Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Lady Said No

Born 105 years ago today, Tennessee Williams was one of the greatest playwrights of the American theater. In the 1950s, when he was near the peak of his success, Shirley Booth was widely regarded as one of Broadway's finest dramatic actresses, with the Tony Awards to prove it. What could be more natural than the idea of teaming them up?

Reportedly, Williams was an admirer of Booth's work, and offered to create a play tailored to her talents. Yet though she recognized the playwright's gifts, saying he "writes beautifully," she discouraged any talk of a collaboration. It wasn't until 1966, when she accepted the role of Amanda Wingfield in a television production of The Glass Menagerie, that she found herself speaking Williams' words. Even then, the experience was not a happy one. To find out why, read Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Heflin's Lives

Derek Sculthorpe's Van Heflin: A Life in Film (McFarland, $35) could easily have been subtitled "Lives in Film." As this thoroughly researched, intelligent appreciation of his career makes clear, the talented actor (1908-1971) demonstrated his versatility in a number of well-remembered films of Hollywood's Golden Age. Heflin's subtle, layered performances -- skillfully delineating men of widely varied backgrounds, temperaments, and abilities -- are capably covered here, in a book his admirers will want to pick up.

Naturally, full attention is given to the roles for which most of us know him, in films like Johnny Eager (1942), which netted him an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor, Airport (1970), and especially Shane (1953). Sculthorpe's analyses not only encouraged me to see more of Heflin's work, but also gave me a new appreciation for what he contributes to films I'd already seen, like Possessed (1947). Although the emphasis here is on his film work, I appreciated the attention the author paid to Heflin's radio career as well. Too often, biographers overlook, or downplay, the importance of this medium; Sculthorpe gives it the attention it merits. Also interesting was the author's account of Heflin's work in television, a medium he was decidedly slow to embrace, yet one in which his talent could have easily taken him farther.

Both the book, and the actor it memorializes, are worth your attention.

NOTE: I was furnished a review copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

It's That Time Again

For many of us, Sunday, March 13 is the day we Spring Forward into Daylight Savings Time. Hopefully you have an easier way to adjust your clocks than the one demonstrated here by the great Harold Lloyd. Enjoy your weekend!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Birthday of the 50-Foot Woman

Given that her claim to cinematic fame would be the title role in the cult classic Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (1958), it's ironic that birthday girl Allison Hayes (born March 6, 1930) confessed to being self-conscious about her height. In school, as she told a Los Angeles Times columnist, "I shot up ahead of everyone else, and it embarrassed me to be so much taller than the other girls." But her lush, statuesque beauty, along with her acting skills and stage presence, won her roles in numerous films of the 1950s. Some of them, like the guilty pleasure Zombies of Mora Tau (1957), were more drive-in fodder, but she took pride in pictures such as Count Three and Pray (1956), in which she appeared alongside Van Heflin and Raymond Burr.

Unfortunately, health problems she experienced in the 1960s slowed her career progress, and she died young, of leukemia, in 1977, never having attained the full measure of fame her abilities merited. But she's still being discovered by movie watchers decades later, who sit up and take notice when Allison Hayes appears on-screen -- even when she's not playing the tallest lady in town.