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Read Martin Scorsese’s Column on His Favorite Hollywood Leading Ladies

Read Martin Scorsese's Column on His Favorite Hollywood Leading Ladies

August means its 24-hour tribute season on TCM. In his monthly column, director and movie doyen (and, it turns out, witty columnist) Martin Scorsese singles out a few actresses whose work has affected him over the years, to complement Turner Classics’ programming.

On Gene Tierney, whose career is highlighted on August 1:

Looking back at the pictures of the ’30s and ’40s, the period now known as the Golden Age of Hollywood, you can feel, more and more, just how controlled many of the performances were, especially in relation to movies made after the arrival of Brando and James Dean in the ’50s. There’s a tension between directors and actors that I find extremely interesting now. It’s there in Tierney’s performances for Preminger, Lubitsch and Mankiewicz, and in John Stahl’s “Leave Her to Heaven” (not included in this tribute). In those pictures, her beauty was a kind of mask.

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Tierney had a great fragility as an actress (it’s there in the pictures already mentioned, and in “Heaven Can Wait” by Lubitsch and “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” by Mankiewicz), and I suppose it reflects an exceptionally tough personal life: in the latter half of the ’50s she was in and out of the Menninger Clinic, enduring electro-shock therapy, and it was Preminger who brought her back to the movies after a 7-year absence as a Washington matron in “Advise and Consent.” You watch her on camera throughout her career, and you can see a genuine, very moving internal drama being played out.

On Olivia De Havilland (August 2) and Teresa Wright (August 4):

Each one as beautiful and as talented as Tierney, had very different types of careers. Like Tierney, they each started at a young age and had a deep devotion to their craft. And more than Tierney, I think, they shared a true understanding of cinema: they could have acted in silent films. Both stood up to the studio heads and fought for their independence and their dignity, at potentially great risk to their viability within the system. De Havilland took Warner Brothers to court for extending her contract past its original seven-year limit as a punishment for turning down so many roles, and her victory struck a real blow against the studios’ dominance of contract players…

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When Wright signed with Samuel Goldwyn in 1941, she had a funny clause added to her contract in which she dictated the terms of use of her own public image: she insisted that she not be required to pose for photographs “running on the beach with her hair flying in the wind,” “whipping up a meal,” or “twinkling on prop snow in a skiing outfit while a fan blows her scarf.”

Read the rest of his column here.

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