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Starring Nina Foch
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Starring Nina Foch - 10/22

Actress, teacher, and director's consultant Nina Foch was born Nina Consuelo Maud Fock to American actress Consuelo Flowerton, who had appeared in The Ziegfeld Follies and the Rudolph Valentino film Camille (1921), and Dutch classical composer Dirk Fock, in Leiden, The Netherlands, on April 20, 1924. When she was a toddler, Foch's parents divorced and she went to live with her mother in New York. There, she studied piano (becoming a concert pianist), art, and eventually acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she was taught by Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler.

Changing her name to "Foch" (pronounced "Fohsh"), the 5'9" blonde made her theatrical debut in 1941 in Western Union, Please. Throughout her career, she would move in-between the stage and film, in modern plays like The Philadelphia Story and many Shakespearian roles like Countess Olivia in Twelfth Night, Cordelia, in the longest running production of King Lear in Broadway history, Isabella in Measure for Measure and Katharine in The Taming of the Shrew at the American Shakespeare Festival in 1956.

Her first film was an eighteen minute Western short, Wagon Wheels West (1943). Later that year, the 19-year-old Foch got a contract with Columbia Studios and appeared in two horror films The Return of the Vampire, with Bela Lugosi and Cry of the Werewolf (a.k.a. Daughter of the Werewolf), both released in 1944. Foch later remembered, "The whole damned studio was a 'B' unit. The only first class star they had was Jean Arthur and she left in 1943 shouting, "I'm free! Free!" as she raced through the parking lot. The next big star was Rita Hayworth and she was only beginning to come into her own - with Cover Girl (1944). She was a superstar. Me? I started out with Bela Lugosi in The Return of the Vampire. He just couldn't learn lines by then. And why bother? The lines were so terrible anyway. Cry of the Werewolf? People still ask me about that one because it was so bad. Harry Cohn kept telling me I wasn't sexy. That can ruin a 21-year-old's confidence right away. [...] They painted out my lips. Those eyelashes were heavy, that heavy makeup, it was all so unreal. But I worked all the time. I felt things could only get better."

Foch continued her apprenticeship in "B" picture series like Boston Blackie and Crime Doctor until 1945, when she had her first starring role in the low-budget noir thriller, My Name Is Julia Ross, which did little for her career but later was reexamined as an example of the genre. Foch plays a secretary/companion who is tricked into believing she is her employer's daughter-in-law, who they plan to murder. The film was shot in three weeks but she enjoyed the experience. "Everybody worked on making the script really purr. Dame May Whitty, as she insisted on being called, loved doing it. She told me those Greer Garson epics took 80 days to film and it was very boring. But here we had nobody bothering us. The front office couldn't have cared less. Joe Lewis directed it and was told it couldn't go over 65 minutes, so that's how he made it--so very taut, on sets already standing."

She delved further into the noir genre that same year when she starred in the film adaptation of the highly successful radio mystery show I Love a Mystery co-starring Jim Bannon and Barton Yarborough, stars of the radio program. After another film noir with Dick Powell in Johnny O'Clock (1947), Foch seemed to be typecast in the genre.

So the actress returned to the stage and scored a hit with John Loves Mary. When she returned to Columbia, her theatrical success helped to improve her film assignments but like Jean Arthur, she couldn't wait to get out of her contract. "And the minute that contract was over, I went back to Broadway and had success in Twelfth Night. And then I got [An] American in Paris , and everything moved up from there. [...] [I]t was wonderful to make a movie in the way movies should be made, because MGM, they knew what they were doing, and it wasn't tacky like Columbia." Gene Kelly saw in Foch what Harry Cohn couldn't, and cast her as the wealthy "patron" who finances his art but loses him to Leslie Caron. Foch kidded Kelly off-set, "I told him, 'Gene, dance all you want with her. The kid can barely speak English! What are you going to do at night? Read her the comics? You'll come home to Mama because I'm the sexy one and my character is paying the bills.' And Gene agreed with me."

Nina Foch's 1950s films included extravaganzas like Scaramouche (1952) with Stewart Granger, in which Foch played Marie Antoinette, and The Ten Commandments (1956), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, in which she played Bithiah, the Pharaoh's sister who finds Moses in the bulrushes. Foch moved between genres, appearing in Westerns like Sombrero (1953) and Four Guns to the Border (1954), and modern films like Executive Suite (1954), with William Holden, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. Foch won the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actress and shared the Venice Film Festival's Special Jury Prize for ensemble acting.

In 1960 she appeared in two films Spartacus and Cash McCall but would not appear in another theatrical film until Such Good Friends (1971), eleven years later. "Already I was getting too old. And it was in those years [the late 1950s] I wanted to become a director. Nobody would let me because I was a woman. And so I was George Stevens' associate on [The Diary of] Anne Frank [1959], because he didn't want to talk to the little girl; he didn't have enough time to really work with Millie Perkins. And I tried one thing and another to try to be a director, and then I gave up on it." In the 1970s through the 1990s Foch had small roles in films such as Mahogany (1975) with Diana Ross, Rich and Famous (1981), Skin Deep (1989), Morning Glory (1993) and It's My Party (1996), but she was by no means idle.

Beginning in the 1950s, Foch worked extensively in television, as a panelist on Q.E.D. on ABC in 1951 and became the moderator of Let's Take Sides from 1957 to 1959. She guest starred on episodic programs like the now-classic Your Show of Shows, The Steve Allen Show, Rawhide, The Virginian, The Outer Limits, Route 66, Bonanza, I, Spy and, in 1968, earned the distinction of being the first murder victim on an episode of Columbo. Foch also appeared in many miniseries like War and Remembrance (1989), Sidney Sheldon's The Sands of Time (1992), and Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (1993). In the past few years, Foch was back on television with the top-rated CBS drama NCIS (playing David McCallum's 92-year-old senile mother, Victoria Mallard); her final performance was on The Closer in 2007.

In 1999, forty years after Foch served as an assistant director on George Stevens' The Diary of Anne Frank, she co-directed, with Deborah Raffin, the CBS telefilm LaVyrle Spencer's Family Blessings. Foch also acted as a script-breakdown consultant to several directors, notably Ron Underwood for Speechless (1994), Stephen Hopkins for Blown Away (1994), and Pen Densham for Moll Flanders (1996). She became a professor at the American Film Institute, and taught her "Directing the Actor" class at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts beginning in the 1970s. "You have to do something else. If you're smart at all, as a woman you know your career is fast approaching its end, at least in those days it was. But even to this day, it's the same. So where was there for me to go but there? Unless I wanted to be -- well, I can't think of anything else you'd want to do. Where else was the next step? So what I did then was I became a teacher of directors, and that's what I've been doing for 35 years. And I've taught some of the best directors in the business."

Foch fell ill while teaching her class at USC and was rushed to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center where she passed away the next day, December 5, 2008, from myelodysplasia, a blood disorder, at the age of 84.

by Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:
Bawden, Jim "Remembering Nina Foch and Our Chat in her Home", http://www.thecolumnists.com
Bernstein, Adam "Nina Foch; 'Executive Suite' Role Earned Actress Oscar Nomination" Washington Post 12 Dec 08
Feinberg, Scott "Nina Foch (1924-2008): Oscar®-nominated Actress, Influential Script Doctor and Directing Coach Dead at 84" The Feinberg Files with Scott Feinberg
The Internet Movie Database
"Nina Foch: Actress Who Made Her Name in B-movies But Later Turned to Coaching Would-be Directors and Stars" The Telegraph 08 Dec 2008
http://filmreference.com