We continue with our occasional series of movies about movie stars.
The huge box office success of I’ll Cry Tomorrow ushered in a slew of bio pics in the 1950s. Technically Lillian Roth wasn’t much of a movie star, although she did make a couple of important films. But her life story was the stuff of which Hollywood writers dream!
A domineering mother. Alcoholism. And Susan Hayward.
The movie was one of Hayward’s signature put-upon-woman features: Daniel Mann’s I’ll Cry Tomorrow (MGM, 1956) with Susan portraying alcoholic singer Roth (and with Susan doing her own singing); and Robert Wise’s I Want To Live!”(United Artists, 1958) in which Hayward played a prostitute framed for murder.
These two movies catapulted Hayward’s fame worldwide. She won an Oscar for the latter film and the “best performance” award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival in France for the former. Her Oscar came after five nominations over an 11 year period
Director Wise even compared Susan to Sarah Bernhardt and to Greta Garbo. Oh, my!
As for Roth, she was essentially a nice Jewish girl (born Lillian Rutstein) from Boston who found herself at age 17 in various stage productions including the Earl Carroll Vanities. Her Hollywood run began in the late Twenties, with a run of appearances in various short subjects. Her feature career consisted of about a dozen titles notably appearing with Maurice Chevalier and Janette McDonald in The Love Parade.
But Roth was more celebrated in live performance as a singer. She headlined New York’s Palace Theater in the early Sixties. Later, she played Elliott Gould’s mother in the Broadway musical I can Get It For You Wholesale. (This, by the way, is the main stem production that introduced someone by the name of Barbra Streisand.) And she continued her stage work into the 1970’s. (Roth died in 1980 of a stroke at age 69.)
A good part of what made her book and later the movie I’ll Cry Tomorrow so explosive is its raw representations of Roth’s personal demons including five marriages and a lengthy battle of the bottle. ( She had joined Alcoholics Anonymous as early as 1946.)
In this case, misery made big box office. And Hollywood noticed.