Island in the Sun
21. Silverado
22. The Godfather
23. Little Women
24. Guns of Navarone
25. The Razor's Edge

NEXT POSTINGErnie and Celeste

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