CELEBRITIES I HAVE KNOWN
Rick’s Journal — MY FILM CAREER
When I was growing up Ginger was dancing. Judy was singing. And Vivien Leigh was outacting everybody. And people wrote letters.
I have always had good luck hearing from celebrities. Over the years I have composed and sent off dozens of admiring missives, some of them fan-atically adulatory. And the ratio of response has been gratifying.
I have often been sparked to write during awards season. I have seldom agreed with the Oscar choices made by voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The New York Film Critics, as the group was called at the time I am remembering, appeared to me to make the better choices. They were the only other film award group attracting any considerable attention then.
I tended to write actors and actresses, and directors and photographers, whose work that year I had admired, if they had been ignored by the award givers or had seen the award go to another nominee. That was when I wrote Jack Hawkins.
Jack Hawkins. Hawkins in The Black Rose had been brusquely touching as Tristram Griffin who dearly loved his friend, and loved England even more. I wrote Jack Hawkins, and he responded in ink. His few words conveyed an unmistakable humility that was genuine. He wrote an appreciative note, declaring himself “staggered and gratified,” that I thought him the best supporting actor of the year. (The Black Rose, Henry Hathaway, 1950.)
Richard Hylton. If any of my readers are not familiar with Richard Hylton, I hope you will find Lost Boundaries and watch him. Made outside the studio system and one of the earliest American films to look at racism, Lost Boundaries is far from a complete success. Gavin Lambert said it well: “It cannot be said to betray its subject but is, rather, unequal to it.” (quoted in Halliwell) But Hylton is impressive in a sensitive, wrenching performance.
In response to my letter Hylton sent a handwritten note and — to my surprise — an unrequested photograph, signed.
Hylton would make only three more films. He took his own life at age 41. (Lost Boundaries, Alfred Werker, 1949; Halls of Montezuma, Lewis Milestone, 1950; Fixed Bayonets!, Samuel Fuller 1951; The Pride of St. Louis, Harmon Jones, 1952.)
Joseph Wiseman. I first experienced Joseph Wiseman on the New York stage. In his first film he reprised his stage role in Sidney Kingsley’s Detective Story (William Wyler, 1950). My other favorites among his film portrayals are Viva Zapata!, Elia Kazan, 1952; The Unforgiven, John Huston, 1960; The Happy Thieves, George Marshall, 1962. He would confound me by eventually playing Dr. No.
Celebrities today seem to have caught our societal bug. I no longer receive the rate of response to which I became accustomed. In the last several years the only famous names who responded — and they responded right away — have been Alistair Cooke, Ginger Rogers and Tom Cruise.
NEXT FRIDAY POST September 29
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