A British movie called Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool played earlier this year in Hamilton and Cambridge. No doubt small but appreciative crowds. A true story, based on the memoir by a minor Liverpudlian actor called Peter Turner, it dealt with the last weeks in the life of Gloria Grahame, the one-time toast of Hollywood whose career had self-destructed in the late 1950s.
Grahame is today only remembered by buffs and historians yet in her peak years, roughly 1946 to 1955. She carved herself a distinctive niche. Like all genuine film stars, she was known for a particular type of role, one that was an extension of her own off-screen personality. Grahame was sensuality personified, the good time girl, free with her favours, who enjoyed sex and didn’t care who knew it. Because of the misogynistic morality of the day, her characters usually came to a bad end. Though seldom the lead, she was often the most memorable performer, stealing film after film with little seeming effort.
An obvious comparison can be made with one of Grahame’s contemporaries, Marilyn Monroe. It is interesting how Monroe became an icon, her private life enhancing her legend. Grahame lacked her rival’s transcendent physical beauty, but she was a much better actress, starred in many more good films and was a strong singer. Her last universally celebrated part was as Ado Annie, “the girl who can’t say no”, in the 1955 screen adaptation of Oklahoma!
As with Monroe, Grahame acquired a reputation of being difficult to work with. This only partly accounts for her decline though. The scandal which really destroyed her life was closer to that which threatens Woody Allen’s today than Monroe’s flirtations with Brando, Sinatra, DiMaggio, and the Kennedy brothers. She married one man – Nicholas Ray, a cult director, best known now for making Rebel Without a Cause –then, a few years later, his son. The elder Ray caught Gloria in bed with his boy when the lad was only 13.
Let’s not judge from this distance though. Rather watch Grahame in her glory days, tempting a pre-Sesame Street Bert and Ernie in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946); as Humphrey Bogart’s suspicious lover in In a Lonely Place (1950) and the gangster’s moll who gets boiling water in the kisser courtesy of Lee Marvin in The Big Heat (1953). Auteur House stocks all of these and more.