More ‘TCM Remembers’: From cult actress Tura Satana & Oscar winner Cliff Robertson to the voluptuous Jane Russell & the unorthodox Ken Russell
(See previous post: “TCM Remembers: From Farley Granger & Annie Girardot to Notorious ‘Sex Film’ Actresses.”) Below are more film luminaries included in the “TCM Remembers” tribute. These range from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! cult actress Tura Satana and Best Actor Academy Award winner Cliff Robertson to Howard Hughes discovery Jane Russell and the iconoclastic British filmmaker Ken Russell.
Hokkaido-born, Chicago-raised Tura Satana asserted she was raped before the age of 10, an occurrence that purportedly led her to study martial arts so as to extract revenge on each of her attackers. Later on, she became an “exotic” dancer and a nude photographic model for former silent film star Harold Lloyd (Safety Last, Speedy).
In the early 1960s, she landed a couple of small film roles in A productions (Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?, Irma la Douce), but her acting career failed to take off.
Even so, Tura Satana has a place in film history as one of a trio of fun-loving go-go dancers – the other two go-goers were Haji and Lori Williams – who commit kidnappings and murders with equal abandon in Russ Meyer’s 1965 low-budget “exploitation” thriller Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!.
We now go from Faster, Pussycat killer killer Tura Satana to Best Actor Oscar winner Cliff Robertson (Charly, 1968), whose prestigious five-decade film career comprised more than 50 features.
Portrayals ranged from that of the mentally unbalanced husband of “spinster” typist Joan Crawford in Robert Aldrich’s Autumn Leaves (1956) to Tobey Maguire’s Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi’s three Spider-Man movies of the early 21st century.
Among Robertson’s other notable big-screen credits are:
- Paul Wendkos’ surf & romance hit Gidget (1959), as the older man in Sandra Dee’s life.
- Franklin J. Schaffner’s solid political dramaThe Best Man (1964), with Robertson in top form as a U.S. presidential contender with a revolting sex perversion secret (a gay affair during World War II).
- Brian De Palma’s Vertigo homage Obsession (1976), as a New Orleans real estate developer who can’t forget (seemingly) kidnapped/murdered wife Geneviève Bujold.
In Ralph Nelson’s Charly, Cliff Robertson delivered a first-rate performance as a mentally handicapped man who is cured of his illness – only to learn that the “cure” is temporary.
The embodiment of 20th-century movie stardom, two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Elizabeth Taylor (Butterfield 8, 1960; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1966) was seen in more than 50 features and 20 TV productions over the course of nearly six decades.
Among her best-known films are Clarence Brown’s National Velvet (1945), George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun (1951) and Giant (1956), Richard Brooks’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Suddenly Last Summer (1959) and (the inordinately costly) Cleopatra (1963).
Among Taylor’s seven husbands (a total of eight marriages) were actor Michael Wilding, producer Mike Todd, actor-singer Eddie Fisher, and (twice) frequent costar Richard Burton (The V.I.P.s, The Sandpiper, The Taming of the Shrew, etc.).
In December 2011, Taylor’s jewel collection fetched a record-setting sum at auction.
Mary Murphy is best remembered for one movie: Laslo Benedek’s bike gang drama The Wild One (1953), starring Marlon Brando as a(n over-the-hill) motorcycle-riding rebel with loads of attitude and mannerisms. Murphy was cast as the small-town girl who falls in love with the biker.
Her best work, however, was done on the other side of the North Atlantic: as an actress claiming to have been involved with married filmmaker Richard Basehart in the British-made mystery drama The Intimate Stranger / Finger of Guilt (1957), directed by U.S. political refugee Joseph Losey.
The only cinematographer seen in “TCM Remembers” hails from Sweden: Gunnar Fischer, best remembered for his exquisite black-and-white collaborations with Ingmar Bergman.
These include the classics Summer with Monika (1953), Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), and The Magician (1958).
In 2003, Fischer received an Honorary Guldbagge – Sweden’s Oscar – from the Swedish Film Institute.
A Howard Hughes discovery, Jane Russell had her prominent cleavage displayed to advantage in Hughes and Howard Hawks’ Western The Outlaw (1941, 1943, 1946 – depending on the version), catching the eye of moviegoers while horrifying the sex-crazed folks at the Production Code Administration (PCA).
Her two other best-known star vehicles are:
- Norman Z. McLeod’s comedy Western The Paleface (1948), with Russell as Calamity Jane opposite Bob Hope as the title character. A huge hit, The Paleface led to a sequel, Frank Tashlin’s Son of Paleface (1952), with Russell as a saloon singer and Hope as the titular son.
- Howard Hawks’ color musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), opposite Marilyn Monroe and several scantily clad beefy guys. A less successful spin-off of sorts, Richard Sale’s Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955), partnered Russell with Jeanne Crain.
Less well remembered but a cause de scandale upon its release was another Howard Hughes production, the Lloyd Bacon-directed 3D musical The French Line (1953), which, largely thanks to Jane Russell’s three-dimensional breasts – “J.R. in 3D. Need we say more?” inquired the film’s poster – was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency after opening in U.S. theaters without the PCA’s seal of approval.
Iconoclastic filmmaker Ken Russell is best remembered for the daring, outrageous (or obscene, in the eyes of more sensitive types), and/or self-indulgent efforts he churned out from the late 1960s to the late 1980s. Examples include:
- The period drama Women in Love (1969), which earned Glenda Jackson the Best Actress Academy Award (at the 1971 ceremony), and nude wrestlers Alan Bates and Oliver Reed lots of media attention.
- The Busby Berkeley-inspired musical The Boy Friend (1971), starring top model Twiggy as a skinnier version of Ruby Keeler’s 1930s ingenues.
- The “sacrilegious” freak show The Devils (1971), with Vanessa Redgrave as a hunchbacked 17th-century nun sexually obsessed with (secretly married) priest Oliver Reed.
- The rock opera Tommy (1975), starring Roger Daltrey as the Christ-like title character, and Oliver Reed and Ann-Margret as his dysfunctional parents.
- The Rudolph Valentino biopic Valentino (1977), with ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev as the silent era icon, in addition to Leslie Caron, Michelle Phillips, and Carol Kane as three of the women in his life.
- The Belle de Jour-inspired erotic thriller Crimes of Passion (1984), with Kathleen Turner as a fashion design house employee by day/sex worker by night.
The British Ken Russell was no relation to the American Jane Russell, a devout Christian who, despite her own involvement in cinematic polemics, likely wasn’t a fan of his films.
See also: “The Devils DVD Release Missing ‘Rape of Christ’ Sequence.”
Child actors Jackie Cooper + Edith Fellows & Sybil Jason
The biggest child star of the early 1930s, Jackie Cooper (Skippy, The Champ, Treasure Island) was seen in more than 100 film and TV productions, ranging from Our Gang shorts at the dawn of the sound era to the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve.
Besides, Cooper remains the youngest ever Best Actor Academy Award nominee – for Norman Taurog’s family/socially conscious comedy-drama Skippy (1931; nominated during the period 1930–1931).
Never nearly as big as Shirley Temple or Deanna Durbin, Edith Fellows and Sybil Jason had minor “stellar” careers at, respectively, Columbia and Warner Bros.
Edith Fellows was most notably seen as Bing Crosby’s girl companion in Pennies from Heaven (1936), while Sybil Jason – featured opposite Al Jolson in The Singing Kid (1935) and Glenda Farrell in Little Big Shot (1935) – is probably best remembered for a couple of supporting roles in Shirley Temple star vehicles at 20th Century Fox, The Little Princess (1939) and The Blue Bird (1940).
More ‘TCM Remembers’ honorees: From ‘Oliver Twist’ actor John Howard Davies to Charles Chaplin discovery Marilyn Nash
Now that we’ve covered Tura Satana, Cliff Robertson, Jane Russell, Ken Russell, et al., below are little snippets about some of the other film celebrities featured in this year’s “TCM Remembers” homage.
- After playing the title character in David Lean’s Oliver Twist (1948), child actorJohn Howard Davies was seen in Anthony Pelissier’s The Rocking Horse Winner (1949) and Gordon Parry’s Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1951). In later decades, he became a prolific television producer in the U.K.
- Carl Boehm’s near-victim in Michael Powell’s much discussed cult classic Peeping Tom (1960), Anna Massey was less lucky in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972), in which she famously fell prey to Barry Foster’s serial rapist/strangler. She was the daughter of actors Raymond Massey (Best Actor Oscar nominee for Abe Lincoln in Illinois, 1940) and Adrianne Allen, and the sister of actor Daniel Massey (Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for Star!, 1968).
- Centenarian veteran Paulette Dubost had a key role as Nora Gregor’s maid Lisette in Jean Renoir’s classic social critique The Rules of the Games (1939).
- Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father, 1993) was also seen in Bryan Singer’s thriller The Usual Suspects (1995) and Christopher Nolan’s dreamworld blockbuster Inception (2010).
- Actress Hideko Takamine was featured in Seiji Hisamatsu’s House of Many Pleasures (1955) and Mikio Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960).
- Jeff Conaway is best remembered as John Travolta’s pal in Randal Kleiser’s musical blockbuster Grease (1978) and for the 1980s hit television series Taxi.
- Neva Patterson stoically lost Cary Grant to Deborah Kerr in Leo McCarey’s An Affair to Remember (1957).
- Margaret Field was the leading lady in Edgar G. Ulmer’s cult B sci-fier The Man from Planet X (1951). Besides, she was the mother of Norma Rae and Places in the Heart Best Actress Oscar winner Sally Field.
- Screenwriter Kevin Jarre‘s credits include Edward Zwick’s Glory (1989), starring Matthew Broderick, and Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy (1999), starring Brendan Fraser.
- The two-movie career of Charles Chaplin discovery Marilyn Nash had one memorable highlight: Chaplin’s unusual mix of sentiment and subversiveness, Monsieur Verdoux (1947). Her other film appearance was in Terry O. Morse’s micro-budget sci-fi adventure Unknown World (1951).
- (Co-)Oscar-nominated art director Polly Platt (Terms of Endearment, 1983) also produced a handful of films, among them James L. Brooks’ I’ll Do Anything (1994), Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket (1996), and Robert Harling’s The Evening Star (1996). Platt was The Last Picture Show filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich’s wife from 1962–1972.
- William Campbell had lead roles in the B releases Cell 2455, Death Row (1955) and Dementia 13 (1963).
- Tyrone Power’s second wife and Edmund Purdom’s third, Linda Christian was generally seen in minor roles in a handful of international movies – e.g., Athena (1954), The V.I.P.s (1963), How to Seduce a Playboy (1966).
- John Wood capably supported Nigel Hawthorne in Nicholas Hytner’s The Madness of King George (1994).
- John Neville‘s best-known big-screen portrayal is probably that of Sherlock Holmes in James Hill’s A Study in Terror (1965).
- A minor big-screen actor in the 1950s, James Arness (Her Twelve Men, The First Traveling Saleslady) became a household name by way of the television Western series Gunsmoke (1955–1975).
- The Steve McQueen cop thriller Bullitt (1968) remains the most widely known effort directed by four-time Oscar nominee Peter Yates (as director-producer for Breaking Away, 1979; and The Dresser, 1983).
- House of Wax (1953) leading man Paul Picerni‘s most famous role was that of Robert Stack’s handsome second-in-command in the hit TV crime series The Untouchables (1959–1963).
- Harry Morgan (a.k.a. Henry Morgan), of TV’s M*A*S*H fame, was a busy supporting player in nearly 100 movies, including William A. Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Vincente Minnelli’s Madame Bovary (1949), and Anthony Mann’s The Glenn Miller Story (1954).
- Stage and sometime film actress Jill Haworth brought to life the original Sally Bowles in the Broadway production of Cabaret. Haworth’s few film appearances include supporting roles in two Otto Preminger efforts, Exodus (1960) and In Harm’s Way (1965).
- Screenwriter and playwright Arthur Laurents’ film credits include Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) and Otto Preminger’s first-rate movie version of Françoise Sagan’s family drama Bonjour Tristesse (1958), while his Broadway musicals include Gypsy and West Side Story. At one point, Laurents, the author of a bitter tell-all autobiography, was the lover of fellow 2011 departed and Rope leading man Farley Granger.
- Among powerhouse agent Sue Mengers’ clients were Natalie Wood, Ann-Margret, and Barbra Streisand. In addition, Mengers is supposed to have been the inspiration for Eva Brown, Shelley Winters’ butch lesbian Hollywood agent in Blake Edwards’ satire S.O.B. (1981).
“Tura Satana & Cliff Robertson + the Two Russells & Child Actors: ‘TCM Remembers’” follow-up post: “More Remembering: Betty Garrett & Leslie Brooks + Last Surviving Silent Era Actresses & the Forgotten Ones.”
Turner Classic Movies website.
Tura Satana Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! image: RM Films International.
Victor Sjöström Wild Strawberries image: AB Svensk Filmindustri.
Edith Fellows publicity image: Columbia Pictures.
John Howard Davies Oliver Twist image: Cineguild / GFD / Eagle-Lion.
“Tura Satana & Cliff Robertson + the Two Russells & Child Actors: ‘TCM Remembers’” last updated in June 2018.