Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bitches and Blaggards: Gail Patrick and Clifton Webb

This is the third in the "Bitches and Blaggards" series; monthly posts devoted to my favorite movie bad girls and roguesA bitch is a selfish, malicious woman. A blaggard is a villain, a rogue and a black-hearted man. Both are bad, both are devastatingly alluring.
Gail Patrick
If a young, snooty rich bitch was needed in a 1930s or 1940s comedy, Gail Patrick was a great go-to gal. Always sleek and handsome, poor Gail was usually the dame that tried to stand between the glamorous leading lady and the handsome hero. And, it was a good bet that she would get her ermine-covered butt kicked as comeuppance for her wicked ways. Gail was such a good actress that you immediately wanted to push her face in the minute she and her air of superiority entered the room.
Gail stated out as a WAMPAS (Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers) Baby Star of 1935 (along with Wendy Barrie, Grace Bradley, Katherine DeMille, Gertrude Michael, and Ann Sheridan), and although she played the lead many times, her true niche was as that supporting bitch we all know and loathe.

Gail Patrick famously bitched in 2 of my favorite films:


My Favorite Wife
As Cary Grant's second wife, who never gets to consummate her relationship because first wife Irene Dunne comes back from the dead, Gail is a major pain in the neck. Her Bianca (the perfect name for a bitch) is lovely to look at, but impossible to warm up to. Sure she's frustrated, but can you blame Cary for following his heart and ending up with Irene? Bianca's reliance on her shrink is just another cause to be annoyed with her. Gail is so perfect in this film that you just want Cary to dump her already and get it over with!


My Man Godfrey
Did Gail's cruel and nasty Cornelia Bullock ever have a chance against her sweet and wacky sister Irene, as played by Carole Lombard in one of her signature roles? Cornelia's cruel and petty attempts to sabotage poor William Powell fall flat (as she did earlier in the film on a pile of ashes) and we can only feel glee when she is caught.


Some of Gail's other trouble-making roles include those in "Stage Door" and "Love Crazy." While she was not always a bitch, she was never an angel.
In real life, Gail was actually a pretty fine lady. She retired from the screen in 1948 and later became, with her husband, a producer of the "Perry Mason" TV series. Gail was active in civic and charitable causes and, from 1960 - 1962 was president of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Gail was a graduate of Howard College in Birmingham, Alabama (now Samford University) and was a member of the Delta Zeta Sorority. Upon her death in 1980, Gail bequeathed $1 million to the sorority, from which the Delta Zeta Woman of Distinction Scholarship was established. Definitely NOT something Cornelia Bullock would have done!


Clifton Webb
Clifton Webb's filmography is rather slight, but as Spencer Tracy said of Katharine in Hepburn in "Pat and Mike": But what's there is cherce. Mr. Webb was not a blaggard in the usual sense. I would classify him as an intellectual blaggard, as his damage was done more with cutting wit than manly charm. He was often an urbane and supercilious snob (actually more of a bitch), especially in the character of Mr. Belvedere. But, even when he was playing a basically decent fellow, didn't you always feel that he could not be trusted?
Clifton Webb came to film rather late in life at age 55 (though he had made a few unimportant silents). Up until then he had a successful career on Broadway, mainly as a musical performer. It's hard to imagine Mr. Belvedere singing "I've Got a Crush on You," but Webb introduced that Gershwin classic on Broadway in 1928.


I only have one major full-fledged blaggard role for Webb, but it's a dilly.


Laura
In 1944 he was cast in his greatest movie role, that of the murderously elegant Waldo Lydecker, in Otto Preminger's classic "Laura." We know Waldo is a ticking time bomb from the moment we meet him. Once manly Dana Andrews is thrown into the mix, Waldo's fragile equilibrium is shattered (who can forget Andrews' sneer as Waldo emerges from the tub?). Not only is his quill dipped in venom, but his heart and mind are, as well. And yes, there is an ounce of pity for poor Waldo. Laura certainly used him, did not view him as a man, and, well, unrequited love is rather sad. A great performance among so many in the film, Webb's Waldo is unforgettable. 


All of Webb's subsequent roles had the touch of the blaggard (I am always waiting for that metaphorical gun hidden in the clock). The nasty, murder-on-his-mind husband of "The Dark Corner," comes close to Waldo's evil. His Elliott Templeton of "The Razor's Edge," certainly had signs of the blaggard (although most elegant and refined to be sure), and his comic version in "Dreamboat" and "Sitting Pretty" (and all other Belvedere films) make you want to just smack him (even though you know he was probably right). However, I find it almost impossible to believe that he and Myna Loy had enough husband and wife relations to produce that brood in "Cheaper by the Dozen"!


Off screen, Clifton Webb was a most interesting fellow. Famously devoted to his mother, with whom he lived with until her death at age 91, he grieved endlessly over her passing. Noel Coward, another like-minded blaggard, commented, "It must be terrible to be orphaned at 71."


Webb, after his death in 1966, apparently did not leave Hollywood. In a Beverly Hills home that he owned (other owners were Victor Fleming, Grace Moore, Gene Lockhart and Marlene Dietrich), his ghost and the ghost of his beloved mother, Maybelle, were seen by later owners of the house. Famous for his lavish parties at the residence, Webb, several days before his death stated, "I'm not leaving this house - even at death." According to later owners, he didn't, and he and Maybelle could be seen dancing and seemingly enjoying themselves (while driving the dogs nuts). The house was later razed and, apparently, Clifton and his mama moved on. And, it should not have been too hard for Webb to leave California, as he summed up his opinion of the state in these words:


"California is beautiful. So is a rose. But I can look at a rose for just so long and then I want to spit on it."


Spoken like a true blaggard! However, he might not be entirely gone, as there have been sightings of him strolling through the Abbey of the Psalms Mausoleum at the Hollywood Forever cemetery in Los Angeles. Again, his word is not to be trusted!




The Bitch and Blaggard of April are Jane Greer and James Mason.



16 comments:

Ithankyou said...

Clifton Webb, what a presence - such a complex perfomer especially in Laura!

FlickChick said...

Of all the great performances in that film, his stands apart as truly complex. It is extremely well written, but I can imagine no other actor doing is quite as well.

Karen said...

I really enjoyed your post -- it was interesting, fun, and informative! And I absolutely love Clifton Webb's quote about California!

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FlickChick said...

Thank you, Karen. Clifton Webb was certainly a witty and interesting man.

ClassicBecky said...

Good one, FlickChick! You know, Clifton Webb was born here in Indianapolis! Can you imagine? I always thought of him as being born in a penthouse in Manhattan! He is one of my favorite actors -- I always adored him in Cheaper By The Dozen with Myrna Loy. He was just wonderful in that part. But his snooty, acid-wit parts were the best! (And oh Lord, Noel Coward could really zing! I remember he said about Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia: "If he were any prettier they would call it Florence of Arabia." LOL!

Gail Patrick was indeed a gal who always made me think of hair-pulling and bitch-slapping ... Good choice for that category!

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Becky. I have a hard time imagining that he and Myrna got together for all of those kids! But he was a wonderful character. As for Gail, well I never could figure out why Cary even proposed to her in "My Favorite Wife." Good thing Irene showed up when she did.

whistlingypsy said...

Marsha, I'm glad to see the Bs & Bs have returned for more lessons in cinematic awfulness (not a word, I know). I agree with you the appeal of Gail Patrick's characters was a nasty piece of work in a lovely exterior. She was a bad-hearted witch before she fell in the ash pile. Her career after films is fascinating; I had no idea she was producer of the Perry Mason series. Clifton Webb was one of those actors who found a niche and could do no wrong as Waldo Lydecker characters. He played a similarly art obsessed character in "The Dark Corner", which also featured Lucille Ball and Mark Stevens.

DorianTB said...

FlickChick (or do you prefer "Marsha"?), I've been a fan of Clifton Webb since LAURA. LOL over the cracks about how Webb and Myrna Loy could ever have spawned all those kids in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN! Maybe Webb closed his eyes and thought of Cary Grant or something. :-) FTR, although I enjoyed such Webb comedies as SITTING PRETTY and FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, I still love his noir roles best, with his witty bitchiness, especially in LAURA and THE DARK CORNER (which folks can unearth over at TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED, of course :-)!

I was actually familiar with Gail Patrick first for her producing for TV's PERRY MASON (as Gail Patrick Jackson). I understand that Patrick had actually been asked to play Della Street on the show! It's whimsically ironic that she was most famous in films as bitchy fiancees and such! :-) Great post, as always!

FlickChick said...

Gypsy - awfulness is the perfect word for this duo - but in a good way, of course!

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Dorian. I knew you'd love Webb in "The Dark Corner" - your kind of movie!

KimWilson said...

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your bitch & blaggard post. However, I am of the opinion that Cornelia was the right woman for Godfrey--even if she was a bitch! LOL! Plus, I think you could have made Webb a bitch and no one would have disagreed.

FlickChick said...

Kim-I was kind of going there about Webb, but chickened out!

The Lady Eve said...

What fun your "Bitches and Blaggards" posts are! Gail Patrick so deserves her "B" for "My Favorite Wife" and especially "My Man Godfrey" (though I've always wished she and Godfrey had gotten together once he finally put her in her place and she became softer toward him)

Clifton Webb. What a character! Jonathan Harris of "Lost in Space" always reminded me of him. But as a "Blaggard" he was unbeatable as Waldo Lydecker - though he was pretty nasty and deadly in a different way in "The Razor's Edge."

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Lady Eve. Yes - Jonathan Harris did have that prissy evilness aobut him, didn't he?

Unknown said...

We were so blessed to have been given Gail Patrick. Oh my! Such untapped greatness; what her dazzling outer and radiant inner beauty would have revealed had she been given more plum roles that she so rightly deserved. We're so lucky to be able to see her shine so in "Love Crazy."

But, in that, "what if?" category: In all the books and interviews written over the years,-in all the documentaries and dvd special features there are out there,-why is there no mention--(with every other Hollywood actress at the time, clamouring for and being considered for that coveted part which took ages to cast) of Ms. Patrick having auditioned for the role of Scarlett O'Hara?!
Oh, what a Katie Scarlett she would have been! So right for her; already a Southern belle of Irish descent. Oh! Casting no dispersions on Vivien Leigh's characterization, but it sends shivers and brings tears to imagine Ms. Patrick standing toe to toe and staring eye to eye with Clark Gable.

Never have I found a reference to Gail and Scarlett being mentioned in the same sentence.

THEN again--what a Cathy she would have made to Olivier's Heathcliff; a Brigid to Bogie's Sam Spade; even a Hildy for Cary Grant's Walter Burns; come to think of it, how about--well y'know...