Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Lois Nettleton, 1927-2008
The appealing Lois Nettleton, who died on Friday, January 18th, was one of those criminally-neglected talents so pervasive in show business - an accomplished stage actress who was wooed into films by a studio that had no idea of what to do with her and left her to bide her time in the vast wasteland of television.
With the proper handling, she could have been a formidable competitor for Joanne Woodward.
Nettleton was already 35 - and had several Broadway credits behind her - when she made her official film debut in MGM's adaptation of Tennessee Williams' only comedy, the underrated "Period of Adjustment," a vivid criticism of unchecked, all-American male chauvinism. (She had a bit part five years earlier in Elia Kazan's "Face in the Crowd.") The film also marked the directorial debut of George Roy Hill, and I'd like to think that Hill was instrumental in the signing of Nettleton.
She played the role of Dorothea Baitz, a housewife and mother living under the crush of her overbearing husband Ralph (Tony Franciosa) - a woman whose long-delayed libertion unexpectedly comes under the guidance of a ditz named Isabel Haverstick (Jane Fonda), who is married to Ralph's best friend, George (Jim Hutton.) On stage, in the 1960 Broadway production, also directed by Hill, these roles were played by Rosemary Murphy, James Daly, Barbara Baxley and Robert Webber, respectively.
Despite enthusiastic reviews for her performance, Nettleton was rushed by MGM into two of its less illustrious programmers - Henry Levin's "Come Fly with Me" (1963) and Burt Kennedy's "Mail-Order Bride" (1964). And then she languished in TVland until the studio cast her in 1969's "The Good Guys and the Bad Guys" and 1970's "Dirty Dingus Magee"," both directed by Kennedy.
Uneventful best describes what follows. She played opposite Richard Harris (and the child Jodie Foster) in Don Taylor's "Echoes of a Summer" (1976) and had the truncated role of Burt Reynolds' temporary love interest in Colin Higgin's film of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" (1982), nothing of great interest. Nettleton's most interesting late-career credit may have been a film directed by the actor Conrad Janis, 1994's "The Feminine Touch," which reteamed George Segal with Elliott Gould. I never saw it and I know of no one who has.
Nevertheless, if she did nothing else on film, her commanding, heartbreaking turn in Hill's "Period of Adjustment" was enough to qualify Lois Nettleton as a great American screen actress.
(Artwork: Lois Nettleton, circa 1962)
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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com