Tuesday, January 13

Fast Out of the Gate

I do like my trio postings, don't I?  I get to do three personalities at once.  Three birds with one stone, so to speak, if you will.  This trio, all actresses of varying talents and films, have in common that they started their careers being on fire.  They would light up the sky with dazzling movie debuts and then go by way of the meteor.  These types of careers fascinate me.  Now, you go ahead, click on the button below and see who they are.

Joan Hackett was the best actress among these three.  Known to have sought perfection in all she did, she was hard on herself and perhaps even harder on directors.  Her best parts were when she was being haughty and a smartass but she usually put that across with a twinkle in her eye.  She was formidable in drama and a deft comedienne.  She seemed Bryn Mawr all the way.  I would think she would have impressed Kate Hepburn, to whom she easily could have been compared, on screen and off.

She was the oldest of this trio, born in 1934 East Harlem.  Her father was Irish-American and her mother hailed from Italy.  Family drinking forced Joan into a world of her own.  Her thoughts were her safe place.  She acted out in numerous ways as a child which got her heavily into cutting school.  She wised up quickly when she became a model.  I suppose we all wouldn't agree on this, but I always found glamour in Joan Hackett.

She didn't like modeling but it did lead to acting, first in an off-Broadway play.  She was also attending the Actors Studio.  She pursued TV work and wound up with a regular role for a spell in E.G. Marshall's early 60s hit series, The Defenders.  Soon she attracted the attention of director Sidney Lumet who was making The Group (1966).  Six Vassar coeds' lives are studied during and after college.  The other friends were played by Joanna Pettet, Jessica Walter, Shirley Knight and Candice Bergen, all either in their first or at least an early film.  The actress who played Dottie had to excel in both grace and toughness.  Hackett was a shoo-in.

She followed it up with a showier part in a Charlton Heston western called Will Penney (1968), a moody piece where she played a frontier woman who falls for a cowboy who doesn't want the same button-down relationship she does.  For an oater, it was a rare character-driven piece that caught my fancy.  Hackett was a true western heroine.

Some would say her finest hour (or so) came in the James Garner comedy western, Support Your Local Sheriff (1969).  She certainly did get a few hearty guffaws out of me as an accident-prone mayor's daughter.  Her gift for comedy was obvious and her chemistry with Garner (who, frankly, had wonderful chemistry with most of his female costars) was a delight.

In 1973 she appeared in The Last of Sheila, a super delicious cat and mouse murder game played aboard a yacht.  It would not have been hard to believe it could have been written by Agatha Christie but it was actually actor Anthony Perkins and composer Stephen Sondheim.  Co-starring Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Mason and Raquel Welch, it is my favorite Hackett film.  She was also wonderful in Mackintosh and T.J. (1975), a little-known coming-of-age story that starred king of the cowboys, Roy Rogers, in his final screen role.  Why this wonderful actress from now on settled for so much mediocrity is beyond me.

Her one marriage was to another The Group costar, Richard Mulligan.  Their marriage was a private affair, by Hollywood standards, but the divorce was noisier.  She would say at the time: My divorce didn't sour me on marriage.  My marriage soured me on marriage.  Gay rumors followed her from time to time, one of which was allegedly a tryst with one of her female costars.  For much of her later life, she lived with a nephew.

She received an Oscar nomination for her last good film role, that of an aging narcissist in Only When I Laugh (1981).  When she went to the Oscar ceremony she did so in a wheelchair because her ovarian cancer had spread.  Joan Hackett died at age 49 in 1983.

Sue Lyon owes her brief film career to playing a teenage temptress and she never really moved along.  However, her title role in her first film will forever keep her in the minds of movie lovers and trivia buffs.  She was born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1946.  Her father died before she was a year old and her mother took five kids to L.A. in the hope that baby Sue, with her photogenic looks, could get into commercials.  It worked. 

She did a couple of television guest shots when director Stanley Kubrick spotted her and signed her for the title role in Lolita (1962).  With its theme of an older male roomer (James Mason) who marries the blowzy homeowner (Shelley Winters) but lusts after her seductive, fourteen-year-old daughter.  Lyon was not only sheer perfection but more than held her own with her scene-stealing costars. 

Good as she was, some might have waved her off for any future roles but director John Huston thought she'd be perfect for the teenage nymphet in The Night of the Iguana (1964).  As one of a busload of passengers traveling in Mexico, she has a flirtation with the bus driver, a shamed, former minister, played by Richard Burton.  She claims she could hardly stand being in scenes with him because booze oozed from his pores but the press, there in droves, tried to say they sneaked off for romance.  With Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner in the cast, Lyon again scored as part of the weighty ensemble.

Around this time, she married an actor who didn't score so well in Hollywood, Hampton Fancher (Troy Donahue's nemesis in Parrish), and their very brief marriage was the buzz around town.

Two years later she had one of the larger roles in director John Ford's final film, 7 Women, a wartime saga set in China.  (It was the film Patricia Neal was making when she suffered her strokes.  Anne Bancroft replaced her.)  It wasn't as successful as Lyon's first two films, but I quite liked it. 

In 1967 she had the female lead in a fun comedy about con artists, The Flim Flam Man, with George C. Scott and Michael Sarrazin.  She had a costarring role the same year in the Frank Sinatra Miami detective film, Tony Rome.  Neither film set off fireworks.

A marriage to a black football player made the Hollywood tongues wag so much that the two moved to Spain to escape the pressure.  But the marriage fizzled anyway.  She then wed a prisoner and divorced him before he got out.  Two more marriages also ended in divorce.

She did television and despite a role that generated some chatter in 1971 as the wife of Evel Knievel, her career was all washed-up.  The once-promising career (under the early guidance of three brilliant directors) simply went phffft.  Perhaps her movies put her in some sort of unsavory light and certainly the marriages didn't help.  She has virtually disappeared.

Katharine Ross was not only fast out of the gate, she tore down the gate in the wake of her early promise.  She unquestionably had the best career of these three.  She was a stunning looker who had young men all across the country locking themselves in bathrooms.

Born in Hollywood in 1940, her career Navy father moved the family to Virginia and then to Northern California where she engaged in her passion for horses.  Taking part in a student film in college gave rise to acting ambitions.  She was part of The Acting Workshop in San Francisco for three years which got her some early work in television.  She moved back to Hollywood and appeared in number of the popular TV series of the day. 

In 1965 she brought her beauty to the big screen as James Stewart's daughter in the Civil War drama, Shenandoah.  The following year brought small roles in the gooey The Singing Nun and the confusing and unsuccessful Mister Buddwing.  And then the sky opened up.  Katharine Ross would appear in two of the biggest films to ever come out of Hollywood.

Those films, of course, were The Graduate (1967) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). I don't need to tell you either storyline, do I?  Ross was not the first choice for either role.  Both Natalie Wood and Patty Duke turned down The Graduate and the Etta Place role in Butch was first offered to Joanna Pettet.  Ross would win or be nominated for awards for both.

Also in 1969 she played an Indian opposite Robert Redford in Tell Them Willie Boy Was Here.  The critics liked it but the public tended to stay away.  Fools (1970), in a love match with Jason Robards (yikes!) was not a success either nor was They Only Kill Their Masters, her second film with James Garner (Mister Buddwing was the first).  She had the starring role in 1972s The Stepford Wives which was a rousing success and it put her name back at the top of the list.

She had a small but important role in 1976s Voyage of the Damned about a 1939 doomed voyage of German passengers.  It would be her last really decent film role.  She would venture more into television and did some fine movies in that genre, several with her husband Sam Elliott.  She also liked to do small theater work.  In many respects she was quite the reluctant movie star.  She was nearly as known for turning down roles (Bullitt, Airport and The Towering Inferno among them) as she was in accepting them. She once said I'm not a movie star.  That system is dying and I'd like to help it along.

Most people think she has been married to Elliott forever.  Though they have been married for 30 years, Ross had four husbands before him.  She made the news in 2011 when her only daughter (with Elliott) allegedly stabbed her repeatedly with scissors.  The Elliotts have lived in Malibu for many years.

Movie Review

1 comment:

  1. Every once in a while, some lame customer I'm serving says, "You look like Sam Elliot"...to which I reply..."I'd like three things he has. That VOICE, his bank account and Katherine Ross."