In her very first film, 1954’s On The Waterfront, Eva Marie Saint became a movie star. And through the ensuing decades she has fashioned a career singularly her own. She starred opposite some of the top leading men of her generation.
Her smashing film debut was opposite the most famous and exciting star of the era, Marlon Brando. Five years later, she raised the temperature of Cary Grant in North By Northwest.
Despite a reputation as an actress of sensitive fragility, she delivered in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller one of the most erotically potent performances ever recorded in a big studio movie. (Check out the scene showing Grant’s table-side encounter with her in that train dining car.)
Her career to date comprises nearly 80 credits mostly in television and lately, bit parts in studio pictures. But if this gifted actress stopped her career after just the two above-mentioned films, she would still have earned a deep notch in Hollywood history.
Eva Marie was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1924, and spent her college years at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She began her career on the stage and on television, working in dozens of live dramas of the “classic tv” period. Then director Elia Kazan plucked her for the role of Edie Doyle in Waterfront.
As the good Irish Catholic schoolteacher who against her better judgement falls for the hunky ex-boxer (Brando), Saint beautifully balances the character’s principled strength with touching vulnerability. It’s no wonder that Eva Marie won a best supporting actress Oscar in 1955 for her performance.
Her turn as one of Hitchcock’s cool blonde sexpots was equally as satisfying. As Eve Kendall, a shadowy, multi-sided figure in North By Northwest, Eva Marie keeps pace with Grant throughout the picture’s twists and turns, and provides a master class in combining intelligence with earthy sexiness.
The rest of Saint’s movie career is less rewarding. She appeared opposite Paul Newman in director Otto Preminger’s all-star vehicle, Exodus. She showed a flair for comedy in 1972’s Cancel My Reservation with Bob Hope. She turned up in Fred Zinneman’s 1957 adaptation of A Hatful of Rain.
Saint’s career has been what you could call selective. As has her personal life. The actress has been married exactly once — to writer-producer Jeffrey Hayden for more than 60 years (the union produced two children).
British writer-critic David Thomson hit it right when he wrote of Saint: Wanly beautiful, she is one of the more discrete and sensitive American actresses. But her intelligence has seldom been used properly.
We should thank Hollywood for the times that it has.