Starring Gloria Grahame - 1/7
During her Hollywood heyday in the 1950s Gloria Grahame created a gallery of vivid, eccentric characters that established her as an audience favorite and one of the most memorable actresses of the decade, especially in film noir roles. Since her death in 1981, her up-and-down career has become the stuff of legend and is immortalized in the current film Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, starring Annette Bening as Grahame.
On this special evening on TCM, the esteemed Bening will join host Eddie Muller (the San Francisco writer known as "The Czar of Noir") in introducing two films featuring Grahame at the peak of her powers, In a Lonely Place (1950) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).
Bening--an actress whose electric screen presence is a match for Grahame's--has received glowing reviews for Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool. Stephen Farber wrote in The Hollywood Reporter that Bening "captures the spirit of the complicated actress with remarkable subtlety and flair." Directed by Paul McGuigan, the film is based on a memoir by Peter Turner, a British actor who befriended Grahame in England near the end of her life and entered in to a May-December love affair with her. Turner is played by Jaime Bell, all grown up from Billy Elliott and also receiving critical acclaim for his performance.
Bening confirms to Muller that she was introduced to the onscreen Gloria Grahame by director Stephen Frears when they working on the 1990 film The Grifters and he suggested that she watch the actress's movies to provide inspiration for her character. One of the things she noticed about the other actress was that "She was a great listener...always keen and observant and listening carefully to the other actors."
During the shooting of Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool Bening was able to meet and talk with Turner, whom she describes as "a wonderful man... I totally understood why Gloria would fall in love with him because he was so decent and loving, and still is. My sense is that she had a lot of pretty tempestuous relationships, and this one was more stable."
Falling into the "tempestuous" category was Grahame's relationship to Nicholas Ray, the director of In a Lonely Place. She was married to him at the time of filming and later reportedly slept with his 13-year-old son by a previous marriage, Anthony Ray. After that she divorced Nicholas Ray, eventually married her former stepson, and bore sons by him.
In the film, enjoying a rare leading role, Grahame plays the neighbor of a screenwriter (Humphrey Bogart) who is suspected of murder. The two entered into a love affair, although she becomes increasingly concerned that he may be guilty. Bening says of Grahame's performance that "There's a quality to her, there's an inner life to that character that I just love." Again, she cites Grahame's power as an observer: "She's very still, and watching everything carefully."
1952 was a banner year for Grahame, who drew attention for not only The Bad and the Beautiful but The Greatest Show on Earth, Macao, and Sudden Fear. It was said at the time that she was certain to be Oscar®-nominated as Best Supporting Actress, though it was unclear for which film. It turned out to be The Bad and the Beautiful, and her performance in this film brought Grahame the award itself. (She had previously been nominated in this category for 1948's Crossfire.)
In Vincente Minnelli's all-star Hollywood melodrama, Grahame is the flighty Southern-belle wife of Dick Powell, who plays a screenwriter. "I love her performance," Bening says, describing it as "eccentric" and less "grounded in reality" than her performance in In a Lonely Place. "She's doing the voice, she's doing the accent, and she has all kinds of layers."
Grahame's role in The Bad and the Beautiful had clocked in at only nine minutes, making it the shortest Oscar®-winning performance in film history until Beatrice Straight took home the award for her five-minute-two-second role in Network (1976).
Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool is set in 1979, after Grahame's opportunities in movies and television had dried up. "By this time Gloria was doing mostly theater," notes Bening. "She would take any job, and was working in theaters in Los Angeles and Wisconsin. And then someone in England figured out, 'Hey, we can bring Gloria Grahame over and she can do Rain or The Glass Menagerie.' "
That's when she met Turner. "I think he really loved her," says Bening. "And what a great thing that was for her that she had this really beautiful man who took care of her, who came from this very decent background and had this loving family. And they loved her and accepted her."
By Roger Fristoe