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Beautiful...but dumb.


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Secretly, don't each of us have a person whose mere presence in a movie captivates us? That person may not be the most polished thespian in the world, but there's something about him or her that just makes your heart sing--here's a spot to admit to that soft spot you may have for someone, even if you know that individual would never give Laurence Olivier or Meryl Streep a restless night worrying about the competition.

 

So, okay, boys and girls, 'fess up that guilty secret: do you have a Jeff Chandler or a Hedy Lamarr whose face, form or voice speak to you, for no rational reason?

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I think I would have to place Marlene Dietrich at the top of this list. Surely, she was no Davis or Hepburn, but also just as surely, she was naver the dumb blonde, either. But, I have to say there were times, in her films and in certain publicity shots I have been privileged to see, when she was a most breath-taking creature. Whatever she was doing, and no matter what else was going on, she had your attention, even when, sometimes, you could not understand her, due to that accent. Again, drop her in some Ibsen, or some Shakespeare even, and she would be lost. But, she was a most arresting creature, and she stayed that way a LONG time!

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I hate to say this, but Norma Shearer fits this bill. It is no secret to any of us that she was not a great actress. Davis and Hepburn could act rings around her. But I have always been a tremendous fan of hers, right from the first time I saw her in "The Women." There was just something about her - her smile, her laugh, the way she carried herself - she's just such an incredible presence in a film. And even though she's not really my type, I have always found her very attractive. It must be that great personality of hers, it just grabs you. And don't get me wrong, she wasn't a BAD actress, just not as capable as many of her contemporaries. In fact, I have always had the impression that she was more interested in being a STAR than an actress. I picked up on that after reading her very well written biography by Gavin Lambert - a great read for any movie fan. She was very determined to make it in Hollywood, which she did, but never seemed too concerned about the art and craft of acting itself. Maybe I'm being too hard on her, because I honestly hate to write any of this, in fact, I've always come to her defense when people have said mean things about her. But, I'm not going to beat around the bush, it's just a fact that she wasn't a great actress, but she was definitely a great star.

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Both Maureen O'Hara and Jeff Chandler were always easy on the eyes (they even starred together in a movie I believe was "Flame of Araby").

Chandler always seemed right at home whether playing an Indian, Island Chief, Boat Captain, Cowboy etc.

While O'Hara was downright gorgeous in most of those adventure B films flailing around with the likes of Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Paul Henreid, Tyrone Power among many others. Although she starred in some A productions.

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Well, I may have to duck for cover after this one, but I have to say for me it's Drew Barrymore.

 

Yep,she's very captivating and just melts me somehow. No, she is not yet a polished thespian, but I really think there is a lot of talent there, waiting to get out. I can see her as a Jean Arthur or Myrna Loy ....if only she could hook-up with the right kind of scripts and directors.

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This was my secret pleasure....Troy Donahue in A Summer Place....he is still really young looking. On the beach with Sandra Dee and at the boathouse! He is so classically American clean cut cute! The other side is Giovanni Gianini in Swept Away!!! So male and so handsome. From a while back I love Melvyn Douglas in Ninotchka. He is so charming, sophisticated and handsome. Not to say they are all dumb. And Melvyn Douglas had some great rolls....I just always found him very attractive too.

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I have to say I agree with the verdict on Norma Shearer, even about enjoying her anyway. She was actually terrific in the old Metro "Romeo and Juliet" even if she was 10-15 years too old for the part. I thought she stole the film, notwithstanding that she may have done it inadvertently. No, she wasnt a great actress, but she was never really bad, either. I cant say that about Hedy Lamarr, because she was bad. There was a total lack of anything happening behind those beautiful eyes that was maddening, because it spoiled so many films that otherwise may have been entertaining had another actress played the role. But beautiful she was, ravishing even, which I guess made the rest easier to accept. Ava Gardner was no Davis, either, but she got better as time went by, which could also be said for Lana Turner. Its funny that Bette Davis, Kate Hepburn, Meryl Streep are always mentioned as the "great" actresses, and none are/were great beauties. I wonder if these two "types" would have loved to change places with each other, even for a short time. Is a puzzlement!

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I don't know, I think I have to disagree with the assessment of Norma Shearer as a "not good/not bad" actress--after all, that's what these boards are for, right? :) Anyway, I always considered Shearer to be realistically subtle and the best "crier" on screen. And although I LOVE Hepburn and Davis, I think many people would agree with me that they were often a little over-the-top (but that was the style in the 30's and 40's). However, the only movie I thought Shearer was over-the-top in was Idiot's Delight and that's because the character was supposed to be. I mean, watch her in Marie Antoinette and then in The Divorcee and A Free Soul--her diversity is amazing and you never see HER, you see the character. The same cannot be said about Davis or Hepburn (they themselves had such powerful presense that they overpowered any role they took--not that it's bad, it's just different) Recently at the Golden Globes someone who won the award said that he always found it odd that they gave awards for "the best" in the arts. I have to agree. Most of the time, there is no better, or best, just different and it's all subjective. However, I DO agree that there are a share of just plain BAD actors and actress, especially today. Oh, I don't know what I'm trying to say...never mind :)

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Betty Grable was a fabulous presence. Whenever I watch her in "Moon Over Miami", "The Dolly Sisters" and "Coney Island," I simply melt. That dazzling smile, that electric charisma she exuded. Also, up there with my holy icons of beautiful people is another golden haired blonde, Marion Hutton. She was the sister of bombshell Betty Hutton but there are many today who think Marion should have been the bigger star. Marion swipes "Orchestra Wives" from cute but dull, Ann Rutherford, and when she rocks the houses in her dazzling number, "I've Gotta Gal in Kalamazoo", she becomes a legend for the ages. Hip, Hips hooray-to betty and marion!

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Lolmsted, I think I know what you're getting at--it IS all subjective, but it's fun to see who affects each of us, don't ya think? Perhaps my choice of the heading "Beautiful...but dumb" was unfortunate. I, of course, did not meant it to be literal. Several really bad actors, in my acknowledged limited opinion, are gorgeous! But that doesn't mean that they're stupid!

 

For example, Hedy Lamarr, while exquisite-looking, was as wooden an actor as Charlie McCarthy, yet she was a bright woman whose understanding of electrical engineering enabled her to patent a form of radar that was an allied secret during WWII, and has only become technically applicable more broadly quite recently. Others, such as Jeff Chandler, were also artists and caring individuals who were unfortunately,(though maybe inevitably in our visual mass media society), bitten by the acting bug, and aside from a god-like face, form and voice, he really never seemed very convincing as a human being, much less a character. Gee, maybe that's part of this thread, the choices like Troy Donahue, Marlene Dietrich and Maureen O'Hara, do all seem to be wonderfully photogenic, but maybe they should have been on Olympus, not just Hollywood!

 

However, let's face it, many individuals land in acting because they've been blessed by nature with whatever our society deems "beautiful" during their time. They are quite beautiful, but lack expression, training, opportunity, or they just don't care--they cannot create complex human beings that reaches everyone, but, jeez, do they have presence!

 

It's so personal and ephemeral--each of us reacts so elementally to these figures, ah, heck, lolmsted, this IS like trying to explain what a rainbow looks like to a blind person, isn't it? :-)

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Ava Gardner. There is just something so captivating about her. If I could pick a star to look like, it would be her. She's a good actress, not a Davis or Stanwyck, but great in those Femme Fatale roles. There's a sadness about her that draws me to her.

 

As for the menfolk, Van Johnson always makes me smile.

 

Sandy K

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Moira, I do know what you mean about beautiful people being wooden and stiff and just downright BAD! :) I wasn't defending them, I was defending my beloved Norma Shearer because I think she's an exceptionally fine actress--just my opinion. Anyway, my next part is in response to Sandy. I know exactly what you mean about Ava Gardner. She wasn't a GREAT actress, but she was pretty good in some parts. And it's not just her beauty that attracts me, it's her sincerity and something in her that I connect with (very much like Marilyn, another fave of mine) One actress whom I never seemed to catch on to because I felt she lacked that sincerity is Lana Turner. Actually, I don't even find her attractive OR talented. I don't HATE her per se, I'm just indifferent toward her and she's one I would choose to fall under this topic.

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lolmsted - I somewhat agree with you on Lana Turner - she was not a great actress, however I do think she was beautiful. In "Ziegfeld Girl," and "The Postman Always Rings Twice," she was a knockout. Basically, when she was young she was beautiful, unfortunately she didn't age well.

Another actress that falls under this category is Veronica Lake. She was incredibly beautiful, she had that cute yet sexy look to her, but like Lana and Ava, she just wasn't a great actress. But one thing we have to remember about all three of these ladies is that they were thrust into the spotlight without any real training in the art of acting. Davis and Hepburn took acting classes and started on Broadway before making films. Lana for instance was just "discovered" and put in "They Won't Forget," and because she was so beautiful back then, became a star.

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movie joe, I know what you mean about those ladies being thrust into the biz. Ava Gardner wrote in her autobiography that she never wanted to be an actress and that she knew she wasn't good, but after she was brought to Hollywood at the age of 18 she didn't know what else to do with her life. I think I remember reading that she was planning on becoming a secretary when she was discovered. She made enough money to live well and that was good enough for her.

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Ava Gardner eventually learned the ropes and was quite good in "Show Boat"; "Mogambo" (Oscar nominee) and "The Barefoot Contessa". Toward the end her money was running out and Frank Sinatra came to the rescue. Its apparent that the dark beauty was the love of his life.

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Lolmsted, I'm with you on Lana. I know she is regarded as a great beauty, but she has a hard edge to her look, especially as she got older. Also, those short, shellacked '50's hairstyles just accentuated that hardness! I enjoy her performance in IMITATION OF LIFE, and she's perfect as the mother in PEYTON PLACE, but I don't connect to her. It seems as though the men find her more attractive than the women do. Yet, most seem to agree that Ava Gardner is gorgeous. I think that something inside her soul translated onto the screen, whereas Lana seems almost guarded in her performances.

 

 

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Lolmsted & SandyKaypax, Lana Turner and Ava Gardner are interesting choices for this thread, though I've reacted differently to each of them over time.

 

There was only one time that I caught Lana Turner looking simply beautiful and truly sensuous in a natural way, without that hard-edged,artificial quality that you cited: It was in "Johnny Eager" (1941) with Robert Taylor. She was very young and apparently unspoiled, as yet. Of course, that hardness that overwhelmed her was used masterfully in "The Postman Always Rings Twice" just a few years later, and in most subsequent roles, so I guess it stood her in good stead. Still, when I first saw her in "Johnny Eager" a couple of years ago, I couldn't believe that it was the same woman who'd always exemplified Hollywood tinsel to me.

 

Ava Gardner, as I mentioned in the thread about "Most Under-rated Actors" elsewhere on the boards, seems quite different to me. Her early, knockout beauty is easy to appreciate, but, perhaps beginning with her Julie in "Showboat", and her performance in "Mogambo" I've come to appreciate her soulfulness as well. I actually think that as her beauty faded, the warmth within her showed much more clearly in such later roles in "7 Days in May", "On the Beach" and "Night of the Iguana". She may not have cared about being an actress, but she wasn't without skill, despite herself.

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Yes, I have insomnia!!! You are forgetting Robert Taylor and Guy Madison in your "beautiful but dumb" election. Raylor could be pretty wooden at times as could Guy. This is my first post to your group. Well, gonna try and get some sleep now!

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Yes, Robert Taylor and Lana Turner would come to mind for me too. However, it was great that the studios found memorable roles for them which made the most of their strengths and unique qualities. I especially remember both of them for Johnny Eager (wonderful, raw chemistry between them), as well as Taylor in Camille and Turner in Postman.

 

My favorite in this category, though, is Douglas Fairbanks Sr. A very limited actor, and he wasn't what you'd call classically handsome, but he possessed a mega-watt smile and exuberant personality which made him seem very attractive on screen. Doug personified FUN, especially in his silent swashbucklers, and that was all that mattered to you.

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As noted by Lolmsted and Moviejoe, sometimes the beautiful ladies were sort of forced into the biz, as in the cases of Rita Hayworth & Ava Gardner, though both gals had more going for them than they may have known at the time. Like them, I wonder if Alexis Smith was someone who may have been propelled into Hollywood of the '40s based almost entirely on her comely face and form. Though perfectly lovely, she never conveyed to me that an actress was inside the beautiful facade. She looked great in movies such as "Night and Day", "Gentleman Jim" and the "The Two Mrs. Carrolls", and she was always a pleasant presence in a movie, but that's about all.

 

What little I know about her was that she was in Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical,"Follies" a couple of decades ago, and I understand that she had a long marriage to the late Craig Stevens--but did I miss something or was she someone who fits this thread? Did she come to life onscreen once? I'd love someone to prove me wrong!

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Moira, for me the late and lovely Alexis Smith came to life late in her career in a film called "Once is Not Enough" (1974) playing a lesbian and in "Casey's Shadow" (1977) with Walter Matthau.

By the way she won a Tony Award for her performance in "Follies".

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I finally thought of an actress who PERFECTLY fits this topic - Jayne Mansfield. She was considered a "Hollywood beauty" by many (although not by me), and yet I don't believe she was the most intelligent lady on the lot. I think the label of "beautiful but dumb" fits Jayne like a glove. And I'm not trying to degrade her in any way, but c'mon - I'm sure most of you agree with me on this one.

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Have to disagree with ya Joe... Jayne Mansfield knew how to market herself as to keep her in the public eye. Who else arrived at a public appearance with 10,000 glossies ready for her fans? Reportedly, she had an IQ of 163! Jayne's fatal flaw was creating a public image even she couldn't overcome. Her best movie, bar none, is "The Girl Can't Help It". She looks like her usual self but her acting is quite good with an occasional flash of her public image.

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