the female animal

Close Up #3

Close Up #3: Midlife Sexuality in The Female Animal (1958)

During the ongoing publicity campaign for Feud, Ryan Murphy highlights his inclusion of sex scenes for Joan (Jessica Lange) and Bette (Susan Sarandon) to restore each woman’s core sexuality. Murphy attempts to brand his show as singular for depicting middle aged women with active libidos, by noting that once women in Hollywood reach a certain age they disappear from bedroom scenarios. Sounds like good copy, which would lead one to expect that his scenes for Joan and Bette would promise something edgy and maybe even feminist. Unfortunately, what transpires in episode two adheres to mouldy stereotypes about women’s sexuality. Feud argues that women who make the first move, as Joan does with director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina), appear controlling, desperate, or clingy. Aldrich pushes Joan away, repulsed by her attempt to initiate sex. Bette, on the other hand, rings him in the middle of the night but assures him she only wants a friend. She assumes a submissive pose on the floor and gushes about his talent as a director, a man who has a brief lacklustre list of credits. She waits for him to make the first move and he does. Each woman’s scene sends a clear message: men take charge and women should know their place. Most likely Murphy took a page from Vincent Sherman’s memoir Studio Affairs which includes unflattering accounts of his real-life relationships with Davis and Crawford. Sherman estimates Bette as appropriately feminine because she waited for him to decide when their professional alliance became personal. He describes Joan as aggressive and unhinged for initiating sex after screening one of her own pictures. Sherman believes women should conceal desire and ego under a passive demeanour. Ungallant as the tawdry details remain, Murphy should know better than borrow them for Feud.

Murphy’s claim for breaking new ground or doing women any favours rings hollow. Even by standards of 1962, the year of Baby Jane’s production, it rates as an old fashioned and lazy reduction of women’s sexual agency. In the 1950s, often regarded as a hyper-conservative era, filmmakers still rendered more interesting portrayals of women’s sexuality than what Ryan Murphy has created. For example, Hedy Lamarr and Jan Sterling in The Female Animal (1958) offer compelling representations of carnal pleasure for women over 40. Strangely, three women seem miscast for the ages they play. At 29, Jane Powell looks far too old to play Hedy Lamarr’s daughter. Jan Sterling was only 37 and doesn’t seem old enough to settle for a cut-rate gigolo. And Hedy Lamarr, at 44, could easily pass for 35, with a waistline trimmer than most starlets half her age. Perhaps casting underscores a difficulty for accurate guesses about a woman’s true age.

The Female Animal, directed by Harry Keller, establishes more empathy for aging women than Murphy extends to Joan and Bette. In Keller’s picture, Hedy Lamarr plays Vanessa Windsor, Hollywood royalty. One day at the studio, an extra saves her from a falling spotlight. Viewers can read the scene as emblematic for her career in the picture. In a town that trades upon youth and beauty, we’re led to understand Windsor’s prospects dim as calendar pages turn. George Nader plays the brawny extra, a man who in real life had his film career abruptly destroyed when he was outed by Confidential magazine, a scandal he endured to protect his more famous friend, Rock Hudson. Nader’s Chris Farley puts himself in harm’s way for the star and receives a gashed arm for his trouble. As the doctor checks the damage, Vanessa Windsor observes his rock hewn musculature. The foot-long cut only accentuates his ideal physique. Charles Atlas would seem a tad flabby next to Nader’s sculpted physique. Reclined in her studio dressing room, Vanessa’s eyes linger over the tall drink of man water without drooling. She keeps a lid on her desire for the moment but viewers know she’s already busy planning an opportunity to meet him again.

the female animal

While a masseuse pounds her legs and buttocks, she rings Farley and invites him to escort her to a premiere. In his tiny bungalow, a mere cubby hole for a he-man, he objects that he lacks appropriate formal attire. A seasoned pro, Vanessa responds that it’s all publicity and to report to wardrobe for a dinner jacket in the morning. After the studio obligations, she takes her time on their first date seducing Chris.

At her private beach house, she seems amused by how impressed Chris appears to be with the house and obvious wealth. Vanessa suggests a swim. Chris admits that he had trouble with the fancy shirt pins earlier. At this point, Lamarr leans forward and draws out a reply ‘Studs?’ Her delivery aims for lusty rather than campy and she nails it. She’s awake with desire for the hulk, so much that she can’t help rubbing his chest just a little as she unclasps the fancy buttons. She bumps against him and apologises. Desire has made her a bit unsteady; she’s inebriated with the pleasures his body promises. Hedy Lamarr’s performance identifies how women surprise themselves with sexual longing. She’s off balance and delighted. When they leave the surf, she’s in a white bikini that boasts a dancer’s lithe shape. She tosses him a towel but holds on to one end and then uses it to tug him down beside her on a blanket. Hedy as Vanessa uses a seductive move that looks smooth, confident and in charge. One tug on the towel and she brings the muscle man to his knees in a moment of wild abandon. A ringing phone interrupts their hot beach sex and despite pleasures thwarted, Vanessa responds to the request to return to tend a sick daughter without looking angry or frustrated. She’s happy to savour the evening. Hedy Lamarr’s lust for Nader’s Chris offers more of a revelation than the onscreen orgasm she simulated in Ecstasy (1933). Ground breaking though it may have been, Ecstasy seems like climax after climax where The Female Animal lingers on the drama of foreplay. She appears happy in taking the lead in sexual play.

the female animal

Jan Sterling’s character, by contrast, emphasises the tedium women may experience in sexual relationships after the shine wears off. At a seaside bar, her character Lily Frayne complains of boredom in having ‘nothing to do night or day but go to bed’. Once the plum roles dried up, she has little business other than sex and it’s not a suitable replacement to fulfil an ambitious studio queen. Sterling’s brassy platinum locks lend a hardboiled quality to age a woman who mourns the glory days. In the old days, which her ungallant paramour refers to as the ‘stone age’, they were giants. Now she laments that only a few picture titans remain, enough to fit under a card table without messing up a hair, she says.

the female animal

Lily Frayne doesn’t bother to soldier on with a film career as Lamarr’s Windsor does.  Her entertainment limits itself to slapping bracelets on men with an accent. In this scene at the bar, we see full circle into the career for female stars in Hollywood. As Lily Frayne, which approximates ‘frayed’ as an apt allegorical, she gives her Lubitsch pedigree, one that holds more weight and worth than the diamond earrings she wears. She’s rueful because her rise through the ranks began at 11 and progressed with the distinction of being the ‘first child star ever to be chased around a desk’. Lily avoids grist for the sexual mill by surviving. At the same time, her character recognises the limited pleasure of sitting next to arm candy with no dimension. He may be pretty, but he’s also blank. Rather than depict Lily as angry or frustrated, she seems disappointed, as though the whole business of sex promises a banal resolution. Lily’s the antidote to Vanessa’s swooning over Chris.

Viewers portend the love triangle. Vanessa installs Chris in the beach house as caretaker when really he’s a live-in lover. One night he intercedes on behalf of a woman thrown in the mud by a handsy date. Chris takes Jane Powell’s Penny Windsor back to the beach house to clean up and sober up before returning home. Penny doesn’t know about the beach house, a point that illustrates the frosty relationship between mother and daughter. If that seems hard to swallow, remember that Joan Crawford refused to share the address of her beach house with husband Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Sometimes a movie queen needs a secret beach house. When the news of the triangle surfaces, there’s no competition for Chris or catfight when he falls for Penny and cools toward the movie star. Vanessa bows out without question or objection. She’s no kid. Vanessa knows what Lily has demonstrated—he’s but one guy in a long line. Vanessa doesn’t lose the run of herself over muscle man. She can find another one in the studio just as easily as she found him.

the female animal

Some viewers might object that she looks resigned or that the ending casts too bleak a shadow over prospects for middle age women. We do get an upbeat closure, it’s just not a romantic one. Instead of walking off to the beach house with Chris, Vanessa receives validation from another woman. The film closes on a moment with a nurse that sets a proper woman’s picture tone: that she was appreciated in spite of the men in the studio system. The nurse confides: ‘I’ve always felt that you were a much better actress than the roles they gave you’ […] ‘because the one great thing you have on the screen is believability.’ At the end, the nurse leads viewers to regard a sincere woman overlooked and underestimated. Recognition of Vanessa’s talent, presence, and connection with women in the audience feels in some way more satisfying than had she simply walked off with muscle man. Vindication rates as a greater pleasure in the fade out. What a fitting send-off for Hedy Lamarr’s last picture. Without question, she was better than the roles studio executives assigned.

NEXT >> CLOSE UP #4 – venus on a clam shell in Primrose Path (’40)

Lady Grit

Newsflash, it wasn’t just all glamour and cocktails on set, some roles demanded the real thing, and these women embraced the challenge. This section is dedicated to the actresses who went above and beyond expectations to make the role more authentic. Also, to the women who had to fight the studio bosses to get fair treatment and fulfill their creative vision.

Bette Davis | Dorothy Arzner | Hedy Lamarr | Joan Crawford | Ginger Rogers | Anita Loos | Myrna Loy | Rosalind Russell | Tallulah Bankhead | Lana Turner | Veronica Lake



Bette Davis goes the extra mile to create verisimilitude for her character’s injuries in Marked Woman (’37).

‘I remember only one little fracas without which life wouldn’t have been the same. In the film, Janie is seduced and dies. To avenge her murder, I inform on the racketeer who, as a warning to the other girls, has me beaten and scarred for life. After I had been beaten to a pulp by Mr. Cianelli’s henchmen in the awful vendetta, my director Lloyd Bacon, had me bandaged by the makeup men for the first hospital scene in which Bogie was to visit me. I was to be half dead. I don’t think I ever looked so attractive. Lily Dache herself could have created that creamy puff of gauze at the peak of her inspiration. It was an absolute gem of millinery. After I studied myself in the glass and weighed the possibility of wearing the creation someday at Ciro’s, I smiled sweetly and left the studio for lunch. Instead I went to my doctor.

“I have just been beaten by a gang of thugs, Doctor, and my cheek has been carved by a knife. Would you please bandage me?”

When I drove through the studio gates on my return, the watchman turned pale and picked up the telephone. Word was passed through the lot that production would have to be held up.

“Davis has had a terrible accident!”

They came running from all directions and Bacon saw his schedule go down the drain. I quietly walked onto the set and got into the hospital bed. A parent weeps and wails for his missing child but the safe return is usually greeted by fury.

“You mean you’re all right and this is your idea of makeup?”

“You believed me, didn’t you? So will the public.”

From The Lonely Life (1962).



Dorothy Arzner stands up to studio bosses. [Episode 5]

Excerpt from Boze Hadleigh’s 1978 phone interview with Dorothy Arzner, taken from Hollywood Lesbians (1994).

BH: Were you assigned to direct so many actresses because of your gender?

DA: They would avoid me for westerns or action pictures. If it was a love story, then they thought of me. The studios’ A-scripts often eluded me. I would be given an actress’s first starring assignment—not quite an A –picture in terms of prestige, but unequivocally not a B-picture. If the actress became a star, they got someone else to direct her.

DA: They wouldn’t trust a woman with an A-1 budget.

BH: I read that for your first movie, you insisted on a big-budget project. Is that true?

DA: I let [executive and producer] Walter Wanger know that I would rather do an A-picture at Columbia, which was then a second-tier studio, than a B-picture at Paramount.

BH: So they were prepared to humor your desire to direct, but only with a minor project?

DA: I backed them into a corner. I wasn’t about to do it their way. I had years of experience and results behind me. I didn’t want to have to start all over again, at the bottom—where they might have kept me, out of bigotry.

BH: It’s almost surprising to younger people that such an illustrious career as yours began with your being a secretary.

DA: Do set the record aright—I was a typewriter. Or a “typist” now. Scripts, on a typewriter. The machine was called a typewriter and so was the girl who used it. That one machine has created more opportunities for women than any other I can think of.



Hedy Lamarr endures being stabbed with a pin for Ecstasy (’33). [Episode 8]

‘About that other torrid love scene. This, we shot indoors. I was told to lie down with my hands above my head while Aribert Mog whispered in my ear, and then kissed me in the most uninhibited fashion. I was not sure what my reactions would be, so when Aribert slipped down and out of camera, I just closed my eyes.

“Nein, nein,” the director yelled. “A passionate expression on the face.” He threw his hands up and slapped them against his sides. He mumbled about the stupidity of youth. He looked around and found a safety pin on a table. He picked it up, bent it almost straight, and approached. “You will lie here,” he said. “I will be underneath, out of camera range. When I prick you a little on your backside, you will bring your elbows together and you will react!”

I shrugged. Aribert took his place over me, and the scene began again. Aribert slipped down out of range, on one side. From down out of range on the other side, the director jabbed the pin into my buttocks “a little” and I reacted!

“Nein, nein.” I had reacted the wrong way. “Elbows!” he yelled.

So, several takes and jabs later, we were getting nowhere. And now I shall quote an article by Gene Youngblood, staff writer for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that appeared in the issue of January 28 th , 1966.

More than 250,000 feet was cut from Ecstasy before its release. These were the love scenes reportedly so “sizzling” that producer Josef Auerback called them “too sexy” and ordered them burned. “The love scenes were real,” Auerback said in a 1952 interview “since Hedy was engaged to her leading man at the time”

Thus de Machaty and his pin. Thus Hedy Kiesler and her reactions.

So now, I shall tell you how it was. Some of those pin-pricks shot pain through my body until it was vibrating in every nerve. I remember one shot when the close-up camera caught my face in a distortion of real agony … and the director yelled happily, ‘Ya, goot!’

Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman (1966).



Joan Crawford breaks an ankle during production of Dancing Lady (’33) yet the show goes on.

‘And then I broke my ankle. In the script I was supposed to sprain it. I guess I overacted that scene. The second day I took the cast off to dance with Fred Astaire, and was so thrilled to be dancing with him that I could have danced on my head. When the dance was filmed, the cast went back on. This was Fred’s first movie, a sort of trial balloon. It was one of those incredible breaks for me, both to dance with him and have him there.’

-A Portrait of Joan: The Autobiography of Joan Crawford (1962).



Ginger Rogers solves the shampoo problem in Swing Time (’36).

‘Swing Time had a scrumptious score from Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. In a charming and intimate scene, Fred sang one of the loveliest numbers in the film, ‘The Way You Look Tonight.’ According to the script, I’m angry at him and go into the bathroom to wash my hair, leaving him alone in the living room. Trying to ease the situation, he sits down at the piano and sings the song. I hear it, get caught up in his mood, and open the door. I walk into the living room with my hair full of bubbly white soap. The shampoo was the problem.

George Stevens had ordered various kinds of soap and we did take after take, trying first one soap and then another. Nothing worked. By the time I got to Fred at the piano, the soap would be running down my face, down my neck, down my back. It looked terrible and felt awful. Next we tried shaving cream, but that didn’t work, either. Somebody came up with the idea of beating the white of an egg, so we tried that. This time I had egg streaming down my face from the heat of the overhead lights, which were cooking the eggs as I stood there.

Ugh! It was a mess. Then an inspiration came to me.

“George, why not try whipped cream?”

Someone ran down to the commissary and returned with gobs of freshly whipped cream.

The stuff was piled on my head like a frothy cap. I went through the scene and this time, it worked! I was more pleased than anyone else during shooting that the cream didn’t run. The minute the take was finished, I went to my dressing room and washed the soap, eggs and whipped cream out of my hair. I had to redo my entire makeup, which by now looked like a color television test pattern. That scene, by the way, was the inspiration for shampoo commercials throughout the next decade.’

– -Ginger: My Story (1991).



Anita Loos saves the script for Blossoms in the Dust (’41) and then protects it from Greer Garson’s attempt to change it.

‘A time came when, much against my will, I was argued by producer Bernie Hyman into writing a movie far outside my own field. It concerned a distinguished lady in Texas who had made a career of rescuing illegitimate children and raising them in her own private orphanage. The Texas lady was widely quoted for her statement that “There are no illegitimate children, there are only illegitimate parents.” And MGM paid a large sum for that single line as a basis for a movie to be titled Blossoms in the Dust.

It was a very tough assignment because there wasn’t any plot. I went through weeks of the agony, frustration, trial-and- error that only an author can know. Several times I hit on the story line; followed it through with elation until, at the climax, the whole thing fell apart. At length I made an appointment to go to Bernie the next day and admit defeat. Dreading the encounter, I fell asleep nursing a grudge against Bernie for handing a gag writer like me such a hopeless assignment. But then, next morning, I woke up to find that a complete story line had been worked out by my subconscious mind during sleep.

It was based on the Texas lady’s precept that even the most perfect orphanage creates traumas that can harm children for life; they should be gotten into real homes just as soon as possible.

With this as a premise, my story evolved around a crippled orphan whom the heroine undertook to cure and, during the process, developed a blind mother-love for the little boy. But with his cure, a day approached when she must hand him over for adoption. At which our heroine deviously found fault with the most ideal foster parents. Then, in order to provide a normal home for the child, she decided to abandon the work of a lifetime; desert all the future orphans who might need her, in order to satisfy a possessive love for one single boy.

However, in a struggle with her conscience, our heroine’s better nature won out. She released the child to a worthy young couple and continued the work to which she had dedicated her life. When I kept my appointment with Bernie that morning, it was not to admit defeat but to tell him my soap-opera plot for which, as I recall, he kissed me.

In the making of the movie, emotionalism often used to spill off the sound stages onto the side lines. One day Bernie phoned me to hurry down to the set immediately. And there I walked into pandemonium.

Rehearsals had been in progress for the scene in which our Orphanage Lady and the little boy were to part forever. But the star who was playing the heroine objected violently to a certain line I’d written. In answer to an admonition not to cry, the small ex-cripple was to say

“But I can cry inside, can’t I?”

Now any child actor is a natural scene-stealer and it appeared that, during rehearsals, ours had caused even the cameramen and electricians to grow misty-eyed. So our star broke up the rehearsal to issue an ultimatum: unless the line was taken away from the little boy, she would walk off the set. “It’s not in the psychology of a child to ask such a question,” she argued. “On the other hand it would be quite in line for me to say ‘But you can cry inside, darling!”

That small actor had run up against a more powerful scene-stealer than he was and the argument might have gone on endlessly while the studio clock ticked away at several thousand dollars a tick. So Bernie insisted that we all repair to L.B.’s office for arbitration.

And when the tough old autocrat heard that line, he himself dissolved into tears and ordered it to be kept where it belonged, in the mouth of a toddler.

As for me, the film that I had at first considered my Waterloo won me my first and only award of merit. And I hope it wiped out the derelictions of that Red-Headed Woman of mine.’

–Kiss Hollywood Goodbye (1974).


The Thin Man Nora Charles Myrna Loy Entrance

Myrna Loy makes a grand entrance in The Thin Man (’34).

‘”Can you fall?” Woody asked. “Do you know how to do a fall?”

I said, “I’ve never worked for Mack Sennett, but I’m a dancer. I think I can do it.” I would have done anything for Woody, because I was devoted to him.

“You just trip yourself” he explained, “and then go right down.”

He put a camera on the floor, a mark where he wanted me to land, and we shot it without any rehearsal. I must have been crazy. I could have killed myself, but my dance training paid off. I dashed in with Asta and all those packages, tripped myself, went down, slid across the floor, and hit the mark with my chin. It was absolutely incredible!’

–Being and Becoming (1987).



Rosalind Russell on pulling a sickie during production of The Women (’39) in order to protest Norma Shearer’s diva tactics. [Episode 4]

‘Norma had it in her contract that only a man could be starred with her. On any picture. No woman’s name could be up there with hers. For The Women she’d capitulated and said Joan Crawford might also be starred above the title, but when it came to me, that was another story. She must have felt she’d been pushed far enough. I, on the other hand, wasn’t willing to settle for billing that said “with Rosalind Russell” underneath the title. I’d already starred in pictures and I didn’t care to be demoted.

I thought about the situation. When it comes to a fight with management, a performer has only one weapon: he can refuse to perform. The employers have everything else: they have the lawyers, they have the contracts, the courts will usually back them up. But if a performer gets sick, what can his boss do?

About five weeks into production on The Women, I got sick. You couldn’t pull that trick in the first few days, they’d just replace you. I never attempted it again in my whole career, and I only did it that once because I had a feeling I could make it work. There had been signs and portents. I’d gone to luncheon where I met Louis B, Mayer, and he’d said “I hear you’re stealing this picture,” and I said, “I’m tryin’, I’m always tryin’.” And Life Magazine had been sniffing around again. And I just had this feeling in my bones.


Norma Shearer wouldn’t give in on the billing, so I wouldn’t come to work. I wasn’t holding up production, they had plenty to shoot, but I let it be known that I was going to be under the weather for quite a long time.

I lay out in my garden, looking up at the sky, and every day Benny Thau, who was in charge of talent and their problems, would phone and ask how I was coming along, and I’d say, “Not very well. I don’t feel very well.”

The last time he called—it was the third or fourth day of my strike—he said, “Oh, something happened this afternoon. Norma Shearer says you’re so good in this film that she’s going to allow you to be starred too.”

“That’s very nice of Norma,” I said.

Pause. Then Benny spoke again. “Do you think,” he said, “you’d feel well enough to come to work tomorrow?”

“Hmm,” I said. “I’ll call my doctor, Benny, and I’ll make a stab at it.”

(At the completion party for The Women at the Trocadero, I was dancing with Cukor when Ernst Lubitsch fox-trotted by and said to me, “If you want more close-ups in the picture, never mind dancing with the director, you’d better dance with Norma Shearer!” So then Norma and I did a turn on the floor.)’

— Life is a Banquet (1977).



Tallulah Bankhead weathers bouts of pneumonia during production of Lifeboat (’44). [Episode 8]

‘Hitchcock offered me $75,000 to play the leading role in Lifeboat, and off I dashed to Hollywood. It had been eleven years since I faced a camera, a rich trollop playing fast and loose with Robert Montgomery in Faithless.

Flouting the screen’s bylaws, canons and taboos, Hitchcock confined the entire action of the picture to a forty-foot lifeboat adrift at sea. The plight of the passengers was the result of a U-boat torpedo. Although the derelict craft was supposed to wallow for days in the Atlantic, beset by hurricane, death and destruction, the picture was made in a studio with the drifters photographed against a bogus ocean. In the trade these are called process shots. In the picture the players were shivering from cold, but in its making I sweltered for fifteen weeks. I had to wear a mink coat. Blazing lights were focused on my every move. In a bow to authenticity, tons of water were sloshed over us at intervals.

I was black and blue from the downpours and the lurchings. Thanks to the heat, the singeing lights, the fake fog, submersions followed by rapid dryings-out, I came up with pneumonia early in November. Temperature 104 degrees, and rising.

A Dr. Fox dosed me with sulpha drugs. After three days I tottered back to the boat, rubber-legged and dizzy. Three more days amid the ice and brine and the bluster of the Nazi agent (Walter Slezak) who hoped to do us all in, and my temperature shot up to 104 again. Guess what this time? Another case of pneumonia!

The return engagement with Dr. Fox upset me. Only one more shot remained. I had reservations back to New York on the Super Chief. And here I was flattened by my idiot devotion to the show must go on drivel! Of course I’d returned to the studio too soon.

Sick as I was, I was frantic at this delay. There was no flying back to New York in December of ’43. The armed forces had priority rights on all planes. So I steeled myself to go on with the picture, pneumonia or no pneumonia. To my delight and surprise Dr. Fox didn’t argue.

“You are letting me return without protest?” I said. “Why?” “Because I’m anxious to see what’s going to happen to you. You’re the most defiant, contradictory patient I ever treated. I think you’re part yogi. You retard your pulse at will, speed it at will. You have the arteries of a girl of sixteen. I don’t think anything can kill you. So GO to the studio!”

So off went your germ-ridden heroine. Chest out, chin up, pain-wracked, oozing that old “the coward dies a thousand deaths, the hero dies but once” moonshine. I should have been sent to a mental institution.

— Tallulah: My Autobiography (1952).


Lana Turner on the set of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) with John Garfield and the director Tay Garnett

Lana Turner manages to talk Tay Garnett down from an epic bender, saving The Postman Always Rings Twice (’46) from the scrapheap.

‘What the public never knew was that we almost couldn’t finish the film. Tay Garnett once had a drinking problem. He’d been on the wagon for three years when we went down to Laguna for the beach footage. A fog rolled in, and we had to stop shooting until it lifted.

Each day we’d go down to the beach and sit there in the dense mist, waiting and hoping. After several hours the production people would give up and send up back to our lodgings. Hoping the weather might be better in a new location, we packed up and moved to San Clemente. But we found ourselves socked in there, too. Then we got a report that the weather was about to clear in Laguna, so back we went to the starting point. But the fog still hung over the beach for days and days, and the costs kept mounting. The studio’s budget people were frantic. Tay Garnett kept begging for a little more time, but the fog didn’t lift and days stretched into weeks. That’s when Tay fell off the wagon.

Nobody could control him. He was a roaring, mean, furniture-smashing drunk. The girl friend he’d brought along stayed for a while, then gave up. The studio sent nurses, but even they couldn’t help. Rumors flew like sparks—Tay Garnett would be replaced, or the production would be shut down. That was when John Garfield and I got together to discuss the situation. I respected John as an actor, and we had developed a certain steamy chemistry as we performed together. His private habits were his own concern—he had a penchant for picking up girls, sometimes two at a time, and a reputation as a demon lover. He died young, in bed, which was understandable.

Since Tay had been drawing good performances from us, John and I both hoped he wouldn’t be replaced. So we decided to go and see him. John went first. He forced his way past the nurses, who were there not only to care for Tay but also to protect his visitors. When John came back, he said “It’s terrible, Lana. He didn’t know who I was. When I tried to talk to him, he’d say, ‘Sure, Johnny boy, whatever you think.’ But a moment later he’d start shouting, ‘Who the hell are you? Get out of my room.’ Then he came at me with that cane he always carries. I don’t know how much longer we can hold out, Lana, and if he goes or they shut down the picture, we’re both burned.”

“Maybe,” I said, “if I went to see him …”

John didn’t think I should. But I called one of the nurses and asked her if I could stop by for just a few moments. First they had to quiet him down, she told me, but eventually they let me in the room. The nurses had managed to take his cane away, and what I found was a besotted man who regretted what he had done. I did my best to comfort him, and he sniffed and begged my forgiveness. Now he was rational enough to be sent back to Los Angeles for treatment. By the time he returned a week later the fog had obligingly lifted, and we were able to complete the film.’

–Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth (1982)


Veronica Lake and Fredric March

Veronica Lake strikes back at Fredric March during I Married a Witch (’42).

‘And I hated Fredrick [sic] March.

I don’t believe there is another actor for whom I harbour such deep dislike as Frederick March. It’s strictly personal. We all know and recognize what a fine and distinguished actor he is. But working with him gave me the feeling of being a captive in a Charles Adams tower.

He gave me a terrible time during I Married a Witch. I’m sure that despite what René thought, March considered me a brainless little blonde sexpot, void of any acting ability and not likely to acquire any. He treated me like dirt under his talented feet. Of all actors to end up under the covers with. That happened in one scene and Mr March is lucky he didn’t get my knee in his groin.

What he didn’t realize was that this sexy, no-talent Brooklyn blonde had a vindictive streak in her. I set right out to give it back to Mr March. I got to do it twice, really. There were other very small moments when I felt I’d pushed back a little. But two incidents stand out in my mind as particularly effective examples of getting even with my co-star.

One scene had me in a rocking-chair. A picture falls off the wall and strikes me unconscious. I’m supposed to sit in the chair without movement while March desperately attempts to talk to me. The shot was medium, showing only the two of us from waist-high. We were into the scene and he came close to me. He was standing directly in front of the chair. I carefully brought my foot up between his legs. And I moved my foot up and down, each upward movement pushing it ever so slightly in his groin. Pro that he is, he never showed his predicament during the scene. But it wasn’t easy for him, and I delighted simply in what was going through his mind. Naturally when the scene was over, he laced into me. I just smiled.

The second time I was able to give vent to my vengeance was during a scene in which March was supposed to carry me off into the distance. The cameraman rigged a forty-pound weight under my dress. We did the scene’s opening business and then Frederick picked me up. Naturally, he expected no difficulty with tiny little me. But that forty pounds of extra dead weight made one hell of a difference. I could hear March grunt under his breath as he valiantly carried out the script’s directions. We did the scene three more times and each one brought on a definite decline in his strength. He put me down for the final time and scowled at me.

“Big bones,” I said and walked away. He heard about what had been done a few days later and the wall was built permanently, never to come down again. We’ve seen each other a few times since then and we never speak to each other. Oh, well.’

–Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake (1970).


What Do Women Want?: Female Desire in Film 1918 – 1954 – Episode 8

What do women want?
What do they do when desire is repressed or thwarted?
What about desire and female spectatorship?
Moving the discussion on female desire and sexuality out of the dry academic arena, we focus on women’s conscious or experiential desire present on-screen. The films we discuss fit into various categories such as Repressed Desire, Masochistic Desire, Misdirected Desire, Fantasy, Forbidden Desire and Drag. We have framed this episode to be a companion piece to our third episode on the Pre-Code’s so sit back, relax and prepare to get hot and bothered!

What Do Women Want?: Female Desire in Film 1918 – 1954 – Episode 8 by Any Ladle’s Sweet

What do women want? What do they do when desire is repressed or thwarted? What about desire and female spectatorship? Moving the discussion on female desire and sexuality out of the dry academic arena, we focus on women’s conscious or experiential desire present on-screen.

Bed and Sofa (1927) Dir. Abram Room

Ecstasy (1933) Dir. Gustav Machatý

Gone With The Wind (1939) Dir. Victor Fleming [DVD]

I Don’t Want to Be a Man (1918) Dir. Ernst Lubitsch

It’s Love I’m After (1937) Dir. Archie Mayo [DVD].

Johnny Guitar (1954) Dir. Nicholas Ray [Irish Film Institute cinema].

Lamarr, H. (1966) Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman. Greenwich: Fawcett.

Lifeboat (1944) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock [DVD]

Liliom (1934) Dir. Fritz Lang

Madam Satan (1930) Dir. Cecil B DeMille (ball scene)…ty-1930-1_music

Madchen in Uniform (1933) Dir. Leontine Sagan

Rebecca (1940) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock [DVD].

Sunset Boulevard (1950) Dir. Billy Wilder [DVD].

The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) Dir. Frank Capra [DVD].

The Cabin in the Cotton (1932) Dir. Michael Curtiz

The Heiress (1949) Dir. William Wyler [DVD].

These Three (1936) Dir. William Wyler [DVD].

The Smiling Madame Beudet (1923) Dir. Germaine Dulac

Music sample: An Ocasional Man, Martin-Blane, Sung by Marion Ryan (1962)[Columbia Records].