Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Maisie Gets Her Meal

In 1964, Ann Sothern and John Cassavetes co-starred in a sordid episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "Water's Edge." Cassavetes played Rusty Connors, an ex-convict determined to find stolen payroll money hidden away by a deceased former cell mate, Mike Krause. Connors is convinced that, with the help of Krause's wife Helen, he will be able to figure out where Krause stashed the loot.

Sothern was a strange choice for the role of Helen Krause. The role was very different than the roles Sothern had been known to play, but there was something even stranger about Sothern taking this role. Sothern hadn't worked in three years due to a battle with hepatitis. The drugs she had taken to recover had caused her to gain considerable weight. She was so embarrassed by her appearance that she was afraid to be seen in public and she was not sure she wanted to go back to work. Yet, this role, as written, was certain to call attention to her weight in a most unflattering way.

Sothern was a lovely and charming young actress when she starred in M-G-M's popular "Maisie" series in the 1940's. Sothern put a lot of her own personality in Maisie Ravier, a feisty singer and dancer who becomes involved in misadventures as she drifts from job to job. Maisie went through the same routine in every picture. She has a job fall through or gets fired, which causes her to become stranded in a strange town without money. She has to use her pluck and common sense to get herself job. During the course of the series, she worked as a farm hand, a secretary, a maid, a riveter, a gold prospector and, in one far-fetched tale, a surgical assistant. Maisie usually has a misunderstanding with some tall handsome fellow and the two of them get into a big argument. Later, the couple get to know each other better and they start to have feelings for one another. By the end of the film, Maisie has resolved some catastrophic problem - maybe saving a jungle plantation from a native attack or organizing impoverished migrant families into a cooperative farming project - and then she and her hunky love interest agree to get hitched.

Sothern, as Helen Krause, is the anti-Maisie. She is bloated, sluggish, cold, and reticent. A conversation between Helen and Connors is centered on the fact that Helen has put on thirty pounds in the last two years, which is similar to Sothern's own predicament. Helen, wanting the money all for herself, knocks Connors unconscious with a lead pipe and ties him up to a pole. Connors is infuriated. He goes into a rant, ridiculing her weight. "You fat slob," he shouts, "you ton of lard." He says that, when he first saw her working as a waitress, he thought, [T]hat barrel of beef, that thing is going to bust the uniform." Cassavetes seems like he might be improvising some of his lines. "Kissing you, toots," he says, "do you know what it was like? Sticking my head in a lard can."

Considering Sothern's sensitivity about her weight, it had to have been painful for the actress to be at the receiving end of those insults. So, why did she put herself in that situation? All I can figure is that either Sothern accepted the role because she felt a connection to the character or she saw the role as an opportunity to face down her fears. In either case, Sothern gives an appropriately repulsive performance. She is not likely, in this case, to make up with the tall handsome man or give the loot away to an impoverished migrant family.

1 comment:

  1. I just got through watching the episode you were referring to.Not only was John Cassavetes 20 years her junior in this episode but he called her a "fat slob" among other insults.The storyline also had her saying she was going to "melt 30 pounds off and dye her hair blond."It bothered me enough to google Ann Souther weight gain,which is how I found this site.She was 53 and although heavy,she had the face of an angel and the voice that could seduce any guy within range of it.I think by this point Ann was smart enough to know it was going to be "character"parts from this point on.Taking a role that dealt with her weight problem rather than hide it was only logical.I say problem only because she thought it was a "problem".