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Lizabeth Scott Profile

Lizabeth Scott's career in movies only lasted thirteen years but the effect she had on audiences still resonates. A willowy blonde with green eyes and a husky, smoky voice, she excelled as a femme fatale in the genre known as "film noir", the dark, angst-ridden films of the post-World War II era. Scott herself had her own definition of film noir, "What you call film noir I call 'psychological drama.' It reflects the fact that there are so many facets in human beings. And that is why I don't know if anyone else calls it 'psychological drama' but I do. At that time, to myself, it was psychological and dramatic, because it showed all these facets of human experience and conflict, that these women [femme fatales] could be involved with their heart and yet could think with their mind."

Born Emma Matzo in Dunsmore, Pennsylvania, on September 29, 1922, Lizabeth Scott grew up in the "Czech ghetto" of Scranton. Her parents, John and Mary Matzo were of Slovak origin. After attending John Adams Elementary and Central High School in Scranton, Scott worked as a model in New York while attending the Alvienne School of Drama and took "Elizabeth Scott" as her stage name.

Her first big break came when she was hired to understudy famed actress Tallulah Bankhead in the 1942-1943 Broadway production of The Skin of Our Teeth, but since Bankhead never missed a performance, the opportunity to substitute for her never came. When Miriam Hopkins was hired to replace Bankhead, Scott quit the production and went back to modeling. Gladys George succeeded Hopkins in the part and when she fell ill, the producers contacted Scott who replaced George for two nights and gained critical acclaim for her performance. More importantly, she was spotted by Warner Brothers' producer Hal B. Wallis, who ordered an assistant to line up an interview with her. Later Wallis would see Scott at the famous Stork Club and tell the same assistant to get an interview with the girl not realizing it had already been scheduled for the following day. However, that same night Scott was asked by the The Skin of Our Teeth producers to star in a Boston run of the play, and she had to postpone the meeting with Wallis until the end of the tour. It was during this time that Scott changed her stage name from Elizabeth Scott to "Lizabeth", which she said she did "to be different." Eventually she would have her name legally changed at the Los Angeles County Courthouse on October 20, 1949.

When Scott finally made a screen test for Wallis at Warner Brothers, it turned out to be a disappointment. Still, Wallis knew talent when he saw it and when he left Warners to start his own production company at Paramount Studios, he signed Lizabeth Scott to a contract and put her into her first film, You Came Along (1945). By then, famed agent Charlie Feldman had seen a photo of her in Harper's Bazaar, and had taken her on as a client. Paramount (and Wallis) saw Scott as being a hybrid of Veronica Lake (the blond hair) and Lauren Bacall (the husky voice) and marketed her as such. It was an era when up-and-coming actresses were often given nicknames by the studios for publicity. Ann Sheridan was the "Oomph Girl", Lauren Bacall was "The Look", and Lizabeth Scott was dubbed "The Threat".

Although Scott was very happy with being an actress, she was often annoyed when unimaginative fan magazine interviewers continually asked her "What is your favorite hobby?" The truth was, she didn't have one, but the reporters didn't believe her. Then one day at Schwab's drugstore in Hollywood (the same store where Lana Turner was supposedly 'discovered' while drinking a soda), Scott saw a display case filled with glass animals and decided that this would be her "hobby". She bought all of the animals and a solution to her interview problem for $75.

Hollywood might have been about make-believe, but it was Scott's ability to come across as "real" on the screen that got her the lead role in Andre De Toth's Pitfall (1948) opposite Dick Powell, in which her character has an affair with a married man. As De Toth remembered many years later, "I wanted Lizabeth Scott. I didn't want some blonde with big tits. You had to believe that this girl was real. Even if I took one of these over-sexed types who could not act, it would change how the [Dick] Powell character is drawn into the affair...So I could have made a different picture, with a prettier girl than Lizabeth Scott, and told the story of this girl; her problems, but that wasn't this movie. That would make it phony if you cast Marilyn Monroe, a type like that. I needed somebody real. I liked [Scott's] performance very much because she was a professional, straight down the line. She lived the character. I wanted somebody whom Powell would be attracted to as a person, so that the audience can believe that as an adulterer he is a 'virgin', he's not screwing around all the time. I needed a woman who fit that, not a bombshell. Attractive, yes, but more importantly, likable. For a while I got the same line from [producer Samuel] Bischoff, 'we need a bigger name, someone hot.' By then, Powell was committed to doing the part, so I said 'Why do we need a name? We've got Dick Powell.' Since Powell was [financially] backing the picture, they couldn't argue with that."

Her work in films like The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Easy Living (1949) and Dead Reckoning (1947) resulted in Scott being typecast as a femme fatale, or more precisely as "the good girl gone bad." Her career was further damaged in September 1955 when the tabloid Confidential Magazine printed a story alleging that Scott was a lesbian, "prone to indecent, illegal and highly offensive acts in her private and public life." Scott fought back, hiring famed Hollywood attorney Jerry Geisler and sued the magazine for $2.5 million dollars, claiming "These implications are willfully, wrongfully, maliciously and completely without truth." She lost the case and made only one other film, Loving You co-starring Elvis Presley in 1957, before retiring from films for fifteen years, although she did occasionly work in television series like Burke's Law and The Third Man. Her final film appearance to date was in the 1972 movie Pulp.

Lizabeth Scott's career has been celebrated in recent years with retrospectives at film festivals, which she often attends to participate in discussions with the audience. Today, at age 83, she is said to be living quietly in Hollywood.

by Lorraine LoBianco

Sources:

www.pucono.org
The Internet Movie Database

www.wikipedia.org

www.hollywood.com

www.anecdotage.com

www.afionline.org

www.filmbug.com

www.sensesofcinema.com

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