Thursday, July 25, 2013

Maggie Smith is Marvelous

Besides yours truly, you know who loves Maggie Smith a lot?  Oscar winner Lou Gossett.  We talked about Dame Maggie when I interviewed him in his Malibu home last August for my TV pilot.  His face lit up when I mentioned her name.  It wasn't acting.  It was true illumination.  Here's a little bit of Maggie Smith movie trivia for you.  New to the big screen, she was a supporting character in a most entertaining 1962 British comedy called Go to Blazes.  A crew of crooks hatches a plan to pull off its capers while disguised as firefighters.  The bumbling crooks steal a firetruck and use that as their getaway car.


Maggie Smith played the fabulous Chantal, your hostess in a swanky London fashion boutique.
The ladies who lunch love Chantal and the fashions she puts on display for them.
They're not the only ones who love the clever, crafty Chantal.
In one scene, characters leave Chantal's swanky London boutique and we follow them onto the street.  Across the street, a big movie theater marquee had the name of the foreign film currently being shown.  (It's a foreign film for them because it's an American movie.)  The feature was....
...with its celebrated black American cast.  Yes, A Raisin In The Sun.  The 1961 film adaptation of hit Broadway play with members of the original cast recreating their roles onscreen.  The stars were Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee as the young married couple, Diana Sands as the intellectual sister and Claudia McNeil as the mother.

Another original Broadway castmember who recreated his supporting role in the film was Louis Gossett, Jr. as the slightly conservative George Murchison (far right in photo).
This marked Gossett's film debut.  He'd win the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for An Officer and a Gentlemen (1982) starring Richard Gere.


Fast forward from Go to Blazes (1962) to Travels with My Aunt (1972).  By then, Maggie had won her first Academy Award.  She got the Best Actress of 1969 Oscar for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  Her role as the eccentric con woman in George Cukor's Travels with My Aunt would bring her another Best Actress Oscar nomination.

One of Maggie Smith's co-stars in that Cukor film acted in the movie showing right across the street from Chantal's salon in London -- future Oscar-winner, Lou Gossett.


He played Wordsworth, the grand con woman's dear friend.  I told Lou about the coincidence of A Raisin In The Sun being shown at a cinema in Maggie's Go to Blazes.  He had nothing but wonderful things to say about his experience working with her in Travels with My Aunt.

Maggie Smith is a two-time Oscar winner.  To see what brought her Hollywood gold the first time, watch Turner Classic Movies tonight at 8:00 ET.  TCM will be airing...
...starring Maggie as a most influential, memorable and misguided schoolteacher in the 1930s.  She's absolutely brilliant in this drama based on the play of the same name.
Opposite her in the important role of Sandy, the student who becomes Miss Brodie's rival, is Pamela Franklin, one of the best and most under-appreciated British actresses of the 1960s.  Just like Jean Simmons, she was a strong pre-teen and teen dramatic actress who gave more solid performances when she grew into womanhood.
Franklin's other film credits include The Innocents with Deborah Kerr (1961), The Nanny with Bette Davis (1965) and The Night of the Following Day starring Marlon Brando (1968).  She did a lot of American television series work in the 1970s on such popular shows as NBC's The Name of the Game and Rod Serling's Night Gallery along with Mannix, Medical Center, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.  Young Pamela Franklin kept right up with the formidable Maggie in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.


If you're a fan of Dame Maggie's fine, distinctive work in the hit Harry Potter movies and on the hit PBS TV series, Downton Abbey, you should see her Oscar-winning performance as the controversial teacher.  Especially if you've not seen much of Maggie Smith's earlier work.  Her second Oscar came for playing an Oscar-losing actress in a Neil Simon comedy.  She was 1978's Best Supporting Actress for California Suite.  Her co-star was Michael Caine as the exhausted husband who could care less about being a celebrity at the Academy Awards ceremony he endured with her in Hollywood.


She made a dirty word sound like poetry by Keats.

Whether in drama or comedy, Dame Maggie Smith is marvelous.  Just ask Lou Gossett.







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Notes from Alice Faye and Don Ameche

If you're a fan of the late, great queen of Broadway...that legendary belter, Ethel Merman, then be sure to watch Turner Classic Movies ...