Friday, October 31

Three More from Fox

Here are three more actresses who were under contract to 20th Century Fox.  All came to our attention in the mid-late 50s but were still around in the 60s and later.  One thing that makes this trio a bit more bonded than some others we've written about is they were the stars of 1959s The Best of Everything.

That film's popularity is due in large part to these three who were showcased as three young women who work at a Manhattan publishing firm, striving to make something of themselves while juggling romances.  It's a soap opera but well-written and highly entertaining.  In the film they were Caroline, Gregg and April but you know them better as Hope Lange, Suzy Parker and Diane Baker.

Hope Lange played Caroline.  She lost her naivete quickly as she climbed the ladder at Fabian Publishing, taking Joan Crawford's job.  Despite hunky coworker Stephen Boyd's being enamored of her, she longed for Brett Halsey who would break her heart.

She was the first of two actresses named Lange that I went bonkers over.  Even though her movie career was brief, I followed it closely and can say I have seen all of her films.  Thankfully, most of them were good.  She was born to showbiz parents in 1933 Connecticut.  She sang, danced and acted on stage after her family moved to Greenwich when she was quite young.  It seems she first attracted attention when she was photographed walking her neighbor, Eleanor Roosevelt's dog, Fala.  One thing led to another and then another until Fox signed her to a contract.

She met actor Don Murray in college and married him in 1956.  That same year both appeared in support of Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop, a huge breakout film for Monroe and a big one for Murray as a lovesick rodeo performer.  Also that year Fox put her into the fictional The True Story of Jesse James, costarring studio glamor boys, Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter.  She was Wagner's wife.  The film was a turkey.  Two years later she again costarred with Wagner and Hunter, this time as Hunter's wife, in the very good In Love and War.

In 1957 she was one of many in the then-risque but superior soap opera, Peyton Place.  She received an Academy Award nomination as best supporting actress for her role a Selena Cross, a hardscrabble teen who is beaten and raped by her stepfather whom she later kills in self-defense.  She was sheer perfection as a strong and yet soft ingénue in all these early films.  Lange would say that perfection also typecast her and may have resulted in a short-lived major career.

After The Best of Everything, she made Wild in the Country (1961) playing Elvis Presley's psychiatrist.  She was the best thing in one of Presley's better films, but playing anything in a Presley movie was hardly a leap forward.  She met Glenn Ford and left Murray for him.  They had a long relationship but didn't marry although she made two successful films with him, 1961s A Pocketful of Miracles and 1963s Love Is a Ball.

Ford's toothbrush was probably still in her bathroom when she upped and married producer-director Alan J. Pakula and she stayed mainly off the screen during their 8-year union.  She then had a long relationship with the married writer, John Cheever, and subsequently married theatrical producer Charles Hollerith, with whom she stayed for the rest of her life.

She had smaller roles in big movies in later years but she is undoubtedly not remembered as much for movies at all as she is for her Emmy-winning role in TVs The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and a less-successful turn as Dick Van Dyke's wife in one of his series.  Hope Lange died in Santa Monica at age 70 in 2003 of a colitis infection.

Suzy Parker was Gregg, out-of-place in the secretarial pool at Fabian.  All she wanted to be was a Broadway actress and once she got a small break, she fell hard for the director, Louis Jourdan, who was not impressed with her talent, neediness or lovemaking.  His rejection hit her very hard. 

My partner has always amused me by calling her Nosey Parker but I am here to say that that nose is as gorgeous as the rest of her face.  She certainly qualifies as one of Hollywood's best-looking actresses although her movie career was most decidedly brief at only eight films.

At age 15, she was signed by Eileen Ford to a modeling career and likely became the first super model.  If not, she was certainly one of a small handful.  She became the first to make the big money and was a favorite of designer Coco Chanel and photographer Richard Avedon.

It is a thunderous duh that someone with these gorgeous looks would wind up in the movies.  Her debut was a dinky part in 1957s Funny Face but the role Audrey Hepburn played was actually based on Parker.  The same year she had a starring role opposite Cary Grant in the inane Kiss Them for Me and the following year as married Gary Cooper's girlfriend in 10 North Frederick.  I loved her work in The Best of Everything, her next offering.

She was fine in the downbeat but intense espionage thriller, Circle of Deception (1960).  A memorable film for her and her leading man, Bradford Dillman, for he would become her leading man offscreen as well.  After two brief marriages, she would marry Dillman in 1963, a union that lasted for 40 years.

She had the leading female part in two male-dominated films, the medical drama The Interns (1962) and Flight from Ashiya (1964).  When you are sixth-billed in a horror film (1966s Chamber of Horrors), I guess it's time to bid farewell to Hollywood and that's just what she did.

She and Dillman moved to upscale Montecito, California, and lived a quiet life.  She was in several car accidents and never really recovered from various surgeries.  She died at her home and like her costar Lange, at age 70 in 2003. 

Diane Baker was April, a true innocent and not ready for the mean streets of New York.  Too trusting, she threw herself into a foolish relationship with an unscrupulous playboy, Robert Evans.  He charmed her while only being interested in one thing, which resulted in a pregnancy. 

Baker was born in Hollywood in 1938 and at age eight she was introduced to the worlds of politics and acting when she met Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas and her actor-husband, Melvyn Douglas.  For years she said she wasn't sure which field she would rather pursue.  That changed in 1956 when she became a finalist in the Miss Rheingold (beer) contest.  She took the money she got and moved to New York to study acting and ballet.

She returned to L.A. and enrolled in Estelle Harman's famed acting school and soon attracted the attention of Fox who put her under contract.  It was under those circumstances that legendary director George Stevens discovered her and put her into The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) as the older sister.  She performed admirably but most of the acclaim, of course, went to another newcomer, Millie Perkins, in the title role.

Next that same year came The Best of Everything, followed by a small role as Pat Boone's girlfriend in The Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Since she doesn't go on the journey, her role was again quite small.  Throughout her film career, she rarely had the female lead, which, of course, meant her acting career never hit the heights she likely wanted.  At Fox, when they did give her the lead, it was in bombs like The Wizard of Baghdad and the 4th version of Tess of the Storm Country, both 1960.

In 1962 she had the female lead in the all-male The 300 Spartans and a very small role in Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man).  She had the second female lead in the assassination pic, 1963s Nine Hours to Rama (a Horst Buchholz film I quite liked, but it didn't do well).  By now out of her Fox contract, she did a great deal of television and would continue to do so.

Also in 63 she appeared in The Prize with Paul Newman and Elke Sommer, about murder and mayhem in Stockholm at the Nobel Prize awards, excelling as a villainess.  Her fresh good looks were in such contrast to bad-girl parts that she got to do it again and even more effectively in 1964s Strait-Jacket, as a sick daughter who murders people while her mother, Joan Crawford, gets blamed.  It is probably Baker's best role.  She also had a gripping role opposite Gregory Peck in 1965s Mirage.

From here on out it was mainly television.  As an older actress she had a couple of very small parts in a few big films.  She has also distinguished herself as a producer with her production company, Baker Street Entertainment.  She has never married.

Notable 60s Films  

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