DAY TWO of The William Castle Blogathon & The Women of Castle
Welcome to day two of The William Castle Blogathon! Today I have The Women of Castle for you, but first let’s check to see what other Castle goodness our contributors have in store for us…
Go check out The Last Drive In’s feature William Castle’s Villains and Victims In wondrous Scream-O Vision! PLUS! EVEN more awesomely, spectacular, superterrific William Castle contributions!!
***THE WOMEN OF CASTLE***
My focus for The William Castle Blogathon was his “horror years” which began with Macabre in 1958. Between 1958 and 1974 Castle made 17 films. While there were a few exceptions like The Busy Body which was a comedy and Project X which was science fiction the majority of these titles were horror, or at least had enough horror elements to squeeze it into the genre. I have stayed within the horror years for all of my features but I did make one exception for The Women of Castle. The one and only film I visited that was outside of my focus was It’s a Small World. I was so impressed with Lorraine Miller’s performance in It’s a Small World I had to include her on my list. Below are six women from William Castle films that I felt gave particularly memorable and outstanding performances.
JOAN MARSHALL (as Jean Arless) in Homicidal
Joan Marshall was born in Chicago in 1931. Marshall started out as a Showgirl at Chicago’s Chez Paree and was soon appearing in Las Vegas productions. In Vegas she met her first husband whom she had two children with. They moved to California where Joan got work on television shows like Bold Venture and The Red Skelton Show. She was also cast as Phoebe Munster in the original pilot for The Munsters but was replaced by Yvonne De Carlo.
Marshall was in just a handful of feature films. Among these films was William Castle’s Homicidal (1961). Joan chose to use the pseudonym Jean Arless allegedly so she could make it disappear from her resume. Joan co-wrote TV sitcom scripts with her childhood friend Dirk Wayne Summers and married director Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Being There). Ashby’s film Shampoo is based on Joan’s life. Joan and Hal stayed married until his death in 1988. Joan married Mel Bartfield in 1989 and eventually moved to Jamaica where she died in 1992 at the age of 61. It seems a shame that Joan Marshall wasn’t in more feature films. There is a reason she is at the top of this list; she kicks some serious ass! In Homicidal Joan Marshall plays dual roles but the vast majority of her screen time she is Emily. Emily is attractive, well-dressed and holds herself with confidence; if only she could keep her emotions in check! Emily is employed by the often absent Warren; charged with the care of an elderly wheelchair-bound woman named Helga. Poor Helga does get more than her share of Emily’s Homicidalness! When we meet Emily she is checking into a hotel and propositioning a bellhop. Emily gets up into all kinds of no good; emoting and a-killing she is! Emily is a fantastic character! Melodramatic, demure, catty, conniving, sexy, and….homicidal! Emily has some delicious dialog but it is her dramatics that stand out; Marshall’s range of emotions was impressive and her expressions are priceless! Joan Marshall’s performance in Homicidal is unrestrained perfection.
“2000 all together….yours.”
“Who do I have to murder?“
“What do I have to do?”
“Marry me…on the 6th of September.”
“Wow. That wouldn’t be so hard to take, even without this.”
“It’s a surgical knife…doctors use it.”
“What do you use it for?”
JOAN CRAWFORD in Strait-Jacket
Where does one even begin with the life and career of Joan Crawford? The woman had a long and illustrious career in film from 1925 – 1972; she has 104 acting credits on IMDB. Joan Crawford was born March 23, 1906 in San Antonio TX. Her career started in dancing; she was discovered by a producer while touring with a musical revue. In 1924 she signed a contract with MGM and it was decided that her birth name Lucille LeSueur should be changed; readers of a fan magazine chose her new name Joan Crawford. Crawford would be featured in several successful films for MGM through the 20s and 30s including one of my favourite’s Tod Browning’s The Unknown (1927). Crawford has been quoted as saying she learned more about acting from watching Chaney work than from anyone else through her career. “It was then I became aware for the first time of the difference between standing in front of a camera, and acting.”
In the late 30s her popularity began to wane and in 1943 her contract with MGM was mutually terminated. She than signed a deal with Warner Brothers and made the film Mildred Pierce which won her an Oscar for best actress. Her career experienced a resurgence and she had a good run but in 1952 asked to be released from her Warner contract. She would continue to work steadily through the fifties and made the hugely successful What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with Bette Davis in 1962. Apparently Castle seen What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 17 times and it was his dream to have one of its stars featured in a film. His dream came true when Crawford agreed to star in Strait-Jacket but under her terms.
Caviar and special liquor in her dressing room, actresses fired at her request, sets kept icy cold so her face would stay tight; that is some seriously divaesque behavior. Castle pretty much let Crawford do whatever she wanted. According to her co-star Diane Baker (who plays her daughter Carol), Crawford was unhappy with the ending as it did not focus on her and had Castle change it. There is no doubt about it, this is Crawford’s film. She chews up the scenery every time she is on screen; which is a goodly portion of the film.
Crawford plays Lucy Harbin a woman released from an asylum after twenty years of institutionalization. She moves in with her brother and his wife who adopted her young daughter Carol when she was sent away. Carol is all grown up and a sculptor who is in love with the son of a wealthy dairy owner. Lucy attempts to adjust but soon people begin disappearing making her the obvious suspect.
Despite Lucy being sent home “cured” she never seems right. Lucy is paranoid, twitchy, excitable and emotional at regular intervals. Lucy is also empathetic at times. Lucy is haunted by the ghosts of her past and any number of things can set her off. Carol takes Lucy shopping and buys her new clothes and a wig and she seems to become possessed by the garments. A scene where she seduces Carol’s boyfriend in her new garb is particularly memorable. Joan Crawford gives an inspired performance in Strait-Jacket worth applauding.
Lucy all dolled up.
Lucy in more comfortable attire.
A fantastic scene where Lucy trips out believing she is trapped in the small, striped wallpapered room.
Straight-Jacket’s finale; Joan’s way.
Joan Crawford also had a supporting role in William Castle’s I Saw What you Did; pictured here with John Ireland.
CAROL OHMART in House on Haunted Hill
Carol Ohmart was born in Salt Lake City, Utah July 3, 1927. Ohmart received the title of Miss Utah in 1946 and won fourth place in the Miss America Pageant. This led her to modelling and television commercials which led her to signing with Paramount Pictures in 1955.
The above pic is Carol Ohmart as Emily Howe in Spider Baby, or the Maddest Story Ever Told. Looking at the wonderful Ms. Ohmart’s resume it appears to me that she was a seriously underutilized actress. According to IMDB it appears she made just nine feature-length films; the majority of her credits are in television. I have only seen two of Ms. Ohmart’s feature films; Spider Baby, Or the Maddest Story Ever Told (one of my favourite films of all time!) and House on Haunted Hill (the reason she is on this list). These two outstanding credits and Ms. Ohmart’s superb performance in each is worth celebrating!
In House on Haunted Hill Carol Ohmart plays Annabelle Loren. Annabelle is in an unhappy marriage to eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren. The couple loathe one another which makes for some snappy and extremely entertaining dialog! Carol Ohmart holds her own with the legendary Vincent Price and even betters him once or twice during their banter. She is strong, confident, sexy and seething with hatred for her husband. The expression on her face when Frederick touches her says it all. Omhart’s body language and facial expressions are perfection. House on Haunted Hill is worth watching just based on Carol Ohmart’s performance and her spirited jousts with Vincent Price. Ohmart is a beautiful talented actress who should have been in more films! Long retired from acting the lovely Ms. Ohmart celebrated her 86th birthday on July 3.
Frederick and Annabelle sharing some champagne and jabs.
Annabelle looking particularly ravishing.
This picture does not do Annabelle’s nightgown justice.
A concerned Annabelle.
A frightened Annabelle.
Carol Ohmart rocks!
TSILLA CHELTON in Shanks
French actress Tsilla Chelton was born June 21, 1919. After settling in Paris she met and married decorator Jacques Noël. Chelton started acting in Marcel Marceau’s troupe and went on to have a successful career in theatre. She acted in several plays based on the writing of Eugene Ionesci and even won a Moliere Award for her work in Ionesco’s The Chairs. She worked alongside such actors as Michel Serrault and Michel Piccoli. Chelton taught comedy in the early 60s to the likes of Michel Blanc. Chelton did a fair amount of television and film work also. Chelton has 71 credits spanning 1962 to 2013. Her final film Landes has yet to be released.
The above picture is Tsilla Chelton in the lead role of Etienne Chatiliez’s 1990 film Tatie Danielle. Chelton was nominated for a César Award for Best Actress for her role. I was so smitten by her performance in Shanks I added Tatie Danielle to my queue.
In Shanks Chelton plays the salty Mrs. Barton. Mute puppeteer Malcolm Shanks was the brother of Mrs. Barton’s first husband and now pays rent as a tenant. Mrs. Barton is re-married to an alcoholic with a bad temper; although she clearly has control of their relationship. The couple is not kind to Shanks which makes what follows so much more delicious and rewarding. The couple meet their demise relatively early in the film and spend the balance as corpses controlled by puppeteer Malcolm Shanks. Fun fact; William Castle has a cameo as the owner of a market Shanks visits with the Bartons. Marcel Marceau had significant input on William Castle’s Shanks. I am guessing that Chelton was handpicked seeing as she acted in Marcel Marceau’s troupe in Paris. That goes a long way to explain why her body work is so superb! She is required to do a great deal of physical work in Shanks and she is truly marvelous. I am also not the least bit surprised to learn she taught comedy; her comedic timing and delightfully quirky accent are top drawer! Chelton’s performance is a huge highlight of Castle’s wonderful and unique film! The immensely talented Tsilla Chelton died July 15, 2012 at the age of 93.
***A super huge MERCI BEAUCOUP to David Arrate at My Kind of Story who was kind enough to donate these pics. Watch for Mr. Arrate’s feature It’s a Small World, Malcolm Shanks on August 2***
Tsilla Chelton as Mrs. Barton; in curlers. It takes some big curlers to set that big do!
Puppeteer Malcolm Shanks beautifully captures Mrs. Barton in doll form.
Malcolm puts on a puppet show using the corpses of Mr. & Mrs. Barton. One of many fine examples of Ms. Chelton’s outstanding body work.
The Barton’s help celebrate Celia’s birthday. Another wonderful Chelton moment.
LORRAINE MILLER in It’s a Small World
There is very little information out there about actress Lorraine Miller. I contemplated leaving her off the list due to the lack of information I could find. I watched several William Castle films over the past few weeks for this feature. Some were re-watches and a few were first time viewings. One of those first time viewings was It’s A Small World. It’s a Small World is about the hardships of little people. It is Harry Musk’s story. Upon learning that Harry would no longer grow, his father pulled him out of school and hid him from the world. His sister resents him and refuses to bring friends home out of embarrassment. Harry eventually decides to begin a life of his own. Lorraine Miller plays Buttons a character Harry meets on his journey. The lovely Lorraine Miller is so damn likable as Buttons it really stung when it is revealed that she is not what she seems. I can’t imagine how poor Harry must have felt! Despite the lack of information on Ms. Miller’s acting career she deserves to be on this list. She really does give a memorable performance that was one of my favourites through my Castle viewing.
The above picture is a promotional shot of Ms. Miller for Andrew L. Stone’s 1943 film Hi Diddle Diddle. Lorraine Miller was born January 5, 1922 in Flint Michigan. In 1940 she won a contest where she was crowned Rodeo Queen and the reward was a contract with MGM. Apparently she shared a room with Donna Reed when she first arrived in California. Miller has 34 acting credits listed on IMDB but several of them are noted as uncredited. Her first significant part was in the 1943 Western Beyond the Last Frontier, but several more uncredited roles followed. In 1945 she had a small part in Between Two Women along side Keenan Wynn, Van Johnson, Lionel Barrymore and Gloria DeHaven. A starring role would follow in the 1945 film The White Gorilla. She was in several Westerns through the forties including Border Badman, Ambush Trail and Trouble at Melody Mesa.
William Castle’s It’s a Small World (1950) was her second last feature film. In It’s a Small World Miller plays Buttons; nicknamed on account of her affinity for buttons which adorn everything she wears. Buttons is a femme fatale that uses her charms to lure Harry into a scheme. Despite his nativity Harry knows what Buttons is asking him to do is wrong but he agrees just the same. Harry just wants to be close to Buttons. And who wouldn’t? Buttons is a beautiful woman; beguiling, kind and a lot of fun. Harry and Buttons become fast friends. Unfortunately for Harry, Buttons’ friendship comes with an agenda. Lorraine Miller is delightful in this role; she made me smile, she made me angry and she broke my heart. Miller has a wonderful natural ease and plays Buttons with strength and confidence. I got the feeling Buttons was the kind of woman who has taken her knocks in life and refuses to let it keep her down. Miller gives an irresistible performance in It’s a Small World worth the price of admission. Lorraine Miller died February 6, 1978 in Los Angeles California.
When Harry sees a woman living across the hall being roughed up he jumps to her aid. The woman introduces herself as Buttons.
Harry and Buttons share some soda and laughs.
Buttons; so named because of her affinity for buttons.
Buttons broke my heart.
BARBARA STANWYCK in The Night Walker
I thought summarizing Joan Crawford’s long, successful career was brutal until I started working on Barbara Stanwyck! Ms. Stanwyck has 106 actress titles listed on IMDB; and most of those are leading roles. The critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning actress also seemed to be both liked and respected by her peers and everyone else she came in contact with. There is tons of information about Barbara Stanwyck out there and I did not stumble upon a single negative comment or divaesque story about her. Barbara Stanwyck was born July 16, 1907 in Brooklyn NY. Stanwyck was only four years old when her mother was pushed from a streetcar by a drunk and killed. Her father joined a work crew a short time later and was never heard from again. Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine Stevens and along with her brother Byron was raised by her older sister Mildred. Stanwyck wanted to be a performer and at the age of sixteen she was hired by the Ziegfeld Follies. While working as a chorus girl she met Willard Mack who gave her a role in his play The Noose and LaHiff. Stanwyck had a successful run on Broadway and Hollywood soon came a-knocking. Stanwyck married fellow actor Frank Fay and the two moved to Hollywood. Apparently their marriage ended badly; the film A Star is Born (1937) is allegedly based on Stanwyck and Fay’s marriage. Her first role was a bit part in Joseph C. Boyle’s Broadway Nights (1927) but starring roles immediately followed. Stanwyck was a natural! A few of her early highlights included Frank Capra’s Ladies of Leisure (1930), William A. Wellman’s Night Nurse (1931), Alfred E. Green’s Baby Face (1933) and George Stevens’ Annie Oakley (1935).
Stanwyck was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for the 1937 film Stella Dallas (Anne Shirley was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress). She was nominated three more times for Best Actress for Ball of Fire (1941), Double Indemnity (1944) and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948); Stanwyck did not take home a statue until she received an honorary Oscar in 1982. Stanwyck’s career began to decline in the late 1950s; nonetheless she made a few films that are gems in my book including the reason she is on this list; William Castle’s The Night Walker.
The Night Walker would be the last feature film Barbara Stanwyck would make. Stanwyck eventually made the move to television. She played three roles in the series Wagon Train (61 – 64) but is probably better known as the matriarch of the Barkley family in The Big Valley (my mom’s favourite TV show of all time). Her television career ended with The Colbys (85 -86).
In The Night Walker Barbara Stanwyck plays Irene Trent. Irene is a woman in a bitterly unhappy marriage. Her husband Howard is a wealthy blind inventor who believes Irene is having an affair. He goes to great lengths to discover proof of her infidelity. Irene is indeed having an affair…in her dreams. When Howard is killed in an explosion in his laboratory Irene is suddenly free from their oppressive relationship. Or is she? Murder, mystery and betrayal abound!
My first viewing of The Night Walker was about a week ago for this blogathon. It turned out to be one of my favourite watches! While I love and adore Castle’s camp, I was thoroughly impressed by the mystery and atmosphere in The Night Walker; and those dream sequences are really something else! I wish there had been more of those dream sequences!
Stanwyck is the focus of The Night Walker and she goes through a wide range of emotions through the film. She is a smart and tough woman albeit slightly beaten that begins to question her own sanity. Irene frets, shakes her fists and refuses to lose grip! That wonderful raspy voice of Stanwyck’s is well utilized by Castle. Stanwyck can scream like a banshee! Not everyone is capable of a good horror scream. According to IMDB Gary Oldman couldn’t scream to Coppola’s satisfaction in Dracula; they had to bring in Lux Interior of The Cramps as a scream double. That is not meant as a slight against Oldman; all I am saying is some folks can scream and some just can’t. My girl Barbara can scream!
Barbara Stanwyck is empathetic and likable as Irene. Irene is frightened and questioning her sanity but she maintains a strength and faces her fear head on. As far as I am aware, Barbara Stanwyck never gave a bad performance and The Night Walker is certainly no exception. Stanwyck was a no-brainer choice for a list of my favourite women of Castle.
Through my research of Barbara Stanwyck my curiosity was aroused by the title Lady of Burlesque (1943). It is available to watch on IMDB archives so I thought I’d share my find. It is based on the book by Gypsy Rose Lee.