Friday, March 27, 2015

Lee Way

Like many people of her era and political temperament, Lee Grant had an interrupted career.  In the late 1940s, in her early 20s, she got a part on Broadway in Detective Story (she was offered the ingénue role but wisely asked for a smaller but better character part) and got to repeat it in the hit film version, earning an Oscar nomination.  She was on her way up when she got blacklisted.  The prime years where she might have been a leading actress in Hollywood were lost.

In her memoir I Said Yes To Everything, Grant discusses the inner turmoil she went through in great detail.  In fact, much of the book is inner-directed.  Much of it is about troubled personal relationships with her friends, lovers and children.  Often I wish she spent more time talking about her projects.

She was born Lyova Rosenthal in 1927, growing up a fairly pampered only child on the Upper West Side.  She tried a lot of different arts--singing, dancing, etc.--before recognizing her talent lay in acting. Blossoming into a beautiful young woman, she soon got work.  She also trained at the Actors Studio, learning from one of the main exponents of the Method, Sanford Meisner.

Grant had never been particularly political, but working in New York theatre at the time, she naturally fell in with those on the Left, often agreeing with their viewpoints.  When the government started investigating communists, and the blacklist started, Grant was caught up in the net.

She kept working in theatre and TV shot in New York, but Hollywood was out until the mid-1960s.  Grant was now looking at 40--a dangerous age for movie actresses.  She got a facelift and was careful about makeup, but really it was her talent that kept her in the game.  She ended up doing a lot of fascinating projects, appearing in movies such as In The Heat Of The Night, The Landlord, Plaza Suite, Shampoo, Voyage Of The Damned and Defending Your Life.  She won as Oscar for Shampoo.  She also played the lead on Broadway in Neil Simon's hit The Prisoner Of Second Avenue, appeared in numerous TV shows and had a fairly successful career as a TV director.

Though much of the book is about her inner life, there are a fair number of interesting stories about her work.  There was the time she had her period on stage while appearing in Arms And The Man.  Or her trouble with Two For The Seesaw--a play she turned down that became a hit.  She was replacing Anne Bancroft but wasn't ready, so co-star Henry Fonda essentially had to carry her through the second act. On the other hand, late in the run of Prisoner Of Second Avenue, she went up on her lines and co-star Peter Falk looked at the audience and gestured to her--it was traumatic enough that she never went on stage again.  And even in movies and TV she worried about remembering her lines.

Interrupted or not, it's been quite a career.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a talent!!!!

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