Yes, she is almost forgotten today, but her distinctively husky voice lives on.
Mercedes McCambridge was an accomplished actress on radio (she’s seen above sharing the mike with James Stewart) before attacking Hollywood.
Then there is the issue of onscreen credit relating to the actress’ most memorable VOCAL performance — as the satanic voice of the possessed 12-year-old girl (played by Linda Blair) in director William Friedkin’s by-now classic horror movie, 1973’s The Exorcist.
In his recent book, The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir, the director recalls his desperate search to find the correct “course and powerful voice…thick with menace and power” that would have to emanate from the demonically possessed girl before and during her exorcism.
He finally found McCambridge, who turned in one of the most spectacular vocal performances in film history. As Friedkin wrote, it was “beyond my wildest hopes.”
It also came with a condition. McCambridge told the director that because she didn’t want people to think about who did the voice…I don’t want screen credit. I’m not asking for it contractually, and I won’t accept it if it’s offered.
Flash forward — The Exorcist first previewed in Los Angeles on Dec. 23, 1973, at the National Theater in Westwood. It was obvious by now that the film had the makings of a huge commercial hit.
McCambridge attended the preview, and approached Friedkin in the theater parking lot after the screening. The director writes, She was crying, shouting,and pulling at my arm: “You screwed me! How could you do that? Why would you do that to me?,” she yelled.
“You promised me a credit, she screamed. “Where’s my screen credit? You Lied to me.” I was stunned….I walked away, her voice trailing after me: “I’m gonna get you for this, Bill Friedkin!” The studio quickly decided to redo the film’s last reel, and insert a credit for McCambridge.
Now to the answers to our quiz. Questions can be found in the blog below:
1) Answer: McCambridge was Oscar nominated as best actress for (a) 1956’s Giant, and won in the best supporting actress category for (b) 1949’s All The King’s Men.
2) Answer: b) False. McCambridge was married twice, and had one child from each union.
3) Answer: a) True. McCambridge was a heavy drinker at one point in her life, and smoked like a chimney. ( Note: she died at the ripe age of 87 in 2004.)
4) Answer: b) False. McCambridge and Joan Crawford intensely disliked one another, and fought constantly during the making of Johnny Guitar.
5) Answer: See today’s introduction above.