Eva Marie Sainted Memory

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:20

    If you know who Eva Marie Saint is, and if you've seen On The Waterfront, this requires no further explanation. The 75-year-old actress visited Manhattan last week to promote the Hitchcock centennial celebration sponsored by NYU's Dept. of Cinema Studies, which included a panel discussion about working with Hitchcock; and Film Forum's screening of the restored North By Northwest, which begins Wednesday, Oct. 20.

    Along the way, Saint did interviews with the press and recalled the numerous directors and costars she's worked with?a list that includes Otto Preminger (Exodus), John Frankenheimer (All Fall Down), the late, great George C. Scott (the 1988 tv movie The Last Days of Patton), Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock (North By Northwest) and Elia Kazan on Waterfront.

    The glove belongs to Saint's character in Waterfront, Edie Doyle, longshoreman's daughter and good Catholic schoolgirl who falls for Marlon Brando's dockworker, Terry Malloy. In the famous scene, the characters are on a date, making small talk on a playground, when Edie drops her glove. Terry picks it up and, still yammering on, absentmindedly tries to slip the glove on his own hand. What makes the scene work is not the weirdly evocative gesture of Brando trying on a woman's glove, with its hints of feminine tenderness and childlike innocence; it's Saint's expertly nuanced reaction. If Edie had fixated on what Terry was doing with the glove, it would have called undue attention to the gesture. It's Method acting at its best?stylized, even loaded gestures made utterly plausible.

    Saint says that contrary to the legends that have been handed down over the years, Brando didn't think up the gesture on the spot while the cameras were rolling; it was an improvisation worked out in rehearsals by Brando and Saint.

    "I dropped the glove during a rehearsal," said Saint, sitting on a couch in a room at the Wyndham Hotel, where she and her husband, director Jeffrey Hayden, stay during trips to New York. "Almost any actor in the world would have said, 'Forget it, let's try it again.' Marlon didn't say anything about the glove. I didn't reach for it. Marlon picked it up, put it on his hand and very fondly caressed the glove, which really helped us in the scene. It was a hard scene. Why would I stand there and talk to this young man? I was a Catholic schoolgirl, I didn't know anything about sex or the opposite sex. Marlon's gesture was just odd enough that it allowed us to focus the scene and make it work."

    Saint applauded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' decision to give Kazan a special Oscar last spring; she thinks his contributions to popular culture outweigh the damage he did to individual careers. "I felt it was well deserved. I felt he should have received it earlier. I think he's given us some of the finest moments on the stage and onscreen. Naturally I have a special place in my heart for Kazan because he was my first director in films.

    "But I also feel I should point out that although I was around at the time, I was not really affected by what was going on [during the McCarthy era]. I was lucky enough to not have to deal with that. Clearly, those whose careers were affected, the people who had to choose sides one way or the other, will feel differently."

    The career of Saint, who was raised in Albany and studied at the Actors Studio, has stretched from the stage in the 1940s to live television in the early 1950s to film in the late 50s and 60s and back to tv again. She played Cybill Shepherd's mother on Moonlighting, appeared in a succession of hit tv movies, including 1995's My Antonia, and recently finished work on the feature film I Dreamed of Africa, playing the mother of star Kim Basinger.

    Saint is bothered by what she sees as "a definite coarsening of the culture" and the general disappearance of serious adult dramas and play adaptations from the big screen. She and her husband took their grandchildren to see the Adam Sandler film Big Daddy, and they were appalled to hear the audience laughing when Sandler's character taught his young surrogate son how to trip rollerbladers with a stick. "It seemed to me that there was a complete lack of morality in that film."

    But that's not to say that she's some nostalgic bluenose who longs for a time when society was just as dirty but the culture was clean. She doesn't mind harsh language, sex and even graphic violence if the material warrants it. American Beauty, a film with plenty of profanity and sex, was Saint's favorite movie of recent years.

    "There is a reality to how horribly lonely those characters are," she says. "It's an intense loneliness we don't like to talk about. You don't see many movies that try to get at the extent of that loneliness."

    She recalls George C. Scott with great fondness, as a hard drinker and a tough, driven man who somehow managed to be professional and decent on the set. The final scene in The Last Days of Patton was the general on his deathbed after a Jeep accident, his wife watching him expire. They filmed the scene near an airbase outside London; the planes roaring overhead kept interrupting the big scene, but Scott would just pause, wait for the airplane noise to fade and get on with the business of dying. Saint thought about that day when she heard Scott was dead.

    "His head was locked into some kind of contraption. He had to act without the use of his body, just your voice, which isn't easy, and here were the planes roaring overhead, breaking things up. I don't know many actors who could have gone through what he went through and be as good as he was in that scene."

    As she talks about Scott, she tears up a bit, but she doesn't get flustered or apologize. "Nearly all my leading men are gone. Cary Grant, George C. Scott, Richard Kiley. They're all gone. Just two years ago I did A Time To Say Goodbye with Richard, and he didn't seem frail, he didn't seem ill at all. When I heard he had died, it came as such a surprise? When you get to be our age, you have many friends who are ill or falling apart. I was saying to my husband the other day what a strange feeling it is, surviving.

    "I don't like to look back. This whole Hitchcock centennial retrospective is very interesting, but I admit there is a part of me that says, 'Enough. There is nothing more to say.' I sometimes imagine Hitch looking down on all this fuss and saying, Get a life!

    "He loved actors, despite what you've heard. I later heard stories that he was a Svengali with the young blondes, that he had been very controlling with Tippi Hedren and so forth. But that's not a side of him I saw. He was very protective of me?especially when I was wearing that black dress with the red roses, which he bought for me [in New York] because he didn't like the clothes that were made for me in Hollywood. He was my sugar daddy. It was wonderful.

    "When I wore that dress on the set, while we were shooting the auction scene, I went to get myself a cup of coffee in a styrofoam cup. Hitch said to me?croaking British accent?"'What are you doing, my dear?' 'Getting myself a cup of coffee.' 'No you don't?not in that gown. You must have someone get your coffee in a china cup with a china saucer.' And somebody did.

    "He wore a suit and tie every day on the set from the start of shooting to the finish. I never saw that in my career before or after. He had his bacon flown in from Denmark. I never saw that either. I was from Albany; I didn't know people had food flown in from other countries. He was meticulous about everything?you could tell that from his storyboards. I adored him. I never had a sugar daddy before Hitch. I never had one after."