Tuesday, October 21

Jackie B

When I first came across Jacqueline Bisset in the 1960s, I found her to be one of the most beautiful actresses I had ever seen.  Adding to the lustre was that she seemed so unaffected by her beauty which made her all the more alluring to me.  If that wasn't enough, her voice, so clear and direct, often seemed like it wanted to start speaking French mid-sentence.  Then she really had me.  It's a love affair that continues to this day.

She was born in England in 1944 to an English-French mother who was an attorney and a Scottish father who was a doctor.  As a child she took up ballet and acting lessons and to help pay for them she began modeling which, in turn, led to the movies.  That face was made for the silver screen.

Her official debut was in Roman Polanski's 1966 psychological thriller Cul-de-sac in a small role.  Audiences noticed her more so the following year in Two for the Road as a fellow student of Audrey Hepburn's.  It was the first of her three films with Albert Finney.  In both of her first films her name was Jackie.  She became Giovanna Goodthighs for Casino Royale, but it was a resounding flop.

She made the press big time in 1968 when Frank Sinatra hired her to replace his about-to-be-ex-wife, Mia Farrow, in The Detective when Farrow couldn't tear herself away from lengthy filming on Rosemary's Baby.  The same year she was little more than decorative (a fate she would suffer in quite a number of early films) in a huge hit, Bullitt, as Steve McQueen's girlfriend.  Also in '68 she made The Sweet Ride, about life in the Malibu surf.  It is most notable because she began a long-term affair with Canadian actor Michael Sarrazin and they became the darlings of movie magazines.  I wonder if she is aware that Google says she had two daughters with Sarrazin.

A gorgeous pair, Bisset & Sarrazin

In 1969 she made The First Time and in 1983 she starred in Class, both films having to do with an older woman getting it on with teenagers.  Sex also figured prominently in The Grasshopper, a sleazy 1970 film about how a woman's unfulfilled life leads to prostitution.  None of these were particularly good films.  She was 4th-billed in the all-star cast of Airport (1970) as a stewardess carrying co-pilot Dean Martin's baby.  If there was anyone in America who didn't already know her, this film would certainly change that.

She would say I'm either offered window-dressing parts in large movies or little art films no one ever sees.  People think the movies I end up doing are my real choices.  I do the best things I am offered.  To me her career would have been fini years ago because those choices were often pretty bad.  It's a tribute to her acting ability that she has endured.

She first worked for director John Huston in a small role in the 1972 western The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean and she and Ryan O'Neal were eye candy du jour in 1973's The Thief Who Came to Dinner.  Neither was successful.

In 1973 she went to France to make the most highly-acclaimed film she would ever be in, Day for Night.  Directed by the esteemed François Truffaut, it is considered by many to be the greatest film ever made about making a movie.  Bisset would be top-billed.  It would win the Oscar for best foreign film.

It didn't hurt her standing in the film community that she appeared in 1974's all-star Agatha Christie blockbuster, Murder on the Orient Express.  She would costar with Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot and would have the small role as the wife of Michael York.

She went to Italy in 1975 to work for director Luigi Comencini in The Sunday Woman (La Donna della domenica), a stylish murder mystery involving Torino high society alongside Marcello Mastroianni.  It was little seen in America.  Too bad.

Then came The Deep (1977).  OMG.  What a stir it caused.  Correction: what a stir she caused.  Photos of Bisset in a wet T-shirt were sent all over the world and people flocked to the film to see her as they never had before.  (Producer Peter Guber said that T-shirt made me a rich man.)  Gorgeously filmed by director Peter Yates, it was a thriller set in Bermuda, dealing with buried treasure, voodoo and mega-menace.  She was breath-taking in her dry beauty as well and Nick Nolte and Robert Shaw were ultra-manly costars.  I loved it.  Most everyone who saw it did.

Her turn as a barely-fictionalized Jacqueline Kennedy in 1978's The Greek Tycoon, with Anthony Quinn as a fictional Onassis, created a lot of divergent opinions.  Some considered it cheesy, some improper, some outrageous. I liked it for its cheese, audacity, titillation and glamour.  And I liked it for Jackie B.  Do you have any idea what this woman can look like when she tries to be gorgeous?  She has the royal demeanor, too, when she wants to bring it on.  Her scenes with Quinn were fired with electricity.

Her next several films didn't much interest me but what was fascinating is that she and Russian ballet dancer-turned-actor Alexander Godunov (Witness) began sharing housekeeping duties which lasted about seven years.  Once again the press had her in the camera's eye.  She and Sasha usually were caught gazing at one another in a way that made one think they'd much rather be alone.

After the sexy, blond Godunov collected his dance shoes and split, Bisset would be involved in longterm relationships with exotic-looking real estate biggie Victor Drai, sensual Swiss actor Vincent Perez (I Dreamed of Africa and Indochine) and martial arts instructor Emin Boztepe.  I am aware of the actors she was involved with and as a fan of all, I can somehow get what she saw in each of them and them in her.  But if I think too much about this, I will have to stop typing and go fan myself.

Bisset has never married and said it's not for her.  Among other things, she says she is simply too independent.  She's reportedly a great partner on a limited engagement.  It works for her.  I cannot recall any ex-partner ever publicly saying anything negative about her.  Or would I just not hear of it if they did?

In 1981 she made Rich and Famous.  The role meant enough to her that she also produced.  An updated remake of the Bette Davis-Miriam Hopkins Old Acquaintance (1943) about female friendship and rivalry.  Bisset and Candice Bergen were perfect in battle and elegant in their living rooms.  And it did not hurt one bit that Hart Bochner and Matt Lattanzi were around for the lusty moments.  Both ladies were spot on.  So why did it not do well?  Of course I loved it.  Don't you know gay men love flicks that star two actresses?  You think it over.

The stars of Under the Volcano

In 1984 she made of my favorite Bisset films, Under the Volcano, again working for director John Huston and costarring for the third and final time with Mr. Finney.  It was a somber look at a dark character and with that alone some may get that this is not a film for them and they would be right.  Finney is a British consul, living in Mexico and a raging alcoholic whose life is rapidly going downhill.  Bisset plays his ex-wife who has returned to nurture him and regain her marriage.  Including Anthony Andrews as his smug brother, all give smashing performances.  She recalled Finney as a little bombastic but he has a twinkle in his eye.  He treats me like his ex-wife.

She began doing a lot of television, not series stuff, but TV movies and mini-series.  If she wasn't the star or female star, she usually got an and Jacqueline Bisset at the end of the casting scroll.  And she continued with her theatrical movies as well, but mainly gravitated into indie stuff.  Of course, you know, this meant that I actually saw even more of her work, indie lover that I am.

I particularly liked 1987s High Season, where she costarred with acting greats James Fox, Irene Pappas and Kenneth Branagh.  This is about Bisset as a photographer living on the isle of Rhodes with her daughter and their adventures, both wanted and unwanted, with several tourists.  Dangerous Beauty (1998) found her in hoop-skirted support as Catherine McCormack's mother who is grooming her daughter to be a courtesan in 16th century Venice.  The lady looked a bit older perhaps, but the beauty was still unmistakable. 

The Sleepy Time Gal (2001) concerned a working woman, played by Martha Plimpton, who learns unexpectedly that she's been adopted and goes on a journey to find her birth mother (Bisset).  It was good and so was Latter Days (2003), a gay romance with Bisset playing a savvy restaurant owner.  In 2004 there was a fun murder mystery called Fascination, in which our subject plays the wife of a man who has mysteriously died. 

In 2000 she was awarded France's Legion of Honour, the country's highest decoration.  Her acclaim as an international film star is without a doubt.

Jackie B is still around, nearly 50 years later.  Still working.  Still looking good at 70.  In 2013 she won a Golden Globe for her rich performance as a titled lady in 1930s London in the miniseries Dancing on the Edge.  I regard it as a wonderful performance and a very good production.

Let's close with three things you may still not know about her:

1) Her last name rhymes with kiss it.
2) She is Angelina Jolie's godmother.
3) She's been on a stamp.

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