Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Wizardry Of Roz

I am currently reading "Life Is A Banquet" the autobiography of Rosalind Russell (co-authored with Chris Chase).


It's a way fun ride and her writing is very direct and conversational.  And there is, of course, that wonderful Russell wit.  Chaper seven is titled, "The Night I Slept With John Wayne".  It then says, "All right, I never slept with John Wayne, but people expect a Hollywood chapter to be filled with sex and big names.  Now that that's out of the way, ....." 

The anectodes are plentiful with lots of insight into how she worked, crafting the many performances I've loved since I was a kid.  One of my favorites is the following:

After Take A Letter Darling, I went to Columbia for My Sister EileenJanet Blair, the girl who was cast as Eileen, started out trying to upstage me.  She was new and nervous, the same way I'd been when I started, so I invited her into my dressing room and delivered a short speech about the inadvisability of the course she'd embarked on.

"Look," I said, "you're not going to steal the picture from me because I've got the better part, the sympathy comes to me.  And you're not going to get anyplace with what you're doing.  I know all those old tricks.  When you upstage me, all I do is turn my back on the camera, and then they have to come around on me full-face for my close-up."

I said I'd teach her these things if she wanted to learn them.  "When I pass out on the floor, you be the first to hold my head, to say, 'Oh Ruth.'  Don't stand back, or the audience is going to hate you for being mean to me."

She gaped.  "How wonderful you are to do this!"

"I'm not doing this because I like you," I said.  "I don't know anything about you.  I'm doing it to get a good picture."

"It's just I was terrified," she said, "and I was warned you'd garb every scene-"

"That's right," I said.  "I'm here to steal those scenes as fast as I can, but I love anybody that's trying with me, and I'll lose some.  It's very hard to steal a scene from Cary Grant.  I mean I've worked like a dog to stay ahead of him, or alongside of him, or in his shadow.  So fight me for it, but don't ruin your character because of it. ....  We've got to be sisters.  Eileen is so selfish that the audience won't like her if she's not adorable."



Some dame, huh?

11 comments:

Ask the Cool Cookie said...

When she was working on the book with "writer" her husband Freddie (a divine man who was buddies with my Uncle Lou) asked how she was going to broach the topic of her cancer and said she wasn't - one disease was enough for the book. Roz wanted people to be happy - I think that why she did more comedy on film than drama. BTW, I have a hard back first edition of the book and it is a fun read.

MJ said...

So let's get this straight...

Is life a banquet?

Or a cabaret?

savannah said...

i usually back away from actor biographies, you've hooked me! i always loved the characters she played, so i'm guessing i'll enjoy this read! thanks for the tip! xoxoxo

Miss Janey said...

Fantastic! Miss J MUST read this!

Ask the Cool Cookie said...

You'll love it - it reads like she's talking to you telling you these fabulous stories - a lot like Auntie Mame greeting Patrick...

Stephen said...

I just watched HIS GIRL FRIDAY...
what a talent!!!

normadesmond said...

it's been a long time, but i think i read in this book where roz said that it was her singing in "gypsy" and no one else, but just about everybody else says she was dubbed.

delusions?

i've never read anything very flattering about
the lizard of roz.

FelixInHollywood said...

No, neither have I Norma, but he comes off as a doll in the book. And of course he gets my respect because he was absolutely, madly devoted to her.

He was, after all, a Producer and they can be an odd breed sometimes. (My apologies to any Producers reading this. And while I have you darlings, do you have any roles available for a young Franklin Pangborn type?)

normadesmond said...

you, franky pangborn? really?

FelixInHollywood said...

Ok, I don't look a thing like him, but emotionally, perhaps spiritually even, we're sisters under the skin.

Of course I feel the same way about all you guys too!

normadesmond said...

whew!