The roles an actor is proudest of (Re: F[r]edric March's best films)

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Sunday, January 18, 1998 9:26 AM

> (Kolaga) writes:
> I watched EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954) directed by Robert Wise and
>> starring William Holden and F[r]edric March (plus a lot of other top
>> stars). I think that March did a _great_ job in his role as
>> the company Controller. He was a totally believable corporate
>> executive.
>> What do people think of him? His best films?

Fredric March's opinion of what would constitute his own best role in films can be gleaned from a passage in Lawrence J. Quirk's book "The Films of Fredric March." An early March film role was his in "The Royal Family of Broadway," a satire of the Barrymores (using different names for the characters, of course). March played the wild family member who was mixing film roles with Broadway triumphs, and was obvious based on John Barrymore. As Quirk writes: ""Certainly March had Barrymore down to a T--every lifted eyebrow, every gesture, ever fey mannerism." I concur.

Quirk tells us then about March:

"Though he created the role of Tony Cavendish [John B.] not only on stage and screen, but also on television years later, and though it brought him his greatest acclaim to date as of 1930, it is not among March's favorite roles, reportedly because he regards it, for all its cleverness and virtuosity, as basically a spoofing lampoon of another personality rather than a full-fledged interpretation of a character rooted in his own mystique."

What this tells us is that when March can build a personality from scratch, one that once built must conform to the script offered him but one which nonetheless will have the instantaneous reactions, unthinking flinches and ingrained facial and eye-holding patterns that March deemed accurate for such a personality, that is when March believes he has done his best work. The role of the bank executive in "The Best Years of Our Lives" may have the mannered appearance of the many bank personnel that March had seen in his many years of dealing with people in the normal course of living a life, but March had to derive his own fusion of personalities, his own understanding of how people react and interact, and how particular aspects of the particular bank executive of the script would manifest themselves.

Quirk, I might add, doesn't seem to understand this point. He writes:

"If this be so [that March regards that role as a lampoon and not a full-fledged personality], March underrates his performance, for it was a wondrous combination of inventive comedy and clever parody, a synthesis which, as any actor will admit, is not easy to get across." I don't believe March denied that, only that by copying and exaggerating mannerisms rather than constructing a complex psyche, March was practicing the CRAFT of acting rather than the ART of it, and the latter seems much more likely to yield pride to the person performing the efforts.

David Hayes


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