Bad for Eachother: Gloria Grahame in IN A LONELY PLACE

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Gloria Grahme was born and bred in the glow from the halo of Tinseltown but she’d have to go to New York to be offered a Hollywood contract.  The stage was her first love, perhaps her abiding love, and the young Gloria Hallward parlayed a handful of appearances in Los Angeles plays (one of them a hillbilly farce costarring a young Robert Mitchum) into a shot at Broadway.  And she got there, too, albeit as an understudy to Miriam Hopkins (a replacement for Tallullah Bankhead) in Thornton Wilder’s THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH.  It was Gloria’s rough luck that Ms. Hopkins never missed a performance but there were other plays and other roles and MGM boss Louis B. Mayer saw her in one of these and offered her a seven year contract.  Although she wasn’t thrilled about the idea of giving up on live theatre, Gloria followed the money back to California.  She made her film debut as Gloria Grahame in 1944 but spent most of her time on the Metro lot posing for cheesecake photos with such pretty young hopefuls as Cyd Charisse, Linda Christian and Ava Gardner.  It was on loan-out to RKO that she made her first real dent in the immortality game, as good-time girl Violet Bick in Frank Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946).  RKO would eventually take Gloria on full-time but not before she played a supporting role, another fallen woman, in Edward Dmytryk’s CROSSFIRE (1947), for which she received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress.  Although she had played it bright and bubbly at MGM, RKO stamped Gloria Grahame as damaged goods… and by then the actress really was feeling the part.

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Gloria Grahame’s problematic first marriage, to actor Stanley Clements (GOING MY WAY), was entering the white heat stage of its downard arc during the shooting of CROSSFIRE.  Clements even followed her on location to Lake Tahoe, where she played a dancehall girl in Mark Robson’s ROUGHSHOD (1949).  There were allegations of abuse and telltale evidence in the form of bruises, which caused Gloria’s costars to fear for her safety.  She and Clements were divorced in 1948, after only three years of marriage, but by the time the paperwork went through Gloria was pregnant by Nicholas Ray, her director in A WOMAN’S SECRET (1949), her second film as an RKO contract player.  Gloria and Ray married in haste, in Las Vegas, then announced that the subsequent birth was premature to avoid scandal.  But people knew… just as they knew her marriage to Nicholas Ray was doomed from the start.  Gloria Grahame had a thing for bigger-than-life men with chips on their shoulders.  She may not have been born to play the part of a pure soul ensnared in a potentially lethal love affair in IN A LONELY PLACE (1950) but no one could have played it better.

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Humphrey Bogart had wanted his own wife, Lauren Bacall, to star alongside of him in this adaptation of the pulp novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, the second project for his Santana Picture Corporation.  When Warner Brothers refused the loan-out of Bacall, Bogart considered Ginger Rogers before making the offer to Gloria Grahame.  By the time she appeared in IN A LONELY PLACE, with husband Nicholas Ray directing, Gloria was growing steadily more dissatisfied with her looks, particularly her mouth.  Although cinematographers and directors assured her that the camera loved her face as-is, Gloria thought she needed to change her appearance.  Starting with CROSSFIRE,  she began to cheat the line of her thin upper lip to give her mouth a fuller appearance.  She would later claim that she was following the theories of Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov, who believed an actor’s face is best when immobile, allowing the audience to read there the widest range of emotions.  In later films, Gloria would go so far as to wad tissue paper under her lip to give her mouth a more “bee stung” appearance; this caused problems with her leading men, to whom she would inadvertently pass wet Kleenex during kissing scenes.  Later still, she would undergo plastic surgery that paralyzed her lip and adversely affected her speech.  In IN A LONELY PLACE, however, the augmentation was still temporary and most of Gloria’s problems remained internal.

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Lucky for us that Bogie didn’t get Bacall to play a has-been Hollywood startlet to his apoplectic studio scribe.  Bacall would have been too polished, too poised and sure of herself.  Ditto Ginger Rogers; with her past association for being Fred Astaire’s dance partner, who would believe she’d walk on eggshells?  Uncertain of her looks, uncertain of her second marriage, uncertain of her career (yet, strangely, never uncertain about her abilities), Gloria Grahame brought the perfect mixture of dazzle and doubt to the role of Laurel Gray.   “There she is, the one that’s different,” Bogart’s Dixon Steele says about Grahame’s cautious but curious neighbor lady.  Nicholas Ray had studied architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright and he uses architectural structures throughout IN A LONELY PLACE to frame and define his characters.

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While Dix is often photographed against the stone archway of his apartment building (the portal through which he will be banished in the final frames), Laurel is often framed by doorways, which emphasizes her outsider status.  Dix gets his first good look at her through the French doors of his bedroom, which paradoxically frame her as if on a movie screen but with those doors opening and closing like book covers.  Laurel will come to mean a great deal to Dix in the ensuing hours, when he becomes the prime suspect in what appears to be an open and shut murder case.  Laurel will provide Dix with an alibi (albeit not an air tight one), letting him off the hook for the “mugging” murder of a hatcheck girl (whom Dix had brought home that night, for non-libidinous reasons), and a relationship will blossom from the ashes of happenstance.  Yet uncertainties linger and soon Laurel will begin to wonder if Dix might just have strangled that poor girl after all.

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Critics have long speculated that Humphrey Bogart was drawn to the role of Dixon Steele, a veteran Hollywood player stewing silently in the broth of his own regrets and professional frustrations, because it allowed the actor to grapple with unpalatable tendencies of his own – his anger, his resentment, his fears.   I suspect the same is true of Gloria Grahame, although I doubt very much that she accepted the role in order to lay herself bare.  Nevertheless, with Nicholas Ray and his screenwriters repurposing the Dorothy Hughes novel (and in fact changing its point of view and resolution completely), IN A LONELY PLACE held up a mirror to Gloria Grahame’s life and character.  (Ray even went to far as to mock up his West Hollywood apartment building on the soundstages, giving the production the feel of a home movie.)  Ray was a lousy husband but he had Gloria Grahame down cold.  Laurel is depicted as passionate but protective of herself; she manages to be both cautious and impulsive, as mysterious and shuttered as she is honest and loyal, quick to laugh…

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… but as with most women accustomed to expect to abuse, joy can quickly turn to tension…

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… and tension to terror.

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Gloria Grahame went on to higher profile roles, particularly in the Fritz Lang twofer of THE BIG HEAT (1954) and HUMAN DESIRE (1954), in which her characters were more proactive, more iconic, and also as Ado Annie, the “girl who can’t say no” in OKLAHOMA! (1955), but her tenure as a Hollywood name wouldn’t survive the decade.  Branded as difficult, unprofessional and just plain weird, she found roles fewer and farther between as the Fifties yielded to the Sixties.  She concentrated her work instead on television and live theatre.  She divorced Nicholas Ray and married again.  She divorced again and married again (to Nick Ray’s son, Tony, with whom she had two children).  A cult figure even in life, she has a Psychotronic profile for roles in the TV series THE OUTER LIMITS, and in such low budget exploitation features as BLOOD AND LACE (1971), MAMA’S DIRTY GIRLS (1974), MANSION OF THE DOOMED (1976) and THE NESTING (1981).  In this last outing, a horror movie set in a brothel, Gloria played a ghost… and the film was, appropriately enough, only released after her death from cancer in October 0f 1981.  On its own merits, IN A LONELY PLACE has a deservedly excellent reputation with critics and movie lovers but in the context of Gloria Grahame’s short life it also has a tragic milestone quality.  In it, you have a sense of the actress finally getting more than her foot through the industry door, only to catch sight of nothing so grand as the back way out.

This is the first in a week-long series of blog posts from The Movie Morlocks dedicated to Gloria Grahame.  Stay tuned to Turner Classic Movies for our upcoming retrospective of her films on August 13th and to this site for essays on her film and TV work, her estimable impact and influence.

0 Response Bad for Eachother: Gloria Grahame in IN A LONELY PLACE
Posted By Suzi : August 7, 2009 1:13 pm

Nice way to start us off.

Posted By Suzi : August 7, 2009 1:13 pm

Nice way to start us off.

Posted By murf : August 7, 2009 2:46 pm

She understudied Miriam Hopkins. Not Miriam Davies. Davies was hardly going to come out of retirement to replace Tallulah in a Bway show.

Posted By murf : August 7, 2009 2:46 pm

She understudied Miriam Hopkins. Not Miriam Davies. Davies was hardly going to come out of retirement to replace Tallulah in a Bway show.

Posted By rhsmith : August 7, 2009 4:20 pm

Thanks for the Corectol, Murph. I had the right name in my notes but the wrong one popped into my head when I sat down to write this thing. I even had a flash of doubt as I typed out that name (“Really? The Rosebud dame?”) but let myself get distracted by other things and soon forgot to check.

Any other thoughts or did you stop reading there?

Posted By rhsmith : August 7, 2009 4:20 pm

Thanks for the Corectol, Murph. I had the right name in my notes but the wrong one popped into my head when I sat down to write this thing. I even had a flash of doubt as I typed out that name (“Really? The Rosebud dame?”) but let myself get distracted by other things and soon forgot to check.

Any other thoughts or did you stop reading there?

Posted By Don C : August 7, 2009 5:16 pm

I have always found Grahame to be a fascinating performer to watch and seek out her films regularly. She has a quality that exudes a childlike yet tough demeanor combined with a smoldering sexuality that was perfectly suited to her screen persona and the post WWII film noir period. ‘Suicide Blonde” is an excellent source on Grahame’s career and life.

Posted By Don C : August 7, 2009 5:16 pm

I have always found Grahame to be a fascinating performer to watch and seek out her films regularly. She has a quality that exudes a childlike yet tough demeanor combined with a smoldering sexuality that was perfectly suited to her screen persona and the post WWII film noir period. ‘Suicide Blonde” is an excellent source on Grahame’s career and life.

Posted By william gauslow : August 7, 2009 5:31 pm

The role in Oklahoma as she sings “girl who can’t say no” is my favorite part of that movie.

Posted By william gauslow : August 7, 2009 5:31 pm

The role in Oklahoma as she sings “girl who can’t say no” is my favorite part of that movie.

Posted By william gauslow : August 7, 2009 5:33 pm

Why wasn’t her Oscar award for her role in “The Bad and the Beautiful” mentioned ?

Posted By william gauslow : August 7, 2009 5:33 pm

Why wasn’t her Oscar award for her role in “The Bad and the Beautiful” mentioned ?

Posted By Cool Bev : August 7, 2009 5:33 pm

I’ve read that when she worked on MACAO with von Sternberg and Ray, she promised Ray that she’d drop all claims to alimony if he could get her off the picture. I’m glad he wouldn’t – her part may not make any sense in that film, but her presence is electric.

Posted By Cool Bev : August 7, 2009 5:33 pm

I’ve read that when she worked on MACAO with von Sternberg and Ray, she promised Ray that she’d drop all claims to alimony if he could get her off the picture. I’m glad he wouldn’t – her part may not make any sense in that film, but her presence is electric.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : August 7, 2009 5:50 pm

That story is true, as far as I know, Cool Bev (check out Bev’s blog at http://coolbev.blogspot.com/). Gloria was particularly incensed about getting stuck with this gig because she had wanted the role that went to Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun. Gloria and Shelley were often up for the same role (and Gloria got to act opposite Shelley’s husband Vittorio Gassman in The Glass Wall) yet the pair remained friendly throughout their lives.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : August 7, 2009 5:50 pm

That story is true, as far as I know, Cool Bev (check out Bev’s blog at http://coolbev.blogspot.com/). Gloria was particularly incensed about getting stuck with this gig because she had wanted the role that went to Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun. Gloria and Shelley were often up for the same role (and Gloria got to act opposite Shelley’s husband Vittorio Gassman in The Glass Wall) yet the pair remained friendly throughout their lives.

Posted By rhsmith : August 7, 2009 5:56 pm

Why wasn’t her Oscar award for her role in “The Bad and the Beautiful” mentioned?

We’ve got a whole week of Gloria Grahame-dedicated posts going up and I know that one of the Morlocks will be discussing The Bad and the Beautiful at some length. So hang in there!

Posted By rhsmith : August 7, 2009 5:56 pm

Why wasn’t her Oscar award for her role in “The Bad and the Beautiful” mentioned?

We’ve got a whole week of Gloria Grahame-dedicated posts going up and I know that one of the Morlocks will be discussing The Bad and the Beautiful at some length. So hang in there!

Posted By mytabloids : August 7, 2009 9:56 pm

She would have been perfect to do the Winters role in “A Place In The Sun.” I’ve always thought that Winters was flat wrong, physically, for that movie. Grahame, had she been cast, would have made the difference between her character and Taylor’s more about their personalities and social status, instead of about their comparative beauty….

Posted By mytabloids : August 7, 2009 9:56 pm

She would have been perfect to do the Winters role in “A Place In The Sun.” I’ve always thought that Winters was flat wrong, physically, for that movie. Grahame, had she been cast, would have made the difference between her character and Taylor’s more about their personalities and social status, instead of about their comparative beauty….

Posted By Jenni : August 8, 2009 12:25 pm

I don’t know if I quite agree with the above comment. Yes, Grahame would have been good as the spurned girlfriend in “A Place in the Sun”, but I think Winters was outstanding in that role. She played the factory worker, sort of frumpy, very clingy girlfriend with the right perspective. Audiences could feel her pain, her awkwardness, and could emphasize with her character. I don’t know if Grahame could have pulled it off without sounding too tinny or whiny. Just my opinion…

Posted By Jenni : August 8, 2009 12:25 pm

I don’t know if I quite agree with the above comment. Yes, Grahame would have been good as the spurned girlfriend in “A Place in the Sun”, but I think Winters was outstanding in that role. She played the factory worker, sort of frumpy, very clingy girlfriend with the right perspective. Audiences could feel her pain, her awkwardness, and could emphasize with her character. I don’t know if Grahame could have pulled it off without sounding too tinny or whiny. Just my opinion…

Posted By Jenni : August 8, 2009 12:27 pm

One more question about Grahame. Did she have the lip surgery done prior to Oklahoma? She did her best with that song, but she seems a bit stiff-lipped in it. I do enjoy her characterization as Ado Annie. Was Celeste Holm considered for the movie as she originated the role on Broadway?

Posted By Jenni : August 8, 2009 12:27 pm

One more question about Grahame. Did she have the lip surgery done prior to Oklahoma? She did her best with that song, but she seems a bit stiff-lipped in it. I do enjoy her characterization as Ado Annie. Was Celeste Holm considered for the movie as she originated the role on Broadway?

Posted By mytabloids : August 8, 2009 5:50 pm

Jenni -

It’s certainly a point we could argue :-)

I’ll admit I’m not a Winter’s fan, but sometimes I think that’s because she played so many painful roles, things that almost make me want to avert my eyes….

Posted By mytabloids : August 8, 2009 5:50 pm

Jenni -

It’s certainly a point we could argue :-)

I’ll admit I’m not a Winter’s fan, but sometimes I think that’s because she played so many painful roles, things that almost make me want to avert my eyes….

Posted By cinefan1 : August 9, 2009 11:15 am

At lastsome recognition for a great actress !! I’ve heard actresses even today (susan Sarandon) research her films for clues to character as they prepare for a role.

Posted By cinefan1 : August 9, 2009 11:15 am

At lastsome recognition for a great actress !! I’ve heard actresses even today (susan Sarandon) research her films for clues to character as they prepare for a role.

Posted By gloria grahame | rielle hunter photo : August 14, 2009 10:10 am

[...] of Gloria Grahame on TCM – August 13th.sloth unleashed – http://mudwerks.tumblr.com/|||Bad for Eachother: Gloria Grahame in IN A LONELY PLACEGloria Grahme was born and bred in the glow from the halo of Tinseltown but she’d have to go to [...]

Posted By gloria grahame | rielle hunter photo : August 14, 2009 10:10 am

[...] of Gloria Grahame on TCM – August 13th.sloth unleashed – http://mudwerks.tumblr.com/|||Bad for Eachother: Gloria Grahame in IN A LONELY PLACEGloria Grahme was born and bred in the glow from the halo of Tinseltown but she’d have to go to [...]

Posted By gavin rose : April 24, 2010 11:00 pm

In a lonely place, dark movie, troubled characters, woefully underrated and rarely seen, fascinating actress, always got the sense her characters felt like damaged goods. troubled woman too with all those chaotic relationships. Would love to know what made her tick and why her life played out the way it did. I mean who sleeps with their husband’s 13yo son then marries him later?

Posted By gavin rose : April 24, 2010 11:00 pm

In a lonely place, dark movie, troubled characters, woefully underrated and rarely seen, fascinating actress, always got the sense her characters felt like damaged goods. troubled woman too with all those chaotic relationships. Would love to know what made her tick and why her life played out the way it did. I mean who sleeps with their husband’s 13yo son then marries him later?

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