Tuesday, March 17, 2009


It would be appropriate to get pleasantly embroiled in something Irish today And as it happens I did my duty this morning - quite without realizing it – by sending away for a book called ACTING IRISH IN HOLLYWOOD by Ruth Barton. A compendium of bio/career assessments on Irish-born actors who found some degree of fame and fortune in American movies. Though it includes high- profilers like Richard Harris, Maureen O’Hara and Colin Farrell, the drawing card for me was the chapter devoted to one of my personal favorites, the elusive Constance Smith. A Limerick-born beauty who won a movie-star lookalike contest in the late 40’s (her resemblance was to Hedy Lamarr), and leap-frogged into films, first in Britain (initially one scene in Richard Attenborough’s BRIGHTON ROCK where the Lamarr lookalike thing was exploited to brief but stunning effect) then Hollywood. She got to me the first time I saw her. Dark Hair, alabaster skin, a lovely voice , which along with her general air of graceful melancholy, managed to convey a great deal more than her scripts generally supplied. And I’ve always been surprised that stardom eluded her. She was a 20th Century Fox contractee – installed on the same casting merry-go-round as Debra Paget, Audrey Dalton and Jean Peters. But by the mid-50’s she’d left America, drifting into a European Dolce Vita phase that found her more prominent in tawdry tabloid stories than on movie screens. I’d gleaned a few details about her sad, tumultuous life over the years. But this book promises to fill in a lot of the blanks – with, hopefully, some appreciation for the special qualities she brought to her roles. Smith played opposite an interesting assortment of leading men – Richard Widmark, Dan Dailey, Cornel Wilde, Jack Palance and Richard Conte, among others. Today she’s hardly remembered. But watch her in MAN IN THE ATTIC, standing at the foot of a staircase charmingly introducing herself to Jack Palance and see if you aren’t just as enthralled as he is.