Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Now Let Us Praise Dorothy Malone
A great pal of mine, Dorothy Malone, finally gets her due with a 24-hour salute on Turner Classic Movies Friday.
Guess I'll have to stay home for that one.
Malone died in January of this year at the great age of 94 and she never quite got her due as an actress despite garnering a supporting Oscar for Written On The Wind in 1957.
"I didn't have an outlandish life style" she told me the first time we met. "Deep down I'm very shy and proper. I simply wanted to do the best job I could and get home early enough to tuck my two daughters into bed."
I first met Malone on a sweltering day in Century City in 1977 --I was then attending the Television Critics Association junket and had a rare afternoon off.
It was arranged that I'd slip out the back door of the Century Plaza hotel, cross the pedestrian bridge and enter the Twentieth Century-Fox backlot by the back door and proceed to the commissary for a very quick lunch with Malone then shooting a TV movie titled Murder In Peyton Place.
But Malone's assistant intercepted me and said to proceed to her dressing room where tea and cookies would be available.
Malone explained the change this way :"Our wonderful director Robert Hartford-Davis said goodbye Friday night to the cast and we never saw him again.
"He died of a heart attack at his home Saturday night and Bruce Kessler was immediately hired as substitute.
"Bruce is busy today viewing completed rushed and will pick up everything tomorrow so we can talk as long as you're prepared to listen."
I remember asking Malone why she was such a little known big star?
"I think it's because I don't take the business seriously. But I take my work most seriously."
She was born in Texas in 1924 "but I did high school in Seattle. Texas remains my roots --I'd do a western every year if I had that oppotunity."
She started out, aged 19, as an RKO starlet in such masterpieces as Gildersleeve On Broadway and The Falcon And The Co-Eds.
"If you blink you'll miss me. I guess I had a line or three."
It was her short, sexy appearance as a book clerk in The Big Sleep (1946) opposite Humphrey Bogart that really got her career going.
"It was shot right after To Have And Have Not, the end of 1944. And our director Howard Hawks was such a stickler he was still reshooting scenes two years later including my bit --he wanted me to literally take my hair down as I close the store and look knowingly at Bogey."
Malone then settled into a rut as a Warners starlet in such stuff as Janie Gets Married (1946), Two Guys From Texas (1048) and Flaxy Martin (`949).
"I completed that one and Jack Warner dropped me saying contract players were too expensive."
"I went home to Texas determined to learn the insurance business. Then Randy Scott located me and offered the female lead in his latest oater The Nevadan. I thrived in westerns. I did Saddle Legion (1951) which was a real B with Tim Holt. I did Jack Slade (1951) with Mark Stevens. I did The Lone Gun (1954) with George Montgomery.
"I also went back to WB as Doris Day's older sister in Young At Heart (1954). Jack Warner came on set and didn't remember he'd once fired he. I was the oldest sister on the screen but youngest in real time which seemed to irritate Doris when I mentioned it."
In 1956 Malone won her Oscar for Wrrtten On The Wind "because I did things I normally would be uncomfortable doing but Douglas Sirk was a great woman's director. He quickly reunited Rock Hudson ,Bob Stack and yours truly in Tarnished Angel;s which I feel a better movie all around,."
But winning an Oscar?
"It was a bummer. My price went up and parts I wanted to play were now out of reach."
In 1965 Malone starred in Pthe TV soaper Peyton Place --she made 430 of the 514 episodes, eventually complaining her part was diminished as the parts of Ryan O'Neal and Mia Farrow grew.
"This hit could have gone on forever. But it started as two half hours a week. ABC got greedy and demanded a third hour. Meaning audiences would have to slot three separate days to watch us and the ratings just died.
"But I have no regrets. I'm here aren't I --back as Constance Mackenzue."
I later had grand reunions with Malone in Toronto when she guested on the daily TV soap High Hopes (1978) and later on Littlest Hobo (1980).
I just think Malone would be proud to be honored by TCM. It's a case of better late than never.