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Angela Lansbury (Star of the Month)
Remind Me

Screen Directors Playhouse: Claire

In the April 25, 1956 episode of the Screen Directors Playhouse, Claire, Vera (Angela Lansbury) is an anxious, self-conscious young newlywed who has returned to her lakeside home with her doctor husband, Stanley Wayne (George Montgomery), after their honeymoon.

But the house holds bad associations for the skittish Vera. It overlooks the lake where her best friend Julie drowned after Vera-desperately afraid of the water--was unable to swim to her rescue. Now, Vera is afraid she may never live up to the legacy of Stanley's first wife despite the reassurances of Dr. Wayne's faithful housekeeper Kate (Armanda Randolph) that she needn't worry.

A daily reminder for Vera of her potential failings as a second wife is first wife Julie's omnipresent Siamese cat Claire, introduced in a tight close-up as the episode's title is flashed onscreen. Claire appears to have it in for Vera, destroying a boutonniere she has made for Stanley, tripping Vera as she carries coffee and leaping onto her new party dress, claws at the ready. After that party, a drunken guest Carl (William Erwin) hints that Vera may have good reason to be afraid. Is Vera paranoid, or is Claire acting out the wishes of her dead mistress?

Claire is a tight, edgy thriller done with great economy as part of the NBC anthology television series Screen Directors Playhouse that ran from 1955 to 1956 and featured a host of notable auteurs from John Ford to Ida Lupino to Frank Borzage. In the light-hearted introduction to Claire, prolific silent-era to the fifties director Frank Tuttle (This Gun For Hire, 1942) is introduced stroking the Siamese cat that plays Claire. Originally a long-running radio series with 122 episodes that brought well-known stars to a radio audience, Screen Directors Playhouse had a brief run on television from 1955 to 1956 where it was produced at the Hal Roach Studios and featured well-known actors from Buster Keaton to John Wayne.

Something about British character actress Angela Lansbury's personality always seemed well-suited to the thriller format as seen in her first film role at the age of 17 and first Academy Award nomination as the saucy, conniving Cockney housekeeper in Gaslight (1944). With her inquisitive face and slightly impish quality, the woman herself suggested hidden layers and agendas. Her slightly mature features also meant that Lansbury was often cast as much older women while still young; a perfect example is when she played Laurence Harvey's scheming, malevolent mother to brilliant effect in the conspiracy thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1962) despite being just three years older than the actor. Also an accomplished stage actress, appearing in the Broadway revival of Gypsy (1973) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979), Lansbury won four Tony Awards and was nominated many times for an Emmy Award though she never won. But the highly versatile stage and screen star's most memorable widespread fame came when Lansbury starred in the popular television series Murder, She Wrote about a mystery writer, Jessica Fletcher, who has a knack for solving crimes.

Director: Frank Tuttle
Producer: Sidney S. Van Keuren
Screenplay: Philip MacDonald, George Sinclair from a story by Ruth Capps
Cinematography: Paul Ivano
Production Design: William Ferrari, McClure Capps
Music: Leon Klatzkin
Cast: Angela Lansbury (Vera Wayne), George Montgomery (Stanley Wayne), Armanda Randolph (Kate), William Erwin (Carl).

by Felicia Feaster

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