Some April Birthdays
They may have typed Florence Bates (b.1888) in dowager parts, but when it was a good dowager part, there was none better than Florence to play it. I thought she was great, though unsympathetic, in Rebecca (with Joan Fontaine here), but never was she so well served as in Saratoga Trunk (here she is with Ingrid Bergman in that). Her part started out in standard gossipy old woman mode, then, thanks to some really crisp dialogue, takes on a depth that makes you regret the overall waste of such a fine actress. Part of the problem lay in the fact that Florence was late getting into the game --- she was over fifty when Rebecca launched the career. Till then, there were other occupations. She’d been licensed to practice law in 1914 (one of the first female attorneys in Texas), and this must have been one smart woman, cause she passed the bar exam after just six months of private study! Ups and downs included marriage to an oilman laid flat on his uppers by the Crash, then it was the bakery business (!), at which she excelled well into the Hollywood sojourn. Delighted co-workers on the set looked forward to Florence’s daily fix of pastry goodies, which she generously provided on all her shoots (with this kind of incentive, I’m surprised Hitchcock didn’t use her in all his films!). She could speak German, Portuguese, French, Spanish, and Hebrew. She read Latin and Greek. I feel like an idiot just writing about this woman. One time she was driving to the studio when some kid in a hot rod nearly sideswiped her. "You old bitch!" he shouted. "Hi, son!" she called back, with a wave.
William Holden (b.1918) started drinking during the war to relieve the boredom of guard duty. By the time he got back home, alcohol really had him by the throat. The "Smiling Jim" persona dogged the first ten years of his career till Billy Wilder rescued him with Sunset Boulevard (as shown here with Gloria Swanson). By then, Bill was himself just dissipated enough to make it work. Stardom gave him little satisfaction. He was another of those who regarded the acting profession as an unmanly pursuit. Pity he felt that way, but that’s probably the very thing that lent so much conviction to all those establishment-men-torn-apart-by-modern-compromise parts he played so well. He was hip-deep in corporate corruption in Executive Suite (shown here with the ensemble cast), reluctantly making the ultimate sacrifice for duty’s sake in Bridges At Toko-Ri, caught up in extramarital torments in Love Is A Many Splendored Thing --- always the decent Joe trying to do the honorable thing in a world that kept letting him down. In short, the perfect fifties star, and with the cut-loose sixties, a suddenly irrelevant one. Old Bill was still trying to do the right thing, even as an outlaw, in 1969’s The Wild Bunch, the one undisputed classic of his autumn years. I think he’s one of the great post-war actors.