Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

People We Like: Clifton Webb

Clifton Webb [1998-1966] was a phenomenon. A famous dancer in the ‘20s, he became a leading man in the ‘40s and ‘50s when audiences loved his acerbic waspish persona. He led several box-office hits, was friends with all the in-crowd (the Oliviers, Coward, the Bogarts, the Lufts as per all those photographs) while remaining, in that conservative era, a “confirmed bachelor” who famously lived with his mother, Maybelle.

In his twenties he was a professional ballroom dancer and appeared on the stage and in silent movies (which came in useful later in his 1953 comedy DREAMBOAT). His theatre career is fascinating too. LAURA in 1944 was his first big success as the effete Waldo Lydecker in Preminger’s hit thriller, a movie that endures and remains fascinating anytime. Then there was his vain snob Elliott Templeton in THE RAZOR’S EDGE in ’46 – both of which won his Oscar nominations. Then there was Mr Belvedere, his fastidious, finicky, fussy, abrasive and condescending baby sitter in SITTING PRETTY, ’48. I saw that at a Sunday matinee as a kid in the ‘50s, its one we need to see again, there were several more MR BELVEDERE films.

Other popular hits saw him as fathers with large families in the likes of CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN and BELLES ON THEIR TOES. DREAMBOAT saw his as the ex-silent star, now a sedate college professor, whose old silent movies are revived on tv, with Anne Francis and Jeffrey Hunter as his daughter and her beau. Negulesco cast him opposte Stanwyck on that 1953 version of TITANTIC, where he does the noble thing. Young Robert Wagner, whom he seems to have mentored, was the juvenile lead. He was also Sousa in MARCHING ALONG.

The 1950s saw those successes THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN, ’54 though I do not care for his role in this – he is perfect though as Ernest Gifford, the motor magnate in WOMAN’S WORLD, also for Negulesco, in ’54 (see separate post below). THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS was a success in 1956, where he masterminds this plot to fool the Nazis, and was followed by another successful Negulesco film, my childhood favourite BOY ON A DOLPHIN, as Victor Parmalee the avid art collecter who wants the statue that Greek diver Sophia Loren finds. He and Loren play nicely together, and the film, a programmer really, still plays nicely today – this is the one that introduced Loren to international audiences, emerging from the Aegean in that wet dress …

THE REMARKABLE MR PENNYPACKER and HOLIDAY FOR LOVERS (on vacation with wife Jane Wyman and daughters Jill St John and Carol Lynley) followed in ’59, pleasant holiday fare really. His last film was SATAN NEVER SLEEPS in 1962, which I have not seen, where he and William Holden are priests in China, for Leo McCarey. Clifton lived with his mother until her death aged 91, six years before his own death in ’66. He remained a star to the end and is always eminently watchable now.

1 comment:

  1. What is amazing about Webb is that, by his fourth movie (SITTING PRETTY), he was established as a star, and from that point on, his name always appeared above-the-title, and frequently he was listed first, no matter who else was co-starring. (For example: he is the first-named star of THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN and WOMAN'S WORLD and TITANIC.) He was also above the title on THE DARK CORNER (though Lucille Ball received top billing) and THE RAZOR'S EDGE (though listed fifth, after Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, John Payne and Anne Baxter). In this, his status was very different from George Sanders, who only got top billing on smaller-budget movies but was always a supporting player on "A" movies - Clifton Webb was the only acerbic, sardonic, slightly effete male player to be a certified "A" list star. And his stature within the industry was great indeed: he was nominated for an Oscar three times, twice as a supporting actor (LAURA and THE RAZOR'S EDGE) and then as Best Actor (SITTING PRETTY). And what is fascinating is that he was the big dancing star of Broadway in the 1920s: he was a star attraction, as opposed to Fred Astaire, who was only a specialty act with his sister (who was regarded as the great talent of the Astaire family). If Webb had been able to get the right musical roles in the 1930s, we might be speaking of him as the great musical star of the 1930s. One other note: his real name was Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck, and in BOY OF A DOLPHIN this is acknowledged by having his character named "Victor Parmalee".