Friday, February 6, 2015

The Late Great Lizabeth Scott

A publicity still from The Strange Love of
Martha Ivers
Lizabeth Scott, best known for her many appearances in films noirs, died on January 31 2015 at the age of 92.

Lizabeth Scott was born  Emma Matzo in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She was only in first grade when her parents sent her to a local elocution school. She also received six years of piano lessons and two years of voice training. She attended Marywood Seminary in Scranton before transferring to Central High School in the same city. She performed in many of the plays produced at Central High while a student there. After high school she attended Marywood College, but dropped out after six months. She then moved to New York City where she attended  Alvienne School of Drama. She then toured with a road company production of  Hellzapoppin, during which time she was billed as "Elizabeth Scott". After touring 63 cities in the United States, Miss Scott returned to New York City in 1942.

Back in New York City Miss Scott became the understudy for Tallulah Bankhead in Skin of Our Teeth on Broadway. The two did not get along and Lizabeth Scott never got to take the stage as Miss Bankhead refused to miss even one performance. Later Miss Scott would return to modelling, and appeared in a photo spread for Harper's Bazaar which came to the attention of movie agent Charles Feldman of Famous Artists Corporation. Mr. Feldman, who had just signed Lauren Bacall, asked Miss Scott to go to Los Angeles for a screen test. She took screen tests at Universal,  International Pictures (William Goetz's short lived studio that would eventually merge with Universal), and Warner Bros., all of who rejected her. Fortunately Hal Wallis saw her screen test, and he saw to it that she was signed to Paramount Pictures.

Lizabeth Scott made her film debut in You Came Along in 1945. It was the following year that she appeared in her first film noir The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin. It would be followed by another film noir and the first movie in which Lizabeth Scott was the female lead, Dead Reckoning  (1947) with Humphrey Bogart. Over the next few years Lizabeth Scott would appear in several more films noirs, including Desert Fury (1947), I Walk Alone (1948), Pitfall (1948), Too Late for Tears (1949), and Dark City (1950). She also appeared in the movies Variety Girl (1947), Easy Living (1949), and Paid in Full (1950). She made her television debut on an episode of Family Theatre in 1949.

The early Fifties saw Lizabeth Scott appear in more films noirs, including Two of a Kind (1951), The Racket (1951), and Stolen Face (1953). She also appeared in other sorts of films, including  the dramas The Company She Keeps (1951) and Bad for Each Other (1953),  the Westerns Red Mountain (1951) and  Silver Lode (1954), and the thriller The Weapon (1957). Miss Scott also starred in the Martin and Lewis comedy Scared Stiff (1953) as well as the Elvis Presley movie Loving You (1957). By the mid Fifties Lizabeth Scott's film career slowed down and she increasingly appeared on television. In the Fifties she guest starred on such shows as Lux Video Theatre, The Eddie Cantor Comedy Theatre, Studio 57, The 20th Century Fox Hour, ITV Television Playhouse, The Big Record, and Adventures in Paradise.

After the Fifties Lizabeth Scott more or less retired. She guest starred on an episode of Burke's Law in 1963 and an episode of The Third Man in 1966. She made her final film appearance in Pulp in 1972. She also appeared on a few game shows and talk shows in the Fifties and Sixties.

In the Fifties Miss Scott pursued a singing career for a time. She recorded an album entitled Lizabeth for RCA Victor. She performed as a singer on CBS's music show The Big Record in 1958.

Lizabeth Scott spent much of her career in the shadow of Lauren Bacall, to whom she was sometimes compared unfavourably. This was very unfair, as Miss Scott was a very talented actress with smouldering sex appeal all her own. Indeed, while Lauren Bacall had to learn to speak in a lower tone (her natural voice was higher pitched), Miss Scott's smoky voice was entirely natural. With regards to talent, Lizabeth Scott had a very good range. Indeed, she started out her career in film noir playing ingénues before going on to play femmes fatales without missing a beat. She was convincing in both sorts of roles. And while Lizabeth Scott was best known for film noir, she was quite capable of acting in other genres. She was actually quite adept at comedy, giving good performances in both Variety Girl and Scared Stiff. On television she delivered an over the top performance as the widow of a big game hunter who is not exactly mourning his death in the Burke's Law episode "Who Killed Cable Roberts?".

Of course, given how many films noirs Miss Scott made, there can be no doubt that it will be the genre with which she will remain most identified. And there is little wonder why she was cast so often in films of that genre. Lizabeth Scott was nearly perfect for film noir. She was smouldering in a way few actresses even then could be, and she had the talent to play nearly any role. For much of her career she may have been compared unfavourably to Lauren Bacall, but ultimately Lizabeth Scott was a talent very much her own.

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