Just to be sure, he screened the picture with Jeanne Crain cast as a young nurse of mixed race confronting multiple difficulties passing for white. Remember, this is 1949, before the Civil Rights movement fully emerged, and segregation was still the rule in many parts of the U.S.
Pinky was among mogul Darryl F. Zanuck’s “message” pictures — Gentleman’s Agreement, The Grapes of Wrath — at 20th Century Fox. Wrote Zanuck biographer Mel Gussow: Even today, ‘Pinky’ is a surprisingly relevant movie, and in 1949 it was nothing short of a shocker.
An eyebrow raiser for many was the casting of Crain in the title role. (She) by that time was Fox’s Miss Homespun America. Probably the only ‘whiter’ actress on the lot was Betty Grable. To direct the picture, John Ford — by then a three-time Oscar winner — was brought on. Ford didn’t tangle with Crain but with costar Ethel Waters (pictured above on the right), who plays Pinky’s grandmother.
Things got so bad that Ford was relieved of his assignment under the guise of illness. Zanuck then turned to Elia Kazan to finish the picture.
He got along well with Waters but found Crain to be disconcerting. I noticed that her face under all dramatic circumstances remained inexpressive; she floated through her role without reacting, Kazan wrote in his autobiography. I had to find a way to make an asset of this emotional passivity.
Whatever he did, it worked. Pinky won Crain a best actress Oscar nomination. Now, on to the answers to our Jeanne Crain Quiz. To review the questions, just scroll down to the blog below. Here we go:
1) Answer: Crain like all four of these actresses started off by winning a beauty contest. While still in high school, Crain won a “Miss Pan Pacific” competition in Los Angeles. Her long tenure with Fox soon followed.
2) Answer: See above.
3) Answer: c) By the late Forties and early Fifties, Crain was a big star and was invited to more than 200 promotional parties a year. She became known as “Hollywood’s Number One party girl.” Not bad for a nice Catholic girl.
4) Answer: b) False. Crain was never known as a singer but was an avid ice skater and not a bad dancer.
5) Answer: a) True. But All About Eve director Joseph Mankiewicz put the kabosh on the idea of Crain assuming the role that famously went to Anne Baxter.