There isn't a single navy blue item of clothing in actor Eva Marie Saint's closet. Not one. She blames it on her experience filming On the Waterfront, which is screening on Wednesday at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston as part of the Road to Hollywood. Saint and Ben Mankiewicz, from Turner Classic Movies, will both be in attendance at the free event.
In the film, Saint, who played a naive young woman, wore a modest navy blue dress in almost all of her scenes, which meant she wore it for almost all of the three months of filming. "I loved the dress, I loved the movie, but I never wore navy blue after that. It was like when I was pregnant, I wore maternity clothes. But once I was done with them, I never wore them again. You can come to my closet right now and there's not a single navy blue thing in there. Not one purse, nothing," she laughs.
Saint was just 30 years old when she appeared in Waterfront, the story of a young man (Marlon Brando) who reluctantly fights corruption on the loading docks. It was her first film ever and it was quite an auspicious start. Her director was Elia Kazan and her co-stars included not only Brando, but Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger as well.
"My first take was up on the rooftop with Marlon. I had done television, I had done theater, but I'd never made a movie. It was quite different. There were all these pigeon coops around and so many people in the crew up there watching. Kazan was so dear, he took me aside and quietly told me, 'You're a young Catholic girl, you haven't had much experience with men. It's night and you're on this rooftop with this young man. Behind every pigeon coop there could be an animal who's out to get you. I want you to be terrified. Eva Marie, you are terrified.' Of course, the bubble over my head says, 'You don't have to tell me to be terrified, I am terrified. This is my first scene in a movie, for goodness' sake!'"
In one of the most famous scenes in the film, Saint and Brando are at an iron gate. Saint's character drops her glove. It's a moment that shows what a wonderful actor Marlon was, according to her.
"Kazan would be shooting a scene and the next scene up would be rehearsing. Marlon and I were going through the scene and, I, Eva Marie, dropped my glove. Marlon picked up the glove in character. He held onto it, put it on his hand, which was very sensual, and sort of fondled it. We continued in the scene. When Kazan came in, we showed it to him and he said keep it in.
"Marlon picked up that glove and he made the scene. Most actors would have picked it up and would have started over. Instead, he used it to make the scene even better."
Saint won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in On the Waterfront, her first effort in film. At the Oscar Awards ceremony, which was held simultaneously in Hollywood and New York, Saint was nine months pregnant.
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"At that time, if your name were called, you just went up on stage, accepted the Oscar and said, 'Thank you.' I said, 'Thank you. I'm so excited I may have the baby right here,'" she laughs. She delivered her son two days later (and no, his name isn't Oscar).
Saint was just one of the On the Waterfront winners that night. The film swept eight of the top awards, including Best Picture for Kazan, Best Actor for Brando, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Editing. Three of the film's actors, Lee J. Cobb, Steiger and Karl Malden, were nominated for Best Supporting Actor but lost, as did Leonard Bernstein, who was nominated for the film's score, his first.
The sweep was completely unexpected because Waterfront was a gritty black-and-white movie filmed in New Jersey. It was sure to be beat out by a Hollywood movie filmed in color and Cinemascope, was the common thought. But by the time the Best Supporting Actress award was about to be handed out, the film had multiple wins. "My husband told me, 'Now, if your name is called, I don't want you to go running up there in your condition.' So when my name was [called], I started to get up and I couldn't. He had his hand on my leg and was holding me down. He made me count to ten before he would let me up!"
Film expert Ben Mankiewicz hosts the screening of On the Waterfront, with Eva Marie Saint as the program's special guest, as part of the Road to Hollywood, a national tour featuring films and stars from the upcoming Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in California in April. Ms. Saint will answer questions from the audience at 7:30 p.m., prior to the screening at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, visit www.tcm.com/2012/roadtohollywood Click here for free tickets. .