There’s a crisp but revealing dialogue exchange in director Jack Smight’s Harper, the 1966 neo-noirish thriller costarring Paul Newman, Robert Wagner and Shelley Winters, among other solid actors.
Newman as a down-at-the-heels gumshoe named Harper picks up a framed photograph of the woman portrayed by Winters, and shows it to Wagner’s suspicious playboy character.
Newman: She used to be a pretty hot young starlet. What happened to her?
Wagner, laughing uproariously, blurts out: She got fat!
The next shot, of course, opens with Winters’ character — best described as blowsy — scarfing down a large meal at a local eatery.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, back with another look at Shelley Winters thriving love life back when she was indeed a hot young starlet. We are indebted, of course, to the actress’ own recollections as provided in her 1980 autobiography, Shelley: Also Known As Shirley.
In our Dec. 18 blog, we covered the time a 24-year-old Winters had to flee into a chilly night from her studio dressing room to escape the enthusiastic advances of a 43-year-old Nelson Eddy, of all people. This was back in 1944 when both were making Knickerbocker Holiday.
But Winters had more congenial experiences with the following:
Lawrence Tierney: Winters relates an odd tale of winding up in a Sunset Strip restaurant as World War II ended, accompanied by a Nazi sympathizer and the tough guy actor reliably known for fast fists. After Tierney had heard enough from the Nazi sympathizer, he took one look at my anguished face; then he casually picked up (the man) and threw him down the length of the bar, crashing into all the glasses and beer bottles just like in a western…Then he grabbed me and we got out fast. Later, he asked, “would you like to go to a motel with me?” The only answer I could think of was: “Would it take long?”…And it didn’t. So I spent the night of VE Day after the long war with a strange sad actor sleeping at my side…”
William Holden: It was Christmastime in 1949 at the time Winters was working on Paramount’s The Great Gatsby starring Alan Ladd. The actress found herself attending a seasonal bash at the studio’s Writers Building, which always had wild and wooly parties. I found myself drinking a large vodka…and dancing with William Holden. Cornell Wilde …yelled, “Bill, we’re out of ice.” Holden took my hand and made for his dressing room across the street to get ice. Bing Crosby was in his dressing room next door — with Joan Caulfield — also looking for ice. I don’t exactly remember how it happened, but the situation developed in such a way that we forgot about the importance of the ice. So cut only to: Waves pounding on the beach, trees swaying in the storm. (Winters’ rendezvous with Holden became an annual event.) I must say our brief love affairs which lasted from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. Christmas Eves had more fun and happiness than many other relationships in my life…
Marlon Brando: Winter’s describes Brando as a “sometime lover.” As neophyte stage actors who couldn’t afford heated New York apartments, she slept with him to, among other things, keep him warm. Later, when Brando made a huge splash in A Streetcar Named Desire, Shelley caught an early benefit performance. When Brando was onstage, all you could do was feel, the sexual arousal was so complete…The only other time I experienced it was when I saw Elvis Presley perform live in Las Vegas; men tell me that Marilyn had it for them.
That’s it for now. We’ll catch up with more of Shelley’s flames — two in particular — in a future blog. So, stay tuned.