Hominy & Hash
LETTERS FROM A MOVIE FAN
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Dear Mr. Hoyt: I've wanted to write a fan letter to you since at least 1970. Every time the thought came to me, I realized I didn't know your name. Well, today that's no excuse. Through the Internet, I can find anyone using the smallest bit of information and I've discovered your name and, sadly, that you died in 1991.
Now, that was a shock to me until I realized why I was thinking of you: You are conspicuous by your absence. I didn't realize it was a dozen years or so since I last saw you anywhere, big or little screen. It must have been hearing you as the Midas Muffler Company's spokesman, yell "Midas-ize" out your pickup truck's window to the driver with the noisy, smoking muffler as you pulled around him on a dusty New England road.
That was probably your last series of "gigs" and bore no resemblance to the man who first caught my attention. You were the German officer with the penetrating, steel blue eyes, one of which often held a monocle in place. Your hair was silver and your cheek bore a fencing scar as a mark of bravery, and you didn't smile.
When we talked about movies, and we did most of the time in the '40s and '50s, you were always described as "you know, the man with the blue eyes and silver hair." Oh, yes, we knew. The movies were black and white but your eyes blazed blue right through the screen. We all agreed you were an unsung actor.
You were always working; we'd see you not only as the Field Marshallin a German tent, studying battle maps, hands resting on the table, cigarette holder clamped between your teeth, but as the Space Commander in "Desperately Seeking Susan" and a foil to Bob Hope's antics in "My Favorite Brunette."
Another generation of viewers saw you in the first two pilot episodes of "Star Trek," or as Grandpa Stanley on tv's "Gimme a Break." Speaking of the Grandpa role, that really was a touch of "How the mighty have fallen:" Playing the part of an old man sitting in a rocker, wearing a loosely tied flannel bathrobe, your character would stand up and "flash" them - with back to the camera, of course.
Gone were the monacle and the cigarette holder, gone the polished buttons of the uniform, your silver hair was uncombed and no longer slick but wispy. But the role was played to perfection. As a character actor you never had an image to live up to and we never knew what to expect of you. But, if you were in it, it would be good if only for your time on screen.
I'll say hello and goodbye in the same letter and trust you know how much you are missed - if only by your absence. No one has filled the void.
Dear Ms. Sondergaard: Oh, this is so overdue! As a movie buff, I remember so many impressive performances, and yours always being standouts among them. When I mention the name Gale Sondergaard, I'm met with frowns indicating "I know the name but I can't place the face." Or someone will say, when I describe you or a part you've played, "Oh, yeah, I just never knew her name."
When you played the venomous spider lady in that old Sherlock Holmes movie, you had us on the edge of our seats. Sherlock Holmes or not, there was nothing "elementary" about the plot where pajama murders were a menace to the neighborhood. I was young enough to carry that one to my dreams.
In Bette Davis' famous roll in "The Letter," you played a blackmailer. Perfectly. You won the first Academy Award ever given for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role or your portrayal of a scheming housekeeper in "Anthony Adverse" - and still your name escapes us.
You created characters we loved to hate, and played them magnificently - I'm sorry I never wrote to tell you that.
Dear Madame Ouspenskaya: How I've always loved saying your name: Madame Maria Ouspenskaya. It rolls off the tongue and is certainly fit for the woman described as the "Greatest Actress of the Russian Stage." I only recently discovered that you are being called that, and justly. I know you as the woman who worried about that poor victim, Lon Chaney, Jr., of every full moon that rose in the sky; he simultaneously grew hair and fangs and claws and became the Wolf Man.
Of course. for the rest of the month he was quite good-looking and a woman would fall in love with him ... only to be scared to death. You, Madame Maria, would point your aged, gnarled finger and say slowly in your heavy Russian accent, "Go to him. He needs you." We would look for that in all your movies.
You pretty much said the same thing to Deborah Kerr in the much-loved "An Affair to Remember," only this time "he" was not a wolf (well, not in the canine sense) but a ne'er-do-well playboy from New York City. Nevertheless, the advice came across the same way: "Go to him. He needs you." And we knew they'd one day end up together. You roles were small but so powerful that they could actually carry the movie. I thank you for that.
Sorry I never told you.
In fact, I'm sorry I never told a lot of people and now there are few left.
Where is today's Ida Lupino? Now, wait a minute. There are people today worth the time it takes to tell them how much I think of them. Excuse me just now. I've got to catch them while I can. I'll start with a redhead who really lights up the screen:
Dear Bette Midler... .