Posts Tagged ‘Anne Bancroft’

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This week I noticed how many musical biographies I have on that little iDevice of mine, each one more educational than the last (history books teach us nothing, you hear me, nothing!). To help create snappy headlines for a catalog that I’m working on for my book publishers, I’ve relied heavily on lines from these musicals and amused myself in the process. To help promote a collection of books that have been translated into English, I stole from Yentl the line “Tell me where, where is it written?” to use as its headline. The wine titles and their purple covers will be promoted with the handle borrowed from Fiddler on the Roof, “To life, to life, l’chaim.” The list of books on climate change could very well end up under the header, “Don’t rain on my parade,” but I should go for subtlety here if I want to keep it up.

Biopics have also entered my watch history in the last few months, as I just wrapped up the brilliant miniseries, John Adams (2008), starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, two people who should be married in real life. It was such a gratifying and addictive series, that naturally I scoured my shelves in search of others from the same genre. Ranking one’s favorite biopics turned into wonderfully frustrating task, as feelings of neglect and betrayal surfaced with each resort. But we gave it a go . . .

 

15) Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, The Queen (2006)

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The movie itself, not my favorite, but with every hand gesture and tilt of her head, Helen Mirren unveils the broaches and emotions of Her Majesty The Queen, eventually taking home the Oscar.

 

 

14) Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, Mrs. Brown (1997)

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“No one should think themselves wiser than me!” Dame Judi Dench is the aunt we all wish we had, am I right? I think her earrings move only in the direction that she commands – wind and gravity are nothing to this woman.

 

 

13) Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan, The Miracle Worker (1962)

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As Helen Keller’s tutor, Anne Bancroft’s miraculous scenes with Patty Duke include only grunts of frustration instead of dialogue. Astounding, but once was enough.

 

 

12) Meryl Streep as Julia Child, Julie and Julia (2009)

Meryl Streep as "Julia Child" in Columbia Pictures' JULIE & JULIA.

Julia Child now looks like Meryl Streep to me, and Stanley Tucci is delicious, as always. Sandra Bullock seems like a lovely person, but in 2010 the Academy really should have given more thought to its choice in the Best Actress category.

 

 

11) William Powell as Florenz Ziegfeld, The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

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It clocks in at just under three hours, but who could have too many helpings of William Powell? During the elaborate numbers of the Ziegfeld Follies, I could be found adding three different biographies on Flo to my wish list.

 

 

10) Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan, Boys Town (1938)

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In a pinch he can be tougher than you are, and I guess maybe this is the pinch.

 

 

9) Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne as Ike and Tina Turner, What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993)

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Have you ever wanted to knock the television off its stand just to stop what’s happening in the movie? Taking logical action and switching it off won’t help a thing; the only way for me to save Tina from Ike is to throw that television to the floor with all my might. There were no instructions in the box telling me not to do this.

 

 

8) Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

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Love for Mr. Beatty and all, but every shot (ha!) of Faye Dunaway in this film is exquisite and should be framed on my wall.

 

 

7) Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote, Capote (2005)

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At Harper Lee’s party celebrating To Kill a Mockingbird, he sits at the bar and mutters, “I frankly don’t see what all the fuss is about.” Ten seconds in a film can be more heartbreaking than all of its seconds combined.

 

 

6) Jessica Lange as Frances Farmer, Frances (1982)

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Reaching for the moon? No, just one little star . . . on a dressing room door. Once again, the supreme Jessica Lange gives voice to every rejection, deception, and ambition through which her audience itself has suffered. It must have been by one vote when Meryl took Oscar home that year for Sophie’s Choice.

 

 

5) Greta Garbo as Christina, Queen of Sweden, Queen Christina (1933)

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This list overflows with royalty, but Garbo was the Queen before them all, including Capote. Unconvinced that a queen requires a king for a successful rule, Christina promises that she will die a bachelor.

 

 

4) James Cagney as George M. Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

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Sometimes a gangster; sometimes a vaudevillian who can tap-dance down a staircase at the White House. As entertainer George Cohan, James Cagney was living proof that magic exists . . . no one can dance like that without assistance.

 

 

3) Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I, Elizabeth (1998)

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I was torn between listing this or Blanchett’s Oscar-winning performance as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator (2004). Her transformation into the Virgin Queen at the end of the film helped tip the scale.

 

 

2) Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, Milk (2008)

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When I first saw Milk, I don’t think I said as much as two words after I left the theatre. When I saw it again, the second time at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, I had the same reaction. Luckily there were bars in every direction, and we sat for hours at Twin Peaks, drinking our drinks and smelling the fresh cookies next door until the words and tears came.

 

 

1) Madonna as Eva Perón, Evita (1996)

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Never been a lady loved as much as a desperate, misunderstood, driven woman who was hurt and disappointed by life at a young age. After the erotic, bedtime story days of the early 1990s, Madonna revealed more of herself in Evita than she ever showed us during those equally magnificent naked years. You must love her.

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While working her way through the novel for the first time, my dear friend advocated strongly to host a little To Kill a Mockingbird evening. She would provide dinner for me and a few others; in exchange I would provide one life’s practically perfect pairings – a bottle of wine and Gregory Peck on DVD. Although I had seen the film years ago but remember enjoying it, my memory of the Finch family wasn’t as sharp as I’d have liked. Regardless of their quality, once again I’m guilty of remembering very little when it comes to the books I was forced to read. Stubborn little bugger, I was.

I was well aware of Mr. Peck’s Academy Award-winning performance of Atticus Finch, every film list’s number-one hero, but when it came to the 1963 Oscar race, I was more familiar with the ladies of 1962. From the Coke versus Pepsi battles on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? blossomed equally enticing rumors about Joan Crawford’s “Anybody but Bette Davis” Oscar campaign. As a morphine-addicted matriarch withstanding the judgments of her alcoholic husbands and sons, Katharine Hepburn reached unbelievably new highs and lows in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Eventually on Oscar night Anne Bancroft’s name was announced for The Miracle Worker, an award that Miss Crawford graciously accepted on her behalf while those famous Bette Davis eyes threw daggers. While the world celebrated Mr. Peck and Mrs. Bancroft-Brooks, toasting the good-hearted lawyer Atticus Finch and Anne Sullivan, the strong-willed tutor of Helen Keller, the remaining drug addicts and alcoholics on the Oscar ballot gathered together their empty bottles and went home with nothing.

According to a few sources, Gregory Peck did not expect to win for his performance in To Kill a Mockingbird. His money was on his good friend Jack Lemmon for his chillingly stunning performance of an alcoholic in Days of Wine and Roses. Always the shrinking violet, Bette “Baby Jane” Davis expected to be the first woman ever to win three Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role but admitted, “Miss Remick’s performance astonished me, and I thought, if I lose the Oscar, it will be to her.” Lee Remick joined the above women on the list of nominees for Best Actress for her portrayal of Jack Lemmon’s wife; a woman who matches and eventually surpasses her husband’s drinking habits. Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer were awarded golden statues for their song of the same name, but the Days of Wine and Roses couple, who gave two exhausting performances that caused me to reflect on more than I cared to, were forced to drown their Oscar sorrows.

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Do we all have the capacity for alcoholism?  Is there a “potato chip factor” we should factor in during a first round of happy hour cocktails? Along with scrunchies, slap bracelets, and eventually flannel shirts, my Thanksgiving tables were made up of mostly passive drinkers who passed out on the couch after dessert every year. You can only sell that “turkey makes them sleepy” jazz to a kid for so long, but truthfully I was relieved to see some of the more unpleasant members of the extended family settle into unconsciousness. Perhaps they weren’t particularly kind people, but as far as I remember, they weren’t angry drunks. Anger, it seemed, was reserved for the sober; the drinkers just figured out how to get away from it. Watching Lemmon and Remick dive into the roles of two alcoholics who spiral out of control, together and separately, implored me to consider my own youthful days of adulthood when life’s vices were everywhere, our bodies were indestructible, and no one gave a second thought to opening another bottle. Physical and emotional consequences were for old people who had lost some sort of battle with life’s hourglass, a battle we were winning during our days of wine of roses.

Strolling through North Beach with a bottle of Coppola Chardonnay and Gregory Peck in my bag, I made a point to walk by an old theatre where I used to work as an usher. Often I’m able to catch a few old friends between or after shows for a quick hi-there-and-hello hug and a few drinks. I ran into one old buddy that evening and bragged about the fact that I was on my way up the hill for a To Kill a Mockingbird party. His face lit up (at first I wondered if he thought I said “Tequila Mockingbird”), but then he started asking if I remembered “this part” or “that part” of that glorious film. Unfortunately I was running a bit behind schedule and still had three uphill blocks of North Beach to conquer, so I had to leave behind what may have been a wonderful chit-chat. Next time, my friend. Yes, I was on my way up that hill to a dignified, adult dinner party followed by a relaxed viewing of a classic black-and-white film. I continued down the block, and before I started hoofing it up that hill, I had a quick glimpse into my own days of wine and roses and beer and Jägermeister – a blessed little bar next to the theatre was a clubhouse to us all, and yes, there was wine. Lots of wine. And Rose was servin’ it.

When she wasn’t swamped with customers who were crazed with thirst, Rose and I had some pretty gratifying discussions. The two of us had a little five-minute book club that would meet immediately after my shift but before the bar filled up with audience members, cast, and crew from the show. Although we never had the same book on our nightstands at the same time, we were able to catch each other up quickly on what each of us was reading. When Rose was working, magically a glass of Sangiovese would appear on the bar without my ordering it . . . and when I say “glass,” I mean that thing was filled to the brim. If I hadn’t been such a gentleman, I’d have leaned down on the bar and slurped up the first few sips just to keep from spilling. Eventually the bar would fill up with new and old friends, we’d all drink until we fell off our stools and before anyone had time to pass out, we’d hop in cabs and go dancing. It was splendid; it was simple; it was a wonderful year in the toddler years of adulthood . . . and if I hadn’t left when I did, I think I may have died in the bathroom of that bar.

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Days of Wine and Roses is a dark and emotionally draining view into the world of alcoholics, addiction, love, and survival. When Joe Clay (Lemmon) meets Kirsten Arnesen (Remick) at the beginning of Days of Wine and Roses, he’s as boozy as they come, while the only addiction she reveals is one of the chocolate variety. A harmless Brandy Alexander ushers Kirsten into more and more binge drinking with her new husband, and the two begin to create a life free from the perils of sobriety. If that one cocktail could unleash a beast of an alcoholic in Kirsten, is it possible we all go through an alcoholic phase in life, a time when we could all benefit from a Step or Twelve? The dangerous edge of that cliff – Mount Mid-20s, let’s call it – was treacherous, and I was eager to peer(-pressure) over it. When you’re a happy drunk and choose to drink yourself up to that edge, nothing can touch you, nothing can hurt you, and everyone loves you, whether they do or not. Somewhere in my mind, the immortality that I felt I had been promised would allow me to fly if ever I did leap off that blasted edge. But poor Kirsten . . . she hadn’t been promised a thing, and it turns out, neither had I.

Like Dad always says, everything in moderation. I loved my time at the bottom of that hill, and I had a wonderful evening when finally I made it up those three steep San Francisco blocks with Gregory Peck in tow. Last time I checked, Rose was still going strong, pouring generous glasses only to those who deserved them. My days of wine and Rose and roses may not be behind me completely, but they have certainly mellowed out over the years. My edge was at the bottom of that hill, not the top, but today I’m able to look both down and back without regret. Cheers!

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Academy Award for Days of Wine and Roses (1963): Best Music, Original Song

Add Days of Wine and Roses to your queue.

Dear Mom and Dad,

Although you’re no longer together, I felt the need to write you two a single letter. Dad, I can’t stop thinking about the stories you used to tell of the summer after you graduated college and returned home to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. You said one of the few times you ever felt peaceful was when you were under water in their pool, either in a full wetsuit or leaning your head off a raft wearing a diving mask. I’m beginning to understand this distracting feeling—both peaceful and frustrating—at a time in life when I’m just below its surface with nothing to cling to but a slogan promise of hope. In this postmillennial world, all I can think about is finding my own pool in which I can submerge and escape, completely indifferent to its peacefully frustrating aura. At least it’ll be quiet.

Your generation let us down, folks, and I have a few questions. I’m not pointing fingers at you specifically . . . Mom, as kid I remember you saying “that hippie thing was just a fad,” and Dad, you’ve never been one to conform to nonconformity. The Summer of Love and Woodstock may not have had a telethon “Do it for the children” theme to it, but weren’t you trying to change the future by changing the present? What happened to that energy of your generation? How did we end up in this society of plastics from which, Dad, you told me you were so determined to run away? When you drove all the way up to Berkeley to chase Mom down and beg her to marry you, that was Real. When he showed up at your would-be wedding to that jock and the two of you ran off together, that was Real. So tell me, what caused you kids to surrender that four-letter word and embrace the plastics industry?

As accusatory as I can get towards your generation, I wonder if you felt the same towards the one that came before you. Maybe the unifying goal of your late-60s movements was simply a shared determination not to end up like your parents. Getting to know Grandma Robinson after you two separated was, putting it mildly, a bizarrely entertaining experience. I had spent my whole childhood accepting the fact that she simply was not in our lives, but as a kid, naturally I didn’t think to question it . . . I assumed every kid had one grandmother, not two. Grandma Robinson was pretty senile by the time I came to know her as an adult, and I’m not sure she always knew who I was when I went to visit. She’d tell me stories of her frisky teenage years, and for some reason her deteriorating mind often confused Dad with Grandpa Robinson. After all these years, I still don’t understand why you both found her so undesirable, unless it was just a generational thing?

The world seems to be getting angrier. Am I the only one who sees it, or is it just something that we all feel as they age? Maybe I just need to let it to go and accept the fact that the world your generation was supposed to hand us was not possible. Blaming you may not be the fairest course of emotional action on my part, but I can’t help pointing a finger in the direction of your generation. And you know precisely which finger that is! How did you let the Real (that resulted eventually in my existence) unravel your marriage and become so synthetic?

I understand that I need to make changes happen if I want them so desperately—life doesn’t owe me calm waters free of the occasional riptide. But would you mind telling me then what those four years of college were for? What was the point of all that hard work? Terrified of leaving a steady paycheck, here I sit at a job in which I no longer have any interest, punching numbers into a computer so consumers can buy and read books on the other end of the wireless wires. Still I cling to the hope that one day something more will come along and try to seduce me.

Thanks for letting me vent. My love to you both.

Your son,

Benjamin Braddock Jr.

Academy Award for The Graduate (1968): Best Director

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Being an honorary “old folk” myself with a shoulder that can predict oncoming rain, sometimes I can’t help but groan along with them — there are too many choices these days. Take, for example, the perfectionist’s hunt for the definitive biography on Marilyn Monroe . . . one of those horribly frustrating exercises in futility. Since the number of biographies on Norma Jeane and Marilyn limits itself to a million or two, not only do I not know which book to buy, but also I haven’t a clue as to how, where, or even whether I should buy it. As much as I love libraries, voracious highlighting of a genetic nature has trickled down to me, mutating itself into uncontrollable underlining. On top of the pride of ownership, it’s hardly surprising to those who know me that I’m not good at having time limits when it comes to borrowing. Famous or not, we’re all allotted a slice or two of our own madness.

“Please pass the salt” is standard table manners for many biographies, I realize, but I narrowed it down to a few final contestants and finally chose The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli. Indeed I fell for the starred reviews I read online, and since my shoulder was feeling okay, I put on my cutest “sunny day” shoes and visited a used bookstore (with actual books and actual people in it). One of my favorites in San Francisco has a little orange cat that strolls around like a security guard, and happily it was there that I found a hardcover that I can’t be bothered to put down since I brought it home. Find me an app that can match the amount of fun I had that day!

In Don’t Bother to Knock, Marilyn tackles the role of Nell Forbes, an unstable young woman hired to babysit for a couple in a New York hotel. Another recent arrival to the hotel is the handsome Richard Widmark, a pilot who has just been given the brush-off by lounge singer Anne Bancroft (in her first film). Had I not seen Miss Bancroft’s name in the opening credits, I wouldn’t have recognized her until that wonderfully distinctive mouth of hers started moving. Aside from being one of my favorite actresses, it always tickled me that the woman who would elegantly devour the role of Mrs. Robinson was married to the adorable, pocket-sized Mel Brooks. But before she was seducing listless college graduates, Anne Bancroft was breaking the heart of Mr. Widmark, boomeranging him towards a 26-year-old Marilyn Monroe who anything but good with children.

Every generation needs a “crazy babysitter” film, and for those of us who have only seen the blonde bombshell flicks, Marilyn’s Nell Forbes is somewhat of a surprise . . . she seemed determined to show Hollywood that she could act. Richard Widmark sees her from his window, and fresh on the rebound decides to come a-knocking. Gradually he realizes he shouldn’t have bothered, and there, folks, we have our wordy warning of a title. Without revealing too much of the plot, Marilyn brings to Nell a vulnerable lack of sanity that can be all-too-easily linked to stories of Marilyn’s own psychosis. For some reason I can’t accept it being that simple; the bits and pieces of background I’ve found on this film underlines how much time and effort she put into preparing for this role.

Watching her delve into the first dramatic role I’ve seen her in has given me a taste for more . . . but then again I’m happily bothered by any Marilyn that comes knocking.

Add it to your queue.

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Be Drunk

by Charles Baudelaire

You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it — it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking . . . ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

(c. 1869)

The film adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical play, which was published after his death, is one of the most challenging for me to recommend. Despite how amazing I find it, it’s not one that I return to on a regular basis — Long Day’s Journey Into Night is one of the most exhausting movies I’ve ever seen. While the film’s length (just under three hours) sounds tiring in itself, for me it is (you’ll never guess!) the intensity of Katharine Hepburn that is magnificently draining. The story is precisely what its title advertises: an intensely long day in life of the Tyrones, a family plagued with alcoholism, drug addiction, illness, and good, old-fashioned self-hatred. As the sun descends, so do the characters and their audience along with them, all of us graciously kicking and screaming.

I do love an ensemble cast that can produce amazing chemistry with any pairing of two actors — I’m sure that relates back to my childhood evenings spent with the cast of the television show Soap. This emotional marathon of a film is another perfect example; aside from my love for Katharine Hepburn, who absolutely floors me as the morphine-addicted matriarch of the family, my other favorite part of the film is the above poem by Charles Baudelaire. Edmund Tyrone (played by the charmingly handsome Dean Stockwell) recites it perfectly to his aging, alcoholic father (Sir Ralph Richardson), who responds gracefully by refreshing both of their drinks. As I struggled a bit beginning this piece, finally it hit me to let M. Baudelaire invite you into such a fascinating home. Rounding out such a home is a member the original 1956 Broadway cast — the great Jason Robards steps back into the role Jamie Tyrone, the older son who shares his father’s gifts of acting and drinking. His intensity is almost as hypnotic as Katharine Hepburn’s, but sorry folks, for me there’s no scene that the Queen can’t help but dominate.

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When this film brought Katharine Hepburn her ninth Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, she was certainly in good company. To name a few, the list of nominees in 1963 placed her against Anne Bancroft (for The Miracle Worker) and Bette Davis (for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?). As the rumors go, one Miss Joan Crawford campaigned any which way to make sure Bette Davis (her Baby Jane costar) did not walk away with gold that evening. To rub it in Bette Davis’s face even further, Miss Crawford accepted the award on behalf of 1963’s Oscar winner, Anne Bancroft, who was not present at the ceremony. Now, before I came to know Miss Hepburn in one of her greatest roles, I was sure that if I ran the world, I’d split the award between Bette Davis and Anne Bancroft. But after another introduction to Mary Tyrone, it turns out that dear little Oscar would be divided into three, possibly with his head and shoulders going home with Miss Hepburn.

I’m trying to figure out why I’m coming up with so little to say about a film interlaced with complexity. While I want to include it in this little blog project I’ve begun, the best I can come up with is “Wow, just watch it!” The degree to which this family is able to rattle me feels a bit masochistic on my part; I’ll admit there’s a sliver of pleasure I get while each character’s descent through the fog and into of the night rips me apart. A craving for this type of pleasure can hit me like the strong, silent type, and it is satisfied only by the darkness of film. If you’re familiar with such a collage of emotions, I recommend highly and drunkenly that you spend a rainy evening with James, Mary, Jamie, and Edmund Tyrone. That’s all there is to it — it’s the only way.

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Add it to your queue.

While the monsters and slashers of the 1980s could always pop out and surprise me, they never got under my skin enough for me to say they “scared” me. My fears were not that simple, no… for me, there were two characters that terrorized my dreams as a youngin’, much more than any Krueger-type monster ever could. The first was Miss Carol Burnett’s frightening portrayal of Miss Hannigan in Annie (1982), a performance that still makes my leg shake a bit when I think about it. Tears of terror came to me easily in those days, brought on by the unhinged laughter that erupted from Miss Hannigan as she “paddled” through her bathtub gin and sang about the prohibition of little girls.

As I moved on and backwards into film, it was during my first introduction to Miss Bette Davis that I met the other monster who doled out the goose bumps of my childhood. As the title character in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Miss Davis piles on the clown makeup, layers of lipstick, a beauty mark that resembles a witch’s wart, and terrorizes her wheelchair-bound sister, played by Miss Joan Crawford. Living forever in her head on her childhood stage, Jane (Davis) is a former vaudeville child star now caring for her sister Blanche (Crawford), an actress who found success as an adult before a car accident. Watching Miss Davis gnaw the scenery and spit it at me (and at Miss Crawford) is spectacular — even campy-comical to today’s audience.

However, to a young lad already petrified of evil caregivers thanks to Miss Burnett, Baby Jane could instill fear in me with the raise of an eyebrow. As Jane insults and torments Blanche, she also gives us some of the most quotable lines in movie history . . . well, my movie history. The line “Oh Blanche, y’know we got rats in the cellar,” which is given in reference to possible contents of a dinner tray, still gives me a slight shiver that I’m now able to cover with laughter. So terrified was I of the film that, when it was remade for 1990s television with the Redgrave sisters, I left the room when I saw the commercials for it. (An eerie side note that happens to me all the time — I just flipped over to IMDB.com to check the date of the remake, and on the day I decided to reference the remake on my blog, Lynn Redgrave died.)

Apparently I was not the only terror-stricken member of the family when it came to Baby Jane Hudson. My father always laughs about how he frightened his younger brother by simply mentioning the title of the film in his spookiest voice. If he were a gambling man today, my dad would put money on the chance that my uncle’s face would turn to angered fear, should he relive one of childhood’s many traumas. I guess I see both of their sides . . .

Much of Baby Jane’s greatness lies not only in the performances but also in the incredibly blurry lines between film and reality. For over 50 years now, rumors have flown back and forth about the hatred Miss Davis and Miss Crawford had for each other — despite their truth, kernels of truth, or complete fabrication, I think these stories make the picture even more enjoyable. We’ll never know how it really was, so let’s enjoy what we think we know! In defense of her failed pictures, Jane tells her sister “They were too busy giving a big buildup to that CRAP you were turning out!” Did Miss Davis have to stretch her actress muscles to deliver such a highlighted use of the word “crap,” or was she just getting some of her and Jane’s anger out? What versions of “truth” am I seeing here, and was that the intended version, or just a marvelous accident? Did they fool the whole world into thinking they hated each other more than they did? Those little questions I ask myself during the film fascinate me and are partially why I return to it so often.

To paraphrase something I once read, Joan lit her cigarette like a lady with the fanciest of silver lighters; Bette struck a match on the bottom of her boot like a cowboy . . . what a pair! Ahhh the rumors of fights, bruises, sprained backs, and dirty tricks make Baby Jane all the more sweet for me. The more I learned about the film and about both actresses, the closer attention I paid to every movement, every facial expression, and every slice of truth that I thought I saw slip out. Let’s start with the less “battle scarry” tales . . . I love the story that Bette Davis tells of how the character Jane finally came to her. She says that she wasn’t sure how to play Jane until the moment she saw the wardrobe — understandably, the costume design resulted in the film’s one Oscar win. Miss Davis also claims to have done her own makeup —  she was sure that no makeup technician in Hollywood would have the guts to make her as beastly as she could make herself. I’m not sure she saw it as “gutsy” so much as she saw it simply as “her job.” Miss Davis began to define Jane for herself, realizing that Jane was the type of woman who always added more makeup in lieu of washing her face. It worked!

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And then there are the tales of Davis versus Crawford, some of which resulted, accidentally of course, in physical injuries. Since Miss Crawford was married to the president of Pepsi Cola at the time, she insisted on product placement in a number of her films. The day after she tried to pull this on the set of Baby Jane, Miss Davis arrived at work with Coke for everyone. When Jane discovers her paralyzed sister on the phone calling for help, she punishes her prisoner by kicking her across the room. As some reports go, Miss Davis actually kicked Miss Crawford one time in the head, causing a gash to appear on Crawford’s near-perfect visage. In retaliation, Crawford lined her costume with weights on the day Davis had to drag her out of bed and across the floor . . . rumors have it that this sprained Davis’s back.

I would never discourage a newcomer to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? from sitting down and enjoying it for the first time. While it is marvelous for so many reasons, I would like to offer one suggestion — before watching Baby Jane for the first time (or again), see if you can get a hold of a movie or two from the 1930s or 40s with each actress. Knowing that Baby Jane revived both of their careers for a few seconds, I think again, it really adds to this particular movie when you enter into it with a bit of background (even if the background is through the grapevine). Is Baby Jane an enjoyable ride without? Of course! But going into it with the memory of a young, glamorous Joan Crawford or a 30-year-old Bette Davis and her tiny waistline brings out a bit more truth to Jane and Blanche Hudson . . . and their cellar full of rats.

 

Academy Award (1963) for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?: Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.

My Oscar Time Machine: I go back and forth whether I would call it a tie between Bette Davis and Miss Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker. Miss Bancroft, who won, was not at the awards ceremony that year, and of all people, Joan Crawford graciously offered to accept it for her. So Bette Davis had to watch Joan Crawford, who was not nominated, accept what would have been Miss Davis’s record-breaking third Oscar. Oh sod it; I would have given it to Hepburn.

Add it to your queue.