Friday, February 18, 2022

By Way of Obit; Yvette Mimieux and Some Others

The recent death of Yvette Mimieux, once the radiant young blonde star of Sixties movies, has sent me back into my own past. I  remember her as beautiful and vulnerable in such hit teen movies as Where the Boys Are. I forgive her for kinky tripe like Three in the Attic, and acknowledge that she somehow kept her dignity in a low-budget Roger Corman crime thriller, Jackson County Jail. Her passing led me to watch her screen performance in perhaps her most ambitious role, in 1962’s Light in the Piazza.

 I’ve wondered about Light in the Piazza since I saw the Los Angeles production of the award-winning 2005 Broadway musical version. Though critics cheered, I found the play’s plot logic deeply troubling. The central characters are a mother and her young adult daughter, wealthy Americans leisurely enjoying Italy. To the mother’s dismay, the daughter quickly falls for a handsome young Italian, and he for her. As a wedding is being discussed, we discover a melodramatic complication: Clara once sustained a serious head injury, and she’s mentally and emotionally stunted. Her mother faces a serious dilemma: stop the wedding, or allow her daughter to find a happiness that may be temporary. It all seemed like hooey to me, and I was never convinced that the Clara I saw on stage had the emotional age of a ten-year-old.

 That’s why, in homage to Mimieux, I watched the film, which stars Olivia  de Havilland as a deeply troubled mother. It’s a bit sappy, though Florence and Rome look lovely. The time given to the strain of the relationship between de Havilland’s Meg and her no-nonsense husband (Barry Sullivan) helps explain the puzzling turnabout in Meg’s attitude toward the young lovers. And I saw something in Mimieux’s performance that confirms who Clara is—someone who, for all her charm, will never progress beyond being innocent and girlish. A belated brava to Mimieux.

 Somehow I’ve never had a moment to salute Betty White upon her passing at the age of almost-but-not-quite 100. It’s sad to lose her, but how wonderful that she enjoyed a long, long career, and a life that was happy and productive right up to the end. Some of those we’ve lost recently started out in showbiz at a much younger age than Betty White, but discovered what a mixed blessing child stardom can be. I grew up watching Tommy Kirk in a whole string of Disney hits, like Old Yeller and The Shaggy Dog. He later was a perennial in a series of teen beach movies in the Sixties. Who knew then that his parting from Disney had been abrupt and painful, caused at least in part by the homosexuality he couldn’t hide? Along the way he picked up a drug habit, and at one point (despite his substantial childhood earnings) was nearly broke. Somehow he got through all that, living out his days quietly, far from Hollywood.

 It was just last month that we lost Peter Robbins, not a household name but a voice to be reckoned with. From 9 to 16, he was the original voice of  Peanuts’ Charlie Brown on a number of major TV specials. Eventually mental illness kicked in; at age 65 he  died by suicide.

 Jane Powell, star of Golden Age musicals like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers started in the business at age 14. Unable to go to college because she was her alcoholic mother’s sole support, she continued performing, and married 5 times. Her last and most successful marriage was to Dickie Moore, who like her understood what child stardom was all about.



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