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Thoughts on Lizabeth Scott

LizabethScottLizabeth Scott is gone. She was 92. The actress, who reportedly died in Los Angeles on January 31, was striking, talented and unjustly undervalued and underemployed in Hollywood—where she was viciously smeared. But she was both luminous and, in a way, premature for a world that matched her ability. Having briefly met her, I think she probably knew it.

Many, possibly most, readers probably haven’t heard of her and there’s no reason why they should. The Scranton, Pennsylvania, native was raised as a Catholic, quit college to start working in New York City, and was discovered by legendary producer Hal Wallis (Casablanca, True Grit, Anne of the Thousand Days, Love Letters, The Furies, Now, Voyager, Sergeant York) who put her as the female lead opposite Robert Cummings in You Came Along (1945), directed by John Farrow and written by Ayn Rand. But she never truly got what she deserves.

Miss Scott was usually better than her parts and films. She possessed all the qualities being written about her in and throughout today’s media—the coastal Times newspapers predictably peg her as a ‘film noir’ actress—including the sexual intensity, the intelligence, the voice, the slightly androgynous air and the unaffected, tough exterior embedded with the will to submit at her discretion. She wore Edith Head’s glamorous costumes well and she was radiant, though she was rarely given the role in which to shine. From her early pictures, such as You Came Along, which she told me when we met was her first and favorite of her 22 movies, and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) to Loving You (1957) with Elvis Presley and Pulp (1972) with Mickey Rooney, she almost always added depth and at least brightness to the screen. She makes her films, which are mostly mediocre, worth seeing.

Miss Scott lived alone in the Hollywood Hills, evoking one of Scott’s heroines, screen legend Greta Garbo, and, throughout her career, she was an individualist, which left her open to ridicule and innuendo. Having once expressed that she wore men’s cologne and pajamas and confessed that she hated frilly dresses, she was smeared by a hack (and former Communist) who insinuated that Lizabeth Scott was a lesbian. This nearly destroyed her career. Citing damages, Scott sued for $2.5 million in 1955. The New York Times reports in Scott’s obituary that the lawsuit is “believed” to have been settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. As a leading lady in film noir and noirish pictures such as Desert Fury (1948) and Too Late for Tears (1949), Lizabeth Scott—who had co-starred with Burt Lancaster, Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Michael Caine and with Charlton Heston in his film debut—was finished. She withdrew from movies, focusing on occasional television appearances, a musical recording career and auditing philosophy courses at the University of Southern California (USC).

When I met the actress briefly during an event at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) honoring her late co-star Barbara Stanwyck several years ago, she was still the would-be movie star, not so much moving through as glowing throughout the room and taking everyone’s breath away while leaving them bewildered as to why. I told her that I had enjoyed her performances and I expressed an interest in interviewing her, which she at first waved off. Then I mentioned her first film, You Came Along, the Ayn Rand-penned picture in which she portrayed a government worker who falls in love with a troubled soldier on a bond tour. At the mere mention of this movie, she paused, moving closer. Her eyes grew wide and she gripped my hand and said: “I loved Ayn Rand.” She explained her reasons and we talked about my favorite writer, whom she said was one of the few in Hollywood whom she felt understood her ability. Then, Lizabeth Scott turned to her escort and asked him to give me the contact information to schedule an interview. I later proposed to interview Miss Scott as part of a series for the Ayn Rand Archives, which had just produced the long-awaited 100 Voices. But, while I would have treasured the opportunity to interview Miss Scott, I remember my moments with her fondly and I am confident that her proper place in motion pictures will be recognized in time. As she once said:

I don’t want to be classed as a ‘personality,’ something to stare at. I want to have my talents respected, not only by the public but by myself.”

Miss Scott was constantly compared to the late Lauren Bacall, another sultry, smoky-voiced actress from the same era in movies. But I think Miss Scott might have been the better actress, with wider range and a more compelling presence on screen (I mean no disrespect to Bacall, whom I appreciate in pictures such as Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not and The Shootist with John Wayne). It is too bad that Miss Scott is remembered as an early film noir prototype and not much else. The term femme fatale does not do her justice. Sadly, it is too late for that now. I think that it is probably still too soon for Lizabeth Scott and that the world is possibly not yet ready for the actress she might have become. But I experienced firsthand that Lizabeth Scott was ready for the world and on her own terms—and this is a grand lifetime achievement.


Reference links

Movie Review: Too Late for Tears (1949)

Interview: Leonard Maltin on Lizabeth Scott (2015)

Interview: Robert Osborne on Lizabeth Scott (2015)

 

Three New Interviews

Three new interviews focusing on music and movies are posted. Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies, talked about TCM’s Star of the Month, Robert Redford (who’s in Utah kicking off the Sundance Film Festival) in a candid exchange about the elusive movie star (read the interview here).

Melissa Manchester sat down with me to discuss her early years with music industry mogul Clive Davis, the challenges of maintaining a 40-year career in show business and writing, recording and crowdfunding her first new album (You Gotta Love the Life) in 10 years, which debuts next month (read the interview here).

And writer and director Mike Binder (Reign Over Me, The Upside of Anger) gave me an exclusive, in-depth interview about his controversial racially-themed picture, Black or White, starring Academy Award winners Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner, which opens this Friday, January 30 (read the interview here).

Winter Workshops and Movies

RedfordTCMNowPlayingCoverJan2015Turner Classic Movies (TCM) host Robert Osborne talked to me about TCM’s first Star of the Month in the new year, Robert Redford, (read my exclusive interview here). I’ve interviewed the classic movie historian many times about movie stars and Hollywood and I think it’s one of our best. You be the judge and let me know what you think. I am an admirer of Mr. Redford’s movies, so I am excited that TCM is honoring Robert Redford. I’ve added some archived reviews of his films, too, including one of my favorites, An Unfinished Life (2005).

That picture is directed by my favorite working director, Lasse Hallström, whose recent movie The Hundred-Foot Journey (available on Blu-Ray this month) is his best work yet. If you want to feel good, really good, and you appreciate good food, family, friends and work, see this light, intelligent and enjoyable picture. Mr. Hallström’s films are cumulatively the closest I get to feeling like I’m being treated to a visual-intellectual feast, at least some that don’t insult or assault the mind or senses, and his best work reminds me of Hollywood legends Howard Hawks and Ernst Lubitsch in the sense of humor, playfulness and clarity. His new movie offers a vision of perfect harmony for the new year (read the review here).

I reviewed a few movies opening this Christmas. Unfortunately, Selma is not very good, though I wish it had been. Into the Woods, on the other hand, is very well done and recommended, especially for fans of the film musical and Stephen Sondheim. It’s not a romantic production, of course, like the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, which I prefer, but it is extremely thought-provoking and moving. The best movie coming out on Christmas Day is Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, a tense, utterly involving movie that every American ought to see, now more than ever. As I wrote this, Sony Pictures also announced plans to release The Interview in certain theaters on Christmas. While I have not had an opportunity to review it, I certainly support the Culver City, California studio, which is under attack from a dictatorship, and its right to create, release and profit from the picture.

Profiting from good production is the aim of several business workshops I plan to give in L.A. in the new year. The four-part series includes 90-minute workshops for artists, entrepreneurs and executives on fostering good public relations, branding, how to get new customers and success with social media. Each workshop adopts an interactive approach with visual display in a small classroom setting and space is limited, so reserve a seat soon by calling (818) 379-7000 (or click here) if you’re local to Los Angeles. Admission is $20 per workshop. The series is sponsored by The Valley Economic Alliance in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley (where classes are held). The series’ goal is to get you fit for business in the new year. Registration is also open for my 10-week course on social media, which has been expanded and added to Burbank Adult School‘s spring schedule. The communication course starts at 6:00 pm on Feb. 23 and continues on most following Monday nights. The course fee is $79 (a few dollars less if registering online or call (818) 558-4611 to enroll). Otherwise, whether you’re in Los Angeles, feel free to let me know if I can help. Use the Contact tab or read my Bio or about my Method above. I’m also on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

I’m catching up on reading, writing and other work, though I posted an interview with the writer and director of St. Vincent starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts, Theodore Melfi (read it here), and I plan to post a new filmmaker interview soon. First, I plan to spend some time with friends and family. Wishing you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Christmastime at the Movies

Robert Osborne 2This season, between work projects and writing, I’ve been reading books and watching new and old movies. I’ve also managed to fit in a few interviews, including an exchange with writer and director Theodore Melfi about his emotionally powerful new movie, St. Vincent (read the interview here). It’s a fresh, humorously frank movie about a boy and an old man who’s a drunk and Bill Murray’s character is an especially pointed and honest portrayal of an alcoholic. I’ll be surprised if you don’t agree after seeing the film and reading the interview that Melfi is an artist to watch. I’ve also seen and plan to post reviews of The Imitation Game, Birdman and Whiplash, which I’ve appreciated or enjoyed to varying degrees, and a timely, new movie out next month starring Anthony Mackie, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner titled Black or White. The racially driven story is written and directed by the bright and talented Mike Binder, whom I recently interviewed. Like St. Vincent, the picture takes place in present day, involves alcoholism and a custody battle and, cleverly in both movies, it is rendered with a sense of dry humor.

That is also a particular characteristic of Robert Redford’s, the subject of an interview with Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne (pictured), who will host an entire series of Mr. Redford’s films next month on TCM. I’ve interviewed Osborne about John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck among others, such as Ernest Borgnine, so I’m excited about the opportunity to examine one of Hollywood’s more recent (and last great) movie stars. Robert Osborne doesn’t hold back. This may be our best interview.

I enjoy watching classic movies and I recently watched and recommend Elia Kazan’s brilliant and terribly underestimated Man on a Tightrope, grueling East of Eden and brutal On the Waterfront. Other pictures include an unknown gem by Stanley Kramer, at least previously unknown to me, with an outstanding performance by Faye Dunaway as an individualistic, self-made oilwoman opposite rugged oilman George C. Scott, Oklahoma Crude. It’s an incredibly involving film with Dunaway at her best. Look for a review of Lasse Hallstrom’s new movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey, which is released on Blu-Ray this month, too. Of course, it’s Christmastime, which means there’s a glut of new movies I still want to see during this jam-packed awards season and I’m listening to Christmas tunes by Olivia Newton-John, Christopher Cross and Melissa Manchester, whose new single and album will be released early next year. On the topic of music, I’m glad to see talented recording artists such as Sam Smith and Bob Seger get recognition they earned and deserve. Giving and getting what one wants and deserves, and anticipating what’s joyful to come, is, for me, part of the magic of Christmas.

Interview: Volker Schlöndorff

2012-02-14-9440-2280_Volker_Schlondorff_IMG_x900Filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff, whose new movie, the subtitled Diplomacy, opened today in New York City (opening at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles on November 7), studied economics and political science at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographique (IDHEC) in Paris, the setting of his fictional Diplomacy, which we recently discussed. Diplomacy concerns two men, a Swedish diplomat and a Nazi commander in Paris during the fascist occupation of France, in a tense conflict over the final Nazi command to totally annihilate Paris as American troops came to liberate the city of lights.

Schlöndorff worked as an assistant director with Louis Malle (Viva Maria!) and directed operas in Germany and Paris and a controversial, Oscar-winning surrealistic adaptation of the Gunter Grass novel The Tin Drum (1979). This is an edited transcript.

Scott Holleran: Does Diplomacy, based on a stage play, humanize and thus legitimize the Nazi regime?

Volker Schlöndorff: Oh, no. I hope not. I don’t feel sympathy or compassion for the conflict of the [Nazi] general. He was looking for and he got [what he gets]. I added a lot more to the play in that sense. I had access to [the history of] what he did in Poland and the partaking in execution of Jews, so I wanted him to be as much a villain as possible because of the dynamics of the drama. He has to be unflinching. He has to do what he is told to do, namely destroy Paris. At the end, the consul has to somehow break this armor and get through to the human being which exists in every human being but that does not humanize the Nazi regime to me. He is not even a Nazi he’s more of a military man—he’s a [character] construct—a military man used to obeying orders.

Scott Holleran: Had you seen the play on stage?

Volker Schlöndorff: No, I did not, I must say fortunately. I was just doing another World War 2 film in Paris for French television while the play was on but I never had time to make it. Two years later, the offer [to adapt the play for film] came to me, which I was grateful for. So I was free to imagine it in my mind. I wanted to make this [movie] very intimate, not stagy at all. I never saw the play, so I have no idea how they did it on stage.

Scott Holleran: Did you read the play?

Volker Schlöndorff: Yes, of course.

Scott Holleran: Did playwright Cyril Gely drive the script?

Volker Schlöndorff: I did. I submitted it to him and he reacted to my first draft. I had taken off quite a bit, maybe too much, but I had also edited it and did quite a bit of research so a lot of stuff became much more realistic. It still is, of course, fiction. This negotiation never took place in this way. However, if they had met, I think this would have been the conversation and I think this must have been going on in the mind of the general.

Scott Holleran: Is the Swedish diplomat character, Raoul Nordling, neutral?

Volker Schlöndorff: Not at all. Sweden was neutral. But he was not acting on behalf of his government. He wanted to save Paris, he wanted to save the people and he was passionate. The two of them had a number of encounters and, when you read their memoirs, the [Nazi] general is very self-serving and the [Swedish] consul explains his lifelong attachment to Paris. With the general, what comes across is that he’s a military man devoid of any imagination and humanity. With him, it’s more of a dogmatic sense of honor—you feel that his only dilemma was how he saves his honor—and whether destroying Paris would forever destroy the honor of his family.

Scott Holleran: Duty to the state is among the Nazi’s most closely held ideas. Why?

Volker Schlöndorff: The most terrible things happen when people follow duty to the state. Following one’s individual conscience is more important—you have to take orders from yourself, not just take orders you’ve been given—and it’s not always easy to achieve that. To really examine yourself—and, then, to have the strength to disobey—is difficult.

Scott Holleran: —Like Edward Snowden—?

Volker Schlöndorff: —Absolutely, though I’m not that familiar with his case. But I think he must have had that double dilemma and faced the difficulties. He must have found the strength.

Scott Holleran: What’s your most influential film?

Volker Schlöndorff: My own or films by others?

Scott Holleran: Both.

Volker Schlöndorff: The easy answer is [Elia Kazan’s] On the Waterfront. I was a boy of 15 or 16 years old [when I saw it] and I was very upset. The movie always stayed with me at difficult moments and periods of my life. I know it’s a bit silly but I don’t care. I can commit to that. It’s hard to say which of mine are most influential. I know that The Tin Drum (1979) is important to people in their imaginations and feelings. The Last Honor of Katharina Blum (1975) had a huge impact but I don’t think that the influence of movies can be measured in immediate terms. It’s more that every one of us has his own attitude but needs nourishment and encouragement to persevere—and that’s where movies come in. They are the food for our souls, though they don’t change our minds.

Scott Holleran: Did controversy help or hurt The Tin Drum’s reputation?

Volker Schlöndorff: It helps. Controversy is always good. A movie is made to be debated, if you have a committed and engaged audience. We often do not have enough debate and polemics. I hate when people say ‘I love your movie’ or ‘I hate your movie’ and leave it at that. I want to know why.

Scott Holleran: Do you think Gunter Grass’s later disclosure that he had worked as a youth as a Nazi SS officer hurt the perception of The Tin Drum?

Volker Schlöndorff: It hurts himself. I don’t think it hurts the novel or the movie. But his own aura was hurt tremendously. I understand him and we are friends. He says ‘I couldn’t say [I was a Nazi sooner] and if I had said it, I probably couldn’t have written The Tin Drum’ because he was trying to deal with this thing in him.

Scott Holleran: You made an American film for television, A Gathering of Old Men (1987), featuring Richard Widmark and Louis Gossett, Jr., which explores a similar theme of people’s complicity in widespread injustice, redemption and a single act of defiance against the state. How did that film shape your career?

Volker Schlöndorff: It shaped my life. I loved doing it. I discovered the South and Louisiana, made a lot of friends and adopted two children as foster kids. I took them out of public [government-controlled] schools and put them in private schools. They were from welfare mothers and they didn’t know their fathers. So, now I have family in Louisiana. Richard Widmark and I got along very well and he became a true friend.

Scott Holleran: Widmark’s character grows and comes to accept new ideas in A Gathering of Old Men. As a German, do you accept the thesis of Stanley Kramer’s Judgment at Nuremberg that one can hold an entire country accountable for the evil acts of its government?

Volker Schlöndorff: Absolutely. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been doing the movies I’ve been doing. Even though we were children and were not therefore responsible, [Nazi Germany] is [part of] our culture and [as Germans] we are responsible for that culture—we have to work on that because the march of [human progress] is very, very slow and none of us is on his own; we are all part of society. When I’m in the South, even though I have a lot of Cajun friends and they are a minority, I feel as though these groups in the South as a whole are responsible [for the South’s culture], not only individuals but as groups.

SMV5BMTg1NDIzNTQ5N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjY2MTU2MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_cott Holleran: Coming back to Diplomacy, does diplomacy, properly understood, mean negotiating with fascist states, such as Nazi Germany or Islamic Iran?

Volker Schlöndorff: Absolutely. One should always try to negotiate. Whether in Ukraine or Syria, the military option is always the worst. The role of diplomacy is to prevent wars.

Scott Holleran: What is your favorite aspect of Paris?

Volker Schlöndorff: Under the bridges, because I’m a runner and that’s where I run. It’s where I used to sit when I was a student to do my reading. I like running on the left bank [of the Seine River] or the right bank.

Scott Holleran: Your work dramatizes the rise and fall of the totalitarian state, in The Tin Drum, its effect on the individual in The Handmaid’s Tale (1990), and, with Diplomacy, its bitter end. Why the interest in dictatorship?

Volker Schlöndorff: My birthday, 1939, the year of my birth. My strongest remembrances to this day are of the [second world] war and, then, the postwar period, which was still a continuity of the war. I didn’t ask to deal with dictatorship. I was thrown into it and, as a student in France, I was confronted with it daily for almost 10 years, being a German in France. Life dealt me with a deck of cards. I wish it had been a different deck of cards.