WEIRDLAND: R.I.P. Lizabeth Scott: Noir Feeling Closer to Reality

Friday, February 06, 2015

R.I.P. Lizabeth Scott: Noir Feeling Closer to Reality

Lizabeth Scott, who played an aloof and alluring femme fatale in such film noir classics as I Walk Alone, Pitfall and Dark City, has died. She was 92. Scott, who also starred as a gangster's wife opposite Humphrey Bogart in Dead Reckoning (1947), died Jan. 31 of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, her friend Mary Goodstein told the Los Angeles Times.

Scott, a sultry blonde with a smoky voice in the mold of Lauren Bacall, played nightclub singers in 1947's I Walk Alone opposite Burt Lancaster and in William Dieterle's Dark City, a 1950 release that marked Charlton Heston's first major Hollywood role.

In Pitfall (1948), she was a fashion model that married man and insurance investigator Dick Powell could not resist. And in Too Late for Tears (1949), also starring Dan Duryea, Scott killed not one but two husbands. (The poster for that movie proclaims, "She got what she wanted … with lies … with kisses … with murder!")

She made her film debut in You Came Along (1945) opposite Robert Cummings — Ayn Rand was a co-writer of the screenplay — followed by The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), with Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas and Van Heflin.

Her other films included Desert Fury (1947) with John Hodiak, Easy Living (1949), Paid in Full (1950), The Company She Keeps (1951) — as an ex-convict — The Racket (1951) with Robert Mitchum, Stolen Face (1952), Bad for Each Other (1953) and The Weapon (1956).

Asked in a 1996 interview why film noir had become so popular, Scott said: “The films that I had seen growing up were always, ‘Boy meets girl, boy ends up marrying girl, and they go off into the sunset,’ ” she said. “And suddenly [in the 1940s], psychology was taking a grasp on society in America.

That’s when they got into these psychological, emotional things that people feel. That was the feeling of film noir. … It was a new realm, something very exciting, because you were coming closer and closer to reality.” Source:

"The privilege of being a screen actor is having the opportunity of seeing yourself as others see you. Believe me, it is very traumatic. When I saw myself, I thought: Get a train ticket and leave." -Lizabeth Scott

Born Emma Matzo, the daughter of a Slovakian mother and an Italian father in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Lizabeth Scott evidenced an affinity for theater when she was a child. In the 1930s, many parents believed that the only way their children could escape from coal towns like Scranton was to speak properly. It was not that Scrantonians spoke poorly; it was that they carried the baggage of their grandparents' or parents' immigrant past with them.

Lizabeth Scott could have had a future as a model, especially after she began appearing in the pages of Harper's Bazaar at the same time as Betty (Lauren) Bacall. Elizabeth Scott considered herself an actress; her first dramatic lead was Sadie Thompson, Jeanne Eagels's signature role, in W. Somerset Maugham's Rain. Since Rain was performed in what was then the equivalent of off Broadway, it went unreviewed. Elizabeth had no thought of giving up; she had a face, a figure, and a talent, and if theatergoers could not experience it, magazine readers would. Irving Hoffman, who worked for columnist Walter Winchell, was impressed by her range.

Elizabeth Scott was another matter; to Hoffman, she was class. Eager to introduce her to those who could further her career, Hoffman arranged a twentyfirst-birthday celebration for her at the Stork Club - Walter Winchell's favorite nightclub, where he had his own table. It was September 1943, and Hal Wallis, who visited New York at least once a year to check out the current crop of plays, happened to be there that evening. Hoffman introduced Elizabeth to Wallis, who sensed enough potential to suggest a screen test. After seeing the test, Jack Warner was characteristically blunt: "She's a second lead, and we have enough of those."

Although Wallis considered Lizabeth Scott his personal discovery, she came to Hollywood through a circuitous route that owed less to him than to circumstances over which he had no control. In Hollywood, the agent is usually the liaison between artist and producer. Bacall's case was different; it was Nancy Hawks, a former model herself, who brought Betty Bacall to her husband's attention. Lizabeth's Hollywood entree was more typical; talent agent Charles Feldman spotted her picture in Harper's Bazaar. Lizabeth's original contract (June 1944) guaranteed her $150 a week for a minimum of twenty weeks; by January 1945 it was $200 for twenty weeks; by July 1945, $300 for not less than forty weeks. A year later, Lizabeth was making $750 a week.

After You Came Along, Wallis decided to feature Lizabeth in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), with Barbara Stanwyck in the title role and Academy Award winner Van Heflin (for best supporting actor in Johnny Eager) as Martha's childhood sweetheart, who reenters her life. Lizabeth's part may have been peripheral, but the English did not think so. When she arrived in London for the British premiere of Martha Ivers, the moviegoers were so taken with her performance and her physical presence that they started to mob her. Graciously, she thanked them and was then escorted through the back door of the theater.

Lizabeth Scott became an obsession with Wallis. He had the power to authorize the kinds of products she would endorse in magazines and the interviews she would grant. Ads for Lux soap, Chesterfield
cigarettes, designer clothes, and soft drinks were acceptable, but not endorsements for pressure cookers and dime store cosmetics.

An editor from Conde Nast, struck by Lizabeth's publicity shots, advised Wallis that she was "something special ... a new type of movie girl ... potentially a fine, fine actress ... what every man in
uniform wants his girl friend to look like."' Wallis knew even earlier that Lizabeth should not be subjected to the kind of portraiture that would make her look exotic but unreal: "I think the best way to shoot this girl is without makeup, except possibly for lipstick.... She seems to be the type that should go for this natural quality."

Wallis thought he had a star in Lizabeth Scott; what he had was an talented actress whose range was never fully exploited, partly because Hollywood's postwar obsession with film noir darkened many of her films, which, ordinarily, would just have been considered crime movies or melodramas. Thus, while Lauren Bacall never became a noir icon (having never become a real femme noire), Lizabeth Scott did, joining the pantheon that included Marie Windsor, Ann Savage, Jane Greer, and Beverly Garland. In fact, according to Film Noir: An Encyclopedia Reference to the American Style, seven of her twenty-two movies qualify as film noir: Martha Ivers, Dead Reckoning (1947), I Walk Alone (1948), Pitfall (1948), Too Late for Tears (1949), Dark City (1950), and The Racket (1951). Ironically, the best -Dead Reckoning, Pitfall, and Too Late for Tears were loanouts.

When Wallis loaned her to producer Samuel Bischoff for Pitfall, her salary was $7,500 for ten weeks' work; and for RKO's Easy Living (1949), she was guaranteed a minimum of $75,000. While neither was a major film, each succeeded on the B-movie level because of the professionalism of its director (Pitfall's Andre de Toth, Easy Living's Jacques Tourneur) and costars (Dick Powell and Jane Wyatt in Pitfall, Lucille Ball and Victor Mature in Easy Living). Although Pitfall now ranks as classic noir (French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier considers it one of the genre's masterpieces), Wallis could not have known that in 1948; he simply believed that Lizabeth's appearing opposite Dick Powell, who showed his macho side in Murder, My Sweet (1944) and Cornered (1945), was right for a movie about a woman who ensnares a respectable married man in a web of deception and murder. Despite her excellent performance, Pitfall did not enhance her appeal to audiences, particularly women.

She was a homewrecker in Pitfall, a murderer in Dead Reckoning, and the self-absorbed wife of a football player with a heart condition in Easy Living. Typecast as the dark lady, Lizabeth Scott never had the chance to display her gift for comedy, which was evident in The Skin of Our Teeth. But that was theater, not film. And theater was the medium for which she was yearning, as one movie role dissolved into another and all the characters merged into one. -"Hal Wallis: Producer to the Stars" (2004) by Bernard F. Dick

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