Tag Archives: Elizabeth Taylor

O Youth and Beauty! — ‘A Place in the Sun’

Italian poster. I like it better than the American version.

Italian poster. I like it better than the American version.

I first saw George Stevens’ “A Place in the Sun” (Paramount, 1951) when I was a teenager and fell crazy in love with the picture and almost everything about it. Except for Sophia Loren, I’d never seen a woman so extraordinarily beautiful as Elizabeth Taylor. I fell in love with her house up on Loon Lake, the Vickers and the Eastman mansions in town, the cocktail dances, the clothes, the big convertibles. But most of all, I fell hard for Montgomery Clift — it was a mad boyhood crush like I never felt before or since. I was completely besotted with him: I loved his gorgeous face, his haircut, his fantastic glen plaid jacket, his smile, his sadness — I loved everything about him except that strangely ugly voice. But much as I loved Monty and Elizabeth and “A Place in the Sun,” it was years — decades, in fact — before I was willing to put myself through it again. It was too damned devastating.

Montgomery Clift: Hello, Gorgeous . . .

Montgomery Clift: Hello, Gorgeous . . .

The picture, as you probably know, is based on “An American Tragedy,” but I’m not sure “A Place in the Sun” can properly be considered a tragedy. But since it’s supposed to be a tragedy, I’m assuming that, whether or not you’ve seen it, you know how it ends, and that’s how I’m going to approach the subject. But if you haven’t seen it, and you don’t want to know in advance how it turns out, please don’t read the rest of this until after you’ve seen the picture.

As for its being a tragedy — well, possibly it is, but I rather think it fails to qualify on one major and several minor counts. (I will pass over the latter.) To be sure, the Fates are lined up against the protagonist/hero George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), which is an essential feature of tragedy, and his downfall comes in consequence of a distinctly tragic form of error, known as hamartia (Greek:  ἁμαρτία). Over the past several centuries, the meaning of hamartia has been twisted into what many of us learnt in public school to call a “tragic flaw.” (Interestingly, in the King James version of the New Testament, ἁμαρτία is translated, with a fair degree of inaccuracy, as “sin.”) The original meaning of hamartia is neither “tragic flaw” nor “sin,” but simply “missing the target” or “wide of the mark.” It is something that’s neither bad nor wrong, per se, but can, under specific circumstances, lead to disastrous consequences — say, for example, you’re told to take a left turn where a right one is what’s wanted, and this error leads you directly and irrevocably over the edge of a cliff.  In this case, no tragic flaw or sin is indicated, but only a misdirection that sends you to your doom.

Monty and Elizabeth: When they were seen together at the studio, their incredible beauty often provoked laughter.

Monty and Elizabeth Taylor: When they were seen together at the studio, their incredible beauty often provoked laughter.

In the movie version of Dreiser’s novel, what sends the boy to his doom is his failure to swim in the right direction quickly enough to prevent an unfortunate girl (who capsized his boat) from drowning. He didn’t drown her, but he must pay for it. (God knows what Stevens would have done with the Hero of Chappaquiddick.) The predicament has the tragic essence, but its resolution fails to fulfill tragedy’s fundamental obligation to its shaken audience: catharsis. In “A Place in the Sun” there is no catharsis (κάθαρσις, in Greek), only a miscarriage of justice, the ruin of several lives and two young people dead: one by water, the other by fire, at the State’s decree and with a dominie mumbling prayers over him. Somebody owes me my goddamned κάθαρσις. . . ! Taken as a whole, “A Place in the Sun” is a ravishing, romantic, glamorous bummer.

Taylor was never called ‘Liz’ by her friends: she was ‘Elizabeth.’ She called him ‘Monty’; he called her ‘Bessie Mae.’ She loved the name.

Pauline Kael put it this way:

The conclusion of the film in which the hero (and presumably the audience) is supposed to be convinced that a man should pay with his life for a murder he didn’t commit — but wanted to commit — is bizarre. “Who doesn’t desire his father’s death?” asked Ivan Karamazov. Stevens and company would send us all up for it.

As usual, Kael sums it up brilliantly.

The last shot is of beautiful Monty Clift, with his gorgeous hair cut en brosse, on his way to the chamber where Old Sparky soon will burn his blood to ash and all his dreams to powder. And superimposed over this is the image of him in happier times with Elizabeth Taylor; they are kissing passionately, dreamily . . . What did Stevens have in mind? The crossing of the macabre with the semi-erotic strikes me as having distinctly necrophiliac overtones. At any rate, we can tell that George Eastman will fry with a boner.

Monty and Elizabeth: Love and death.

Clift wanted Betsy Blair in the Shelley Winters part. He was probably right. Winters had to fight to get the part (take a look at her interview below), but I think she fell into the same sort of trap Mary Tyler Moore, who was known for playing comic characters, fell into when she landed her first “serious” role in “Ordinary People.” Moore played the woman as a near-monster without the faintest tinge of humor — the actress’ anxiety about not being taken seriously led her to give a performance that’s so humorless it can’t be taken seriously. Winters was still a bombshell/sex symbol when she played poor, doomed Alice Tripp, and she saw the role as an opportunity to prove that she was A Serious Actress — not just a B-picture sex kitten. After this picture, she certainly became a heavyweight.

It’s a charming story, but it goes to the heart of what’s wrong with her in the role: she too earnestly seeks to be unattractive. Unprepossessing people don’t have to work at being unattractive — if they’re ambitious enough to want to love and be loved, they have to work to make themselves as desirable as possible. But Winters, wanting to get away from cheesecake, made sure the world knew she meant business: she played Alice Tripp as the Eternal Frump. Clift complained to a friend, “She played her tragedy from the minute you see her on screen. She is downbeat, blubbery, irritating.” Unfortunately, in Hollywood, this is exactly the sort of thing that’s called “brave” instead of what it is: a lousy, career-advancing, dumb-ass acting choice. It’s all about livening-up a stagnating career, not about giving a performance that best serves the story. And indeed, Winters was nominated for an Oscar for her “brave” performance, after which she was offered a much wider range of roles than the sultry glamour girls she’d previously been typecast as: now she played a wide variety of harpies, turbulent drunks, castrating Jewish mothers, brawling slatterns, bellicose barflies, matrons, termagants and tarts who couldn’t keep their stockings up, their skirts down or their wigs on straight.  But no more glamour girls. Excelsior!

Clift remonstrated with Stevens about Winters’ performance, but was overruled. Stevens told Clift he was “too sentimental.” Sentimental? What’s sentimental about wanting Alice Tripp to have a few qualities that George Eastman could possibly find attractive? As it is, he must choose between Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), a wealthy, sexy, glamorous, charming, educated, beautiful debutante and a snivelling, querulous, self-pitying factory girl with no education, conversation or interests other than her own miseries. Decisions, decisions . . . ! I imagine Betsy Blair in the part — sweet and homely, doing her best to be pleasant, pretty and interesting . . . and failing. That’s not sentimentality: it’s heartbreaking — and it adds complexity, ambiguity and drama to the story. One should feel as sorry for the girl as for the boy who got her in trouble. As it is, Shelley Winters (with George Stevens’ careful guidance) plays the first part of many in which audiences wait for her to get what’s coming to her.

Shelley Winters: 'Or maybe ya wish I was dead, is that it?' -- You got that right, sister.

Shelley Winters: ‘Or maybe ya wish I was dead, is that it?’ — You got that right, sister.

After I’d seen the picture a few more times, I became aware that it wasn’t George Eastman’s sad fate that I found so punishing — the horror of his predicament is not cathartic, but I find its remorselessness invigorating (like Hurstwood’s in “Sister Carrie”) — no, it’s the juxtaposition of the most glamorous love scenes ever put on film and the carping, sniffling dreariness of Shelley Winters: the way Stevens has conceived her character, she’s one of the Eumenides from “The Oresteia” dressed in a flea market blouse and a Republican cloth coat. Stevens described it to the American Film Institute this way:

The thing that interested me most about Place was the relationship of opposing images . . . Shelley Winters busting at the seams with sloppy melted ice cream . . . as against Elizabeth Taylor in a white gown with blue ribbons floating down from the sky . . . Automatically there’s an imbalance of images which creates drama.

Imbalance, yes; but drama? Not the way I look at it. Stevens seems to hold with Glinda the Good Witch’s observation that “Only bad witches are ugly.” It’s not enough that Alice Tripp is penniless and not as beautiful as Angela Vickers: Stevens makes her repulsive — a prim, soul-destroying scold. Yet when she dies, he wants us to blame gorgeous, ambitious George Eastman for having desired someone less excruciating and maddening . . . No, I don’t think it works as drama or as a fable with a moral. The picture isn’t critical of class and wealth in America (as I believe the novel is — though it’s been a long time since I read it), but rather a stern warning against the dangers of being poor and ugly (they get knocked up, make a mess of their ice cream and drown in ice cold lakes) and a grimmer warning against trying to jump across class lines (they go to the electric chair). It’s not the class system that’s at fault: it’s the lovesick fat girls and the handsome gate crashers.

Fortunately, with DVDs, it’s easy to skip all the stuff I don’t like and disapprove of and soak up all the parts that I find wonderful. It’s doubtful that anyone ever photographed the beginning of a love affair with more exquisite dreamy romanticism than George Stevens. In “A Place in the Sun,” Stevens makes the act of falling desperately in love look the way it feels. Here’s George and Angela’s first conversation. George has been invited to his rich uncle’s house for a party. Feeling awkward and out of place, he retreats to the game room to be alone. Then Angela floats in . . .

“Wow! . . . Hello . . . !” she says by way of introducing herself. They don’t meet cute: they meet stupendous. Did any love affair ever begin more promisingly? Unsurprisingly, the gown she wears in that scene caused a sensation in the 1950s; copies and patterns based on it sold for years afterwards. Edith Head won the Oscar for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White for that year.

I stopped the clip at the point where George and Angela are interrupted by George’s Uncle Charles (Herbert Heyes), who has just given George a promotion at the factory. Uncle Charles tells George to call his mother (i.e., Charles’ sister) to give her the good news. Then the old man, who has no use for his pious Middle West sister, beats a hasty retreat back to the party. The scene continues . . .

That’s Anne Revere as George’s mother; she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Elizabeth Taylor’s mother in “National Velvet” (Metro, 1944). “A Place in the Sun” was the last picture she made before being blacklisted. Twenty years passed before she made another picture.

A few weeks pass, then Angela calls George out of the blue and invites him to a dance at her parents’ palatial home.

The disapproving gentleman is Shepperd Strudwick as Angela’s father; Frieda Inescort is Angela’s mother. Inescort made a career playing tart-tongued snobs and high society bitches. I’ve never understood their reaction when they see their daughter with the nephew of the richest man in town: the young man is an Eastman and he looks like Monty Clift . . . What’s their objection to him? If he’s not good enough for them, what are the rest of us up to? (John Simon once wrote of Strudwick in a late-career Broadway performance: “Shepperd Strudwick is respectable but dull.” That observation fits his entire career.) Here’s the famous scene that follows the parental opprobrium. To my knowledge, it’s the most ravishingly romantic scene in any picture. Franz Waxman’s score does a lot of the heavy lifting, but it’s also beautifully costumed, staged, acted and photographed.

Taylor, who was only seventeen at the time, fought with Stevens over the script in this scene, which he rewrote the night before he shot it. When he handed her the new pages, she glanced at them and demanded, “Forgive me, but what hell is this?” According to Stevens, “Elizabeth dissolved when she had to say, ‘Tell Mama.’ She thought it was outrageous she had to say that — she was jumping into a sophistication beyond her time.” But Stevens was adamant. As Patricia Bosworth described it in her excellent biography, “Montgomery Clift”: “He wanted to create a mood that was at once primitive and basic, ‘a kind of preordained meeting.’ ” I’d say he succeeded admirably.

“A Place in the Sun” was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship between Taylor and Clift. For the rest of her life, she claimed that he taught her to act. A few years before she died, she recorded a seven minute appreciation of Clift’s career for TCM’s Star of the Month series. Most of those TCM Star of the Month shorts range between very good and wonderful, but if I had to choose, I’d say the one she did for Monty was the best of them all (with John Gielgud’s for Claude Rains in a very close second place). Alas, neither of those shorts is available anywhere that I can find. TCM’s website has Paul Newman’s appreciation of Elizabeth Taylor, but it’s merely workmanlike. At the end of Taylor’s appreciation of Clift, she says, in a voice choked with tears, “I miss Montgomery Clift. I miss talking with him and laughing with him  . . . He was so talented!  . . . and such a tragic figure! Oh, I loved him . . . !” She stops a bit short, composes herself and finishes with: “He was the best friend I ever had . . . and I think he’d say the same about me.” Often, when TCM shows a Clift picture — “From Here to Eternity” or “Raintree County,” for example — they run that video. I never liked Elizabeth Taylor more than I liked her in that little clip.

Other Notable Movies (for Better or Worse)

Mildred Pierce

Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott, Joan Crawford -- Toxic Triangle:  "How long has this been going on?"

Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott, Joan Crawford — Toxic Triangle: “How long has this been going on?”

“Mildred Pierce” is a superbly balanced blend of Woman’s Picture conventions (single mother struggling to find success, love and happiness in a man’s world), Film Noir elements (e.g., flashbacks, Dutch-tilt angles, dark shadows and silhouettes) and Camp (e.g., Ann Blyth as the Daughter from Hell: the nastiest, cattiest, most quotable little bitch of all time; Eve Arden at her most Ardenesque (i.e., a proto-drag queen), cracking wise and lighting matches off the sole of her shoe). Michael Curtiz somehow makes these three seemingly antagonistic styles work together to create a completely satisfying whole.  It’s quite amazing, when you think about it:  Camp and film noir in the same picture?  Shouldn’t they cancel each other out?  But they don’t — they invigorate each other.  It’s not the greatest picture I ever saw, but it’s one of the most fun.  If I happen across it when it’s on TV, I find it quite impossible to change the channel or leave the room before the end.

Alice Faye (in “The Gang’s All Here”)

Alice Faye:  Round the block, but not through the mill.

Alice Faye: Round the block, but not through the mill.

I confess to having a fondness for “The Gang’s All Here,” which many people I respect abominate.  It’s a terrible picture — terrible.  And it’s ugly.  And there’s a lot of music in it that I don’t like.  But I love the ingenious staging of the opening number (even though I’ve never liked the song “Brazil” and don’t like Carmen Miranda), and I like the bizarro stuff that pops up every 15 minutes or so.  In fact, it was one of my younger brothers who first called the picture to my attention — specifically, the last number, called “The Polka Dot Polka.”  It is damned strange — almost nightmarish, in a way that Busby Berkeley’s black and white pictures weren’t.  (By the way, “The Gang’s All Here” is the first color picture — and the last big-budget picture — that Berkeley ever was allowed to direct.  One can see why.)  I like the picture because of its awfulness.  I wouldn’t dream of trying to talk anyone into sharing my enjoyment of a picture that is inferior in so many ways.  Oh, but there is one song smack in the middle of it — Chapter 15 on the DVD — that, for my money, is one of the two or three best songs that Alice Faye ever sang.  It’s “No Love, No Nothin’ ” and she sings it beautifully.  (I think the only other song of hers I like more is “You’ll Never Know,” which she sang so exquisitely that it seems foolish for anyone else to bother singing it.  She owns that song the way Garland owned “Over the Rainbow” and Streisand owns “People.”)

I love Alice Faye’s deep, caressing voice and her perfect intonation — she’s always in the exact middle of the note (no wobble, no scooping); she phrases beautifully and serves the lyrics as faithfully as she serves the melodic line; there’s never any straining or phony sentimentality.  She was born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen — she didn’t have a noticeable New York accent, but her demeanor makes it clear that she was nobody’s patsy.  And I’m a sucker for the contralto voice!  Faye’s complete absence of the movie star’s need to be worshiped by her adoring fans makes her unique:  she always gives me the impression that the song she’s singing is more important than anything else, including her fans’ approval.  She wasn’t a show-off; she never overwhelmed a tune with ostentatious virtuosity; she trusted the melody and the lyrics to do the work for her, her choices about what to emphasize and what to underplay always made perfect sense and suited the songs perfectly.  (Gershwin and Berlin always said Fred Astaire was their favorite intepreter of their work, since he never “improved” their songs with his own unwelcome liberties:  he sang the songs exactly as written, and you could understand every word.  I see their point, but Astaire’s voice was thin and unappealing — unmusical.  Alice Faye did what Astaire did, but also produced a beautiful, luscious sound while she did it.)  As a screen presence, she conveyed friendliness and decency without seeming insipid or naive.  She was never the girl next door; she was the girl from the tenement down the street and she knew the score.  Yet, remarkably, for all her streetwise savvy, she wasn’t hard or jaded — just smart and in the know.  She’d been round the block, but not through the mill.  In my book, that’s a killer combination, and it’s at the heart of what makes her such a great singer:  no tricks, no fussiness, no self-aggrandizement, only beautiful diction, warmth, intelligence and emotional candor.  Whenever I hear Alice Faye sing, I think of how homesick her honey voice must have made the GIs overseas.  I haven’t seen many of her pictures, and the ones I’ve seen have been terrible.  But no matter how bad the pictures are, I always like her.  She was a good actress, and by all accounts, she was a very shrewd broad — she was one of the highest paid women in Hollywood (on many of those Jack Benny programs, you hear jokes at Phil Harris’s expense about how much more money his wife earns), and when Betty Grable came along (whom Faye liked), she knew her days were numbered and got out before her star faded.  She once said, “Six pictures I made with Don Ameche and, in every one of them, my voice was deeper than the plot.”  (SIX with Ameche!  No wonder I haven’t seen more of her pictures!)

I often wonder what her career would have been like had she been signed at Metro instead of Fox.  She radiated too much intelligence and self-respect to be a sex bomb, but at Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck made sure that she was a sexually desirable presence.  At Metro, her sex appeal would have been ignored — certainly not enhanced — but she probably would have been in better pictures.  Metro’s studio head, Louis B. Mayer, was the only mogul (perhaps the only man in America) who never understood that sex sells.  All the studios were expected to obey the crazy rules of the Production Code set down by the Hays Office, and all of them complied — more or less.  But that didn’t stop Harry Cohn over at Columbia from making Rita Hayworth as sexually vibrant as the law would allow.  Warner Bros. tended to focus on gangster pictures and “important” Bette Davis woman’s pictures, but Ann Sheridan (the Oomph Girl) was under contract at Warner’s, and she, too, was an out-and-out sex bomb.  Paramount had Marlene Dietrich, who was all about sex — and not even “normal” sex; she was the personification of Old World sexual decadence.  And Darryl F. Zanuck at Fox saw to it that his female stars were sexy — Fox produced more sex kittens than any other studio (Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, etc.).  So Alice Faye, who was beautiful but not kittenish, was costumed and photographed to look as alluring as possible (though not, alas, in “The Gang’s All Here,” in which she’s costumed in one hideous ensemble after another:  in “No Love, No Nothin’,” she’s dressed like a milkmaid from a Ruritanian operetta).

Mayer was the only studio head who slavishly complied with the Production Code; he made it his business to see that no hint of sexual innuendo or naughtiness polluted the pictures from his studio.  (And that’s why so many Metro pictures look so dopey nowadays:  they’re exasperatingly asexual.)  Common wisdom says that Mayer knew if he didn’t willingly comply with the Code, the government would interfere in his affairs.  This theory has never made sense to me — all the other studios complied, but, knowing that sex sells, found ways to subvert the rules even as they obeyed them.  I sincerely doubt Mayer feared government intervention — he had closer connections with Washington power brokers than anyone else in Hollywood.  No, I think he was simply afraid of sex.  That’s why he didn’t trade in sexbombs.

Mayer’s female stars tended to be matrons and grande dames.  The only real bombshell at Metro in the 30s was Harlow — but her most of career as a bombshell was in the pre-Code years.  Garbo was certainly alluring and mysterious, but sexy?  Maybe in the silents, but after the talkies came in, even when she played Camille, she was more glamorous than sexual — and the whole business of how Camille earned enough dough to keep herself in stockings and fans was completely left out of the script.  For most of the 40’s, Metro had but one resident sexbomb:  Lana Turner, who wasn’t nearly as sexy as the studio press agents wanted audiences to believe.  Her reputation for sex appeal and her nickname “the Sweater Girl” (which she hated) came from a small part she played in a Warner Bros. picture, “They Won’t Forget” — before she signed with Metro.  At Metro, she was often cast against Clark Gable, and since he was the reigning male sex symbol, she became a sex goddess by default, even though by the early 40s, she was already beginning to put on weight and age badly.  (She was a party girl:  she went out every night, drank and smoked too much and never got enough sleep.)  Her career has always bewildered me:  she was the most incompetent major star in Hollywood.  She couldn’t act, she couldn’t dance, she couldn’t sing.  A triple threat.  Hell, she couldn’t even cross a room gracefully.  If Turner had been at Fox, Zanuck would have put her on a diet, made her exercise more and wear a tighter girdle.  So what sort of actresses did Mayer employ?  Katharine Hepburn (sexless and in her mid 30s), Greer Garson (sexless and effete), Myrna Loy (who began as a siren in the silents, but quickly became Wm. Powell’s favorite wife, whereupon sex went out of her career), Norma Shearer (Irving Thalberg’s lumpen, cross-eyed wife), Joan Crawford (who started as a flapper, but soon was typecast as truculent working girls), and a host of elderly British character actresses.  In the late 40s/early 50s, Mayer promoted Ann Miller as a sex symbol (mainly because he was infatuated with her and tried unsuccessfully to have an affair with her), but I don’t think anyone ever bought Miller as anything but a hoofer with alarmingly fast feet.  The only genuine sex bomb to work at Metro in the 40s was Ava Gardner, and she was wasted there.  She was undeniably sexy, but every time I see her in a Metro picture, I think of how Zanuck at Fox would have presented her.  He surely would have given her bigger parts and made her show more skin.  Elizabeth Taylor eventually became a sexbomb, but not until Mayer had been fired.

The Best Years of Our Lives

Post-war blues for a bunch of schnooks:
Banker, soda-jerk, & the one with hooks.
Harold Russell, Dana Andrews, Fredric March:  Down in the dumps in a B-24.

Harold Russell, Dana Andrews, Fredric March: Down in the dumps in a B-24.

I’m not crazy about “Best Years of Our Lives,” for a couple of good reasons and plenty of bad ones.  For starters, I can’t get past the name of that fictional town:  Boone City.  I like Teresa Wright and Myrna Loy; late in the picture, there’s a devastating performance by a character actor named Roman Bohnen.  As for the rest, it’s three hours of “We will now pause for the liberal message” with a special emphasis on the amazing variety of things that can be done with prosthetic hooks.  I know it’s meant to raise public awareness, but honest to Pete, it borders on the pornographic when William Wyler spends five minutes showing us how Harold Russell uses his crooked pincers to light a match.  I remember thinking, “Well, at least we don’t have to see him play ‘Chopsticks’ . . . Oh, wait!  We DO have to see him play ‘Chopsticks’ . . . !”  It is the only time I’ve disliked a scene that featured the redoubtable Hoagy Carmichael.  The picture was produced by Sam Goldwyn, who made several high quality pictures, but never a good looking one.  The interiors in nearly every picture he produced are of almost unimaginable hideousness.  “Dodsworth” (1936) had a number of attractive deco sets (Richard Day won the Oscar that year for his work), but that seems to be the exception that proves the rule.

From the very first frame of the credits, the Hugo Friedhofer score alone is enough to tell you you’re in for it.  Then the credits tell you the screenplay is by onetime Algonquin wit Robert E. Sherwood, who had been the US propaganda minister all through the war and had come to take himself  v e r y  seriously indeed.  He’s like a nagging, neglected wife in bathrobe and curlers waiting for you to tiptoe in at three in the morning.  Big Ideas are his rolling pin.  And then there’s that first scene, in which the camera lingers over Harold Russell’s hooks as he writes his name and lights his cigarette.  Willy Wyler is gonna force us to gaze upon those hooks long and hard before he’s done with us.  That shows how honest and serious he is.  Every time Harold Russell shows up, it’s like a bad vaudeville act played in reverse:  the hooks start the act, instead of stop it.  Robert Warshow, the great critic of popular culture in the 1940s and 50s, titled his review of the picture “The Anatomy of Falsehood,” which should give you some idea of his opinion of this self-congratulatory piece of shit, but there’s no mean-spiritedness in what he wrote; I don’t know how he did it.

Harold Russell, Hoagy Carmichael:  'Chopsticks' & steel hooks

Harold Russell, Hoagy Carmichael: ‘Chopsticks’ and steel hooks

Harold Russell is the only man to win two Oscars for a single performance.  Nobody expected him, a non-actor, to win the Best Supporting Actor award, so they gave him a special Oscar for being a good role model.  Then he made a monkey of bookmakers everywhere by winning the competitive award, too.  Clifton Webb, who was nominated that year for “The Razor’s Edge,” uncharacteristically, took the loss in his stride — not so his aged mother, a termagant known as Mabelle, with whom he lived until the day she died.  She delivered a harangue to a crowd of reporters, in which she denounced the Academy for snubbing her son AGAIN:  this time, he had the Oscar in the bag, “. . . and at the last moment, along comes the man with the HOOKS!”

(Two anecdotes about Webb and his mother.  He went into deep mourning when she finally kicked off at 91.  More than a year after she died, Webb called Noël Coward long distance and blubbered so much that Coward finally snapped, “Clifton!  If you don’t stop weeping, I shall reverse the charges!”  Another, somewhat crueller anecdote about Mrs Webb goes like this:  Bogart invited Webb to a party, and said, “But I’m warning you:  bring your fucking mother, and she cleans up her own vomit.”)