Saturday, July 28, 2007

MILDRED PIERCE—Eddie Muller's Onstage Interview With Ann Blyth, Pt. 2

Part One of Eddie Muller's onstage interview with Ann Blyth can be found here.

Muller: You're a very sweet person, Ann. If you're so young and you didn't have all this cynicism to know what Joan was up to at the Oscars, where did all that rage in Veda come from?

Blyth: Well, you remember now that I started very young and I had a certain experience in Little Theater and certainly on the radio—I mean, not playing a part like that—but, I think any time you've played any kind of a part, you are learning something about your craft, no matter what the part is. So I think you just dig down into your deeper self and we all have a deeper darker place. Isn't it wonderful that I play these parts and let all of that come out that way just for fun? And really not hurt anybody? That's the best.

Muller: Lastly, I have to ask about one of my favorite character actors, the cad incarnate, Zachary Scott, who played Monte Beragon in this film.

Blyth: And he couldn't have been nicer. He was such a gentle Southern man. He really was. And those eyes were beautifully brown. But he was the dearest pleasure. We had the pleasure of visiting him in his beautiful Austin home a few years later and he was most gracious.

Muller: What was your favorite on-set incident, let's say, from the making of this film?

Blyth: All of the dramatic scenes, obviously. They would have to stand out because I'd go home and be exhausted, as I'm sure Joan was too. If you do those kinds of scenes where you have to work yourself up into such a state, agitation and fury, it is emotional. You may be playing a part, but you are feeling that part. Hopefully, that makes it real.

Muller: When you were nominated for the Oscar for this, did you understand what was happening?

Blyth: No. I didn't really. I just felt, "Wasn't that nice?" I guess I was that naïve. I knew that it was an honor but I had no expectation that I would win because I thought being so young they probably think, "Oh, she'll have other chances." I came close.

Muller: You were actually in a brace? Is that what I understand?

Blyth: Yes.

Muller: Were you afraid of winning? That you would have to actually get up there in this brace?

Blyth: No, because nobody could see that. They had constructed this lovely gown in such a way that no one knew.

Muller: You really wanted to win though, didn't you?

Blyth: Doesn't everybody want to win? When I play tennis, I like to win. When I play pingpong, I like to win. Anything I do, I give my best.

Muller: Now I have to throw out a little movie trivia. I recently co-wrote Tab Hunter's autobiography with him and I think it's fascinating to realize that Ann was actually present the day that Tab Hunter was discovered at Dubrock's Riding Academy. You claim to have no recollection of this.

Blyth: No, but you told me that apparently we were there to do a photo shoot and, of course, that's when we did meet. I've known Tab. I don't see him all that often but he's a sweet person but he and one of my dear dear friends Dick Clayton are very good friends.

Muller: Dick was an actor at that time who later became a very successful agent. He actually did work at Famous Artists Agency, Charlie Feldman's agency, and of course you were there at a photo shoot on horseback and Tab actually worked at Dubrock's Riding Academy shoveling manure and that's when Dick Clayton saw him and said, "Kid, you ought to be in pictures" and Tab was 12 years old.

Blyth: But he was so beautiful. He was such a handsome boy so that you knew he would grow into a handsome big man.

Muller: I think a lot of people would agree with you.

Blyth: But he's a very dear and sweet person.

Muller: The clip reel that Marc assembled, you worked with so many incredible leading men in these films. I want to just run through this and do like the Rorchach test of what are your recollections of these people, starting with a movie that is really great and I'm happy to see it get some applause when the clip came on, Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid [1948]. With the great William Powell—who looks exactly like my father, but that's another story—what was he like?

Blyth: He was so dear, tender. The good part about that was that I got to be carried around all day long. Everyone was so good to me on that movie and, as a matter of fact, I had asked him for a picture at the end of the movie and he took several lines from the movie and wrote them on the picture. Actually he taped it to the picture and said, "I like you. I like you very much."

Muller: You don't speak in that film?

Blyth: That was the easy part.

Muller: But it's an incredible performance. In that clip Marc showed, it is so expressive, you get so much out of it. A really fascinating performance. I don't know why this movie isn't on DVD; but, if you ever see this on TV, you must watch it.

Blyth: It's a sweet and funny movie about a man who reaches a certain point in life—like 50—and wondering what's left and so he goes fishing and he finds me.

Muller: Let's just put it this way, it's a good thing you were a mermaid in the film because you were 20 and he was 56. There was a little bit of an age difference there but we won't go into that. You also starred opposite Robert Montgomery in another unknown film that is really terrific, [Once More My Darling, 1949].

Blyth: Speaking of tennis. I played an avid tennis player in that. As a matter of fact, throughout most of the movie I wear a tennis cap and a t-shirt that says "Killer." It's a cute, funny movie. I am the one chasing him; he's not chasing me. I finally catch him too.

Muller: That was Robert Montgomery's last film. He directed it as well. That was his last feature film.

Blyth: Really?

Muller: Yep.

Blyth: I am learning a lot tonight.

Muller: "Killer" Connell is your name in the film. Frederich March in Another Part of the Forest [1948].

Blyth: Outstanding. Just to be in his presence. And his wife was also in the movie, Florence Eldridge. She played my mother. To watch both of them so impressed upon me. They were so good at what they did. He was terrific. It was just electric to be on the set even if I wasn't in a scene with him. He was wonderful.

Muller: You were so young at this point. How did you keep … well, once you've gone toe to toe with Joan Crawford, I guess nothing would intimidate you. Fredric March is easy pickings after that. But you were just a kid and you were in there with all these heavyweights.

Blyth: Eddie O'Brien was in that and Dan Duryea. They were inspired and wonderful in that movie.

Muller: I skipped over one that you made that's near and dear to my heart, Brute Force. That was a strange movie. It's a prison movie with Burt Lancaster.

Blyth: They dream about the women in their lives.

Muller: Burt, of course, has gone to jail because he's committed a robbery to get the money for an operation this his woman needs so desperately and what was it like having a few scenes in that one with beefcake Burt Lancaster?

Blyth: He was just really starting then too, you know.

Muller: His second or third movie, I think.

Blyth: He was very nice.

Muller: We'll come back because I have a follow-up question on that one that we'll get to.

Blyth: I know that you're trying to get me to say that everyone I worked with was either terrible or they did drugs….

Muller: Just two or three!

Blyth: Just three or four? If they did, I didn't know about it.

Muller: We'll see. Speaking of which….

Blyth: Keep talking….

Muller: One Minute to Zero [1952] with—and you can't tell me that this was an upstanding citizen—Robert Mitchum.

Blyth: I don't know about his run-in with the law, but he was a terrific man to work with. I loved working with Bob. He was terrific. He loved to play gags. We had one scene one day—it wasn't too serious a scene so I guess he thought he could get away with this—and he got together with the prop department and he said, "Now, in this scene I want you to—up in the rafters—have a rubber chicken." In the course of the scene—and of course he always had his buff body—he said, "In the middle of the scene I'm going to aim up there and I want you to throw the chicken down." So we started the scene and—as I say—it was a fairly serious scene, rather melodramatic, and we were going along nicely when I hear this bang and this chicken comes down. I kept right on going with my lines.

Muller: The weirdest thing about that movie? It's a Korean War film, in which he actually murders a bunch of innocent people at the beginning of the movie because there are some Communist spies in the middle of this script. This was far before the My Lai massacre. Very bizarre. But that movie had a song in it—"When I Fall In Love"—that became a huge hit.

Blyth: Victor Young, who did such beautiful scores for so many wonderful movies.

Muller: Was there any talk of having you sing the song in the movie?

Blyth: No, but I do sing some little Oriental tune in the movie.

Muller: But then you were working for the United Nations, so of course you would. Then you made The Helen Morgan Story with Paul Newman, early in his career. I have to cut to the chase. Your husband's not here, is he?

Blyth: No.

Muller: Okay, so I can ask this question. So you're on a boat and the boat is wrecked and it's capsized and you're headed for the desert island. Your pick: Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman. Who goes to the desert island with you?

Blyth: Why can't I take all three? [Thunderous, cheering applause.] What a question to ask.

Muller: But a great answer. You answered that one. I think you'd wear them out. You were linked romantically with a few guys in Hollywood: Lon McAllister, Richard Long (who I know a lot of people know from The Big Valley; a big television star). What was the deal, however, with Howard Hughes? There was a car and a cruise?

Blyth: Well, I have to tell a bit of a story. When I learned of [One Minute to Zero], I also learned that Claudette Colbert was supposed to do the movie with Bob. I think she became ill. There was some huge reason why she couldn't do the movie and so they were looking for somebody to take her place. I found myself in Howard Hughes' office with my agent—I didn't really want to go by myself; I'd heard stories—anyway, he was very nice to me, sat off in the corner, …and the deal was made for me to do the movie and he—as you say—was very generous. He even gave me a car. Sent me and my dear aunt and uncle on a trip to Hawaii and that was that. I don't think I ever saw him again. Sorry. I'm not sorry I didn't see him again. I'm sorry there isn't more to the story. No, that's not so.

Muller: Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn, you were between them in The World In His Arms [1952], which is actually a cool historical film.

Blyth: Ah, that's a fun movie. Me playing a Russian countess, wearing all those beautiful gowns and being swept away by dear Gregory Peck.

Muller: Shall we add him to the desert island as well?

Blyth: If he wants to go.

Muller: That picture was directed by Raoul Walsh. What was your take on Raoul Walsh as a director?

Blyth: He was just a wonderful character, a devil-may-care kind of fellow. He knew what he wanted and he was very short in his direction and if he didn't get it he'd just say, "Cut, let's try that again." There wasn't too much "do it again." He just had a wonderful way of getting the work done. No fuss about it.

Muller: You're very generous. I've heard other actors say he's the worst director for actors that they ever had.

Blyth: Well, as I say, it sounds maybe again naïve but I can only speak from my experience with him as with others and I know others have had terrible run-ins with Raoul, as with Mike Curtiz. I was lucky.

Muller: It's probably you disarm them, I would think. Was it very exciting for you to make The Great Caruso [1951]?

Blyth: It was, because that was one movie that I believe everyone—certainly at MGM—they were pretty sure that was going to be a big movie and, of course, it turned out to be, mainly because of Mario Lanza, his exquisite voice, and just the beautiful look of the movie. Again, that's another one most people remember fondly and that makes me happy. [Lanza], unfortunately, his life—as we all know—came to a very sad end much too soon. I think he was overwhelmed with all of the success and he really didn't know how to handle it. He should have known because he had had much experience in the New York scene but he just didn't know how to handle it. It's tragic for all of us not to have more of his beautiful music. Thank goodness for musical scores and, of course, all the recordings that he made.

Muller: In that picture—I'm not sure if people are aware of this—I believe that The Great Caruso was the top money-making film of 1951. It was so successful that they were eager to replicate its success—this is Hollywood after all—and he was supposed to make The Student Prince.

Blyth: He made all the recordings for that as well and I'm so grateful for that because the score is so beautiful; his voice so exquisite. Sadly, he had some kind of a run-in with the bosses at MGM and they just said, "Well, if you're not going to do it, then we'll replace you." And they did.

Muller: He just got a little out of control. I've heard stories that he gained so much weight….

Blyth: That was part of the problem, yes. But it is a pity that somehow they couldn't have worked around it.

Muller: After [The Great Caruso], of course, then you really got into your string of Technicolor musicals from the 1950s. For you, was this the high point? I mean, this was the movies, Technicolor.

Blyth: When you think about it, it was the last few golden years at MGM. Pretty soon there wouldn't be any more musicals made. So that's sad for all of us, really, not just for me.

Muller: Which of those is your favorite?

Blyth: I liked The Great Caruso. I really liked Kismet [1955]. I do like The Student Prince [1954]. Obviously, it would have been a better movie if Mario had been in it.

Muller: You told me an interesting thing, Kismet actually had two directors? Vincente Minnelli started it.

Blyth: Vincente at that time—I don't know what problems he was having—but he was not a happy camper and, as a consequence, some of the actors weren't very happy either and Howard Keel at one point said, "If Vincente is on the set tomorrow, I won't be." So Richard Thorpe took over and finished the movie. That's one of the reasons that it doesn't have that wonderful flair that Vincente had; he had such a way with musicals. I don't know what it was exactly; but, you can almost tell—every one of his movies—you can tell who directed it.

Muller: I think it was genius. I think that's what it was, yeah.

Blyth: Genius involves what, though? What? Is it an eye for color? For how the scene looks as it's being shot? How the actors are working with one another? It's a combination of a lot of things.

Muller: I have to point out one interesting little extra tidbit in your career that I thought was pretty amazing: the 1954 Academy Awards when you came out and sang "Secret Love" on that show and you were seven months pregnant. That was a courageous moment. Your secret love wasn't so secret anymore, was it?

Blyth: I thought it was very sweet actually. Here I was happily married. Not like today where you don't even think about that anymore. Some people made a little fuss about it but I didn't care. I thought it was a sweet moment.

Muller: I have to say, I had the great pleasure of having dinner with Ann last night and the moment I will always cherish from that was when I asked you about your husband James McNulty, your husband of how many years?

Blyth: 53 years.

Muller: Who was, unfortunately, a little under the weather and could not make the trip.

Blyth: I'm so sorry. He would have loved being here.

Muller: But when I mentioned this to Ann, she got this look on her face that was so dear and so lovely, and I couldn't help it, I said, "Do you still date?" Your response is….

Blyth: You bet!

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If this transcript of Eddie Muller's onstage interview with Ann Blyth has not satisfied your thirst for her, you might want to check out Tavo Amador's B.A.R. profile.