Monday, January 20, 2014

King Neurotic vs. the Ex From Hell: the never-ending saga of Woody and Mia (part 2 of two)

As I noted in the first part of this piece, there are a number of people who have a major antipathy for Woody Allen concerning the way he has lived his life. Some of these people still see his movies, others have sworn off his work for good. What I find interesting is that even the loudest of them rarely seem to take the side of Mia Farrow and add to their “what a degenerate pedophile!” tirades any mention of “that poor woman whose heart he broke.”

I believe this is because there are two Mia Farrows in the public view (besides the many characters she played over the years, the best of which were in Rosemary's Baby and films directed by Allen). The first Mia is an incredible humanitarian, a woman who has traveled throughout Africa and has focused her attention on starving children.

Her work in this regard is invaluable and admirable. She is a liberal of the old school, who literally has put her money and time where her mouth is, and has supported the victims of hunger in Darfur, Chad, Haiti, and many other countries.

In this regard in her personal life, she became “Momma Mia,” a woman who has adopted children from difficult situations, some with disabling conditions, other from impoverished circumstances. She is to be lauded for all these accomplishments, as she is an actress who has done something truly important with her life.

Here is a sympathetic and positive documentary about her accomplishments from the Intimate Portrait series:

And then there's the other Mia. A woman who has let her angry feelings about a relationship that went horribly wrong become her distinguishing characteristic. She trumpets the injustices doled out to her and her children by her ex, alleging absolutely heinous things, while undercutting her own position as an example of moral rectitude with new “revelations.”

Farrow first came to public attention as one of the stars of the nighttime soap Peyton Place in 1964. Her next major show business “coup” (in the eyes of the media) was becoming the third wife of Frank Sinatra. He was 50, she was 21, and they were the very definition of a May-December romance (Ava Gardner's purported crack about the marriage was “I always knew that Frank would marry a boy”).

Farrow achieved major fame starring in Rosemary's Baby (and no, I'm not going to discuss Polanski in this piece, because that is a very different case with a very different artist). Two years after the film, she began an affair with Andre Previn, who divorced his wife, singer-songwriter Dory Previn (aged 45), to be with her.

Dory's response was the lacerating tune “Beware of Young Girls.” Here is a performance of the song by the singer Kate Dimbleby, who does a monologue as Dory (seen right, with Andre Previn) about Mia. The lyrics of the song are rather amazing:

“She was my friend, my friend/My friend/I thought her motives were sincere/Oh yes, I did/Ah, but this lass/It came to pass/Had a dark and different plan/She admired my own sweet man/She admired my own sweet man/We were friends, oh yes, we were/And she just took him from my life/Oh yes, she did, so young and vain/She brought me pain/But I'm wise enough to say/She will leave him, one thoughtless day/She'll just leave him and go away.”

Here is the original version by Dory:

During the period of the custody trial, Allen decided to discuss a campaign of harassment Farrow had begun against him (probably the oddest note was the “valentine with skewers” shown in the 60 Minutes interview, above). Of course, the most damning aspect of the story was the charge that Woody had sexually abused his daughter Dylan. One of the most incriminating pieces of evidence was a videotape that Mia shot of her daughter talking about the abuse.

While being the single most damning evidence against Allen, the tape was in and of itself a problem – it had been shot by the little girl's mother, and as such was “muddied” evidence. A New York Times piece from May 4, 1993 noted that “The doctor who headed the Connecticut investigation into whether Woody Allen molested his 7-year-old daughter, Dylan, theorized that the child either invented the story under the stress of living in a volatile and unhealthy home or that it was planted in her mind by her mother, Mia Farrow, a sworn statement released yesterday says.

“Dr. John M. Leventhal, who interviewed Dylan nine times, said that one reason he doubted her story was that she changed important points from one interview to another, like whether Mr. Allen touched her vagina. Another reason, he said, was that the child's accounts had "a rehearsed quality." At one point, he said she told him, "I like to cheat on my stories."

“Dr. Leventhal said: "We had two hypotheses: one, that these were statements that were made by an emotionally disturbed child and then became fixed in her mind. And the other hypothesis was that she was coached or influenced by her mother. We did not come to a firm conclusion. We think that it was probably a combination"....

Dr. Leventhal said it was "very striking" that each time Dylan spoke of the abuse, she coupled it with "one, her father's relationship with Soon-Yi, and two, the fact that it was her poor mother, her poor mother," who had lost a career in Mr. Allen's films.”

The interesting thing here again is the public perception of the performer. While Woody Allen has made his overriding neuroses and his “perversions” part of his act since he began as a standup in the Sixties, Farrow is generally in the public mind for this scene from the end of Rosemary's Baby. She is, in effect, the perennial victim – the people whom she thought were friends and loved ones ultimately betray her.

In November 1992 a very long Vanity Fair article appeared that summed up all of Mia's allegations against Woody. It's a fascinating piece, in that the writer, Maureen Orth, titled it “Mia's Story,” but every so often includes the opinions of Allen's colleagues and friends tangentially, effectively dismissing them. She identifies the skewers in the valenine as “toothpicks” and lays out Farrow's case against Allen in nearly excruciating detail.

Anytime there is a possible objection to something being said, Orth quotes it and passes over it, while supplying ample space to Farrow's friends to praise Mia and curse Woody– as in one interestingly damning parenthetical note (“You can’t say his own therapy failed,” quips Mia’s lawyer Eleanor Alter. “He might have become a serial killer without it.”).

If the items cited in Orth's long, long article are indeed true, their relationship was a nightmare and Woody is a monster; if it isn't true, the article was a stunningly horrifying piece of character assassination. I link to it here so that you can read it if you like.

I noticed that Farrow's most important interview after the custody trial is somehow curiously missing from the YouTube deep trove of Howard Stern clips. Yes, Mia appeared on the Stern show (the radio show and its E! Channel video airing of its contents) in May 1997 to discuss her life and memoir with Howard.

Stern, he of the fart/burp/big-tit/dick joke, took the high moral ground when the Woody/Mia split occurred and publicly condemned Allen. Thus he was a sympathetic ear for Mia's complaints about her ex and also was able to ask his usual questions about dick size and “things you hate about your ex” (hoping the ex will call in and fight with the in-studio guest – nothing more fun on the Stern show than having family members battle for the listeners' entertainment).

Perhaps “liberated” by Stern's juvenilia, Farrow turned back into her teeny bopper persona – read, the “girl who snagged Sinatra” – and began to discuss various things. Among them were:

– the fact that Allen has a small penis

– Sinatra had a bigger penis

– Sinatra offered to break Woody's legs (“Frank is so sweet,” one listener remembers her saying)

– of the four Beatles, she most wanted to have sex with John, but it never happened, sadly

When I saw this interview on E! (which I have somewhere preserved on VHS), I remember thinking that she'd completely devolved into the Sixties mod-chick who called Frank her “Charlie Brown” (because of his big round head – no joke here, look it up) and had later became the subject of that Dory Previn song. Her condemnation of Allen for stealing her older daughter and molesting her younger one was tied up in a package that also contained gleeful revelations about his genitals and a reflection on which Beatle was the most shaggable.

In the decade and a half after that, Mia became deeply involved in her humanitarian efforts and was indeed wiping away the memories of her relationship with Woody and any of the related public appearances and statements.

And then Allen's films became surprisingly popular at the box-office in the last few years. Midnight in Paris was his highest-grossing film ever, taking in $56 million in North America. To Rome With Love made $73 million dollars worldwide; Sony Pictures Classics said it was the seventh highest-grossing picture in the two-decade history of that distribution arm of Sony. Blue Jasmine has earned $94 million worldwide to date and is still playing in many parts of the country. 

Thus, the return to the national stage of Farrow – in a new Vanity Fair profile in the November 2013 issue, again by Maureen Orth. The writer decided to begin the piece with the charge of sexual abuse against Allen and to include his side of the story as a one-line parenthetical denial in what is otherwise a characteristically long VF profile.

The only “new” information about the sexual abuse charge comes in the middle of the article (pages 5 and 6 online), where Orth interviews Dylan, who claims that the interactions with Allen in her childhood have haunted her adult life, that she gets sick when she hears the jazz Allen liked or sees his picture on a t-shirt in the street. It's heartbreaking stuff, truly.

One wonders why Orth was disinclined to include any of the information that was reported in the New York Times, The L.A. Times, and People magazine that I have included in this piece. In Orth's account of events, there is no mention of the possibility that Farrow's video recording of her daughter was problematic, that the girl's story changed often from telling to telling, and that at least one psychologist believed Farrow might've prompted the recovered memories.

Instead, Orth begins her very long piece with the abuse charge and a bizarre story about Mia begin counseled by Sinatra's mob connections. Then, and only then, do we learn about her very important work with UNICEF. Priorities, priorities!

More than once, one does feel while reading this new Orth piece that the relationship between Mia and the temper-prone Woody (as he is depicted here) was an absolute nightmare and Allen was indeed a monster. Here there is no question of even considering the possibility (slight or major, however you choose to view it) that the claims were manipulated by an angry ex. I don't have the answers myself, but perhaps in the interests of journalism, it is necessary to air them and cite the articles that mentioned them two decades ago.

What was rather dazzling about the media coverage of Orth's new piece was that the gossip columns and supermarket rags went on at length NOT about the sexual abuse charges concerning Mia and Woody's daughter Dylan. Instead most mentions of it concerned the fact that Mia is now declaring that Ronan (formerly Satchel) may be the son of Frank Sinatra, since Mia now wants us all to know that she was still regularly seeing – and having sex with? – Old Blue Eyes in the late Eighties while involved with Allen.

It's a rather unique and admittedly odd situation: a person who wants her claims of her ex's moral depravity to be taken seriously, meanwhile augmenting those claims with a counter-argument that the ex isn't the father of the child he thought he was – because she was cheating on him.

The media seized on this questionable “revelation” and continually noted how much Ronan looks like Sinatra because he has blue eyes. Forgetting that Mia has blue eyes and Ronan's fairer-than-fair complexion does make him look a lot like his mother when she was young.

The one-two punch of that Vanity Fair piece and the recent Tweet from Ronan mentioning the story of his sister's sexual abuse at the moment when the Golden Globes was presenting his father with a Lifetime Achievement Award has resurrected the molestation charge against Allen and has led the producers of his new Broadway show (a musical version of Bullets Over Broadway) to speculate on whether the Farrow clan will attempt to protest the show in some fashion.

It's not clear what would “end” this storyline: it appears that Farrow wants it known by every viewer of Allen's film work that he sexually abused his young daughter. Allen proclaimed his innocence in a handful of interviews during the custody trial two decades ago and has remained silent about the matter since then.

There is almost no way for the matter to be settled, nigh short of the case being opened up again in court, which would be detrimental to Dylan's state of mind (as surely everything that's happened up to now has been – whether she was molested by her father or “programmed” by her mother). She has been the definite victim in this whole affair, and the question is whether Farrow's new quest for justice, conducted through Orth and VF, is ultimately helping or hurting her daughter.

In considering this long-stemmed narrative and how much the media has been gobbling it up and spitting it out yet again over the past week since the Golden Globes Tweet business, I came to one conclusion. I figured out the one thing that both exes, both Allen and Farrow, would agree on – namely, the fact that they never should've started dating in the first place.

The above fantasy-option would have denied movie lovers a few really terrific movies they collaborated on (and would've also spared us misfires like Shadows and Fog), so it could easily be amended to their relationship ending after Hannah and Her Sisters (or, for some, Crimes and Misdemeanors, which I think is a more uneven film than Hannah).

In any case, the early '90s were a nightmare era for the Allen-Farrow relationship, and what's odd is that we are still living with the aftermath of their blighted, odd love story a full two decades later.

Note: the epilogue to this piece can be found here.

King Neurotic vs. the Ex From Hell: the never-ending saga of Woody and Mia (part 1 of two)

If celebrities are indeed “imaginary friends for adults,” then Woody Allen and Mia Farrow are the divorced couple we all know who can't stand each other — the partner who cheated wishes that the other one would just shut up, and the one who was cheated on won't stop complaining about how they were wronged.

Granted, this couple are very famous, and the issue that has now become paramount above all else is a very, very serious charge of sexual abuse of a child (raised again publicly by Ronan Farrow in a wildly over-publicized Tweet last Sunday night), but as an “ex-couple” Woody and Mia serve a specific same purpose for we who can't avoid their never-ending story in the media: they make us extremely glad we never had a relationship with either of 'em.

I don't need to run through the twists and turns of their long-stemmed saga; if you need a brief summation that takes care not to leave out a few of the sleazier details, then check out this Gawker piece. In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting to see how the public perceives both individuals, and how they both have “behaved” in public. Their godawful break-up and its aftermath serve as sort of a litmus test for those who respond to it — people make judgments for or against either party based on their personal beliefs and relationship history.

The fans and foes for each party somewhat runs along gender lines, but I’ve talked to some men who find Woody’s private-life interactions distasteful and as a result signed off seeing his films. There are also women who wish Mia would just shut up about the relationship (my mother hasn’t liked her since the days when Mia stole Andre Previn away from Dory, but that’s another story — see below).

The story begins in earnest at the moment where Mia discovers the nude photos that Woody took of Soon-Yi. Sadly enough, this is the decisive moment in that young woman's life. She lost a mother and siblings and gained a husband at that very moment.

She was 19 when the incident took place, thus very much of legal age, but Woody was thought of in the Farrow family as “stepfather” to all of the children (Soon-Yi was adopted by Mia and Andre Previn). Thus, there was, depending on how you look at it, an unusual “redefinition” of family/romantic roles in Soon-Yi’s life, or a massive violation of trust.

I have always been a big fan of Woody Allen (full disclosure here), and a major component of his nebbish image was the fact that he would occasionally proclaim himself a “pervert”:

It also became clear back in the Seventies that Mr. Allen was a hebephile (someone attracted to adolescents). There is the line delivered by Tony Roberts in Annie Hall about “two teens,” and of course, there is the entirety of the Mariel Hemingway plotline in Manhattan (1979) (which actress Stacey Nelkin has maintained was about her – radio silence from Woody, which is par for the course).

So we have an artist who has made hay for years about the fact that he has “pervy” leanings.

[In watching this clip again, I realized that the final line... well, I won't say anything.] 

By the time he is deeply enmeshed in his relationship with Mia he makes the sublime Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), in which the Michael Caine character carries on an affair with his wife's sister behind his wife's back; Caine’s wife is played by Mia Farrow. Take that plot line, cross it with the Hemingway thread from Manhattan, and have you have l'affaire Soon-Yi.

The affair was something of a surprise to his fans, since very few people had kept track of the names of Farrow’s children, but it wasn’t a very big surprise, since he had already laid out his fascinations in the scripts of his films.

I am not arguing from the above that Mia should've seen it coming, but one of Woody's strong suits as a writer is that not much remains hidden – like his hero Ingmar Bergman (who spent the final years of his life writing screenplays in which he tried to confront his feelings of guilt about how he screwed over the women in his life — see Ullmann’s Faithless), Allen seems to be working out his emotions through his protagonists.

So Woody makes this improper decision and justifies it with the famous quote “the heart wants what it wants.” At the point that the Soon-Yi relationship becomes public, Allen loses many fans, who feel he is a “pedophile” who has committed “incest” with his stepdaughter (this People article indicates that Woody knew her from the time she was 10, but he wasn’t involved with the children actively until the three that were “his” came along).

He didn't discuss the matter publicly until the court case with Farrow over custody of the three children they had together (one biological, two adopted). During the trial loads and loads of dirty laundry was aired. Farrow publicly accused him of destroying her family, and then added on top of the Soon-Yi situation an entirely different, and far, far more serious, accusation – that he had sexually abused their adopted daughter Dylan.

This accusation has become the principal one, since it became apparent that Woody is planning to live for the rest of his life with Soon-Yi as his wife (deep, deep love or lifelong guilt? It’s not really our business). He volunteered that “In the end, the one thing I have been guilty of is falling in love with Mia Farrow's adult daughter at the end of our years together."

The charge of sex abuse changed the whole situation, since the focus was now on Woody as a parent. What was revealed in the trial indicated that he had been brusque and even violent with Satchel (now Ronan), whereas he doted on Dylan to an alarming degree. His lawyers contended this was merely a father being overly attentive to his daughter; Mia’s lawyers contended the child was undressed at various times, and later spoke to her mother about Woody in an alarming manner, as if he had been intimate with her.

Whatever the truth is, one thing’s certain: the public doesn’t know what is true and what is the creation of the tabloid press and interested parties. But that hasn’t stopped the speculation. My personal *favorite* slice of weird storytelling about the Woody-Mia relationship was the gonzo telefilm Love and Betrayal: The Mia Farrow Story 1995, directed by Karen Arthur.

In that film, we see the most lurid parts of the trial acted out, with the emphasis on Mia’s heartache. Patsy Kensit (who, curiously, played Mia’s daughter in The Great Gatsby) essays the role of Mia as a glamorous sort of nut, while Dennis Boutsikaris underplays Woody, to try to evoke the “man within.”

The film is an absolute crap-TV delight, because (as with many TV movies) it pretends to tell the real story while only reveling in the sleaziest details — and also making sure that Woody’s life is acted out as scenes from his films. Visuals and events from Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and other Woody movies are acted out, but with Kensit and Boutsikaris inserted as the real Allen and Farrow.

I will have more to say about this TV movie in the future, because there are many kitsch reasons to love it. But back to the actual case: The verdict on the sex-abuse charge was that the Connecticut State Attorney decided not to prosecute to spare Dylan having to testify in court (although it raised enough questions to decisively prevent Allen from being allowed to visit Dylan). 

A Los Angeles Times piece offered this summation: “Lawyers for Woody Allen said Monday that a former nanny who worked for Mia Farrow has testified she was pressured by the actress to support charges that the filmmaker molested their 7-year-old adopted daughter.

“The nanny, Monica Thompson, resigned from the Farrow household on Jan. 25 after being subpoenaed in the bitter custody battle between the actress and Allen. She told Allen’s lawyers in depositions that another baby-sitter and one of the couple’s other adopted children told her they had serious doubts about the molestation accusation.” 

A New York Times article published around the same time noted that “While a team of experts concluded that Dylan was not abused, the judge said he found the evidence inconclusive… ‘I am less certain, however, than is the Yale-New Haven team that the evidence proves conclusively that there was no sexual abuse,’ Justice Wilk wrote.”

The entire allegation resolves down to a “he said, she said” situation, in which the he is Woody — augmented by the two psychotherapists who treated Dylan — and the she is Dylan — augmented seminally by Mia, who chose to record a discussion about the alleged incident, and Farrow family members, most notably Ronan, who did not witness the alleged incident but brought it up as a factual event in his Golden Globes Tweet.

There is no one who wouldn’t feel sorry for Dylan, who seemingly was Woody’s “favorite” of his three children with Farrow (for good or ill) and whose alleged abuse was used as a “wedge” in a custody battle between her adoptive parents. She is the definite victim in this whole matter, but the questions remain: to what degree was her overly-attentive father a villain, or her mother an outraged and vengeful ex?

As noted above, Woody has included his neuroses, fears, and fetishes into his films — although he does shy away from sex scenes (as the coy massage scene in Match Point so grandly illustrated; he cuts away at the moment when other filmmakers would’ve “gone straight in” for the lovely-people-having-stylized-sex sequence).

There is no way to gauge his feelings for children from his films, because they rarely exist in Woody’s cinematic universe (except, notably, the youthful versions of himself). The interesting tone that he took in the late ’90s was regret over romantic decisions (the heart wants what it wants, but it apparently makes very bad choices sometimes…).

To supply just two examples, the heroes of Celebrity (1998) and Sweet and Lowdown (1999) suffer because they pick the wrong woman — in the case of the former, the Woody surrogate (Kenneth Branagh, doing a ridiculous Allen impression) suffers because he breaks with Judy Davis and becomes involved with Winona Ryder.

One of the more obscure items from that period confronts the old-man-chooses-younger-woman-over-steadfast-wife-his-own-age theme head on: Allen’s one-act play “Central Park West” (the avenue on which Farrow has lived for many, many decades, btw). That play was produced in 1995 as part of the show “Death-Defying Acts,” along with two shorter pieces by David Mamet and Elaine May.

The plot finds a middle-aged therapist (Debra Monk played the role to a fine turn off-B’way) fearing that her best friend (Linda Lavin, in the same production) is the reason her husband has left her. She eventually finds out that her husband is madly in love with a 21-year-old Barnard student.

I don’t have a copy of the play on-hand, but remember it containing a number of really nasty jokes made at the middle-aged husband’s expense — he is raked over the coals by his friends for his May-December passion. A review of the play in the Christian Science Monitor noted that the dialogue is Allen’s contribution was indeed very funny, but that the play “leaves a bad taste in the mouth.”

For the most blatant funhouse-mirror reflection of the real events, one need only look at Husbands and Wives (1992), the last Allen-Farrow collaboration. The film is definitely modeled after Scenes from a Marriage, but adds on a very irritating approximation of Cassavetes’ handheld camera style.

Three things in that film are noteworthy, if not downright revelatory, if one is trying to find “reflections” of real events in Allen’s life (and no, not a single one of them relates to a child — children really haven’t ever been on his radar):

— The rather transparent plotline in which Woody’s character befriends a college student (Juliette Lewis), with whom he is clearly smitten.

— The constant verbal jabs taken at Mia’s character for being overbearing. They don’t seem as much passive-aggressive on Woody’s part as openly aggressive. What did Mia think when she read the script?

— The conclusion to the Sydney Pollack/Judy Davis plotline, in which both characters realize they’d rather remain in a sexless but “comfortable” middle-aged marriage than be with others. This twist is one of Woody’s most touching and yet bleakest views of marriage. Could it be his dream of what it would’ve been like to stay with Mia?

The film certainly invites speculation on many levels because, of course, he was writing the damned thing while he was beginning his affair with Soon-Yi. What does this all amount to? Woody has proven throughout the years that if he’s obsessed with something — be it angst over death, guilt over romantic choices, repressed anger over “dominant” figures in his life, or an attraction to teenage girls — he can’t really hide it.

I will let him have the last word, in the only visual interview I know of where he openly addresses the sexual abuse allegations. This aired on 60 Minutes and in it he gives us the timeline of events.

He denies the allegation, noting that he has no inkling to be (no bones about it, he says the term) a child molester. He also allowed the camera people to get a shot of a crazed note written by Mia to him, and the famous “valentine with skewers” that she sent him:

In the second part of this piece I will discuss Farrow's past and her public image. The epilogue to this piece (with updates and links to later articles concerning the case written by people involved including Woody, Dylan, and Moses Farrow) is here.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

What *else* were they in? Deceased Artistes Joan Fontaine and Peter O'Toole

The two biggest names to die toward the end of this year were without question Joan Fontaine and Peter O’Toole. I wanted to spotlight them and yet I have a basic problem: I’m not a very big fan of their most famous films. Rebecca is clearly Fontaine’s best-remembered film (a classic melodrama with suspsenseful bits, but to me it’s far more of a Selznick movie than a Hitchcock film), and when Peter O’Toole’s name is mentioned, he has been, and will forever be, inevitably linked with Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (a classic to be sure, but not my cup of tea).

So what to do when one has little interest in the “greatest hits” of the two most famous DAs of the end of 2013? Just shift the spotlight over a little and cover the other films in which they made very positive impressions.

First things first about Ms. Fontaine – the story that consumed every one of her obits was the fact that she and her older sister Olivia de Havilland (of whom I am a very big fan) never got over their feud. The most detailed account of the difficulties can be found in this Hollywood Reporter blog entry.

There were numerous reasons for the feud (verbal slights, awkward moments in public, “mom loved you best”), but it made great press because both ladies were Oscar winners who were two of the sole remaining goddesses of Hollywood's Golden Age (both can be quickly i.d.'ed in Thirties movies, whereas the remaining female stars – Maureen O'Hara, Debbie Reynolds, Jane Powell – seem more closely linked to the Forties and after).

Here is a segment from a CBC interview in which Fontaine talks about her sister:

There are numerous wonderful clips featuring Fontaine found online – including this nice moment with monster-movie icon Dwight Frye – but it's certain that the most suspenseful movie that she appeared in was the film she won the Best Actress Oscar for, Hitchcock's 1941 Suspicion.

Unlike Rebecca, the film is truly a Hitchcock picture from beginning to end, but the studio-mandated ending – in which Cary Grant could *not* be the wife-killer he's suspected to be – takes the air out of the picture in all subsequent viewings.

The film still has its bravura moments, but the fact that the picture hinges on whether Cary is or isn't a killer – and despite all evidence to the contrary (he definitely SEEMS like the killer...) he isn't – makes the film a less-rewatchable Hitch opus. Still there are perfect Expressionist moments like this one:

For those of us who do not cotton to Rebecca, the best film starring Fontaine is Max Ophuls' beautiful Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948). It is a timeless romance that just happens to be set at the turn of the last century. Here is a wonderful sequence featuring Fontaine and Louis Jourdan in a “train ride” amusement:

She also starred as a bitchy character in Nicholas Ray's torrid Born to Be Bad (1950). Sort of a noir, but more of a “meller,” it's fun to see her playing a villainess:

In Ida Lupino's The Bigamist (1953), Fontaine was one of Edmond O'Brien's two wives (the gals went crazy for Edmond O'Brien, just crazy!). The film is another well-made “melo” that is notable for the fact that one of its scripters, Collier Young, was married to Fontaine at the time of the production and had earlier been married to Lupino. Women apparently went crazy for Collier, as well.

Serenade (1956) is yet another Fontaine melodrama that might've been a noir, had they more closely adapted the wonderfully lurid and intense James M. Cain novel that the movie is based on. All mention of the lead character's bisexuality is gone, and instead... well, he's Mario Lanza....

Fontaine was mostly an addend character – “the supportive wife” – in a number of the noirs she was in. Witness Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), Fritz Lang's last American film, in which she supports her husband (Dana Andrews) as he pretends to be a murderer (long story...).

Fontaine's career ended with a number of roles in the television, from the Sixties through the early Nineties (she even did a guest-star turn on The Love Boat!). Here she in a delightful chunk of The Mike Douglas Show in 1967.

This end segment of the program finds her (as co-host) participating in a cooking segment and hanging around watching as both Stevie Wonder and Rudy Vallee sing (separately). All the guests close out the show sitting on stools singing like Vallee (through megaphones) and then dancing under the guidance of dance instructor “Killer Joe” Piro. This really is Sixties daytime TV:

And Mr. O'Toole, who had an even stranger and more tortuous career than Ms. Fontaine, appeared in several items that I enjoy far more than Lean's Lawrence.
For a wonderful look at what O'Toole was like right after he achieved movie stardom, check out this wonderful profile by Gay Talese, written for Esquire in 1963. O'Toole came off as a posh Englishman in his demeanor, but he was in fact the proud son of an Irish bookie (whose feelings about his home country were, “Ireland... you can love it... can't live in it...”).

He was the same age as those who took part in the “kitchen sink” era of British filmmaking (his classmates at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art included Finney and Bates, and he was, of course, a drinking buddy of both Messrs. Burton and Harris), but he never made that kind of film – he was just too damned good-looking and regal to play a working-class lad who can't decide on a future. (His own description of his background was not working-class, but “criminal class,” due to his dad's exploits and the people he lived among.)

Thus, you have a much in-demand Sixties UK actor who never appeared in the British films that were so much a part of that decade. Instead O'Toole incarnated historical characters and the occasional swinging bachelor. He was a critically lauded performer who also was drubbed at various points, from the Sixties on, for not having lived up to his potential (a common complaint about the “kitchen sink” generation – who all at least had several great movies under their belts, not just one).

He was also known most commonly for being a “hellraiser.” There are hellraisers among us in every strata of society, but there is a special fascination for the successful and rich actors (most often from the UK) who ran amok in the Sixties and Seventies. The book Hellraisers by Robert Sellers is a fun multiple-bio of four of the best drinkers of that era (Burton, O'Toole, Harris, Reed). In it you will find a good amount of “bathroom reading” – fun anecdotes about bad behavior among the talented and rich.
A “hellraisers” TV docu, which can be seen here, gets the formula wrong, since it adds in rock stars (Moon, Osbourne, Liam Gallagher). Rock stars are generally *supposed* to be hellraisers, so there is little surprise there – the thing that distinguished the generation of Burton and O'Toole was that they were immaculately talented, classically trained actors who wound up being charming, troublemaking drunks in public.

O'Toole, it should be noted, was the least violent of that pack. His main problem appeared to be driving – he was prone to drinking while driving, which is never a good bet. Here he discusses show-biz “exhaustion” with another gent who had a drinking problem (that is fascinatingly only being doted on now, even though all the anecdotes about him were known while he was alive and being worshipped).

Hopefully Peter tanked up before this shameless bit o' Irishness, with the old stone face, Mr. Ed Sullivan, “Irish Eyes are Smiling”:

This is a little bit more like it – unrepentant rugger fan Harris joined by O’Toole. I'm sure both men consumed no spirits at any time before this singing session began. Celebrate they should – they outlived all the other hellraisers of their day! (Except for the wonderful Mr. Finney, but he never publicly chats about his private life.)

In his late years O'Toole was willing to be very silly on the telly. Here he guests on a show called TFI Friday, reciting Spice Girls lyrics:

In a much more sober fashion, here he is on a BBC panel show discussing Hamlet with le grand Orson:

But now to O'Toole's career. I will not delve into that Lean flick, but will instead leapfrog to the wonderful Becket (1964). It was the first of two appearances as King Henry II – the other was, of course, Lion in Winter (1968) costarring “the only woman who can act with [British actors] without being washed off the screen” (per SCTV's “Man Who Would Be King of the Popes”), Katharine Hepburn.

Here is a glorious O'Toole moment from Becket (the whole movie can be found here. He doesn't like his children!!!

O'Toole was so scarily handsome (many would say pretty, including the quippy Noel Coward, who dubbed him “Florence of Arabia”) that it was natural for him to play a wish-projection of Woody Allen. He starred as a sex-crazed playboy in the first film made from a Woody screenplay, Clive Donner's What's New, Pussycat? (1965).

Here is a little montage of scenes from the pic – O'Toole's was surrounded by gorgeous actresses, while Peter Sellers and Woody served as crazy comic relief. Some of the dialogue is very fondly remembered, but O'Toole's seductions are very well served by the great super-pop score by Burt Bacharach:

If I had to pick one film that featured the “perfect” O'Toole performance, it would be probably be the dark comedy The Ruling Class (1972), directed by Peter Medak. His transformation from a nobleman who believes he is Jesus to a nobleman who is the new Jack the Ripper is sheer bliss, since it let him indulge in his “bravura acting” (his term for the over-the-top places he went to as a performer) and conveyed an always-timely message about politics and public opinion:

O'Toole had many health scares (not all of them connected to his consumption of spirits), starting in the Seventies. He looks incredibly well, and gives a killer performance, in Richard Rush's terrific reflection on filmmaking The Stunt Man (1980). One of many sequences in which his director character assumes the mantle of deity:

Obviously aware of his public image as a hellraiser, O'Toole appeared in countless films as a drinker – I noticed in the Eighties and Nineties that his characters in various films were seen drinking (as in Supergirl and High Spirits), perhaps to explain his somewhat perennially tipsy demeanor.

The most famous of his many “drunk” parts was the lead in My Favorite Year (1982), where he plays a funhouse-mirror version of Errol Flynn. Much like his character in The Stunt Man, this character is used to making pronouncements about himself:

O'Toole was quite proud of his theatrical pedigree, often returning to the stage and attempting challenging parts to see if he still had it. He very much did, as the TV recording of the play Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell shows (the video was recorded in 1999; O'Toole starred in the play in different productions staged in 1989, '91, and '99).

O'Toole stars as real-life journalist Jeffrey Bernard. The play finds Bernard locked overnight in his favorite bar, offering an opportunity for him to run through his career and his beliefs (while getting suitably tanked). O'Toole delivers a bravura performance in the show by ratcheting up his larger-than-life personality and then tamping it down at various points.

The play was written by Keith Waterhouse, a UK TV writer who also wrote Billy Liar (the screenplay and original novel) and the scripts for A Kind of Loving and Whistle Down the Wind. Thanks to friend Merry for the recommendation of his item.

Hard to pick a favorite line from the play, but this will suffice: “Why do you drink so much? To keep myself from jogging.”

It's always important to close out with a song, so I will conclude here with the raucous version of “Dem Bones” from The Ruling Class. One can't help but think that the film's scripter Peter Barnes dug up this old chestnut because of the last episode of The Prisoner; the song of course was also done to a fine turn in Potter's The Singing Detective.

O'Toole embraced his eccentricities, and nowhere is that more apparent than in The Ruling Class: