Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Actress

The Actress
seen on TV @ TCM

I don't recall the first time I ever heard of Ruth Gordon. I suspect the first time I saw her was very likely in Rosemary's Baby, though I didn't know who she was then. I had a teacher in college who claimed she completely identified with Gordon's character in Harold and Maude, even though she was nowhere near as old as Gordon was in that film.

Both of these films came in the latter phase of Gordon's career, and I have yet to see her when she was younger, but even so, my initial impression of her was a great one. Both films have a dark, wry sense of humor that fits her to a T. She's lively, daring, charismatic, and a scene-stealer for certain.

Later, as I learned more about movies, I discovered that Gordon was an accomplished writer as well. So to me, I find it a bit odd that the movie about her childhood is called The Actress, especially since she adapted it for the screen from a play she wrote. In my mind, she's a screenwriter first and an actress second. The Actress is directed by George Cukor, with whom Gordon and her husband Garson Kanin worked on several occasions, mostly on comedies like Adam's Rib (which introduced Judy Holliday to the world), and I expected this one to be funny as well. In fact, it's played straight: teenage Ruth wants to go to New York to study acting but her daddy disapproves.

One would think that autobiographies would be more historically accurate than biographies, since the subject is the one telling the story, but even in this case, I've learned to take everything with a grain of salt. After all, in telling one's life story, one is more apt to make the highs higher and the lows... not so low, at the very least. (Exception: if one's story is meant to be a cautionary tale.) Indeed, you yourself should take the same attitude towards this very blog. There are things I pick and choose to reveal about myself, and while I do strive for honesty, I'd be lying if I said I never exaggerated events or did a little selective obfuscating from time to time - if it makes for a better story.

Also, there are dangers inherent in telling one's story accurately. In my experience telling such stories in comics form, I've discovered that other people involved in my stories can be and sometimes are subject to hurt feelings if certain aspects of the story are deemed too personal. That's why I never use last names when talking about my friends here. Sometimes I don't even use first names.

Gordon doesn't strike me as having exaggerated greatly here, not that I would know the difference either way. It helps that she's telling a very straightforward story. I didn't sense any lingering bitterness towards her father for standing in the way of her dream; he comes across fairly. It helps, of course, to have a giant of an actor like Spencer Tracy portray him. Gordon's childhood, as depicted here, isn't totally idyllic; we see the idiosyncrasies of the house she lives in and the financial hardships her father had to deal with. I do think the dude who was crushing on her might've gotten the short end of the stick, but then again, I couldn't help but sympathize with him since Ruth chooses her career over him.

Jean Simmons was not the first person I would've thought of to play young Ruth. I initially thought Teresa Wright was gonna play her, until I realized that Wright had already grown up! (I'm so used to thinking of her as a teen actress.) Simmons' American accent comes and goes in places, but overall, she wasn't bad - she plays Ruth big and broad, which is no doubt how Gordon envisioned herself at that age. I imagine big and broad plays even better on the stage anyway.

It must've been a fantastic moment for Gordon when she won the Oscar (and the Golden Globe) in the twilight of her career, for Rosemary's Baby, but she was also Oscar-nominated thrice as a screenwriter, with Kanin, and she was a five-time Writer's Guild nominee. I don't know what made her decide to switch tracks from acting to writing, but I'm glad she did. She was as talented a writer as an actress, and this movie is proof. I admire her for what she accomplished and I'm grateful her dad let her chase her dream.

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