Look at this lineup of character actresses: Oscar nominees today, Emmy winners tomorrow. Oh yes, each one of these ladies went on to TV gold. Academy Award winner Claire Trevor won an Emmy for her performance on the anthology show Producers' Showcase; Jean Simmons, for the mini-series The Thorn Birds. Ellen Corby won three just for The Waltons, while her I Remember Mama co-star Barbara Bel Geddes won one for playing Miss Ellie on Dallas. And while Agnes Moorehead went 0-for-4 with Oscar, with Emmy, she went...1-for-7 - her one Emmy wasn't for her six-time nominated Endora on Bewitched, either, but for her guest appearance on The Wild Wild West. Oh, well.
Five actresses with Emmy Awards. But what about Oscar? Let's discuss...
Barbara Bel Geddes as Katrin Hanson
She's the storyteller, the narrator. Most of her performance is in voiceover, and I think she's quite effective there. She's reading, but there's this quality to her voice that makes the memories warm and wistful. Effective in her scene with sister Peggy McIntyre, wherein the latter guilts her over the sacrifices Mama made to buy her a most coveted gift. Bel Geddes gets that Katrin is not necessarily self-centered, but that even her skills as an observer stop short when it comes to herself. As children do. It's a very nice performance.
Ellen Corby as Aunt Trina
I Remember Mama
only nomination; Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actress
Mama's sister, finally engaged to an undertaker and nervous about telling the family. Corby! Wow! The moment she enters, you can't take your eyes off of her, so completely does she realize this nice neurotic who seems genuinely surprised at avoiding spinsterhood. The quickness with which she approaches family patriarch Uncle Chris like a twittering bird...Corby's vocal intonations and physicality make Trina memorable, indelible, a delight.
Agnes Moorehead as Aggie MacDonald
third of four nominations
Aggie is Belinda's aunt, who resents her deaf-mute niece - "the dummy," she calls her - but as Belinda's ability to communicate grows, so, too, does familial affection. She's effective enough in the role; gets to do a fun accent - always a thrill to watch Moorehead wrestle with. Why the low score? Simply because I don't remember much of her performance, not in the way I can immediately recall that of co-star Jan Sterling, for instance. Not bad enough for one star, not memorable enough for three: I think that's fair.
Jean Simmons as Ophelia
first of two nominations
Is there anyone who needs me to explain who Ophelia is? Simmons, atrociously bewigged, still delivers a fine Ophelia, I think. As I recall, hers was the second-strongest performance in the cast (Felix Aylmer as Polonius is #1). She's a great reactor, the genuine confusion and "what do you want from me" aspect of the character coming through most, even over the "mad" bit.
Claire Trevor as Gaye Dawn
second of three nominations
A washed-up moll clinging to the dregs of a long-over romance, taking her licks because at least someone's paying attention, finding solace (and losing half the day) in a bottle. Trevor has that desperation as she paws for Johnny Rocco, the pathetic performance of "Moanin' Low," the bitterness of her encouraging Frank McCloud to kill Rocco. Trevor breathes life into Gaye Dawn; so vivid is her performance, you can imagine a whole other movie starring her, following Gaye; Rocco's vague recollections, she makes flesh - you see it in her eyes, her posture.
My two favorite performances are obviously Corby and Trevor. Trevor won the Oscar, Corby won the Golden Globe. Every time I look at this lineup, I see Corby's name and think, "Oh, her, obviously," then I see Trevor's and go, "Although..." So where do I go from here? Who do I vote for? After some thinking, some reflection, I think....
Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Musical Score: Easter Parade, The Emperor Waltz, The Pirate, Romance on the High Seas, and When My Baby Smiles at Me.