Eva Marie Saint: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival
Saint looks back on struggles as a young actress in New York City, pounding the pavements to audition for television and stage roles. She recalls that her first "acting" job on TV was providing off-camera applause. Early professional heartbreak came when she lost a small role in which she had already been cast in the Broadway production of Mister Roberts, starring Henry Fonda. After that, she says, she determined to persevere and not allow career disappointments to affect her so deeply - with justification coming years later in the 1978 Broadway production of First Monday in October, in which she and Fonda costarred with equal billing.
After training at the Actors Studio and years of experience in radio and television, Saint was cast in the 1953 Broadway production of The Trip to Bountiful, acting in support of Lillian Gish, who became a mentor in her life. Director Elia Kazan saw that production and cast Saint in her first film, On the Waterfront, for which she won an Oscar® as Best Supporting Actress. She claims Kazan as her favorite director and recalls the film in glowing terms because costars Marlon Brando and Karl Malden also came from the Actors Studio, which Kazan had founded in 1947.
"We all worked the same way," says Saint, "which is why I think Waterfront was such a fine film." She remembers enjoying the company so much that Kazan had to caution her not to use up all her energy in being friendly with everyone so that she appeared "tired" on camera. She recalls Brando as "adorable - really adorable... and, you know, a little frightening. I felt that he could see right through me." She considers him "one of the finest actors we ever had." Reflecting on his decline in later years, she says "I don't know what happened to Marlon. I think he lost - possibly, I'm not a psychiatrist - the joy of acting."
Saint surprised everyone with her next choice of film after Waterfront - a Bob Hope comedy called That Certain Feeling (1956) in which she could sing and dance and act a little goofy. She loved the experience and "working with Bob Hope - he was wonderful." Next she returned to her "Method" roots to film A Hatful of Rain (1957), a project she had originally work-shopped at the Actors Studio.
In the Civil War epic Raintree County Saint formed a romantic triangle with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor. She found Clift to be "such a sweet man, very quiet." One day at the MGM studios she invited him to lunch and found him so "painfully shy" that they had difficulty making conversation. Saint says she had "such respect" for Taylor, with whom she would do a second film, The Sandpiper (1965). "She was a very giving lady - she would do anything for anybody, and she did. She was just a sweet lady."
Another "special" costar was Cary Grant, with whom Saint appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest. "He must have seen On the Waterfront and A Hatful of Rain, because the first day on the set he said, 'In this movie, Eva Marie, you don't have to cry.'" She remembers Grant as "so giving." His contract stipulated that he had approval of lighting effects - and when he noticed that certain bright lights caused the blue-eyed Saint to squint, he diplomatically asked that they be dimmed because they were in his eyes.
Saint recalls that working with Hitchcock was "a very different experience" from acting for a director like Kazan. "He didn't get into the feelings or the depth of the character. It was how she looked, what she wore - the hair, the makeup, the color of the lipstick, the necklace, the gloves, everything about her." But she quickly adapted to Hitchcock's concern for surface values and had fun with him when he took her shopping for clothes at the luxurious Bergdorf Goodman store in Manhattan after disapproving of her studio-designed wardrobe.
She worked with another colorful director on Exodus (1960), and remembers what "an incredible job" the often-difficult Otto Preminger did in directing all of the people crowded onto the ship simulating the one used to transport hundreds of Jews from Europe to Palestine after World War II. "Many of them had been on the real Exodus," says Saint, "and they said it was easier on that ship than working with Preminger!" She laughs in remembering how the director stepped in to show Saint's costar, Paul Newman, how to kiss her during a love scene. "I mean, he's telling Paul Newman how to kiss? That was a joke Paul and I had together for years." Along with Newman, Saint became good friends with such costars as James Garner and Yves Montand.
Saint remains active as an actress, with her most recent theatrical feature being Winter's Tale (2014), a drama also starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Will Smith. A lively and articulate 88 at the time of the interview, she has retained her zest for life and acting, leading Osborne to observe that "You still have the same enthusiasm as that Eva Marie Saint who walked the pavements of New York." Reflecting on her longevity, she tells her host that "The longer you live, the smarter you get, because you've been around, you've seen things, you've gone through different emotional experiences in your own life and hopefully you understand things better. And that makes you a better actress."
By Roger Fristoe