Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lovely. Simply Lovely.

There is a wonderful kind of validation in loving someone that the rest of the world seems to pass by, quietly, (that is to say, loving someone's work or someone's presence--not necessarily loving THEM; that sounds stalkeresque) only to have everyone discover them years later and jump on your band wagon. It has always been my modus operandi to choose that artist as my favourite and cheer their career, then watch the rest of the world come around. As my favourite actresses I have (over the years) chosen Lee Remick, Judith Ivey, Leann Hunley, Judi Dench and Diane Lane. There have been others. I've mentioned, in past bloggings, that there have been women Pat and I have referred to as "stephen's Ladies". Anita Morris. Madolyn Smith-Osborne. Stephanie Beacham. I even went through a period where one of my ladies was Cybill Shepherd but I realized, years later, that (even though Miss Shepherd is extremely talented) my love affair was with Maddie Hayes, her MOONLIGHTING character, and not Cybill Shepherd. That is a distinction that must be made.

When it comes to Lee Remick, though, it was always about Lee.

It isn't as though the world didn't know about Lee Remick. Lee was considered one of this country's great actresses--but I do think that she was underappreciated in her lifetime; I have always felt that she could and should have had more roles in movies, more fame, more recognition. There was, though, recognition. Nominated for the Academy Award for THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, Lee Remick moved (with ease) from the large screen to the small one. She worked onstage in plays and musicals. And she was named (in 1984) by Harper's Bazaar as one of the ten most beautiful women in America. She earned six Emmy award nominations and six Golden Globe nominations. She took home two Golden Globes. She even took home a cable Ace award for her performance in the musical I Do! I Do! (and musical theater was not considered her strong suit). There are a number of other awards for which she had nominations and wins. The awards, though, aren't what was important. It was the body of work...

I read somewhere that Lee Remick was 'supposed to replace Marilyn Monroe'. That is exactly how I read it. I remember thinking that was a strange sentence. You couldn't pick two more distinctly different actresses. I always considered Lee a serious actress and (even though I think Marilyn was one of the great actresses) I always recognized that, to the world, Marilyn was considered the sex symbol. Neither woman seemed to fit into the other's shoes. Yet Marilyn proved she was a serious actress with THE MISFITS and BUS STOP (for my money, Marilyn's subtle and understated performance in THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL will always stand out), while Lee was the elegant and classic beauty who would not (quite) fit into the shoes of Lorelei Lee. That was before I saw ANATOMY OF A MURDER and saw exactly what kind of sexiness Lee Remick possessed. It wasn't until years later that I read the clarifying statement that Lee was supposed to replace Marilyn when she was fired from SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE, that it all made sense to me. She did not, I also read, replace Marilyn because Dean Martin put his foot down on that little matter. I loved Dean Martin but I have to say it: yay for loyalty but shame on you, Dean.

This is not a history of Lee Remick's career. Anyone can read about her career on the internet.
No. This is a story about how an actress reached out through the television screen in the mini series MISTRAL'S DAUGHTER and grabbed me and said 'watch how it's done'. She was so luminous, so intense, so classy and when it came time for Kate Browning to turn into a monster, Lee did it without worrying about what the audience would think of Lee. Once I had been captured by that tidal wave, I had to devour as much of Lee Remick as possible. Fortunately, she made many television movies that I could videotape and watch over and over (indeed I have a Lee Remick library in my collection!). And thanks to vhs and dvd over the years I have had the chance to see Lee in ANATOMY OF A MURDER, THE LONG HOT SUMMER (sigh!), THE RUNNING MAN (ok, can it GET more amazing?! The gorgeousness of Lee AND Alan Bates AND Spain all in one film?!), JENNIE (I still remember the simplicity of the scene where she offers a city employee a candy with the words 'would you like a sweet?'), her heartbreaking 'What is a Woman' in I DO! I DO!, the scene where she and daughter Marlee Matlin finally communicate in BRIDGE TO SILENCE, every scene she has with Angela Lansbury in THE GIFT OF LOVE (one of my favourite Christmas movies) and, oh, so many other moments in so many other films...

I will admit this: I have never seen THE OMEN. I have a problem watching devil related films. Everyone wants me to see this movie. I may, one day, be able to. I know how Lee dies in the movie. I don't think I am ready for it.

The other day we were watching the dvd of FOLLIES IN CONCERT. Was there ever a more beautiful creation that Lee Remick in that clingy black evening gown? Observe the look of sheer glee and puckish flirtation as she comes down the staircase and laughs at Paul Gemignani during BEAUTIFUL GIRLS. Lee was not known for doing musicals. She did not have a strong singing voice. Even during HOW COULD I LEAVE YOU, it is clear that she is reaching for the high notes--but it isn't about the notes. She is committed to the song, absolutely. And when she just misses the notes by a single thread, it doesn't matter because she doesn't flinch--she doesn't apologize for being a hair under pitch. She is focused on being in the moment and meaning it when she asks if she could really leave you? That is great acting.

It's fitting that she should have played Phyllis in FOLLIES; one of Sondheim's greatest character creations. Her performance in the musical ANYONE CAN WHISTLE can be experienced, now, only on cast album--and because the song ANYONE CAN WHISTLE is one of Sondheim's most extraordinary compositions (so simple, so heartbreakingly honest) everyone has sung it. No one has sung it like Lee Remick. No One. It is fitting, for me, that this great American actress with a voice not made for musicals should play two parts and sing songs like HOW COULD I LEAVE YOU, THE STORY OF LUCY AND JESSIE, THERE WON'T BE TRUMPETS and ANYONE CAN WHISTLE--songs and musicals of such complexities, written by the most complex of musical theater composers of all time. She wasn't trained for this but she did it and she did it with full commitment and she delivered. That's my Lee.

I wept when Lee Remick died.

I don't really cry when a famous person dies. I don't think I cried when my beloved Katharine Hepburn died; though I wept when Audrey died and, in fact, last week I shed a few tears over the death of Ann Richards. I remember, though, like it was last week, when Lee Remick died. I was living in Texas. I had the television on but muted because I was doing housework and listening to music--Natalie Cole's UNFORGETTABLE--while doing so. The five o clock news was on and in the upper right hand corner flashed a photo of Lee Remick. I didn't need to hear the newscaster. I knew. I sat down on the sofa and I wept. It wasn't fair. She was so young. She was so gifted. She was so beautiful. It wasn't fair.

On my first trip to Hollywood to work on THE SWEATER BOOK, I didn't go to Universal Studios. I didn't go to get a good look at the HOLLYWOOD sign. I didn't go to Disneyland. I had one touristy thing I had to do. I called the city of Los Angeles tourist bureau and asked for the EXACT location of Lee Remick's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and on my last day in L.A., before heading for the airport, I had Christine Stinson drive me there and do a photo of me with Lee's star.

When I worked with John Glover for THE SWEATER BOOK, he came to my home and we played Doris Day cds and talked about his life and work. Turns out he was a good friend of Lee's and he was gracious enough to share some stories with me. He told me that, during her final days, she opted to stay at home and her friends would come over and she would cook meals for them. Sometimes she would call him up and he would come over and hang out with her and rub her feet and they would talk for long hours. I am not, currently, in touch with John but, for sharing those memories with me, I will always call him 'friend'.

Last week I was showing Pat a new acquisition in my movie poster collection. I have searched for it on Ebay, bid on it three times, losing it to other bidders each time (it is - apparently - in great demand). I finally won one!! It is an original one sheet from the film THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES. As I showed him my new prize (in great condition too!), I said "I wish I could have seen Lee Remick play Doctor Martha Livingston. She did AGNES OF GOD in Boston. THAT would have been a treat." She was also set to play Desiree Armfeldt in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC in Los Angeles; she died before it could happen. That is something that I have created in my mind--the full production of Sondheim's most romantic musical, starring the luminous Lee Remick. Thank heaven for the power of the imagination.

I miss Lee Remick. I hate cancer. I am so saddened that the light was extinguished.

I am so grateful that it burned so brightly.

interesting footnote: of the two photos of Lee that I pulled from the internet, the top photo is the one that hangs in my home office.


Anonymous annalisa said...

i am ashamed to say that the only movie i have seen of the ones you mentioned was, in fact, "the omen." i wouldn't be able to identify a picture of lee remick if i saw one. however, i feel grateful that one of the many gifts i get from our friendship is to learn about such people. thank you, ste.


1:15 PM  
Blogger StephenMosher said...

I urge you, dear friend, in much the same way that you push me to see WHITE CHRISTMAS, to see ANATOMY OF A MURDER. THE LONG HOT SUMMER. A DELICATE BALANCE (with Katharine Hepburn!). THE RUNNING MAN. NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY. FOLLIES IN CONCERT. QB VII, THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES.

Discover the magic.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There will never be another Lee Remick.

We can remember a time when we were so young that we thought the things we loved would last forever
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

2:28 PM  

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