Scott in 1947
September 29, 1922
Scranton, Pennsylvania, United States
|Died||January 31, 2015
Los Angeles, California, United States
|Cause of death||Congestive heart failure|
|Other names||Elizabeth Scott|
|Occupation||Actress, singer, model|
Lizabeth Virginia Scott (born Emma Matzo; September 29, 1922 - January 31, 2015) was an American actress, known for her "smoky voice" and being "the most beautiful face of film noir during the 1940s and 1950s". After understudying the role of Sabina in the original Broadway and Boston stage productions of The Skin of Our Teeth, she emerged in such films as The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Dead Reckoning (1947), Desert Fury (1947), and Too Late for Tears (1949). Of her 22 films, she was the leading lady in all but one. In addition to stage and radio, she appeared on television from the late 1940s to early 1970s.
Emma Matzo was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the oldest of six children born to Mary (née Pennock; 1899-1981) and John Matzo (1895-1968). Several conflicting accounts have been given as to her parents' ethnic origins, with most mentioning English, Russian, and Ukrainian. Her family lived in the Pine Brook section of Scranton, where her father owned Matzo Market. Scott characterized her father as a "lifelong Republican", which influenced her own capitalistic views. The family was immersed in all things cultural, especially music. This love of music influenced Scott's voice.
At the age of 11, Scott played the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella at summer camp. During Christmas season, she took part in pageants at the local Catholic church her family attended. When asked what was the best advice she was given, Scott replied, "I don't know, but I sure didn't take it." Her mother told her to subdue her emotions and "be a lady", but despite a strict Catholic upbringing, Scott described herself as having been "rebellious and outspoken" as a young girl. However, Scott mentioned adolescent favorites such as Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essays as having the greatest influence on her.
Scott attended Marywood Seminary, a local Catholic girls' school. She transferred to Scranton's Central High School, where she performed in several plays. After graduating, she spent the summer working with the Mae Desmond Players at a stock theater in the nearby community of Newfoundland. She then worked at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia. That autumn, she attended Marywood College, but quit after six months. Mary Matzo wanted her daughter to become a journalist, but when Scott said she would become either a stage actress or a nun, her mother relented.
In 1939, with her father's help, the 17-year-old Scott moved to New York City, where she stayed at the Ferguson Residence for Women. Scott attended the Alvienne School of the Theatre. There, she studied for 18 months, resisting attempts by teachers to pitch her voice higher. During this time, Scott read Maxwell Anderson's Mary of Scotland, a play about Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I, from which she derived the stage name "Elizabeth Scott." She later dropped the "E".
In late 1940, an 18-year-old Scott auditioned for Hellzapoppin (1938). From several hundred women, she was chosen by vaudevillians John "Ole" Olsen and Harold "Chic" Johnson, stars of the original Broadway production. She was assigned to one of three road companies, Scott's being led by Billy House and Eddie Garr. Landing her first professional job, she was billed as "Elizabeth Scott". The tour opened November 3, 1940, at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. She did blackouts and other types of sketch comedy during her 18-month tour of 63 cities across the US.
Michael Myerberg had just moved an experimental production from New Haven, Connecticut, to the Plymouth Theatre. Impressed by Scott's Sadie Thompson, he hired her as the understudy for Tallulah Bankhead, despite Bankhead's protests. Bankhead was the star of Thornton Wilder's new play, The Skin of Our Teeth (1942).
Bankhead had previously signed a contract forbidding an understudy for the Sabina role, which Myerberg breached by hiring Scott--rumors of an affair between the married Myerberg and the new understudy were rife. Scott has said that her fondest memory was of Myerberg telling her, "I love you," but the two eventually parted.. Scott was 20 years old when the play opened--Bankhead was 40. The play ran from November 18, 1942, to September 25, 1943. During her time with the production, Scott played the role of "Girl/Drum Majorette."
Previously, Bankhead had controlled the production by not showing up for rehearsal. Now, Myerberg could simply put Scott in Bankhead's place. Scott has acknowledged that Myerberg used her to keep Bankhead under control and that Bankhead was furious about the situation. Describing her own experience with Bankhead, Scott recalled, "She never spoke to me, except to bark out commands. Finally, one day, I'd had enough. I told her to say 'please,' and after that she did."
The rivalry between the two actresses is cited as an alternative to the Martina Lawrence-Elizabeth Bergner origin of Mary Orr's short story, The Wisdom of Eve (1946), the basis of the 1950 film All About Eve. Broadway legend had it that Bankhead was being victimized by Scott, who was supposedly the real-life Eve Harrington. During her eight months as the understudy, Scott never had an opportunity to substitute for Bankhead, as Scott's presence guaranteed Bankhead's.
The continuing feud between Myerberg and Bankhead worsened Bankhead's ulcer, leading her to not renew her contract. Anticipating Bankhead's move, Myerberg suddenly signed 39-year-old Miriam Hopkins in March, catching Scott off guard. Bankhead's final zinger to Scott was "You be as good as she (Hopkins) is." For a brief period, Scott understudied for Hopkins. While Scott liked Hopkins much more than Bankhead, she was still disappointed about being passed over for the Sabina role.
Scott eventually quit in disappointment. Before quitting, Scott replaced Hopkins for one night. When Scott finally went on stage as Sabina, she was surprised by both the approval and fascination of the audience. Her replacement as understudy was another future femme fatale, 19-year-old Gloria Hallward, soon to be known as Gloria Grahame. When Michael Myerberg pulled Grahame from the play for another experimental production in Philadelphia--Star Dust-- no understudy was available when Gladys George took over for Hopkins.
On August 30, 1943, Scott once again played Sabina when George was ill. Joe Russell was in the Plymouth Theatre audience that night. Afterward, when a friend from California came to New York on one of his biannual visits to Broadway, Russell told him about Scott's performance. Russell's friend was an up-and-coming film producer for Warner Bros., Hal B. Wallis.
Scott returned to her drama studies and some fashion modeling. Meanwhile, Irving Hoffman, a New York press agent and columnist for The Hollywood Reporter, had befriended Scott and tried to introduce her to people who could help her. On September 29, 1943, Hoffman held a birthday party at the Stork Club--Scott had turned 21. By happenstance or design, Wallis was also at the club that night. Hoffman introduced Scott to Wallis, who arranged for an interview the following day. When Scott returned home, she found a telegram offering her the lead for the Boston run of The Skin of Our Teeth. Miriam Hopkins was ill. Scott sent Wallis her apologies, cancelling the interview. Scott recalled "On the train up to Boston, to replace Miss Hopkins, I decided I needed to make the name more of an attention-grabber. And that's when I decided to drop the 'E' from Elizabeth." In 1945, The New Republic claimed that Scott had dropped the "E" as a patriotic wartime gesture "to conserve newsprint."
Hopkins recovered in two weeks, and Scott was back in New York. Scott returned to modeling for the Walter Thornton Agency, which Lauren Bacall also worked for. Bacall was currently a cover girl for Harper's Bazaar. Later that year, Scott herself appeared in a Harper's photographic spread, which was allegedly admired by film agent Charles Feldman of Famous Artists Corporation (now ICM Partners). In a telegram to Scott, he asked her to take a screen test. He invited her to come to Los Angeles and stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Coincidentally or not, he had just signed Bacall, who soon made her first film.
During March 1944, Scott made a five-day trip to Los Angeles and stayed at the hotel, where she was forgotten by Feldman for 10 days. After reaching Feldman on the telephone, Scott was given a test script. Being a stage actress, Scott knew nothing about screen acting. Her first screen test was at Universal, then at William Goetz's International Pictures. She was rejected by both studios. Then she tested at Warner Bros., but this time around, Wallis' sister Minna Wallis arranged for film director Fritz Lang to coach Scott.
Lang taught Scott to not stop after flubbing a line while the camera was rolling, as the bad footage could be cut. She read a scene from The Male Animal (1942). When Jack Warner saw the screen test, he also rejected Scott. The reason attributed to Warner's rejection varies among film historians, ranging from Warner telling Charles Feldman, "She'll never be a star, only a second leading lady" to derailing a potential rival to Bacall, who was signed to Warner Bros. In addition to Bacall, the Warner Teddington Studios in London already had a blonde actress named Elizabeth Scott, who looked similar to the American. This Scott was the second leading lady in the Warner noir Fingers (1941). A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Scott had a contract with Warner Bros. in Hollywood, but did not come to California due to the war.
Hal Wallis also saw the American Scott's test and recognized her potential. In a meeting, Wallis told Scott, "If I could, I would put you under contract.", but she did not believe him. She thought he was as powerful as Warner and was "prevaricating". Unknown to Scott, years of infighting between Jack Warner and Wallis were about to climax. Under acrimonious circumstances, Wallis left Warner Bros. for Paramount Pictures. On the day that Scott was scheduled to leave for New York, she read about it in Variety, but she spent several months in New York before Feldman telegraphed her in August 1944--Wallis wanted to sign her to a contract.
To Have and Have Not (1944), Bacall's first film, made its New York premiere on October 11, 1944. This film became the basis for claims that Scott was a "Bacall manquée" for the rest of her career. Scott moved to Los Angeles in November 1944. Later that winter, Scott tested for Love Letters (1945) and for the role of Susan in The Affairs of Susan (1945), but was cast in neither.
At the age of 22, Scott's film debut was the comedy-drama You Came Along (1945), opposite Robert Cummings. Originally conceived as a Barbara Stanwyck vehicle,Ayn Rand's script concerns an Army Air Force officer, Bob Collins, who tries to hide his terminal leukemia from his handler, Ivy Hotchkiss (Scott), a US Treasury public relations agent, whom Bob meets during a war bond drive.
During the shooting of You Came Along, Hal Wallis showed Scott's screen test to Hollywood columnist Bob Thomas. Wallis told Thomas, "Notice how her eyes are alive and sparkling ... Once in a while she reads a line too fast, but direction will cure that. That voice makes her intriguing." Almost four months before the release of Scott's first film, Thomas's March 16, 1945, column was the first to make an unfavorable comparison between Lauren Bacall and Scott, thus beginning a critical trend of marginalizing Scott in favor of Bacall.
Despite Scott's initial difficulties with Cummings, she soon gained his respect with her performance and force of personality. Scott never made any headway with the director, John Farrow, however. Farrow had lobbied for Teresa Wright, and when he did not get her, he made his displeasure known to Scott throughout the shoot. However, You Came Along remained Scott's favorite of all the films she made. In October 1945, Tallulah Bankhead denied Paramount publicity stating that Scott was her understudy on Broadway. "'Nobody ever understudies me,' baritones the Alabam' belle. 'When I don't go on, the play doesn't go on!'"
In September 1945, Paramount public relations dubbed Scott "The Threat", which derived from a critic's description of Scott: "She's the Threat, to the Body, the Voice and the Look." "The Body" (Marie McDonald), "The Voice" (Frank Sinatra) and "The Look" (Lauren Bacall) were supposed to be threatened by Scott's arrival on the Hollywood scene. Though they were the same height (5'6" or 1.68 m), McDonald's measurements were 36½-22½-35, to Scott's 34-24-34. Nor was Scott permitted to sing after her first film, invariably being dubbed by Trudy Stevens. Scott herself never cared for the moniker, though she found "meanie" roles easier to play. Early in February 1946, Scott was dating a then unknown actor named Burt Lancaster, with whom she did a screen test. Lancaster's first marriage was in trouble and despite rumors of marriage between Scott and him, the two broke up the following year.
Later in 1946, Scott's moniker proved prophetic, when a 37-year-old Barbara Stanwyck, in a letter, objected to Scott's top billing in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946): "I will not be co-starred with any other person other than a recognized male or female star." Lawyers for Wallis and Stanwyck got to work, and eventually, the final billing ran Stanwyck, Van Heflin, and Scott at the top, with newcomer Kirk Douglas in second place, but Wallis' interest in promoting Scott was obsessive. The AFI page on Martha Ivers notes:
"Director Lewis Milestone is quoted in an article in the Los Angeles Sun Mirror on 8 December 1946 as having said that he would never make another picture with producer Hal Wallis because Wallis wanted to reshoot scenes in this film for more close-ups of Lizabeth Scott; Milestone reportedly told Wallis to shoot them himself--which he did."
Wallis ended up adding extra footage of Scott at the expense of Stanwyck's screen time, which later led to a contretemps between Stanwyck and Wallis. Concerning her first film noir, Scott recalled how strange it was to be in a film with Stanwyck and only have one brief scene together. The screenplay by Robert Rossen depicts two separate story lines running in parallel--one dominated by Martha Ivers (Stanwyck) and the other by Antonia "Toni" Marachek (Scott). The Heflin character, Sam, is the connection between the story lines, which only overlap in the one scene where femme fatale Martha and Toni meet.
In June 1946, Scott gained the distinction of being the first Hollywood star to visit Britain since the end of World War II. She was there to attend the London premiere of Martha Ivers and do a promotional tour through the country. In Liverpool and Manchester, she was met by massive crowds. Her appeal was now truly international. During her stay in Britain, Scott was interviewed by Picture Page, a news magazine program, at the BBC's Alexandra Palace studios. While Scott was still in Britain, shooting began on a new noir that Scott joined after she returned: Dead Reckoning.
Columbia originally intended Rita Hayworth for the role, who was busy with The Lady from Shanghai (1947). Then attention turned to Bacall, who also refused. As a result, Scott was borrowed from Hal Wallis. Scott played Coral "Dusty" Chandler, a woman to whom US Army Captain Murdock (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart) is attracted during his search for the murderer of his AWOL friend. She may not be the innocent bystander that she seems.
When the film was finally released and the reviews came in, they revealed that most critics never caught the differences in accent, diction, and timbre between Scott and Bacall. Bacall's accent is pre-World War II, upper middle-class New York metropolitan, often mistaken for Mid-Atlantic due to the broad "A" and nonrhotic pronunciation of words containing "R". Unlike Scott's inherited low tone, Bacall originally had a naturally high tone with a nasal timbre and fast tempo, but had trained herself to pitch her voice lower and slow down her delivery. Despite Bacall's "mannered toughness" and Scott's "breathy theatricality", when Bacall did the voice-over for a 1990s cat-food commercial, some people thought it was Scott.
More notable than any actual similarity between Bacall and Scott, though, are the people, institutions, and events they had in common: the Walter Thornton Agency, Harper's Bazaar, Irving Hoffman, Charles Feldman and the Famous Talent Corporation, Humphrey Bogart, and the "Second Red Scare" (1947-1954). Also, both actresses made Bogart's personal list of the nine "most potent" kissers "in movie love scenes" in which he participated.
At the age of 24, Scott's billing and portrait were equal to Bogart's on the film's lobby posters and in advertisements. Most often portrayed in publicity stills was the Jean Louis gown-and-glove outfit worn in the nightclub scene, the most iconic gown Scott wore in her entire film career (see publicity still above). In September 1946, a Motion Picture Herald poll of exhibitors voted her the seventh-most promising "star of tomorrow." Production ran 10 June-4 September 1946. It premiered in New York the week of 23 January 1947. Despite the initial positive publicity, the long-term effect of Dead Reckoning was to typecast the former comedian for her entire career. The following year, contrary to general expectations, Bacall herself approved of the casting of Scott in Dead Reckoning.
With the coming of World War II, a new type of Hollywood actress appeared on the big screen. California historian Kevin Starr described it thus:
"The stars emerging in 1940, by contrast--Rita Hayworth, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, Lupe Vélez, Marie Windsor, Lana Turner, Lizabeth Scott--each possessed a certain hardness, an invisible shield of attitude and defense, that suggested that times were getting serious and that comedy would not be able to handle all the issues... Just a few years earlier, Hollywood had been presenting the wisecracking platinum blonde, frank, sexy, self-actualizing. Now with the war, that insouciance had become hard-boiled."
This "hard-boiled" quality appeared in Scott's two previous films and was repeated in Desert Fury (1947), the second noir filmed in color and a Western, as well. It starred John Hodiak, Burt Lancaster, Wendell Corey, and Mary Astor. Astor played Fritzi Haller, a casino and bordello owner, who runs the desert town of Chuckawalla. Scott played Fritzi's 19-year-old daughter, Paula, who on her expulsion from "her fifth finishing school," returns home. She falls for gangster Eddie Bendix (Hodiak), and faces a great deal of opposition from everyone else.
Generally panned by critics when it first appeared, it has been gaining critical praise in the passing years. Even the once-ridiculed, high-fashion clothes of Scott's character--by Edith Head, with the colors of the Southwest in mind--play a role in the continued fascination with the film. Robert Rossen's screenplay repeated the matriarch-run-town trope of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. Originally, Hal Wallis had hired Ramona Stewart, a 23-year-old graduate from the University of Southern California, to write the screenplay, which was based on her then unpublished novel Desert Town (1947). Another 23-year-old, Betsy Drake, was originally cast as Paula, but failed the screen test and was replaced by Scott (who was 24 at the time). During the shooting of Desert Fury scenes that took place in Los Angeles, Scott briefly reappeared with Burt Lancaster in a spoof William Tell sketch in Variety Girl (1947).
In December 1946, Scott again starred with Lancaster, Corey, and Douglas, in Wallis's I Walk Alone (1948), a noirish story of betrayal and vengeance. In her second torch-singer role, Scott is Kay Lawrence, who befriends a convict, Frankie Madison (Lancaster), who returns to New York after 14 years in prison, seeking his share of criminal proceeds from his partner Noll "Dink" Turner (Douglas), who is also Kay's boyfriend. The film was a dramatic hit with the audience.
More drama occurred behind the scenes of the film, originally titled Deadlock. The Kay Lawrence role was originally intended to be Kristine Miller's breakout role, but Scott, ever competitive with all other actresses, grabbed the role for herself. Miller later recalled, "(Wallis) planned to star me in 'I Walk Alone.' He tested me with Burt; it was a wonderful test, but then Lizabeth Scott decided she wanted the role, and Lizabeth got whatever she wanted--from Hal Wallis! (Laughs) So, I got the second part instead." Douglas, while working with Lancaster on the film, noted:
"Lizabeth Scott played the girl we were involved with in the movie. In real life, she was involved with Hal Wallis. This was a problem. Very often, she'd be in his office for a long time, emerge teary-eyed, and be difficult to work with for the rest of the day."
Though relations between Lancaster and Scott had previously been romantic, a falling out happened. Lancaster's behavior toward Scott was chilly, especially during one kissing scene, leaving Scott looking exasperated. By April 9, 1947, Lancaster tried to break his seven-year contract with Paramount. He claimed it violated a previous freelance deal, but added that he did not want to work with Scott anymore. Despite all the issues among the cast and past critics, I Walk Alone is usually now judged to be a film noir classic.
In January 1948, the 26-year-old Scott played her third and last ingénue in the second favorite among her own films--Pitfall (1948) with Dick Powell and Jane Wyatt as a middle-aged couple growing apart. Director André de Toth explained his reasons for casting Mona:
"I wanted Lizabeth Scott. I didn't want some blonde with big tits. You had to believe that this girl was real. Even if I took one of these over-sexed types who could not act, it would change how the Powell character is drawn into the affair. Remember the point of the script was that he's just a middle-level insurance investigator. He's tired of his job, spending time in his little office with a drab secretary. So I could have made a different picture, with a prettier girl than Lizabeth Scott, and told the story of that girl, her problems, but that wasn't this movie. That would make it phony, if you cast it with Marilyn Monroe, a type like that. I needed somebody real."
In postwar Los Angeles, Powell's character, John Forbes, is investigating Mona Stevens (Scott), a department-store model whose jailed boyfriend had embezzled funds. Bored with his wife, John starts an affair with Mona, but is soon competing for her with a voyeuristic detective, played by a then unknown Canadian actor, Raymond Burr.
In May 1948, it was announced that Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum would star in a football-themed story by Irwin Shaw, originally titled Interference. Afterward, Lucille Ball replaced Greer and Victor Mature replaced Mitchum. Scott was slated to play the club secretary. Then, she replaced Ball as leading lady. The reason for the role switch is unknown, though Ball never forgave Mature for his rudeness when they made Seven Days' Leave (1942). The 37-year-old Ball was in career slump at the time and had to take the secondary role meant for Scott. Mature played football star Pete Wilson, who has a heart problem. Scott played Pete's wife, Liza "Lize" Wilson, a greedy, social-climbing interior decorator. The original ending has Pete leaving Lize for the nobler secretary, but to the bewilderment of critics, it was changed to an ambiguous ending where Pete stays with Lize. The final film, titled Easy Living (1949), received a generally negative response when it was released. The New York Times review was uncommonly positive, though typically dismissive of Scott's performance. Current critiques, though, tend to see Scott as an underrated dramatic actress in her Lize role.
In September 1948, Scott played the ultimate femme fatale in Too Late for Tears, with Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy, and Kristine Miller. The story again takes place in postwar Los Angeles, where the facade of a typical married couple is shattered when someone by mistake throws $60,000 into their car. In an effort to keep the money, the wife, Jane Palmer (Scott), leaves a trail of bodies to the very end. During the shooting of a scene where Scott screamed at Duryea, she accidentally broke a blood vessel in her throat. This Hitchcock-like, black-and-white noir is widely considered Scott's best film and performance, eliciting praise even from the normally hostile New York Times. But, the film was a box-office failure when it was released, and the producer, Hunt Stromberg, was forced into bankruptcy. Decades later, one film historian noted the film's staying power: "Too Late for Tears is a relatively 'unknown and unseen' noir and deserves this recognition, especially for its storyline, acting, and the incredible performance of Lizabeth Scott in the femme fatale role."
At the end of 1948, Scott shifted dramatic gears in Paid in Full (1950). Mousy Jane Langley (Scott), a department-store illustrator, allows younger sister Nancy (Diana Lynn), a beautiful store model, to marry Bill Prentice (Robert Cummings), despite Jane's love for him. A few years later, Jane accidentally kills her young niece, eventually marries Bill herself, gets pregnant, and dies after giving birth. In a film reminiscent of Stella Dallas (1937) and Mildred Pierce (1945), both Cummings and the original screenwriter, Robert Rossen, were out of their depth, according to one review--but the final film succeeded surprisingly well. Reportedly, a "scene stealing" competition existed between Scott and Lynn on the set.
On Tuesday, January 25, 1949, Scott collapsed and went into hysterics on the RKO set of The Big Steal (1949). She immediately quit after three days of production. According to Scott's replacement, Jane Greer, Scott quit because she was concerned about being associated with the leading man, Robert Mitchum, who at the time was jailed at the local honor farm for a marijuana conviction--Mitchum was convicted January 10, 1949. It was also later alleged that Hal Wallis was supposedly responsible for Scott's bowing out. Yet, Scott starred with Mitchum in a RKO film two years later. During this same period, the press reported rumors of Scott's stage fright, an ailment common to actors. Scott herself has admitted to stage fright, explaining her absence during premieres of her films.
During Scott's recovery period, Walter Winchell, in his "On Broadway" column for June 9, 1949, repeated a rumor of Scott's impending marriage to Mortimer Hall, CEO and president of radio station KLAC. Scott and Hall later broke up. (Hall eventually married actress Ruth Roman, pursued Rosemarie Bowe, who looked similar to Scott, divorced Roman, and then married Diana Lynn, Scott's co-star in Paid in Full.)
By June 22, 1949, Scott was reportedly recovered from her January episode and was to be lent by Hal Wallis to the Princeton Drama Festival. In July 1949, Scott returned to the stage in the title role of Philip Yordan's play Anna Lucasta at the McCarter Theatre, on the campus of Princeton University, New Jersey. The press reported: "Folks who expected fireworks when Liz Scott and Tallulah Bankhead crossed paths at the Princeton Drama Festival were vastly disappointed. It was all sweetness and light."
Finally, Scott decided to legalize her stage name. Having been known professionally as "Lizabeth Scott" for almost seven years, she legally changed her name from Emma Matzo on September 14, 1949.
Scott acted in four films in 1950. In a continuing effort to escape her femme fatale typecasting, Scott played another self-sacrificing June Allyson-like character before reverting to her usual torch singer/socialite roles. In The Company She Keeps (1951), she played Joan Willburn, a probation officer who sacrifices her fiancé to a scheming convict, Diane Stuart (Jane Greer), who echoes Scott's Toni Marachek from Martha Ivers. While Greer's beauty was toned down for the film, Scott's was not. As a result, critics were generally unconvinced that the leading man would choose the dowdy Diane over Joan. Most critics thought that Scott and Greer were miscast, and should have switched roles. Columnist Erskine Johnson summed it thusly: "Lizabeth Scott is on her second reach-for-the-handkerchief-Mabel picture for RKO." A box-office failure due to the then perceived miscasting and mix of noir and "weepie" genres, The Company She Keeps has risen in critical esteem with a more sophisticated audience in later years.
Scott played her third torch-singer role in Dark City (1950), a traditional film noir. Her boyfriend, Danny Haley--Charlton Heston in his film debut--is a bookie who is the apparent target of a vengeful brother of a dead man whom Haley swindled. Originally, Burt Lancaster was cast as the leading man, but he refused to work with Scott again.
In a May interview, Scott said she was reading the entire oeuvre of Aldous Huxley. In another interview, she admitted almost joining a "cult" endorsed by Huxley, but did not due to the vow of poverty required. Huxley explored reincarnation and destiny, to which Scott also professed during interviews. During Scott's spiritual search, she eventually met the Dalai Lama at a private reception at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Yet, conversely, Scott was a friend and reader of Ayn Rand, an Aristotelian atheist. Later that year, Scott was cast to do the summer-stock version of Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke (1948). Instead, she quit the production and audited two morning courses--philosophy and political science--for six weeks at the University of Southern California.
In Two of a Kind (1951), Scott portrayed Brandy Kirby, a socialite who seduces a gambler, Michael "Lefty" Farrell (Edmond O'Brien), into joining a caper. Red Mountain (1952) is set in the 1860s, starring Scott as Chris, the only member of her family to survive the American Civil War. Red Mountain was the second of Scott's three Westerns, though the only traditional non-noir one. The leading man was Alan Ladd in a typical knight errant role--Brett Sherwood, a Confederate Army captain seeking to make a last stand against the Union. When the director, William Dieterle, became sick on the Gallup, New Mexico, shooting location, Hal Wallis sent Scott's old adversary from You Came Along, John Farrow, to direct. Scott injured her knee during a stunt in which she jumped off a 12-foot ledge, on her fourth try. She had to be flown out from location.
Scott played her fourth and last torch-singer role in The Racket (1951), another conventional noir. Irene Hayes (Scott) is caught up in a struggle between a big-city police captain (Robert Mitchum) and a local crime boss (Robert Ryan), who resembles the real-life Bugsy Siegel. The film was released two months after the Kefauver hearings, in which Virginia Hill, a real-life femme fatale and mistress of Siegel's, denied having any knowledge of organized crime. While Irene Hayes was thought to be modeled on the smoky-voiced Hill, Scott denied the rumor.
Scott returned to Britain in October 1951 to film Stolen Face (1952), a noir that presages Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) by several years. It combined elements from medical science-fiction (repeated in the later work of the director, Terence Fisher, in his cycle of Hammer horror films). Paul Henreid is Dr. Philip Ritter, a London plastic surgeon, who upon losing the love of an American concert pianist, Alice Brent (Scott), recreates her face on a disfigured female criminal. Hal Wallis and Scott, by allowing Henreid to be the leading man, were among the first to break the Hollywood blacklist. As a former member of the Committee for the First Amendment, Henreid was forced to seek work in Europe. Scott later starred in an anti-McCarthy noir, raising the ire of a pro-McCarthy journalist, who linked Scott's future visit to Cannes, France], with an alleged visit to a Parisian nightclub.
Later that spring, Scott returned to her beginnings as a comedian when she began work on her first comedy noir, Scared Stiff, with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Scott played an heiress who inherits a haunted castle on Lost Island off the coast of Cuba. Though Scott had fond memories of working on the set in the years ahead, at the time of filming, she found it trying. Scott found Lewis' impersonations of her offensive, while a jealous Hal Wallis instructed the director, George Marshall, not to let the romantic scenes between Scott and Martin get too steamy. Despite Scott's best efforts, including making excuses for Lewis' behavior to the press, most of her scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor. Shooting took place late May to mid-July 1952. The film premiered the week of 28 May 1953 in Los Angeles. Despite the negative experience and reviews, Scared Stiff remains Scott's third favorite film.
Scott's stage fright was worsening. During the October 19, 1952 live broadcast of NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour, Scott reportedly hid in her dressing room until the casting director, Howard Ross, taunted her to face the audience. By the end of October 1952, of the original 48 big-name actors under contract to Paramount in 1947, only four were left--Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, William Holden, and Lizabeth Scott.
In April 1953, the 30-year-old Scott made her last film as a Paramount contractee. In Bad for Each Other (1953), Scott played a decadent heiress, Helen Curtis, who tries to dominate a poor but idealistic physician, Colonel Tom Owen (Charlton Heston). The source material for the screenplay, Horace McCoy's novel Scalpel, was more nuanced than the linear morality play of Bad For Each Other. This film was Hal Wallis' last attempt to pair Burt Lancaster and Scott. Patricia Neal was originally cast as Helen, but when Scott replaced Neal, Lancaster had to be replaced by Heston. Though Heston and Scott had previously worked together in Dark City, feuding was reported between the two on the set. The film was a box-office failure. Eight months later in February 1954, Wallis and Scott parted ways. Scott was now a freelancer.
In Scott's most overtly politically themed film, Silver Lode (1954), she returned to the Western noir of Desert Fury, only in a traditional 19th-century setting. Scott is a would-be bride whose groom, Dan Ballard (John Payne), is the target of a lynch mob on their Fourth of July wedding day. As the loyal fiancée, Scott is unwavering in facing volatile public opinion, fueled by the fear that Ballard is someone other than he appears. The film repeats many of the themes found in previous Western noirs such as The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), as well as the then-recent antiblacklist Johnny Guitar that had premiered the previous month. Dan Duryea was cast as a villain named Ned McCarty, ostensibly named after William Henry McCarty (alias Billy the Kid), but usually assumed by film historians to be an allusion to Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. Unlike previous Hollywood efforts against blacklisting, such as the Committee for the First Amendment, manned mostly by Democrats, Republicans dominated the Silver Lode production. Though the screenwriter, Karen DeWolf, was a left-wing activist, director Allan Dwan and John Payne were Republicans, as were Scott and RKO's owner, Howard Hughes. Critical response to the film itself was muted, as the film appeared immediately after the Army-McCarthy hearings and McCarthy's influence was already in decline.
In April 1954, Scott attended the Cannes Film Festival, where she posed wading barefoot in a fountain and surf for photographers. Though she left for London immediately after the festival, her visit to France had unforeseen consequences. Later that month, it was announced that she would be the host of High Adventure (1957-1958), a travelogue television series for CBS, but she never appeared in it. As Scott put it: "... out of the clear blue sky one morning, I woke and decided that I never wanted to make another film again. It was just a spark, I can't explain it."
Though the public response to Scott was generally favorable during the Paramount years, the film critics were less so, repeatedly making unfavorable comparisons to Lauren Bacall and Tallulah Bankhead, beginning with Bob Thomas' March 1945 comment about her screen test: "Her throaty voice may well make Lauren Bacall sound like a mezzo soprano." When the most prominent critic of the era, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, gave a bad review of You Came Along (1945), Scott's film debut, she recalled, "Being very young and naïve at the time, I didn't know you weren't supposed to do such things, so I called him up and complained. I told him how hard everyone worked to make such a beautiful movie, and I couldn't understand how he could be so cruel. I must say he took it awfully well, and was very kind to me." Nonetheless, in his review of I Walk Alone (1948), he stated, "As the torch singer ... Lizabeth Scott has no more personality than a model in the window of a department store." He also wrote of "a frighteningly grotesque Lizabeth Scott, who is supposed to represent a cabaret singer" in Dark City (1950).
Scott's style of acting, characteristic of other film actors of the 1940s--a cool, naturalistic underplay derived from multiple sources--was often depreciated by critics who preferred the more emphatic stage styles of the pre-film era or the later method styles. Typical of the '40s was Dick McCrone: "Miss Scott, who is an excellent clothes horse, rounds out the principals as Lancaster's moll. Otherwise, she's still the same frozen-face actress she was in Desert Fury and a couple of pictures before that." Current film historians critical of Scott either repeat Bob Thomas' image of an ersatz Bacall, Bosley Crowther in describing Scott's acting as wooden, or a pastiche of actresses of the period, as did Pauline Kael.
Others, though, see Scott's acting in a different light. With the revival of interest in film noir and its corresponding acting style, beginning in the 1980s, Scott's reputation has risen among critics and film historians. In Movieland, his personal history of Hollywood, Jerome Charyn described this style as "dreamwalking": "And then, among the Dolly Sisters and Errol Flynn, Bing Crosby and Dotty Lamour, the Brazilian Bombshell, Scheherazade, Ali Baba, and the elephant boy--all the fluff and exotic pastry that Hollywood could produce--appeared a very odd animal, the dreamwalker, like Turhan Bey, Sonny Tufts, Paul Henreid, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Lizabeth Scott, and Dana Andrews, whose face had a frozen quality and always looked half-asleep ... The dreamwalker seemed to mirror all our own fears. His (and her) numbness was the crazed underside of that cinematic energy in the wake of the (Second World) war."
During the Golden Age of Radio, Scott reprised her film roles in abridged radio versions. Typical were her appearances on Lux Radio Theatre: You Came Along with Van Johnson in the Robert Cummings role and I Walk Alone. Scott was also a guest host/narrator on Family Theater.
After being fired from the New York Journal-American in 1954,Howard Rushmore became the chief editor of a New York scandal magazine, Confidential. For Rushmore, it was a return to his days as film critic of the communist Daily Worker, but on the opposing side. He had been fired from the Worker in 1939 for giving an ambivalent review of Gone with the Wind (1939). The firing made the front page of all the major New York City newspapers. Rushmore became a professional anticommunist. Among Rushmore's heroes was Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. Rushmore was briefly director of research for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations under McCarthy. In early 1955, several months after the Army-McCarthy hearings and the premiere of Silver Lode, Rushmore wrote an exposé on Lizabeth Scott, a second-generation Republican and Catholic host of Family Theater. The publisher, Robert Harrison, was initially intrigued, but skeptical. To verify some aspects of the story, he hired an out-of-work actress, Veronica "Ronnie" Quillan, to have luncheon with Scott, giving Quillan an opportunity to make a pass at Scott. Quillan was to be bugged with a wristwatch microphone supplied by the Hollywood Detective Agency, but the agency's owner, H. L. Von Wittenburg, backed out and the plan was never implemented. Despite the lack of evidence, Confidential sent a copy of the story to Scott herself.
What Scott read was that a police raid occurred on a Hollywood Hills bungalow at 8142 Laurel View Drive the previous autumn. Two female adults, one male adult, and a 17-year-old female were arrested on prostitution charges. The police found an address book with the names and telephone numbers of various people in the film industry, including two numbers allegedly belonging to Scott. "HO 2-0064" had a Hollywood prefix and was the residential number of an elderly couple, Henry A. and Mamie R. Finke, of 4465 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, while "BR 2-6111" belonged to the 20th Century Fox switchboard at 10201 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles. Scott did not work for 20th Century until 1956, when she took part in an episode of The 20th Century Fox Hour.
The Rushmore article further stated that Scott spent her off-work hours with "Hollywood's weird society of baritone babes" (a euphemism for lesbians). He also linked Scott's trip to Cannes to a Parisian woman named "Frede", "In one jaunt to Europe, (Scott) headed straight for Paris and the left bank where she took up with Frede, the city's most notorious Lesbian queen and the operator of a night club devoted exclusively to entertaining deviates like herself." Frédérique "Frédé" Baulé managed "Carroll's," an upper-class, cabaret-type nightclub at 36 Rue de Ponthieu, Paris, France. It featured mainstream entertainers of the day such as Eartha Kitt and was devoted exclusively to entertaining café society. One of the owners was Marlene Dietrich, who happened to be the subject of "The Untold Story of Marlene Dietrich" in the then current issue of Confidential.
Hollywood Research Inc. was the new intelligence-gathering front of Confidential. It was run by Marjorie Meade, Robert Harrison's 26-year-old niece and one of the most feared people in Hollywood since her arrival in January 1955. Once a proposed story was assembled, usually either she or an agent visited the subject and presented a copy with a "buy-back" proposal. But instead of paying the magazine not to publish the article, Scott sued. On July 25, 1955, two months before the issue's printed publication date, and while the Marlene Dietrich issue was still on the newsstands, Jerry Giesler, Scott's lawyer, initiated a $2.5 million libel suit.
In retaliation, Confidential published the Scott story in the next issue. Under the byline of "Matt Williams", it was titled "Lizabeth Scott in the Call Girls' Call Book". In November 1955, at the age of 33, Scott again went to Britain to film The Weapon (1957).
The next spring, despite Giesler's reassurances to the press, the legal efforts against Confidential went nowhere. Since the magazine was domiciled in New York state, and Scott was a California resident who had initiated the suit in her own state, Los Angeles Supreme Court judge Leon T. David quashed Scott's suit on March 7, 1956, on the grounds that the magazine was not published in California. Despite this setback, Giesler said that he would refile in New York. Lawsuits from other actors against the magazine were piling up. Meanwhile, Rushmore tried to get Harrison to publish a story about former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt allegedly having an affair with her African-American chauffeur. When Harrison refused, Rushmore quit and flew to Los Angeles to meet with Scott's attorney, Jerry Giesler. Rushmore offered to testify against Confidential in exchange for a job in Hollywood. Giesler rejected the offer. Then, Rushmore became a witness for California Attorney General Edmund "Pat" Brown. Since New York refused to let Brown extradite Harrison to California, Brown instead put Hollywood Research and Harrison's niece on trial. On August 7, 1957, the trial of The People of the State of California v. Robert Harrison, et al. began. It eventually involved over 200 actors, most of whom fled California to avoid defense subpoenas. Rushmore, now the state's star witness, testified that the magazine knowingly published unverified allegations, despite its reputation for double-checking facts: "Some of the stories are true and some have nothing to back them up at all. Harrison many times overruled his libel attorneys and went ahead on something."
According to Rushmore, Harrison told the attorneys, "I'd go out of business if I printed the kind of stuff you guys want." Ronnie Quillan herself testified at the same trial that she had never verified the Scott story, thus not making the story "suit proof", but that Rushmore agreed to publish it anyway. However, a mistrial was declared on October 1, 1957, when the jury could not agree on a verdict.
In the wake of the sensational 1957 trial, Scott was forgotten by the media. Despite later claims that Scott's film career was ruined by the Confidential scandal, by the time the September 1955 issue of Confidential appeared, her career was already dormant. Scott had begun her career at a time when many established actors were away at war, giving then unknowns like Scott a chance at stardom. When the older stars returned, many of the newer stars faded away. In addition, the rise of television and the breakup of the studio system further curtailed film production. Film historians generally agree that Scott's career essentially peaked between 1947 and 1949. By February 1953, her stage fright was such that she even hid from friends. Scott did not renew her Paramount contract in February 1954, 18 months before "Lizabeth Scott in the Call Girls' Call Book" was published. Between the end of her contract and Rushmore's article, she had turned down numerous scripts, including a part in Wallis' The Rose Tattoo (1955). Instead of reinventing herself as Bacall did, returning to Broadway, Scott chose another path.
Erskine Johnson reported in January 1954 that Scott was being trained by Hollywood voice teacher Harriet Lee, and later by Lillian Rosedale Goodman--the final result was that Scott "has a vocal range of two octaves, A below C to High C," making Scott a mezzo-soprano. In July 1956, Johnson reported that Scott was under the management of Earl Mills, who also managed the singing career of Dorothy Dandridge. Scott was planning to debut as a torch singer on the nightclub circuit.
Scott re-emerged from retirement in Loving You (1957), Elvis Presley's second musical. During the shooting of Loving You, Scott was reported to have been infatuated with Presley. During a kissing scene, she playfully bit him on the cheek, leaving a red mark, which she called "just a little love nibble." The scene had to be reshot with the other side of his face to the camera. Scott's musical debut came to naught, however. Though Hal Wallis tried to get Scott's singing voice undubbed for the production, he was overruled by the studio heads, despite all of Scott's previous voice training. Production ran from late January 1957 to mid-March 1957.
Undaunted by Paramount's refusal to let her singing be heard, Scott signed a recording contract with Vik Records (a subsidiary of RCA Victor). Scott recorded her album with Henri René and his orchestra in Hollywood on October 28, 29, and 30, 1957. Simply titled Lizabeth, the 12 tracks are a mixture of torch songs and playful romantic ballads. Finally on April 23, 1958, Scott made her public singing debut on CBS' The Big Record.
In the 1960s, Scott continued to guest-star on television, including a notable 1960 episode of Adventures in Paradise, "The Amazon," opposite Gardner McKay. Scott played the titular character, derived from a boyfriend's dialog: "She is a sleek, well-groomed tigress, a man-eating shark--an Amazon! She chews men up and spits them out." In a Burke's Law episode, "Who Killed Cable Roberts?" (1963), she camps it up as the ungrieving widow of a celebrity big-game hunter. Much of her private time, though, was dedicated to classes at the University of Southern California.
In May 1969, the future wedding of Scott to oil executive William Dugger of San Antonio, Texas was announced after a two-year engagement. In late 1969, musician Rexino Mondo was helping Scott decorate her fiance's mansion on Mulholland Drive before the wedding: "Liz ... introduced me to her fiance, Texas oil baron William Lafayette Dugger, Jr. He was in his late forties, of medium build, good-looking, with dark hair, a warm personality, and a strong handshake." Dugger himself described Scott as "A misunderstood soul searching for love. Her outward appearance is just a shell." Dugger planned to make a film in Rome starring Scott, but he suddenly died on August 8, 1969. A handwritten codicil to his will leaving half his estate to his fiancée was contested by Dugger's sister, Sarah Dugger Schwartz. The will was judged invalid in 1971.
Previous to Dugger, several books claimed Scott was a mistress of Hal Wallis, then married to actress Louise Fazenda. Wallis had a falling out with Scott around the time of Bad for Each Other, with recriminations on Wallis' part. After Scott freelanced for a few years, Wallis made an effort to revive the relationship by making Scott the leading lady opposite Presley, as it might be his last chance to star Scott in anything. After shooting was completed, Scott walked away from film acting to try her hand at singing. The 14-year-relationship that began at the Stork Club in 1943 came to an end. Scott herself knew the relationship was over--only Wallis remained in denial. After Louise's death in 1962, Wallis went into a depression and became a recluse before marrying Martha Hyer in 1966. In later life, he was reticent on the subject of Scott, despite an unjealous Hyer urging him to include Scott and his other mistresses in his autobiography. Though Casablanca was the film of which Wallis was most proud, the ones he watched repeatedly were those starring Lizabeth Scott. Even during his second marriage, Wallis continued to screen Scott's films at home, night after night.
In 1948, Scott was reportedly divorced from Russian Prince Stass Reed. In 1953, Scott was briefly engaged to architect John C. Lindsey, who later became Diana Lynn's first husband before Mortimer Hall. Despite the Confidential article, Scott remained active on the Hollywood dating circuit, but the allegations continued to haunt her. A friend, David Patrick Columbia, noted: "One night driving her home from a party we'd been to, she remarked apropos of nothing we'd been talking about, 'and you know David, I am not a lesbian.'" Scott herself tended toward secrecy about her personal relationships and publicly disparaged former dates who told all to the press. Once their date appears in the press, "... the man goes off [my] date list ... 'I think,' said Miss Scott, 'that gentlemen don't tell.'" In 1948, Burt Lancaster said of Scott: "Becoming her close friend ... is 'a long stretch at hard labor.'" In the period between 1945 and the 1970s, the press reported Scott dating Van Johnson,James Mason,Helmut Dantine, plastic surgeon Gregory Pollock,Richard Quine,William Dozier,Philip Cochran,Herb Caen,Peter Lawford, Anson Bond of the clothing store chain family, Seymour Bayer of the pharmaceutical family,Marquess of Milford Haven, race-track owner Gerald "Jerry" Herzfeld, and Eddie Sutherland, among others. Burt Bacharach dated Scott during his breakup with Angie Dickinson. According to Bacharach: "She personified what I love about a woman, which is not too feminine but a little bit masculine. Just the strength and the coolness and the separation from the frilly woman who is always touching you and wanting something ... I think Diane Keaton had that kind of quality."
Scott made her final film appearance in her second comedy noir, Pulp (1972), a nostalgic pastiche of noir tropes starring Michael Caine and Mickey Rooney. The director and screenwriter, Mike Hodges, spent a long time coaxing Scott out of retirement to fly to Malta for the shooting. Scott said that while she enjoyed the monochromic beauty of Malta, she was not pleased that most of her footage was cut out--eight scenes in all. Hodges for his part reported that Scott was challenging to work with while shooting. Scott "hadn't make a picture in 15 years and I had to really coax her into coming back." But Scott overcame her stage fright and Hodges was pleased with Scott's performance. Despite disagreements among the cast, crew, and past critics, Pulp, as with the 1949 Too Late for Tears, is increasingly considered an artistic success by film historians.
After that, Scott kept away from public view and declined most interview requests. From the 1970s on, she was engaged in real estate development and volunteer work for various charities, such as Project HOPE and the Ancient Arts Council of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she was a major donor.
Unlike her favorite actress, Greta Garbo, Scott's seclusion was not total. She continued to date within a close circle of old Hollywood insiders. "One of her best friends was the singer Michael Jackson, and on very rare occasions, she could be spotted on his arm." Nor did she forget Hal Wallis. She appeared on stage at an American Film Institute tribute to Wallis in 1987 and fondly recalled her time with him. In 2003, film historian Bernard F. Dick interviewed Scott for his biography of Wallis. The results was an entire chapter titled "Morning Star". In the chapter, the author observed that during the interview, Scott (then 80 or 81 years old) was still able to recite her opening monologue from The Skin of Our Teeth, which she had learned six decades earlier.
Scott's favorite film was Doctor Zhivago (1965). Ever the non-conformist, she never stopped living Ralph Waldo Emerson's precept: "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." Scott died of congestive heart failure at the age of 92 on January 31, 2015.