Gary Cooper: “Peaches and Champagne in the middle of the day!”

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This post may see me in hot water; however, I hope it’s sprinkled with shrimp boil and fresh lemon juice following an afternoon of busy deveining and chopping okra to prepare the gumbo and jambalaya of my memory.

I often understood Anne Rice’s choice of New Orleans as the setting for her vampire novels, and the Southern Gothic tradition still lingers in film, books, novels, and music. But since I lived in and around New Orleans for a few of my formative years, the allure of the sights, sounds, and smells of the French Quarter are continually lingering somewhere in my soul. One of the films so evocative of the languid but volatile nature of the people grabbed my fear by it’s hinges and shook it around in my core.
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The opening scenes of Saratoga Trunk, even though they were filmed on the back lot of Warner Brothers’ Studios, coalesced and complimented my memories of walking along the brick-lined streets with gas lamp replicas and wrought iron balustrades as merchants hawked their wares to tourists with phrases like “Fresh pralines, fresh as New Orleans.” The forbidden lairs of the voodoo queen, Marie Laveaux, still beckon and tempt, and the stories of the ghosts of tortured slaves and murdered innocents perpetuate my nightmarish memories of childhood anxiety.

The varied characters and events equalled my experiences of the actual people and places I’d seen and heard. I’d walked on Rampart Street, just like Clio Dulaine did in the film. I’d seen the traffic up and down the Mississippi as it flowed out to the Gulf, and a visit to the Madame Tussaud’s in the Quarter is still white-hot in my memory with the beating heart of Abraham Lincoln on his deathbed and the torture chambers created by madmen who imprisoned their slaves for imagined slights. Jazz music floated everywhere and a funeral cortege with a marching band of somber players made me stop dead in my own tracks, mesmerized by the notes and the spectacle.

As I walked through the uneven streets and looked in the shops, I was given a small sack of herbs to ward off the evil eye so others wouldn’t be tempted to send evil thoughts my way, and as I found myself drinking a cup of chickory coffee and delighting in three beignets dusted with a lightening streak of confectioner’s sugar, I looked skyward and saw the Cabildo guarding the plaza like a fortress.

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For all it’s character-driven dialogue, Saratoga Trunk still might be considered the bastard sister of Gone With The Wind (Max Steiner also did the music for Saratoga Trunk), but for me, it’s characters seem more real because of the part of my life lived in New Orleans. Ferber’s book arrived in 1941, but Margaret Mitchell’s had preceded it by several years. When Saratoga Trunk was filmed in 1943 (but not released until 1945), war-rationing made the fresh vegetables unavailable, so most of the produce viewers see in the market are fakes. What isn’t fake is the singing voice of Ingrid Bergman, which enchants us as well as Gary Cooper in his role as gambler Clint Maroon. Bergman’s vocals in this film are also one of its rarities. And every dimestore cowboy as well as Governor Goodhair, or former Texas politician Rick Perry, has done some form of imitation of the Texas cowboy Cooper portrayed in Saratoga Trunk, but none can compare.
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Flora Robson, who was honored with an Oscar nomination for her role as Angelique Pluton, had also played Queen Elizabeth I in The Sea Hawk, and was adept at many kinds or roles, but she was one of many actors through the ages who have portrayed characters of other races. Her language and phrasing reminded me of the language I’d heard spoken as a child. French phrases and inflections peppered with a verbal sauce spicy as a bottle of Evangeline perpetually floated like curious clouds of conversations all through the French Quarter of my childhood. (In Saratoga Trunk, it was the first time I’d ever heard the word “zumba!” on the silver screen.) The French phrases and Cajun intonations made Robson’s interpretation easier to believe, even though her eyebrows were some of the severest ones Max Factor, or in this case, Perc Westmore, ever created. Bergman’s eyebrows were also darker than in most of her other roles, and if scrutinied closely, a continuity issue exits from scene to scene. (Westmore touched up Bette Davis in Elizabeth and Essex, created the makeup for Quasimodo portrayed by Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Robson’s own look as Queen Elizabeth I in The Sea Hawk.) Angelique, a creation of Ferber’s and screenwriter’s Casey Petersen’s design, was ultimately an exotic persona crafted by the talents of Flora Robson, who evinced a complicated soul of a former slave, and mother of a son who was afflicted with dwarfism, but was nonetheless beloved.

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“Tell them there is someone on Rampart Street  now who is not afraid of them. Clio Dulaine, that’s me! I’m as good as they are.”

Jerry Austin, who plays Angelque’s son, Cupidon, was born in Russia, and had an uncredited part in Todd Browning’s Freaks, but his part in Saratoga Trunk was probably his most famous role.

Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Jerry Austin, and Flora Robson in Saratoga Trunk Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Jerry Austin, and Flora Robson in Saratoga Trunk.

Cupidon’s friendship with and admiration of Clint Maroon makes him endearing, and this film fascinated me because of his energetic performance and his ability to tweak the heart strings of viewers. His injuries in the film make it the peak of emotional turmoil as his death seems imminent. But there is a happy ending, and Austin is an integral part of the drama, which is unusual for character actors of his stature at the time. As one of the “little people” of classic cinema, Austin packs a powerful emotinal punch, and his moments on screen will charm you.

So for all it’s political correctness of its times, it is most probably incorrect for ours, but the unusual characters and the animal magnetism of Gary Cooper as a Texas gambler make this film one of Cooper’s most memorable because of the unique group of stock characters who defy the usual roles.

Lena Horne was seriously considered for the part of Clio Dulaine, but was ultimately unavailable as her studio would not lend her out for this part. I have no doubt she would have made Clio Dulaine as memorable a role as Ingrid Bergman did.

The 1941 novel, Saratoga Trunk, by Edna Ferber, is highly praised by Pablito Tortuguita on Amazon, and since it’s been decades since I’ve read it, I though I would share an in-depth review:

‘Saratoga Trunk’ tells a love story while evoking all the richness of three eras–Paris and New Orleans of the 1850s-1870s, the Gilded Age (or the Robber Baron period), and the early 20th century. It’s the story of Clio Dulaine and Clint Maroon, who begin an unconventional relationship in an unforgettable scene bursting with detail.

That detail–immediate and sensory as well as historical and nuanced–makes the novel as effective as the best period romances, because it supports the excellent characterization to create a believable story from improbable characters , they travel to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York and meet the movers and shakers of the Gilded Age.

Masterful prose–sparely elegant at times and incomparably lush at others–combined with sharply-drawn detail and fully rounded characters leads to a truly pleasurable experience. I completely recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a writer from the Golden Age of 20th-century American literature at the top of her form. Even So Big, for which the same author won a Pulitzer in 1924, is merely the equal of this novel.

And the film, produced in 1943 and screened for servicemen overseas, was not officially released until 1945 because the glut of WWII films had overwhelmed the cinematic marketplaces. Currently, however, the cllimate for this film may be tenuous at best because of its subject matter and how it was developed in the 1940s.
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Ingrid Bergman, ever the actress seeking diverse roles to expand her repertoire and advance her career, played Clio Dulaine, an illegitimate half-black daughter of a Southern aristrocrat, and Flora Robson played Angelique, a mulatto servant, in blackface with eyebrows that would rival Margaret Hamilton’s in The Wizard of Oz. But for her valiant and effective efforts, Robson received the only Oscar nomination bestowed upon this film. The pairing of Bergman and Cooper, whose last pairing ran the Oscar nominations up to 9 in For Whom The Bell Tolls, repeated the same sort of electric chemistry that was, evidently, warmed over from their off-screen liasions.”

According to the TCM article on its website, ” In her autobiography co-authored with Alan Burgess, Ingrid Bergman: My Story, Bergman recalled being amazed at how close Cooper’s acting persona was to his real personality, though on-screen his true star potential was revealed. ‘The personality of this man was so enormous, so overpowering-and that expression in his eyes and his face, it was so delicate and so underplayed. You didn’t notice it until you saw it on the screen. I thought he was marvelous: the most underplaying and most natural actor I ever worked with.” And according to one comment Cooper made somewhere in my recollection, but as yet unverified for this article, after Cooper finished a film with Ingrid, he couldn’t get her on the phone. She just wouldn’t talk to him if they weren’t working together.

Considering the number Cooper did on Patricia Neal’s sanity, and the costumer Irene*, who committed suicide a year and a half after Cooper had died, that was a pretty savvy Swedish move.

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I can still remember the sighs my mother made when I saw this film for the first time as an unsure, wobbly teenager. The camera takes a long, slow, languid persual of Gary Cooper as Clint Maroon from tip of his boots to the top of his white hat. And women of a certain age and perusasion in the 40s, right up until now, still swoon. All the major female characters in the film are in awe of his stature and handsome features, and Bergman’s manic-depressive Clio was obviously bewitched by the Maroon/Cooper electricity. Don’t believe me? Check it out. If you don’t swoon, you just ain’t human. Watch the initial meeting between Clio and Clint, and when Clint says to Clio,”Trying to teach me the English language? I’ll learn anything you say” and if your blood pressure doesn’t change, switch the channel or move on to the next entry in your DVR queue. How much of this is acting? How much of this is acting?

Even perennial battle-axe Florence Bates as Mrs. Bellhop charms us as she is affected by his charmisma as well. “And those hips!”:

The lush costumes, period jewelry and millinery designs are credited to Leah Rhodes, and are fraught with detailed notions, lace, and ribbons. One of Bergman’s ensembles also includes one of the cutest pleated aprons I’ve ever seen on the screen.

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The sexually-charged, dramatic chemistry between Bergman and Cooper was part of the impetus for their second collaboration considering the fireworks they generated on For Whom the Bell Tolls, and you can’t take your eyes off of them while they adore each other in either film.

The “New Yawk” liberals and the politically correct may fry me in a hot vat of peanut oil because I still enjoy this film and these characters. I just hope they make sure I’m crisp.

*According to the IMDb entry for classic-era costume designer Irene, “Doris Day wrote in her 1975 autobiography that she got to know Irene quite well. One night after Irene had a few drinks, Irene told Day that the “love of her life” was Gary Cooper. On several other occasions Irene spoke about the intensity of her love for Cooper, and Day got the feeling that Irene had never mentioned this to anyone before her. Day wrote that today she honestly could not tell if they actually had or were having an affair, or if it was a one-sided love. Irene took her own life about a year and a half after Cooper’s death from cancer.”

Saratoga Trunk was not shown during Gary Cooper’s Summer Under The Stars Celebration 2015 on August 30, but was screened during Ingrid Bergman’s on August 28.

This post was created for Kristen Lopez’s Summer Under The Stars Blogathon on Journeys in Classic Film: http://journeysinclassicfilm.com

Resources:

IMDb
Turner Classic Film Database
Ingrid Bergman, My Story

Buzzfeed ignored Flora Robson in this article: http://www.buzzfeed.com/arianelange/10-times-white-actors-played-people-of-color#.pvbEVBvXR

Scott Rollins Film and TV Trivia Blog: http://cscottrollins.blogspot.com/2015/03/flora-robson-queen-of-character-acting.html

Flora Robson, This Is Your Life, and her championing of Paul Robeson: http://www.bigredbook.info/flora_robson.html

Amazon.com reviews

Christy’s Inkwells: Florence Bates-“It’s A Grand Feeling” : https://suesueapplegate.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/florence-bates-its-a-grand-feeling/

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FLORENCE BATES: IT’S A GRAND FEELING!

FLORENCE BATES: IT’S A GRAND FEELING! My Interview with Ann Hamilton, Florence Bates’ Granddaughter, and Rachel Hamilton, Florence Bates’ Great-Granddaughter
Ever watch a film with Florence Bates in it? If you did, you probably had a difficult time taking your eyes off of her formidable image or tuning out her dialogue as she clipped and snapped orders around the room. I know I did.

The first time I saw Rebecca with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, I knew who they were, but I was also impressed with someone else.


Florence Bates portrayed Edythe Van Hopper! She ordered poor Joan Fontaine around like she was a piece of furniture, she demanded that her hired nurse do her bidding, and I seriously doubt Mrs. Van Hopper paid much attention to her doctor or his orders when she demanded a chocolate right after she took her medicine.

Such curiosity also led me to seek out more information about Florence Bates, and I discovered that she has her own entry in the Texas State Historical Association website. Born Florence Rabe (pronounced “Robbie”) on April 15, 1888 in San Antonio, Texas, her father was the owner of an antique store. As a child, Bates showed unusually advanced musical talent on the piano, but an injury to her hand kept Bates from pursuing a professional career in music, even though she continued to play and to enjoy her arpeggios the rest of her life.
Bates graduated from high school in 1903 and pursued a degree in mathematics at the University of Texas in Austin, graduating in 1906. She subsequently worked as a schoolteacher and social worker until she married a man named Joseph Ramer around 1909, and gave up her career to raise her daughter, Mimi. When her marriage didn’t succeed, Bates divorced, a scandalous step in the early 1900s, and no one ever found out what became of Mr. Ramer.


Myrna Loy, William Powell, and Florence Bates in Love Crazy as Mrs. Cooper, the epitome of the nagging, nosy mother-in-law.

Encouraged by a judge in San Antonio who was a family friend, Bates used the judge’s personal law library to study for the bar, and passed the grueling exam six months later in 1914, becoming one of the first, if not the first woman to earn a law degree in the state of Texas, practicing law for four years.

When Bates’ parents died, she left the legal profession so that she and her sister could manage the family antique store, and traveled to Europe and Asia, using her foreign language skills and her ability to negotiate as a buyer for the retail establishment. It was also during this time that she became a bilingual radio commentator on a program designed to foster relations between the United States and Mexico. In 1929, Florence Bates’ sister died and after the stock market crash, she closed the antique business and married William F. Jacoby, a well-to-do Texas oilman.

She and her husband moved to Mexico and El Paso, but when Jacoby lost his financial holdings when Mexico nationalized its petroleum industry, they moved to Los Angeles and opened the P & J Bakery which operated successfully until 1940 when the Jacobys sold the company. (The “J” stands for Jacoby, but no one knows what the “P” symbolizes.)

According to Ann Hamilton, Florence Bates’ granddaughter, not long after arriving in California, Florence Jacoby went to the Pasadena Playhouse with a friend, Estelle Rosenfield, who had planned to audition for a role in Emma. Hamilton recalls that “Estelle was a mean, nasty woman. She really wanted the part, but since my grandmother had just come with her to the audition, the director, DeWitt Bodeen, told her to begin her reading. And my grandmother said, ‘No, no. I’m not here to do a reading.’ Bodeen told her,”well, you’re already here.” Hamilton stated that “My grandmother got the part, although Estelle really wanted it badly.”

Florence Jacoby’s experience with Emma was so successful that she kept the last name of her character, Mrs. Bates, and was billed professionally henceforth as ‘Florence Bates,’ and frequently flourished as a wealthy but aggressive matron, much like her character of Edith Van Hopper in Rebecca opposite Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.

But Hamilton claims that her grandmother was “larger than life, charismatic, and confident.” One episode came to light when she was contacted by a family friend, a man named Bernard, who still lives in Texas, and he related his experiences with Florence Bates when he met her on a visit to California in the 1940s. A mutual acquaintance of Bernard’s knew Bates, and helped him make a connection with her on his first visit to Los Angeles. “This friend, Sue, who is 85, stated my grandmother was a ‘true Bohemian’ ,” claimed Hamilton. “Bernard was 18 at that time, and my grandmother was in her 50s, and Bernard said that she picked him up at the station, and as he was in the army, he needed to go to San Diego for some reason, and she lent him her car. Bernard said she was incredibly warm, was the life of the party, and hosted several social events. He spoke lovingly of her nurturing, motherly self and said she was incredibly lively,” Hamilton said proudly as we spoke on the phone.


Huddling with S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall…

“It was wonderful to talk to someone after so many years who knew about my grandmother, and Bernard also said that Will and Florence had a beautiful love affair, he was her advisor and supportive of her, they made a great team. Will was her anchor, and their marriage was a happy one.”

Evidently Will was a meek, mild, quiet kind of guy, but he completely supported Bates in all her endeavors, according to Bernard.

As for her personal attire while at home, Hamilton reveals that “Florence always wore a full-length dressing gown, or a floor length hostess gown, and carried her eyeglasses on a handle, a lorgnette. She dressed outlandishly, and had very long fingernails.” (Evident in her performance as Edith Van Hopper in Rebecca.) Hamilton also related that “she told me she was almost a concert pianist, and she told me she was good. Her fingernails were so long that they would click on the keys as she played the piano, and when they began to make more noise than the piano, she would trim them.”

Hamilton remembers that she spent a few summers at Big Bear Lake summer camp, and also went to several movie sets with her grandmother. “I helped Joseph Cotten with his lines in Portrait of Jennie. When Bates appeared at the La Jolla Playhouse in Arsenic and Old Lace, her granddaughter went with her and saw ten shows a week. “Richard Carlson had the Cary Grant lead in that particular run of the play.”


Ann’s daughter, Rachel Hamilton is an improvisational comedian, writer, and instructor living in San Francisco, and has appeared in 30 Rock, Chaos Theory, and spent several years as a cast member at Second City, Chicago, so the acting and performing genes definitely run in the family.


Florence Bates and Gregory Peck in rehearsal for “Light Up The Sky” in December 31, 1948. ..

Comedian Rachel Hamilton with friend Tami Sagher

Rachel has gone to The Paley Center For Media during the time she was living and performing improvisational comedy in New York City, and seen footage of her great-grandmother performing on a game show in the 1950s with stars and celebrities of the day as they played charades in two different teams. “In that clip, she is not in character, yet she is in a full-beaded gown, with pince nez,” and she believes that Bates “walked the world in character.” Mother Ann chimed in and stated warmly that “she was warm and fuzzy and kindhearted and sympathetic as can be,” wherein daughter Rachel claimed her own mother was a “chip off the old block.” Both women speak fondly of their famous “character” relation, and their enthusiasm for Florence Bates’ acting abilities never ceases. “I loved her appearance in I Love Lucy (“Pioneer Women”episode, 1952) because she always seemed sharp, hilariously sharp” in all of her appearances.

Florence Bates has appeared in more than 70 films and television programs and some of her more memorable appearances are as the pushy Mrs. Manly in A Letter to Three Wives, and the vindictive Mrs. Van Hopper in Rebecca, but a few of her more kindly characters like the motherly Mollie Veech in Whistle Stop (Ava Gardner’s first major scree role) have also fascinated me because it was such an unusual departure from some of her aggressive, nasty ladies she usually portrayed to keep the action on screen moving forward.

Her turn as social arbiter Sophie Bellop in Saratoga Trunk starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman is my favorite Bates’ role because she is aggressive when she needs to be, but very sweet and endearing when she’s working her charms and trying to convince Ingrid Bergman as Cleo Dulaine to allow her to be Dulaine’s chaperon:
“I know my way around this world. I know what it is to be very rich, and I know what it is to be very poor…I live by my wits. It’s a grand feeling. They can’t take those away from me!”

Such a heartfelt comment was written in the script for the character of Sophie Bellop, but what made it ring so true on film was that it described the exciting, event-filled existence Florence Bates personally experienced.
Follow the link to view a clip of Florence Bates in Saratoga Trunk: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=e8Fuur3ViDU


John Warburton, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Florence Bates and Ethel Griffies in Saratoga Trunk

Filmed in 1943, but not released until 1945, Saratoga Trunk had been screened for two years to Armed Forces’ audiences in service club theaters all over the world. When it finally opened to the general public, it was a sensation, and by the fourth week of its release, the film, based on an Edna Ferber novel, had been seen by an audience one fourth the size of all of Los Angeles, and Look magazine ran a special issue hailing Saratoga Trunk as an exemplary film, and I must add that Sophie Bellop in Saratoga Trunk is one of Florence Bates’ most outstanding performances.

In her film career, Bates worked with Sam Wood, Joe Mankiewicz, George Stevens, Albert Lewin, David Butler and Alfred Hitchcock, who at first believed her to be from the British stage. Her characters have been women who moved the conflicts of film plots forward, and her own personal life as a “true Bohemian” has revealed what a character she really was. It was a “grand feeling” watching her in any of her appearances on film and on television, and it must have been “grand” seeing her on the stage of the Pasadena Playhouse.

But, then again, the world was her stage.

In San Antonio…

Florence Bates in A Letter To Three Wives: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mQBfZocvgzA

Title photo is of Florence Bates and Grady Sutton in My Dear Secretary(1949)

Personal Note: After completing all my research and speaking with Ann and Rachel Hamilton, I found that I actually had quite a bit in common with Florence Bates. I am bilingual, and a professional pianist! Many thanks to Ann and Rachel Hamilton!

Resources:
UPDATED!–Texas State Historical Association, A Handbook of Texas: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fjact
International Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0060904/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
The Pasadena Playhouse: http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org/
Personal Interviews with Ann Hamilton and Rachel Hamilton: October 2013

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