Monday, October 22, 2018

The Trials of O'Brien

"I want to report a murder."
"Who was murdered?"
"I was."

If you recognize that memorable exchange from 1949's film classic D.O.A., you'll want to check out Derek Sculthorpe's newest book, Edmond O'Brien: Everyman of Film Noir (McFarland). It's a welcome and worthy look at the life and career of an Oscar-winning actor who lent his talents to more than 100 films. Aside from D.O.A., O'Brien also created distinctive portraits of complex men in The Barefoot Contessa, White Heat, Seven Days in May, and a host of others. As the author notes, "His character studies were never all one thing. They were not all bad and not all good, but they were human."

Away from the cameras, O'Brien dated a dazzling array of Hollywood beauties, and married two of them -- film star Nancy Kelly (a short and tumultuous union), and actress/dancer Olga San Juan, with whom he had three children. Sculthorpe also covers the debilitating health issues that took their toll on O'Brien's life and work, including the gradual loss of his eyesight and, most cruelly, the onset of Alzheimer's while still in his fifties.

This is a quick, compelling read that should serve to reinforce O'Brien's significance as an actor, and insure that his fine performances are not overlooked.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Not Just Lucy's Babysitter

Elizabeth Patterson (r.), with Vivian Vance, on I Love Lucy. 
What I Love Lucy fan doesn't have a soft spot for the Ricardos' charming neighbor, and frequent babysitter, Mrs. Mathilda Trumbull? It's a credit to actress Elizabeth Patterson that she made such an impression -- though frequently mentioned, Mrs. Trumbull actually appeared in only ten episodes. (Before being cast in that role, Miss Patterson played a different character in the first-season segment "The Marriage License.")

One reason we didn't see more of Mrs. Trumbull was that the actress, despite her advancing years, was still in demand elsewhere. In December 1953, syndicated columnist Erskine Johnson reported, "Lucy and Desi will have to find themselves a new baby sitter," as the 78-year-old Patterson was Broadway bound in a new show. Though the play, His and Hers, starring Celeste Holm, ran only about two months, Mrs. Trumbull would be absent from Lucy until the fall of 1954, when she turned up in "The Business Manager." In that memorable episode, Lucy's note about Mrs. Trumbull's grocery order ("buy can All Pet") would cause a confused Ricky to believe his wife was playing the stock market.

Some fifteen years before she joined the I Love Lucy cast, Miss Patterson told an interviewer, "Life and fame for an actress may just begin as she reaches her fortieth year. If she can hold on in Hollywood until she's fifty, she no doubt will have a job as long as her health lasts." Indeed, she continued to act until just a few years prior to her death in 1966, at the age of 90. Her long and accomplished life might inspire all of us to keep pursuing our dreams as long as we're able.