Monday, December 22, 2008


When my mind wanders to the actresses I most love watching on screen, I’m usually not thinking about women I would necessarily classify as the finest actresses, or even always my favorite actresses, though the area of those two circles would indeed largely intersect in a Venn diagram of splendid sublimity. And certainly physical beauty, though sometimes an integral, undeniable part of the quality that helped find a place for some of the actresses on this list, is not a crucial element either (though I would suggest that physical distinctiveness is). No, the only criterion that runs straight through each choice is far simpler and at the same time far more elusive and intangible than that, one that perhaps accounts for the tendency on the list toward older actresses from a bygone age, actresses whose experience and capacity for life inform their screen personas even after their own lights have dimmed. Those women shown here who are still with us project much of the same quality of restless spirit, wisdom, intelligence and wit found in their wondrous predecessors, a connection to movie history forged by their own unique ability to stand on their own and at the same time honor the tradition of the fascinating character actresses of the past. This is, at the bottom line, a list composed entirely of women whose mere presence in a movie, no matter how large or small the role, stops me in my tracks, commands my attention, fills me with pure delight, in some cases even makes me glad to be alive. Putting these names together made me realize that though there are many actresses whom I enjoy and look forward to seeing, there are not really that many whom I love without reservation. These are the women, far more than the ones most frequently held up as shining examples of the acting craft, that capture the essence of what drifts to mind when I dream of the movies. Here, then, in a very belated response to blog pal Bill’s tag, are 25 women whose presence at the movies I would prefer never to do without, 25 screen goddesses that make the cinema a wonderful place for me.

“Her turned-down mouth has an odd attractiveness, and her Elizabeth is smart and resilient, with a streak of loony humor. (She spins her eyeballs, like the great Harry Ritz.)” – Pauline Kael on Brooke Adams in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

"My very 'naturalness' was my undoing. I had to learn that to appear natural on the screen requires a vast amount of training, that is the test of an actors art. It would be more spectacular if I could say that out of the hurt and humiliation of that failure was born a determination to success, to prove I had the makings of an actress. But it wouldn't be true. That urge came later." - Jean Arthur

"I am quite surprised, that with all my work, and some of it is very, very good, that nobody talks about The Miracle Worker. We're talking about Mrs. Robinson. I understand the world... I'm just a little dismayed that people aren't beyond it yet." - Anne Bancroft

“My first crush was Spock. I thought it didn't get any better than Spock.” - Selma Blair

“I never felt scandal and confession were necessary to be an actress. I've never revealed my self or even my body in films. Mystery is very important.” - Claudia Cardinale

“My mother was against me being an actress - until I introduced her to Frank Sinatra.” - Angie Dickinson

"I don't know if I was a desirable person, not just physically but emotionally and mentally and intellectually. I still have a long way go and a lot to learn, but I'm on my way, I don't think I'm terribly attractive, but I'm comfortable with my looks." - Shelley Duvall

“I was a mostly happy child, though I had a pretty rough puberty. Growing up as a girl is always traumatizing, especially when you have the deadly combination of greasy skin and getting your boobs at ten. But I think it's good to grow up that way. It builds character.” - Tina Fey

“I remember everything, even the dates. But I don't want others to remember the details, just the image.” - Gloria Grahame

"Temperament is temper that is too old to spark." - Charlotte Greenwood

Jane Greer

"Me, sexy? I'm just plain ol' beans and rice. " - Pam Grier

"I always feel like I want to do my career my own way. I never follow anybody's path, what they've done." - Famke Janssen

“I'll be a flop in movies. Besides, I don't like 'em, and I never did believe there was a place called Hollywood. Somebody made it up!” - Patsy Kelly

"People keep pushing me to be the center of attention... I would prefer to be on the sidelines, because that's where you see more." - Gong Li

"I live by a man's code, designed to fit a man's world, yet at the same time I never forget that a woman's first job is to choose the right shade of lipstick." - Carole Lombard

"Everything you see I owe to spaghetti." - Sophia Loren

"My agent had told me that he was going to make me the Janet Gaynor of England - I was going to play all the sweet roles. Whereupon, at the tender age of thirteen, I set upon the path of playing nothing but hookers." - Ida Lupino

Elizabeth Parker: "You know, Ma, I bet you once had an hourglass figure."
Ma Kettle: "Yeah, but the sand sure shifted." -Marjorie Main as Ma Kettle in Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm (1951)

"There's still the same reaction when producers hear my name. They remember me as the blond who was to have taken over from Marilyn Monroe." - Sheree North in a 1983 interview

"Night time is really the best time to work. All the ideas are there to be yours because everyone else is asleep." - Catherine O'Hara

"I love acting. When I'm acting I feel like I'm on vacation. I'm just having a wonderful time. The nightmare is just getting the work to happen." - Elizabeth Pena

"Career is too pompous a word. It was a job, and I have always felt privileged to be paid for what I love doing." - Barbara Stanwyck

"Everyone said that if you want to be a real actor, go to New York. If you want to sell out, go to LA. And I thought - I want to sell out!" - Jennifer Tilly

"I prefer to be kicked four or five times well, you know, hard, than twenty or twenty five times not so good." - Michelle Yeoh


Ali Arikan said...

Great list, Dennis. And I am most thankful for the inclusion of the divine Catherine O'Hara. I saw A Mighty Wind for the first time this weekend - man, that's a sweet film.

Uncle Gustav said...

Thanks for remembering Famke and Brooke. And Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

Jean Arthur!!! Hooray. My favorite. Also, for sheer gutsy power: Anna Magnani.

Greg said...

I can't believe you picked Sarah Palin. I mean, what the hell? Isn't this supposed to be... oh, wait a minute, that's Tina Fey. Oops, my bad.

Great list. I grew up with Brooke Adams, so to speak. From Invasion of the Body Snatchers (an all-time favorite) to Days of Heaven to The Dead Zone she always seemed to be in a movie I loved. If Fairuza Balk hadn't stolen every second of Gas, Food and Lodging with her amazing performance that might have been Brooke's comeback.

Alex said...

Jennifer Tilly's certainly showing off her, ahh, tillies, in that picture.

bill r. said...

I'm so glad to see Catherine O'Hara appearing on so many of these lists. Not only is she obviously a brilliant comedian, but she is a really good actress.

Anonymous said...

Great list, Dennis ... especially Jane Greer. And Elizabeth Pena ... what a great choice!

Happy Holidays!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, everyone. I love thinking about the ways the younger actresses (by that I guess I mean the ones that are still living) embody some of the qualities and traditions originated by the ones from the classic period. I mean, to me it's pretty natural to see the line that connects Jean Arthur to Jennifer Tilly, or Claudia Cardinale to someone like Gong Li. Any excuse to be thinking about these women or see their photos gathered together just cheers me up, basically. I'm glad it's having the same effect on others too, and maybe sparking thoughts of even more actresses we may all have not remembered yet.

Michael Guillen said...

Lovely selection, Dennis, accompanied by some lovely photos. I love the image of Anne Bancroft. God, she was beautiful.

geejay said...

A wonderful list and beautiful photos. I always got Patsy & Zasu mixed up when I was way, way younger. I still love watching both of them on the silver screen. I enjoyed your bio on Patsy too. I never recognized her in Rosemary's Baby though--what a surprise for me. Thanks again!