The Lizabeth Scott Centennial

Hollywood actress Lizabeth Scott (Emma Matzo, 1922-2015) was born 100 years ago today.

In the 1940s there was inexplicable vogue in pop culture for mannish women with deep voices, thick eye brows, broad shoulders, and sometimes even mustaches. The shoulders were usually achieved by pads, the voices accomplished by booze and smoking. The facial hair could be cultivated, although Joan Crawford seemed to draw it on with a sharpie or glue a mink stole up there. Lauren Bacall was one of this type, though in her earliest films when she was very young she attained a kind of perfect, precarious balance that tipped as soon as she reached majority. Tallulah Bankhead was another by virtue of her voice, which was somewhere North of Louis Armstrong’s. Veronica Lake’s voice wasn’t husky like that, but it seemed to be in as low a register as she could get it, like a mom reading a bed time story about giants. At any rate, this was the landscape that Scott walked into, and her natural attributes sent her directly to the top for a few years.

Scott was from Eastern European stock in working class Scranton, where her father owned a store. School plays led to regional stock theatre, which led to modeling in New York, and roles in the touring production of Hellzapopin’ (1940-42), an off Broadway production of Rain (1942, as the lead Sadie Thompson), and the original Broadway production of The Skin of Our Teeth (1942-43, understudying for Bankhead as Sabina). Some have speculated that the Bankhead-Scott relationship inspired the characters in All About Eve (1950). Her professional name was drawn from the rival Monarchs in Maxwell Anderson’s Mary, Queen of Scots.

Then Hollywood. One thinks of Scott almost exclusively as a film noir star; over three quarters of her movies were in that genre. In The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), her second film, she holds her own in an ensemble that includes Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, and Kirk Douglas (in his first movie role). While her usual fare was femme fatales in stuff like Dead Reckoning (1947) with Humphrey Bogart and Dark City (1950) with Charlton Heston, the work of hers I know best (not surprisingly) is in later films like Scared Stiff (1953) with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Loving You (1957) with Elvis Presley.

Throughout her screen career, Scott’s main advocate and supporter was producer Hal B. Wallis, with whom most biographers agree she was having a long term affair, though he was married to Louise Fazenda at the time. The pair had met at her 21st birthday at the Stork Club. She also dated a large number of her male co-stars. In the mid ’50s an article in Confidential magazine claimed that she ran in lesbian circles and that her name was found in the address book of people running a prostitution ring, for which she sued for liable. At around this time, she decided to drop out of the movies and attempted to become a nightclub singer/recording artist, though that proved a dead end. After three television guest shots in the ’60s, she came to film for one final performance, in the wonderful 1972 comedy thriller Pulp with Michael Caine, Mickey Rooney, and Lionel Stander. She was only 40 years old the time, but it was her last hurrah. That was 50 years ago! She spent her remaining years as a recluse, although we are delighted to learn that David Patrick Columbia of New York Social Diary was an intimate during these years. She was 92 at the time of her passing.