A PICTORIAL ODYSSEY OF MID-CENTURY CINEMA STARS, ICONS AND LEGENDS
A PICTORIAL ODYSSEY OF MID-CENTURY CINEMA STARS, ICONS AND LEGENDS
Dry martini-voiced stage legend Elizabeth Ashley never made it as a movie star, and she could have, you know (one can blame George Peppard for that).
+ She won a Tony award for her Broadway starring debut in Take Her, She’s Mine.
+ Neil Simon created the character of Corie in Barefoot in the Park on Ashley and she played the part opposite Robert Redford on Broadway.
+ She made her auspicious film debut in the big budget pot boiler The Carpetbaggers, one of ’64’s biggest hits, co-starring with future ex-husband Peppard.
+ Her second film was another auspicious venture, the all-star Ship of Fools, with Vivian Leigh, Lee Marvin, Simone Signoret (purportedly in a role intended for Marilyn Monroe), George Segal, etc, etc.
+ She did one more film (the little seen The Third Day) and then did not work from 1965 - 1971 during which she married George Peppard and bore their son, Christian. George was not a feminist, and preferred his wife at home, the son-of-a-bitch. The late 1960’s would have been an ideal filmmaking era for an actress like Ashley, who would have blossomed under revolutionary new directors like Arthur Penn, Mike Nichols, Dennis Hopper and Martin Scorsese.
+ When she divorced Peppard in ’72, she had lost all the momentum she’d built up in films, and starring roles in TV movies and guest parts on television dramas paid the bills and kept her in the public eye.
+ A burgeoning friendship with playwright Tennessee Williams led to perhaps the most triumphant part of her career, the role of Maggie the Cat in Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the Broadway revival in 1974. This was a more adult version with Williams adding dialogue that he had to edit out of the 1950s’ stage and film versions because the stuff was just too damn hot. This was the part she was born to play and the venerable Walter Kerr of the New York Times pronounced this production better than the original.
+ In 1982, Ashley starred in the original Broadway production of Agnes of God opposite Geraldine Page.
+ When Hollywood came to produce films with characters originated on stage by Elizabeth Ashley, none other than Jane Fonda nabbed two of them (Barefoot in the Park and Agnes of God), and, inexplicably, Miss Sandra Dee starred in Take Her, She’s Mine, Ashley’s Tony-winning role.
+ Before Peppard, she was married to James Farantino in the early ’60’s; later (like Peppard) a solid 1970’s TV crime drama fixture.
+ Ashley graced the cover of Life magazine; the cover date: November 22, 1963 … not much time to celebrate the honor.
— Platinum Fallacies
"UPDATED WITH NEW INFORMATION"
ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S THE BIRDS (1963)
Hitchcock’s stylish horror classic of avian vengeance packed theaters in 1963, but I wonder how many moviegoers back then understood its subtle underlying themes. Big Sister (the Film Major) always said it was an ecological statement, but even as a small lad I didn’t think that was true; 1963 seemed a bit early for that kind of antiestablishment theme from mainstream Hollywood. And that didn’t explain they the attacks started when the protagonist arrives to the coastal setting, Bodega Bay, CA.
I always suspected a colder, darker abstract, but couldn’t put my finger on it. Later on, it dawned on me that perhaps that the horrific bird attacks represented something vaguely sexual: the antipathetic reaction of the dowdy townspeople to the glamorous visitor and the thick tension between her the hero’s womenfolk. More on that later; now back to our casting trivia …
The Birds was a hit with both audiences and, for the most part, critics when it was released on March 28, 1963, and made stars of its star-crossed lovers Melanie Daniels and Mitch Brenner; played by Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor. As precious as they are to Birds fans, they weren’t the first choices for the leads.
'TIPPI HEDREN' & ROD TAYLOR
Hitchcock initially tried to sweet-talk his former favorite leading lady the former Grace Kelly, then in 1963 Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco out of retirement to star opposite Cary Grant. Word was that she wanted to accept his offer … life in a literal ivory tower not as exciting as a film set … but her subjects, let alone Prince Rainier, would have none of it. Reluctantly, she told Hitch no.
CARY GRANT PRINCESS GRACE OF MONCAO
The director then thought to cast Grant opposite Audrey Hepburn as Melanie, but the glamorous pair were already filming Charade (1963) in Paris; and Audrey would go from there right into pre-production on My Fair Lady (1964). Besides, Audrey’s not blonde! Can you imagine a Hitchcock heroine of this era who wasn’t a blonde?
GRANT & HEPBURN in Charade (1963)
Moving on, Hitchcock thought he might cash in on the momentum from the previous year’s freshman James Bond smash Dr. No (1962) and cast that hit’s white-hot star duo Sean Connery and Ursula Andress as Mitch and Melanie. Connery, however, had his plate full with all of tinseltown clamoring for his services and Ursula, as exotic and lovely as she was, would have needed Sean to make it work.
SEAN CONNERY URSULA ANDRESS
For Melanie, Hitch contemplated a few other blonde beauties, including America’s #1 teen movie idol of the early 60s, but way-way-too-young Sandra Dee and her ethereal counterpart Yvette Mimieux.
SANDRA DEE YVETTE MIMIEUX
British Jill Ireland, who at the time was Mrs. David McCallum, was another actress, like Andress and Hepburn, from across the pond considered by Hitchcock; theoretically, a plan to further alienate the townsfolk of Bodega Bay by having Melanie be a foreigner.
Still ruminating over his Melanie, Hitch found himself one morning watching the telly … NBC’s Today Show, actually … and during an ad for a soft drink, he noticed the model; a svelte, cool blonde strolling down the street. He found out her name, met her, screen-tested her, liked what he saw and put her under contract.
Despite the fact that Natalie ‘Tippi’ Hedren had no acting experience whatsoever, Hitchcock found his Melanie and announced the glacial blonde TV model as the star and centerpiece of his new movie.
After passing on Sean Connery and Cary Grant for the film’s hero Mitch Brenner, Hitchcock thought about casting his handsome star from Strangers on a Train (1951) Farley Granger. Although by 1963 no longer a big movie name, he was very active in TV and theater and in fact was forced to turn Hitchcock down because of his theatrical commitments.
With Granger unable to star, the director decided on the ruggedly handsome and hirsute Australian star of The Time Machine (1960), Rod Taylor to co-star with Tippi.
ROD TAYLOR showing off his acting skills
As the tragic, lovelorn schoolteacher Annie Hayworth, Hitch did no better than casting one of our favorite whiskey-voiced leading ladies, Suzanne Pleshette.
But it was stage star Anne Bancroft who Hitch first wanted as Annie. Bancroft was enjoying a big comeback in 1962 and would go on to win that year’s Best Actress Oscar for The Miracle Worker. (Coincidentally Pleshette replaced Bancroft as Annie Sullivan when she departed the Broadway stage production in 1961).
Another contender for Annie was second generation star Jane Fonda, just then in the early ‘60s starting to make a big impression in Hollywood after a few years as a fashion model and then appearing on Broadway.
Bancroft and Fonda would have been great and, as Pleshette did, likely played Annie as the dark, restless contrast to Melanie’s cool blondness.
SUZANNE PLESHETTE & TIPPI HEDREN
Aftermath of an avian attack at Bodega Bay.
As mentioned before, critics for the most part praised The Birds. One thing he was roundly criticized for his choice of Hedren for his leading lady, but time has shown he was unfairly judged. What was then considered a ‘wooden’ performance by critics was truly the actress’s innate coolness; an icy glamour and sang-froid devoid of the warmth and empathy that might have reassured Mitch’s mother and the other Bodega Bay locals that she was not the carrier of this flying plague.
Had Melanie been a little more ‘homey’ her well-reported pranks and tomfoolery (she’s a no-account wealthy heiress), referred to throughout the film might have charmed the locals rather than repelled them.
Not only does Hedren’s performance merit praise, but few other actresses have conveyed such worldly poise and nimble bearing quite as well. The character of Melanie rarely stands still in The Birds; she is constantly strolling, running, escaping, getting in and out of boats, fighting off the crazed birds, all the while in fashionable high heeled pumps. But she never loses that cosmopolitan finesse, that seemingly artless deportment. It adds a layer of sheen to the film that would not be there had a less poised actress been cast.
Now back to the meaning of The Birds. A recent re-viewing found me focused on — instead of the eye-popping violence and gore (quite graphic for 1963) — some of the film’s other characters. Poor Mitch seems surrounded by needy, possessive women and their bottled-up fear that Melanie might take their beloved Mitch away is palpable. His mother, Lydia, played by Jessica Tandy, can barely contain her animosity towards the beautiful Melanie.
JESSICA TANDY’s antipathy shows on her face upon meeting Melanie.
Ex-girlfriend Annie clearly suffers every time Melanie and Mitch interact, even during benign phone calls between the two. She’s so weak and dependent that she moved to Bodega Bay just to be near him.
This idea is reenforced by looking at who lives in Bodega Bay. It seems primarily populated by females. For example, in the diner scene Hitch has mostly middle-aged and older women characters. What men there are in Bodega Bay are elderly, ineffectual, stupid or drunk. Even Annie’s students seem to be mostly little girls. The only ‘viable’ man in town is Mitch. He’s strong, virile, the protector of the womenfolk. If the beautiful, sexy and rich Melanie takes him away (and there’s no way she’d move to podunk Bodega Bay) all is lost.
The attacks start as Melanie arrives at Bodega Bay but only end after Annie is killed and Lydia must comfort and tend to the traumatized, injured Melanie; eroding her animosity toward the younger woman.
Hitchcock himself claimed there was no meaning behind the film, leaving it up to the audience to interpret at will. But I think Hitch — no feminist he — meant the shrill, vicious bird attacks to symbolize the female characters and their heightened, desperate, terrifying - but internal, unseen, unheard - panic of being abandoned, alone and unloved by men.
I’m sure we’re all in agreement that the final casting of the film’s lead roles was superbly suitable, and speaking of suits, let’s take a look at Edith Head's iconic Chanel-cut eau de nil skirt and matching morning jacket worn by our brave heroine.
Six separate copies of the green suit were made, most broken down for the final bird attack in the attic.
I like this review courtesy of clothesonfilm.com.
"There is a straightforward yet valid parallel to draw from Melanie’s green suit and the caged lovebirds [that she brings to Mitch’s sister]. She is first seen in this suit holding the birds, their colour, while not identical, is indicative enough to suggest a correlation. Melanie is simpatico with all birds; she is reckless and enjoys tricks.
The birds are aligned with Melanie so this how they act during the entire film. It’s not a warning, it’s not judgement; it’s just that Melanie likes to play pranks and so do they. It’s a joke. The death and destruction the birds cause are simply consequences that Melanie will have to face. In the end the birds let Melanie leave because the joke is over. Wasn’t it funny? No, not really, but the birds enjoyed it. They don’t consider consequences of their actions any more than she does.” … Great stuff
And who can forget the inspired hommage from The Simpsons …
Get your own Melanie Daniels Barbie!
Here’s one more look at sexy Rod Taylor ….
FROM THE #PLATFALL ARCHIVES and UPDATED …
The Casting Couch: Special Edition
Pretty Woman (1990)
The quote in the title block is courtesy of Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of Hollywood’s more unconventional and outspoken ingenues of the 1980s, and the script is for Pretty Woman, the lead character for which she was a serious contender. The controversy to which Leigh refers would be not be reported by Variety or People or any other industry mag, not at the time anyway, but the storyline’s metamorphosis from dark cautionary tale to sunny romantic comedy and Cinderella fairy tale would turn off several established actresses and open up the way for a brand new powerhouse star of the 1990s.
JENNIFER JASON LEIGH
Pretty Woman was initially conceived as a grim, bleak saga about prostitution in a gritty, oppressive New York City of the late 1980s. The relationship between Vivian and her client Edward also dealt with controversial themes, like Vivian’s cocaine addiction … part of the deal was that she had to stay off drugs for a week because she wanted the money to go to Disneyland … more on this later.
As pre-production moved forward, however, producer Laura Ziskin and Marshall felt more and more determined to cast Vivian in a sympathetic light and for a romance to blossom between the two leads. As you’ll see, this plot metamorphosis caused quite a stir among some of the young actresses up for the part of Vivian.
CASTING EDWARD LEWIS
Director and screenwriter Garry Marshall's original script was entitled 3,000 (that’s how much Edward pays Vivian for the week) and was written with Al Pacino in mind as Edward, the Wall Street corporate raider. It’s easier to picture the infamous Scarface in the dark, downcast version than the rom-com it became, and Pacino himself said, “I would have ruined it.”
AL PACINO DENZEL WASHINGTON
Denzel Washington was considered a contender but in this writer’s viewpoint, he was still too youthful in 1989-1990 to convincingly play a jaded corporate bigwig.
Swarthy, cold-eyed Frenchman Christopher Lambert was near the top of Marshall’s wish list but was eventually dropped; probably a good idea has his thick French accent would have hindered the film’s mass appeal.
Christopher Reeve was in talks to star and even agreed to audition but walked out when Marshall enlisted a half-hearted casting director to fill in for the part of Vivian. That’s no way to treat the Man of Steel.
CHRISTOPHER REEVE WARREN BEATTY
Hollywood vet Warren Beatty was an obvious choice but was too busy at the time directing, producing and starring in his version of Dick Tracy. It’s doubtful he would have done it anyway, as it might have been too obvious to typecast a handsome middle aged playboy as the same (this was pre-Annette Bening).
BURT REYNOLDS SEAN CONNERY
STING CHRISTOPHER WALKEN
By this time Marshall had to broaden his range for Edward, and his candidates ran the gamut from Burt Reynolds and Sean Connery to Jeff Bridges and Sting. Steely Christopher Walken was considered, as were Joe Everyman-types Charles Grodin and Albert Brooks.
Recent Oscar winner (for My Left Foot) Daniel Day-Lewis would have added a bit of English glamour to the role but he also declined. And had John Travolta prevailed in his audition for Edward, he wouldn’t have had to wait five years until Pulp Fiction for his comeback.
ALBERT BROOKS CHARLES GRODIN
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS JOHN TRAVOLTA
It was Disney’s Jeffrey Katzenberg who thought of Gere and personally phoned the actor who, by 1989, was yesterday’s news and in need of a hit film. He wasn’t interested until his agent Ed Limato convinced him to do it. It was good advice and started the newly silver-haired Gere on the comeback trail.
CASTING KIT DeLUCA
For the role of Vivian’s best pal, Kit De Luca, both Demi Moore and Lori Petty (who would go one to star in A League of Their Own and pretty much nothing after that) lost out to Laura San Giacomo, then hot from starring in the hit indie sex, lies and videotape (1989). Demi would hit the big time in Ghost releasedthe same year as Pretty Woman, so I bet this is one part she doesn’t regret turning down.
DEMI MOORE LORI PETTY
LAURA SAN GIACOMO
CASTING VIVIAN WARD
Marshall’s first choices for Vivian were Karen Allen and Mary Steenburgen. When both ladies declined, the offer went to Molly Ringwald, at that point just growing out of her Brat Pack phase. She turned it down, however, because she felt comfortable with neither the script nor the sordid character. Since then, Ringwald has stated in several interviews that she regrets turning the role down.
MARY STEENBURGEN MOLLY RINGWALD
Pretty Winona Ryder, a promising star and popular teen idol, was quickly eliminated because Marshall felt she was too young. Jennifer Connelly was vetoed for the same reason (both girls were about 19).
WINONA RYDER JENNIFER CONNOLLY
After her Oscar nomination for Dangerous Liaisons, the exquisite, blonde Michelle Pfeiffer was the hottest young actress in town, so it’s logical she’d be the up for Vivian too. Unfortunately, she didn’t like the “tone” of the script (whatever that means).
Disney’s favorite for the part was America’s Sweetheart c. 1989, Meg Ryan, a newly minted star after When Harry Met Sally, but, she claimed, ”the early draft I saw didn’t work on the page. The film turned out well because of Julia, not because of the script. She elevated it. But listen, I have to look at things the way they read. We all do.”
This leads me to wonder, did Michelle read the earlier version of the script, and Meg the later version? And how could anyone keep track of what version which actress read??
MICHELLE PFEIFFER MEG RYAN
Another contender, statuesque Darryl Hannah, undoubtably read the later version. ”The script infuriated me,” she told Marshall. ”On a very specific level, this was a love story. But it’s not. It’s not! It’s a kick in the teeth to the whole idea of moving along the women’s movement.”
Hannah later said, “What the film had to say was incredibly, subliminally irresponsible and destructive. I told Garry that telling girls that being a prostitute while deciding on a career is OK because you might meet your Prince Charming was just unbelievable. It was so, so disturbing.”
When Daryl was gone, Marshall then deliberated over former teen stars Sarah Jessica Parker & Brooke Shields, elegant Madeline Stowe and smoldering Italian starlet Valeria Golino, who came close to getting it but all involved felt her accent (like Christopher Lambert’s) was too strong. Sarah Jessica declined because she thought the part too sexual … that’s rich coming from the real live Carrie Bradshaw … but Brooke desperately wanted to play the part of a mature woman after years of teen roles.
SARAH JESSICA PARKER BROOKE SHIELDS
VALERIA GOLINO MADELEINE STOWE
Lea Thompson, Bridget Fonda, and Mary Stuart Masterson all auditioned but were dismissed. And after she won her Oscar for The Accused (1988), Jodie Foster expressed interest in playing Vivian but it’s unknown whether Gary Marshall expressed interest back. Jennifer Jason Leigh actually won the part but then changed her mind (see above).
LEA THOMPSON BRIDGET FONDA
MARY STUART MASTERSON JODIE FOSTER
Finally, a young unknown actress who was then filming Herbert Ross's Steel Magnolias was tested and Marshall officially awarded her the part. “I owe my career to Garry Marshall,” Julia Roberts said years later. “There was no known reason for him to hire me.. and even he was puzzled by his decision.”
In the rewrite, Vivian’s streetwise, crude characteristics, considered by producer Ziskin to be harmful to Vivian’s sympathetic portrayal, were deleted or incorporated into the character of Kit, Vivian’s best friend. In the original script, the story ends when a disgusted Edward throws Vivian out of his car and drives off. Vivian and Kit, still prostitutes, then get on a Greyhound bus headed west for Disneyland.
RICHARD GERE and JULIA ROBERTS
Roberts would later describe this first script as “a really dark and depressing, horrible, terrible story about two horrible people and my character was this drug addict, a bad-tempered, foulmouthed, ill-humored, poorly educated hooker who had this weeklong experience with a foulmouthed, ill-tempered, bad-humored, very wealthy, handsome but horrible man and it was just a grisly, ugly story about these two people.”
Julia, breaking politically and otherwise with some of her fellow actresses (as noted above), was clearly on-board with the rewrite, and didn’t see a problem with a Cinderella story about a hooker.
In the end, apart from what Julia claims, one can see why Marshall was wise to choose a leading lady who he knew from the start would be trouble-free, uncomplaining, undemanding, etc., at least from the perspective of the script and storyline.
The changes didn’t harm the bottom line. Pretty Woman opened at #1 on March 23, 1990, and went on to become the 4th highest grossing film in the US that year and 3rd worldwide.
Julia Roberts earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for the role of Vivian and went on to become one of top box office stars of the 1990s.
Garry Marshall never did get it. “I always thought Pretty Woman was Pygmalion,” he claimed later. He had lost Jennifer Jason Leigh by believing that the hooker “had been doing this for so long, she’s having fun!”
"Fun?" yelled Leigh. "What can be fun about getting in a car with some 60-year-old and giving him a blow job?" Well, if the 60-year old looks like Sean Connery …
* In the famous poster, that is not Julia Roberts’ body, but only her head superimposed on the body of a starlet named Shelley Michelle.
* For some reason, in the same poster both Roberts and Gere are brunette. In the film, however, Gere is graying and Roberts is a redhead.
* The scene where Edward snaps the necklace case down on Vivian’s fingers was improvised by Gere, and Roberts’s uproarious reaction was totally natural. Marshall liked it so much, he decided to leave it in.
* One example of the revised script was when Edward bursts into the bathroom to find Vivian flossing her teeth instead of doing drugs as he had feared. In the original script she was actually doing drugs.
Here’s an “honest” version of the iconic poster.