Tag Archives: Bette Davis

In Memory of one of the Great “Screen Heavies”

buono2Victor Buono (February 3, 1938 – January 1, 1982), one of the most popular screen “heavies” of the 1960s and 1970s, may have been the heaviest of the “heavies” of his era, weighing in at 280-300 pounds. But Buono was chock full of acting talent and came to Hollywood with a rich background in Shakespearean roles on the stage at the Globe Theater in his native San Diego, California. He was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for 1962’s What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? for his performance as the weird musical accompanist to Bette Davis’ Baby Jane character. He was also famous for playing the villain King Tut on the television series Batman (1966–1968).

Noted for his ability to mix comedy with villainy, Buono played some of TV’s most notorious bad guys with his tongue in his cheek. Among them, the grand Dr. Schubert of The Man From Atlantis, a Capt. Nemo-style villain who roamed the seas in his super submarine; and colorful Count Manzeppi on The Wild, Wild West.

 

In honor of this talented actor, who passed away 32 years ago today, we’re sharing an excerpt from Ron Miller’s interview from the release You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet! Interviews with Stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era.


Setting the Scene

I met Victor Buono when he was appearing in a 1965 stage production of Moliere’s Tartuffe at the Comedia Repertory Theater in Palo Alto, California. He was absolutely fabulous in this stage role, literally commanding the stage whenever he set foot upon it. He was such a powerful stage performer that I don’t believe his movie and TV fans ever experienced the real Buono if they hadn’t seen him live on a theater stage.

He was the most charming and self-effacing of men and if he was haunted by the limitations of his great bulk, it certainly didn’t show. He struck me as a very happy soul who was quite content in his own skin and really enjoying the great variety of comic and villainous roles that kept coming his way.

Bawden2_Image085The Interview

MILLER: Like Sydney Greenstreet before you, you seem destined to be typecast as a villainous character on screen. Your reaction?

BUONO: If you weigh more than 280 pounds, you better get out the black hat and forget about getting the girl at the end of the picture. I’ve been shot, stabbed, run over, and been pushed off of, out of, under and over more things than you can imagine. I never get the girl. In fact, I’m not even allowed to have a friend.

MILLER: Given that, what do you consider the ideal role for you?

BUONO: Oh, no doubt, Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff. But ever since I played the sinister mama’s boy in Baby Jane, nobody wants to hire me to play Falstaff.

MILLER: Did you ever think about losing weight and slimming yourself into another category?

BUONO: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to lose weight in order to change the direction of my career. But I always give up and shoot back up to 350 pounds or so.

MILLER: I’ve seen you on the TV talk shows and you always seem to have a pretty amused attitude about your weight.

BUONO: What else can I do but joke about it all the time? I mean, people ask me when I eat breakfast and I usually tell them I sit down to breakfast about 8 a.m. and that usually lasts until 2 or 3 p.m.

MILLER: Does being a big guy present any problems for you doing your parts in movies or TV?

BUONO: Well, let me tell you about one incident. I was playing a bad guy on The Untouchables and they had to show me in a close-up, driving a car. Well, I don’t drive, so they had to tie a rope to the car and have a gang of grips tow me across the set. You can imagine how much they loved doing that.

MILLER: What about your visits to wardrobe? Do they have trouble fitting you with clothes?

BUONO: Trouble? My tailors don’t measure me; they survey me.

MILLER: So, you don’t expect to ever slim yourself down?

BUONO: Well, there’s about as much chance of me losing weight as there is of the Pope being named chairman of the Communist Party.

MILLER: Your villains certainly don’t fit the normal dimensions of movie bad guys.

BUONO: No, I’ve developed my own style. I don’t just torture the hero. I torture him while reciting poetry or enjoying an epicurean feast.

Afterword

Buono never married and often gave whimsical answers when asked about it. Some sources say he was openly gay, but others say he liked women. Let’s just say that he didn’t seem bothered by the fact that he never “got the girl” on screen and draw our own conclusions about why. Buono died from a heart attack on New Year’s Day in 1982 at his home in Apple Valley, California. He was just 43.

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Feud: Bette and Miriam

Bette Davis’s feud with Joan Crawford is famous and is being well-documented on FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan, but Crawford was not the only actress with whom Davis established a rivalry. In this excerpt from the forthcoming Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, Allan R. Ellenberger details the central points of the feud that erupted between Hopkins and Davis on the set of 1939’s The Old Maid, perhaps an early hint at the rivalry that would erupt between Davis and Crawford some two decades later:


Whether described as a ‘woman’s picture,’ ‘tearjerkers’ or a ‘soap opera,’ the melodrama has been a standard since the early days of the silent cinema. The maternal melodrama, a sub-genre featuring plots of self-sacrificing, mother-loving figures who suffer adversity best describes Miriam’s first film at Warner Bros. – The Old Maid. Similar films include The Sin of Madelon Claudet, Imitation of Life, and the twice-filmed Stella Dallas.

In the late 1930s and into the following decade, Bette Davis was a staple in the melodramatic maternal film. Along with The Old Maid’s director Edmund Goulding, executives paired them in 1937’s That Certain Woman, about a sacrificial mother following an annulled marriage. Then two years after The Old Maid, they made The Great Lie where newly-widowed Davis offers to bring up the child of her husband’s pregnant ex-wife (Mary Astor). The Old Maid shared a similar plot-line: Davis as a cynical ‘old maid’ spinster who gives her illegitimate child to her self-centered cousin (Hopkins) to raise.

Filming began on Wednesday, March 15, 1939, with Edmund Goulding directing. Goulding knew Davis well, directing her in two films at Warners: the above mentioned That Certain Woman and, the film Miriam hoped would be hers, Dark Victory. But he knew Miriam longer, beginning with the New York social circles in the late 1920s, and later at Astoria Studios where they both were making films.

The first day, the cast reported to the sound stage at nine o’clock, but Miriam was ten minutes late, wearing a replica of a dress Davis wore in Jezebel [a film which Davis won an Oscar for and which Miriam believed should have been her starring role]. Davis claimed that Miriam hoped she would “blow my stack at this.”

Both Miriam and Davis suggested to Goulding how they could improve their roles. At first, unit manager Al Alleborn reported that each one had “little suggestions in the working out of scenes and getting the characterizations of their parts which did cause a slight delay on the first day, but company is now going smoothly.” It was short-lived.

The first two days, Goulding filmed the original opening scene in Mr. Painter’s lingerie shop, where the cousins and their grandmother are buying Delia’s trousseau. However, Davis wanted to enhance her role at Miriam’s expense. William Wyler had taught her that an actor’s first appearance in a film established their character. When they completed the lingerie shop sequence, Davis wanted to cut the scene. Instead, the opening sequence would be Delia’s wedding day.

The following day, Friday, March 17, Miriam was on Stage 15 at nine o’clock, an hour earlier than Davis. Assuming that she had already established her character in the lingerie shop, Miriam played the scene at a lower register. She had no idea this scene would be the audience’s first glimpse of her. So when Davis entered, excited and enthusiastic, people noticed.9780813174310

A month later, when Goulding cut the lingerie shop scene, Miriam sensed what Davis had done. By then she was using “every trick in the book” to rile her co-star. Davis was fascinated, “watching them appear one by one.” Miriam’s scene-stealing stunts were endless: a button would come undone, or a hairpin would fall out. She would change her position in close-ups and then inch her way upstage so Davis would turn away from the camera, sometimes at the expense of losing her light.

Considering Miriam needed this film to salvage her career, this unprofessional—and costly—behavior could finish her. She was fighting to be popular with audiences but allowed her loathing of Bette Davis to rule her emotions.

Davis admitted Miriam was a good actress and was perfect for the role, so it baffled her why she behaved as she did. Did Davis know Miriam was seeking revenge for her aggressive acts, including stealing Jezebel, the Academy Award that went with it and the weekend fling with her husband? It’s unlikely. Instead, Davis played dumb and was the victim, claiming she controlled her temper during the day, but at night she “screamed at everybody.”

The Davis-Hopkins thespian duel threatened innocent bystanders as well. Rand Brooks, who also appeared that year in the classic Gone with the Wind, played Delia’s son, Jim Ralston, Jr. He later recalled both actresses tried directing him. “One would tell me one thing, (and) then the other would say something else. They were both so anxious to look good and be better than the other. Edmund Goulding just stood by and was amused by the whole thing.”

Goulding tried to be a mediator. He respected Davis, but he was Miriam’s friend. To his credit, he tried keeping the peace. “Whatever respect they had for each other as professionals was quickly thrown out of the window when one or the other didn’t get her way,” Goulding said of the two women. “If it wasn’t lighting, it was costuming or camera angles or lines. There were times they behaved like perfect little bitches, but I loved them both, and I think the admiration was likewise.”

Unit manager Al Alleborn acknowledged Goulding’s struggles. “Working with two impossible people like Davis and Hopkins, many things have to be ironed out… Goulding has a tough job on this picture with these two girls. Not that they want to cause him any trouble or worry, but each one is fighting for a scene when they go into it.”

The rumors spread about friction on the set. The Warner’s publicity department concocted a scheme that Davis and Miriam agreed to. Davis told a reporter “Hoppy [her nickname for Miriam] and I are going to get a couple of pairs of boxing gloves and pose for a picture glowering at each other like a couple of fighters in their corners. It’s the only answer we can make to all the nonsense about how we can’t get along.”

In their silk dresses and bodices and shawls, they donned boxing gloves and posed for a picture with a worried-looking Edmund Goulding between them. Hedda Hopper reported the actresses had a sense of humor. Even so, she “never knew two blondes yet who were real palsie- walsies!”

Miriam’s sense of humor was waning; the staged photograph made matters worse. “Now they call me ‘Hardboiled Hopkins. I’m not.” she insisted, “I’m not temperamental and not hard to get along with. It’s those boxing gloves that caused all the trouble. But everyone forgot it was just a gag. They took it seriously.”

Hal Wallis, who witnessed their antics, confirmed their hatred for each other was real. “It was an incredible feud, just fantastic,” Wallis claimed in an interview years later. “They would each prolong their arrival on the set, trying to make the other wait. I think later the studio tried to claim it was all just publicity, but it was the real thing. Those girls hated each other.”

excerpted from Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel (Kentucky, 2017)

Read more about Hopkins and Davis in Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, available here.