Monday, December 21, 2015
façade: Diane Varsi
Mark Robson's 1957 film version of Grace Metalious' "Peyton Place" was a huge popular and critical hit in its day, surprisingly so, and I'm convinced that most of its credbility can be traced to its two appealing young ingenués - Hope Lange who played Selena Cross and, especially, Diane Varsi, who starred as Allison MacKenzie.
Diane Varsi. Yes, Diane Varsi. What a singular actress, perhaps too singular for American moviegoers. Certainly too good for American moviegoers.
Varsi, who died in virtual anonymity of respiratory failure in 1992, made her last film appearance more than 30 years ago with a small role in Kathleen Quinlan's 1977 movie, "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden." Although she received an Oscar nomination for "Peyton Place," Varsi made it difficult for her home studio, 20th Century-Fox, to cast her in subsequent productions because she was essentially ahead of her time - a maverick and rebel with an off-kilter personality and a penchant for off-beat, sing-song line-readings.
But she managed to work for Fox, giving good performances in the Gary Cooper-Suzy Parker film, "Ten North Frederick" (based on the John O'Hara story), directed by Philip Dunne; the Don Murray Western, "From Hell to Texas" (aka, "Man Hunt"), directed by Henry Hathaway, and Richard Fleishcer's fine film on the Leopold-Loeb case, "Compulsion," starring Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman. But by 1959, a mere two years later, her Hollywood career was dead. A decade later, she surfaced in a series of anti-social/protest films, including "Sweet Love, Bitter" (with Dick Gregory and, again, Murray); Two Shelley Winters films, "Wild in the Streets" and "Bloody Mama" (the latter a Ma Barker flick with a young Robert DeNiro); the intriuging crime-spree film, "Killers Three" (with Dick Clark and Robert Walker, Jr.), and Dalton Trumbo's anti-war saga, "Johnny Got His Gun" (starring Timothy Bottoms).
Then, she disappeared again, returning briefly in "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden."
Diana Varsi's slight filmmography is as idiosyncratic as the actress herself, not unlike another curious personality from a decade later, Mimsy Farmer. One of a kind, again too good for the marketplace
Posted by joe baltake at 12:58 PM