Sunday, March 17, 2013
My love of the eighties primetime soap began when I was ten years old. I know my parents watched it in my childhood, but it went off the air when I was five, so I remember nothing of it until the first reunion movie, J.R. Returns, in 1996. My father, who constantly usurped the living room TV, forced me to watch it. (Well, I'm sure he didn't force me, but that's what was on.) I have no idea what it was about that show that I loved and connected with, but I remember being instantly caught up in the drama. Who were these characters? What was their backstory? Why did Major Nelson have insane eyebrows?
It was around that same time that TNN (RIP that channel) began to air the original series. My dad being my dad, he watched it religiously. Me being me, I decided to join him. Now, my father and I have never had an easy relationship. We haven't always gotten along and our relationship during this time was incredibly strained, in many ways nonexistent. "Dallas" was what brought us together. For an hour at a time, we could sit there and root for our favorite characters -- his were Jock and J.R. (to this day, he always says, "J.R. is everything I wanna be: rich, powerful, and corrupt.") and mine was Sue Ellen. More on her later.
To this day, this is one of my favorite shows. I'd go so far as to say it's my second favorite show of all-time. The characters and their relationships are so compelling that even a reboot of the show 34 years later is still popular. So when Larry Hagman died, I was beside myself. Is that a little much for a man I've never spoken to a day in my life? Probably. But the fact of the matter is that I considered Hagman (and J.R. Ewing) more of a member of my family than, well, most members of my family. He has been a constant presence, a source of bonding for me and my own father, and let's face it -- a life without J.R. Ewing is simply no life at all. I still like to pretend November 23rd never happened, but last week proved that, without a shadow of a doubt, our beloved Larry Hagman is gone. (Unless he's faking his death. Which is unlikely. But would be THE GREATEST PLOT TWIST OF ALL TIME.) And that beautiful memorial last week brings me to this woman:
Have you ever seen a sadder-looking individual? When I first saw Linda Gray, I thought she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. She was fifty-six at the time. When I started watching the original series, I thought the same thing, but with an added layer: she was also the most tragic person I had ever seen. Between those huge eyes and that trademark lip-quiver, Linda Gray made you want to save Sue Ellen. Neglected by J.R. and driven to alcoholism by his philandering, I have never seen any character before or since that I felt that sorry for. And yet, there were times when she could be a woman of steely resolution. She was a dichotomy, and in so many ways, the most real of any character on there. She will always be my favorite. I will always want to be her. And when she threw her slightly intoxicated self across J.R.'s grave last week and told him she'd have dinner with him, it felt like somebody was tearing into the depths of my soul.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
When I found out a few weeks ago that Greer Garson was going to be TCM's Star of the Month for March, I was overjoyed. For those of you who do not know, this woman is my favorite actress -- has been since I was around 17 years old. And yet, my love for her was not instantaneous.
I had seen her in a couple of films prior to the onslaught of love, those films being Pride & Prejudice (1940) and The Valley of Decision (1946). I loved her in both, but I must have been too obsessed with Debbie Reynolds at the time to become enamored with anyone else. (Don't worry, Debbie, I still love you.) It was not until I saw Random Harvest (1942) that I completely, unabashedly fell head-over-heels with her.
If you've never seen Random Harvest, stop whatever you're doing and buy it. Right now. For those of you who have seen this classic, you know about Greer Garson's entrance. Aside from Bette Davis' shooting that guy in the beginning of The Letter, it may be the greatest film entrance of all time. Ronald Colman, playing the tongue-tied, shell-shocked WWI veteran who just peaced out of an asylum, is standing in a tobbaconist's shop (yes, definitely the first place I would go if I just rolled out of the looney bin), and all of a sudden you hear this voice. The voice, in tones of liquid velvet, asks, "You are from the asylum, aren't you?" You have just enough time to process the fact that this individual should be doing books on tape when the camera goes into a soft-angle close up of the face attached to the voice. That face. The incredible false eyelashes, the perfectly chiseled cheekbones, the cleft in her chin -- everything about her is just exquisite. After I picked my jaw up off the floor that fateful day, I actually watched the movie and couldn't believe what I was seeing. The story of Random Harvest is that of a chorus girl (Garson) who falls in love with and marries this amnesiac soldier (Colman), only to undergo more tragedy than I can even put into words. It has the potential to be schmaltzy, sappy, and completely unrealistic. But Greer Garson plays Paula Ridgeway in a way that makes her believable. There isn't a false note in Garson's portrayal. You believe her, you believe her improbable circumstances, and you root for her life to stop sucking so much. It was after watching that movie that I realized what an incredible performer she was. Regal and stiff-upper-lip she may have been, but she is also one of the warmest, most accessible personalities to have ever graced the silver screen. There's a reason why she was the Queen of MGM from 1939 to 1945. I've seen nearly every single thing she's ever been in, and while some of the films were mediocre (Adventure, I'm talkin' to you), she never turned in a mediocre performance.
Ironically, her performance in Random Harvest is one that was overshadowed by another film she made that year, Mrs. Miniver. She won the Academy Award for her portrayal of Kay Miniver, and rightly. It takes one heck of an actress to win an Academy Award for playing a housewife. And that's exactly what Greer Garson was -- one heck of an actress. She could have stood onscreen and read the phone book and it would still be one of the finest performances ever recorded. And, contrary to popular belief, she was versatile. Go watch her play an Irish maid in The Valley of Decision or a screwball actress in Julia Misbehaves. Look at her performance as Eleanor Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello or as a frontier girl (and brunette, no less!) in Mrs. Parkington. If you take the time to investigate her body of work, you will see what an incredible actress she truly was. (Oh, and let's not forget that time that she took over the role of Auntie Mame on Broadway when her friend, Rosalind Russell, left the stage to go film the movie. WHERE IS THE FOOTAGE OF THIS? I need to hear the words, "But darling, I'm your Auntie Mame!" issue forth from Greer Garson's mouth.)
Greer Garson was also a generally remarkable person. Most actresses peak in their 20s. In fact, the average age of the winner of the Academy Award is 26 according to something someone posted on Twitter last weekend. (Obviously, I'm not fact checking this because I'm just assuming all of the film buffs I follow on Twitter know what they're talking about. Apologies in advance if I'm wrong.) Garson didn't even make her first film until she was 34 years old. She went through two failed marriages, one of which ended after being subjected to verbal abuse and mental cruelty (Richard Ney, God rest his soul, should be glad I never met him in a dark alley) before finally marrying her soul mate, oil magnate Buddy Fogelson, at the age of 44. She loved the theatre (she first began acting on the London stage) and gave a great deal of money to the theatre program at Southern Methodist University in Texas to help fund the arts. She loved her fans, particularly the young ones, as evidenced by her cameos as herself in The Youngest Profession (aka my life story) and "Father Knows Best."
Greer Garson was intelligent, beautiful, witty, warm, and talented -- everything that every woman should aspire to be. The world is a better place for having once been home to this incredible individual. Make sure to catch as many of her films as you can every Monday this month on TCM this month, starting this Monday, March 4th, at 8 PM. You won't regret it.