Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jessica Tandy Claude Rains Hitchcock Ventriloquist Stories

Two Film Stars, Two Ventriloquists
with unconventional dummies
on Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Do you think Lydia Brenner (Mitch's mother in The Birds) and Alex Sebastian (a Nazi spy in Notorious) would be scared of some ventriloquists' dummies?

Fear is only one of the emotions dancing around the heads of the characters played by Jessica Tandy and Claude Rains in a couple of my favorite episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. 

Tandy played Lydia in The Birds and Rains was Alex Sebastian in Notorious.

This article will be riddled with spoilers since everything I'm talking about was aired or screened well over 50 years ago. If you don't want to be spoiled, please enjoy the movies and/or shows now. ...I'm happy to wait.
Claude Rains in Notorious
from Wikipedia Commons

 Do you remember the end of the film, Notorious?

    Devlin (Cary Grant): No room Sebastian.
    Alex: But you must take me. They're watching me.
    Devlin: That's your headache.
    [They drive off to the hospital]
    Nazi: There is no telephone in her room to call the hospital.
    Eric Mathis (Ivan Triesault): Alex, will you come in, please? I wish to talk to you.

These stars of Alfred Hitchcock films each appeared in more than one of the director's television shows, but I'm focusing on just two.

I read somewhere that an acceptable and modern form of ventriloquism is karaoke. What do you think of that?

And So Died Riabouchinska     Claude Rains February 12, 1956

Rains is ventriloquist John Fabian with a very lifelike female dummy. He is questioned about a murder that occurred at a vaudeville theater.

Then Fabian is questioned about a woman's disappearance years ago. Rains' performance is amazing and you'll be glad that you saw it. The video is below.

Turns out that the young woman from years ago looked remarkably like Riabouchinska, Fabian's dummy.

Detective Krovich can see that Fabian has something to hide, that he is fragile emotionally. Even though it's unorthodox, maybe Riabouchinska is the one to ask for the truth.

Also in the cast is a young Charles Bronson as the police detective who keeps on with the very unusual case until he solves it. 

With these shows, first you just have to watch to find out what happens. And then you have to watch again to get the nuances, find out more and to enjoy the performances. Those shows, movies or television that warrant rewatching are the very best.

The Claude Rains Hitchcock version may be unavailable for now on video. There was an Alan Bates version done for the Ray Bradbury Theater.

Claire Carleton is Fabian's wife, Alice. 

Virginia Gregg is the voice of the dummy, Riabouchinska. Though uncredited,  Gregg was one of the actors who provided the voice of Mrs. Bates in the original Psycho in 1960. Apparently Virginia Gregg was the voice of Mrs. Bates in the sequels of Psycho. She appeared as Emily in the famous Twilight Zone episode, The Masks, directed by Ida Lupino. 

Lupino, who had previously starred in The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine, is the only woman to have directed an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Jeanette Nolan and Paul Jasmin also provided voices for the mother in Psycho.

Since it's Oscar season, I'll add award information. Claude Rains was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor four times: for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Casablanca (1942), Mr. Skeffington (1944) and Notorious (1946).

Suspense Radio Drama - November 13, 1947 aired the Ray Bradbury story,  Riabouchinska. Listening to it is another experience.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents is available on DVD or to stream episode by episode. These are in Seasons One and Three if you'd like to own them and show them to friends. Some of Hitchcock's films are available to stream but not all yet.

Automatonophobia is the fear of ventriloquist's dummies. This can include the fear of wax figures, humanoid robots, mannequins, audio animatronics, life-like dolls or other figures designed to represent humans. Agalmatophilia is sort of the opposite, may be love of human-like figures. Think of the 2007 film, Lars and the Real Girl. I've got a post in the works on films with both of these features. There are some links below.

The Glass Eye   Jessica Tandy October 6, 1957

Jessica Tandy 8x10
Original Hollywood Prints
A young William Shatner tells the story in flashback. Jessica Tandy's character is his aunt, Julia Lester who's since died. He finds a glass eye and explains the story of how his sister came to have it. 

Shatner's character, Jim Whitely is cleaning out her home and speaking to his wife Rosemary Harris as Dorothy Whitely.

Patricia Hitchcock appears as a saleslady. Tom Conway is Max Collodi. Conway is the brother of actor George Sanders. The video is below.

Julia is an unmarried woman who lives a lonely, sad life. One day she sees the show of famous ventriloquist name Max Collodi. 

She's immediately enchanted and becomes something of an Edwardian ventriloquist's groupie. She quits her job, using her savings to follow him around. She keeps a scrapbook and writes him letters to say how much she admires him. 

Eventually, he writes her back and finally agrees to meet her in his hotel room. He instructs her to stay at a distance and for only a brief time. She approaches and tries to touch him but finds that the man she admired who she thought was the handsome Max Collodi is actually the dummy. The man who she thought was the dummy was actually controlling a larger sized doll. 
Jessica Tandy, Paul Playdon
Image from Wikipedia Commons
To Julia's horror, the Max Collodi figure keels over like a store mannequin as she tries to save him. A touch to his cheek and his head pops off in her hands. Which one is really Max? The smaller man is on a table stamping his feet and telling her to leave at once which she does. 

He removes the 'ventriloquist dummy' mask he usually wears in their act. Billy Barty plays the character in the mask, the one we thought was the dummy manipulated by the larger Max Collodi. 

In 1989 Jessica Tandy became the oldest actress to receive the Academy Award for Best Actress at age 80 for her role in Driving Miss Daisy. She was again nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1991 for Fried Green Tomatoes. She was married to actor Hume Cronyn for 52 years and their daughter Tandy Cronyn is also an actress.

At age 80, George Burns became the oldest acting and Best Supporting Actor awardee for The Sunshine Boys, a record which stood until Jessica Tandy won Best Actress in 1989. For males, Burns was succeeded by Christopher Plummer, who won Best Supporting Actor in 2012 for Beginners at the age of 82.
-- some info from Wikipedia
Carnival! Playbill Program April 13, 1961 Opening Night (Anna Maria Alberghetti)

 Speaking of puppets The Funeral March of a Marionette is the familiar theme song that Alfred Hitchcock used for his television shows. He said he heard it in the 1927 film, Sunrise a Song of Two Humans. Watch public broadcasting and old film channels such as TCM. You'll be able to catch this great film periodically on television and you may be able to get it at your local library.

Have you seen War Horse, the 2011 Steven Spielberg film set before and during World War I. The film features Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis and Niels Arestrup? It's an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's 1982 children's novel of the same name. The Broadway play features a life-sized horse puppets. 

If you attend the King Kong musical stage play, in Australia for instance, you'll also see a massive six-metre animatronic silverback King Kong puppet. Much like the plays The Lion King and Avenue Q, they are incorporating more and more amazing puppetry props and entire characters into theater productions for adults and families.

At the Second Tony Awards in March 1948, Jessica Tandy won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play her performance as Blanche Dubois in the original Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire. 

She shared the award with two other actresses, two other plays, Katharine Cornell (who won for the female lead in Antony and Cleopatra) and Judith Anderson (for her portrayal of Medea). 

Judith Anderson went on to film work including Laura, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Salome and of course, she played Mrs. Danvers in Hitchcock's film, Rebecca.
Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter, Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire
Broadway 1947

"Rosemary Harris and Jessica Tandy appeared together on television in 1957 in a classic episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents called The Glass Eye.... William Shatner plays Tandy's nephew and Harris his wife. This may be the only time the two Blanches - one former and one yet to come -- appeared together."
-- When Blanche Met Brando: The Scandalous Story of A Streetcar Named Desire by Sam Staggs

If you're looking for more coincidence, Billy Barty who was in The Glass Eye and Claire Carleton from And So Died Riabouchinska appeared in a 1958 episode of Shirley Temple's Storybook: Season 1, Episode 7, Rip Van Winkle. There were several famous storybook tales in this set. A variety of actors appeared and Shirley Temple narrated them.

In 1958 Robert Stevens, the director of The Glass Eye and another favorite Alfred Hitchcock Presents that features Jessica Tandy, Toby (as well as others) won an Emmy for Best Direction 'Half Hour or Less' for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

January 25, 1949 the first Emmy Awards were held at the Hollywood Athletic Club. They were just to honor shows produced and aired locally in the Los Angeles area. The person who won the very first Emmy Award was ventriloquist Shirley Dinsdale & her puppet Judy. Not only a woman but a female puppet as well. Her award was for Most Outstanding Television Personality.

Ventriloquist Paul Winchell is on the panel of What's My Line July 22, 1956
Mystery guest Chicago ventriloquist figure maker Frank Marshall. 
He is the creator of Jerry Mahoney, Edgar Bergen's Charlie McCarthy and Jimmy Nelson's Danny O'Day.

Links to Pages of Interest:

Twilight Zone Dolls, Ventriloquist Dummies, Mystic Seers and Mannequins

Scary Doll iPhone, iPad and Tablet Cases

Memorable Dolls and Puppets of Science Fiction and Fantasy Film & TV

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