The Beauty of a Lived In Face (Part Deux)

Discussion of the actors, directors and film-makers who 'made it all happen'

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moira finnie
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Paean to Thelma Ritter

Post by moira finnie »

Here's a poem about Thelma Ritter (1902-1969) by Alexander Theroux that I came across in the Winter 2002 Michigan Quarterly Review while researching something entirely unrelated. I've posted this previously in a thread that I started long ago on TCM in praise of all things Thelma found here, but I hope that this sojourn into poetry is tolerable for those who read this, since I couldn't resist sharing this with you since it captures so much that is cherished in Thelma Ritter. I'll follow it with some choice (or would Thelma say "cherce" pics?) of the lady:

It is obvious was born to look homely,
an appliance to brew coffee, make a meal,
and iron shirts, while looking up frowning
at the ways of the world. Shapelessness
oddly qualified her by exempting her from
passion precisely to give advice about it.
Whatever she did on screen, she always looked
as if she were about to go food-shopping.

Antidote to the befuddled: not girl gets boy,
not girl loses boy, but mophead spouts irony,
slyly quipping out of the side of her mouth,
as wide as a letter box, eyes snide and dry,
rebuttoning one of her shapeless dresses or
snatching at her hair, xerophytic vegetation,
her face cross and as white as bad ginger. "If
I had a bad leg and a guy was crazy about me,"
I'd say I was lucky," she yampfed to Susan Hayward
(Wasn't she always folding clothes at such times?),
said similar things to Bette Davis, poor froggy
did, to Grace Kelly, to Marilyn Monroe, to everybody
pretty. Everybody else. She wore dull cloth coats,
shrugged and smirked, smoked like an old trucker,
her cigarette wagging up and down realistically
to add to her quips. Did she really count as human?

Wherever she was, a great miracle did not happen
there. She was trustworthy because she was plain,
homely as an empty glass of buttermilk. She'd been
around, OK? Liked comfy slippers, went by ambiguous
bulldog film-names like Clancy and Josie, knew what
males were up to and what they wanted and, you know
somethin', so what, life's like that for everyone,
face it, missie, and by the way who are you anyway
that you think your s**t is strawberry shortcake?
Recovery remained uncertain until Thelma shoved
that face, dull as an elbow, into the heroine's
life. "That's why the lovelorn always come to me
for advice," she told Jane Froman. "You wanna
coffee? On the double. Whazzat? You wanna talk?
When you should be takin' a rest? Talk about
what? Lemme guess. Romance? Oh boy. Oh brother!"

I swear that Miss Ritter must've had it written into each contract that she had to appear in a battered old hat in each of her movies! This pic seems to catch her worldweary sweetness rather nicely.

As the ever astute Birdie, ex-vaudevillian and maid of all work in All About Eve, Thelma listens to Eve's tale of woe, including everything but "the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end." To be honest, something goes out of the near perfect movie once Ritter's character disappears for the scene following that disastrous 'Welcome home, Bill' party scene.

In Rear Window, Thelma Ritter, as the practical nurse tending to perennial adolescent James Stewart, she tries to talk some sense into that stubborn patient...none too successfully--until the last reel, when Stewart, Ritter and Grace Kelly form a kind of family unit.

An almost forgotten work among her celebrated movies, her tender role in The Late Christopher Bean (1955) was produced for 20th Century Fox's television program, and released as a theatrical film in Australia. If you ever have a chance to see her in this drama, I hope that you'll enjoy it as much as I have. Btw, the '30s film of Marie Dressler in this same story, was that great actress' last, and seems to have disappeared from view. I'd love to see it some day, since both ladies would ennoble this character with their distinctive talents!

Miss Ritter with Marilyn Monroe, being coached by John Huston during the filming of The Misfits (1960). In his recent memoir, Eli Wallach stated that the professional demeanor and compassionate understanding of Thelma Ritter and her equally hardworking old school cast mate, Clark Gable, helped to keep the turbulent production afloat despite the often troubled shoot.
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Thelma & Connie

Post by knitwit45 »

Thank you! As usual, your insights and research are remarkable.

"Life is not the way it's supposed to be.. It's the way it is..
The way we cope with it, is what makes the difference." ~ Virginia Satir
""Most people pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it." ~ Soren Kierkegaard
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