Friday, March 24

Out of Canada

Here are three actors, one man and two women, I very much liked at the height of their fame.  Each made a contribution to the movie world in his or her own way in the 60s and 70s and then seemed to disappear, at least from American screens.  Sometimes it seems to me that the further we get away from the 40s, the shorter careers were.  All are Canadians with two being specifically French-Canadians, born in Quebec, and the other comes from the opposite side of the country, British Columbia.  Any idea who they might be?

Geneviève Bujold spent her first 12 years in an oppressive Montreal convent. There is likely a connection there to her ultimate career choice.  With the nuns she was allowed no self-expression whatever (without punishment, that is) and it is that full self-expression that she craved in performing.  She did learn the French classics in the convent which she considered a good thing. After she was booted out for reading a novel, she enrolled in Montreal's Conservatoire d'Art Dramatique and trained in classical French drama.

After her success in a play, somebody was impressed enough with her to recommend her to French directors and she moved to Paris and was soon in films with Yves Montand, Alan Bates and Jean-Paul Belmondo.  What I thought she always offered was a combination of fire and innocence.  Those traits were arguably never put to better use than in her American film debut as the title star in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969).  I adored it and never found an Anne Boleyn or Henry VIII more to my liking than Bujold and Richard Burton. Both were Oscar-nominated. Despite Elizabeth Taylor's constant presence on the set, Bujold and Burton still managed a little hummana-hummana.

She walked out on her contract with Universal because they wanted to star her in Mary, Queen of Scots (with Anne's same production team) and she felt she'd already done that.  Walking out on a contract is and was serious business and Bujold flew off to Spain to join Katharine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave and Irene Papas in The Trojan Women (1971), which I found too stagey and monotonous.  

Universal accepted her back into its powerful arms when she agreed to star in Earthquake (1974), a real crowd-pleaser and far beneath Bujold's talents, and ditto for Swashbuckler (1976), although she is the best thing about it.  She appeared in an early Brian De Palma thriller, Obsession (1976), where Cliff Robertson becomes interested in a woman who looks a great deal like his ex-wife. Bujold plays both roles.  And as long as thrillers were working, why not join Michael Douglas and Richard Widmark for Coma (1978)?  

She made an impression in David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers in 1988, but Bujold basically slipped into a great wasteland of films that were rarely seen in the states.  It's not likely with her background that she much cared for the big studio-produced films she was making.  She seemed to prefer little films, usually Canadian or European, often bordering on experimental. Many had little worldwide appeal and she practically vanished.  I last saw her in 2012 in a wonderful little Aussie film, Still Mine, where she and James Cromwell played an elderly couple fighting with the Canadian government over building rights.

Still, despite all the work elsewhere, Bujold has lived stateside for many years.  How one can live in Southern California without a car is beyond me but apparently Bujold pulls it off.  At 73 she lives modestly in Malibu in a rented cottage high on a hillside.  She has worked as recently as two years ago.

Michael Sarrazin played a series of outsiders and perhaps that's how Hollywood saw him... never one of their own... and maybe they just allowed him to fade away.  If there were some behavioral issues... and that would be understandable... they have escaped my notice. I liked his unusual looks... those soulful, deep-set eyes, the lankiness and even his laconic manner. Usually I like actors a bit more bold, but something about him always made me pay closer attention.

He was born in Quebec City and raised in Montreal. Despite being sequestered in California during his bread and butter years, his Canadian roots were always a part of him and as the leaner years began, he would return to live in Montreal.  He acted in school plays but quit high school to become a professional actor. He worked in theater and television in both Montreal and Toronto. One of his earliest Canadian television performances was opposite Geneviève Bujold in Romeo and Juliet. How perfect they must have been.  

In 1965 Universal noticed him and signed him to a contract.  (Why was it that a contract at that studio worked out for so few?) Appearing in the standard TV schlock that was demanded of its contract players, Universal threw him a bone by loaning him out to 20th Century Fox to appear as an unwilling partner to grifter George C. Scott in 1967s The Flim-Flam Man.  It was a fun romp with Sarrazin more than pulling off an energized performance opposite his scene-stealing co-star (my favorite Scott role).

He made two films with Jacqueline Bisset, The Sweet Ride, a 1968 beach saga, and the 1971 drug drama, Believe in Me.  They believed in one another enough to become a romantic relationship for seven years. Universal refused to loan him out again, this time to United Artists, to play Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy (1969, and the role went to Jon Voight.  Sarrazin's compensation was to become the best role of his career... squiring Jane Fonda around the marathon dance floor in 1969s They Shoot Horses, Don't They?  I don't see how anyone who saw this film could ever forget it... or Sarrazin, particularly at the conclusion.

I very much enjoyed him in the 1970 logging drama, Sometimes a Great Notion, as Paul Newman's misunderstood half-brother, and as a college student who accidentally kills a woman in a car accident in The Pursuit of Happiness (1971), opposite Barbara Hershey, whom I regard as one of Sarrazin's best screen partners.  Harry in Your Pocket, a 1973 pickpocket comedy-drama, opposite James Coburn, reminded me of The Flim-Flam Man.  That's not bad. What is bad is that it was his last good film.

He made some duds along the way, astonishingly one with Julie Christie and another with Barbra Streisand, and the phones were no longer ringing off the hook. He returned to Montreal, married, had two daughters, and reveled in being around his family.  He appeared in a number of Canadian films and television that no one has ever heard of in my neck of the woods. Jacques Michel André Sarrazin died in Montreal at age 70 from cancer in 2011.

Barbara Parkins had a flicker of fame which was extinguished about as quickly as it began.  Most folks around at the time of her glory days would remember her two biggest achievements and yet may not be able to name her.  I was always pretty whacked out about her because she bore a physical resemblance to my then-wife.  It would not be wrong to say I was also spellbound by her voice and manner.

She and her mother moved to Hollywood when Parkins was 16 in 1958 and she began studying acting and dance.  She was excited when she became a backup singer and dancer in nightclub acts of a few superstars. In 1964 her big break came when she was signed to television's first nighttime soap opera, Peyton Place.  She was the bad girl, Betty Anderson, played by Terry Moore in the 1957 film of the same name.  She was scheduled to be killed off after a few episodes but became so popular that she ended up being one of the few stars to stay with the series the entire run.

While still filming Peyton Place, she was signed to play the lead, Anne Welles, in the star-studded, Jacqueline Susann sudser about three pill-popping Manhattanites in Valley of the Dolls (1967).  The critics annihilated it and the public flocked to it. What I liked the most about it was the beauty of Parkins and her new best chum, costar Sharon Tate.  Parkins would be her maid of honor when Tate married Roman Polanski in London.  She liked the city so much that she moved there.

The move may have indeed contributed to her Hollywood snubbing.  Perhaps she was too young with a short track record in two fairly notorious projects to be moving away from the film capital.  The power brokers and their wives usually don't like that. Some likely said who does she think she is but many would answer with why don't we show her we can turn our backs, too.

Most of her films wouldn't be Hollywood productions but rather European in nature... financed by them and/or filmed there.  None were great but we (you recall my lookalike wife?) saw them because she was in them. She played a sleek safecracker in The Kremlin Letter (1970), an all-star thriller that was short on thrills. 
The following year she returned not only to the states but to her home studio, 20th Century Fox, to make the mainly foolish The Mephisto Waltz.  A devil-worship tale that seemed cheesy to me, it did have a pip of a performance from Curt Jurgens (Parkins was his rather strange daughter) and Jacqueline Bisset (damn, Bisset and Parkins in the same flick...?!) and Alan Alda were the preyed-upon.

In 1976 she made a decent adventure film, Shout at the Devil, a sizable part as Lee Marvin's daughter and Roger Moore's love interest, with all three involved in an African war.  From then on, it was mainly television. This same year, two interesting things happened with me regarding my lookalike ladies.  Parkins was filming a segment of the highly-anticipated miniseries, Captains and the Kings, across the street from where I worked.  Needless to say, I got wind of it and appeared near her set as often as I could make it.  We spoke briefly a couple of times and I was transfixed by her beauty in billowy period costumes.  Oh yes, I also got a divorce.

I guess I stopped seeing the films she made and soon she stopped making them.  Moving from England to France, she married and divorced someone, had a daughter.  I would see her now and again in something on the tube in roles that were largely decorative. For years she pursued photography with perhaps more of a vengeance than she did her acting career.  And in later years, after returning to live in California, she became involved in environmental causes.

Next posting:
Let's not forget Roy

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed this blog. Actors one forgets, but enjoys remembering :) Thanks...