She appeared in more Best Picture winners - five - than any other performer, and if you have a favorite studio picture made between 1923 and 1964, there's a fairly good chance she's in it. It's probably safe to say that in sheer number of titles - well more than 700 - she's the most prolific actress in films.
And yet is really wasn't fair to show you a still of this particular Mystery Lady and expect anyone to recognize her, especially as a lovely but not particularly distinctive young woman, one who, as various Gentle Readers noted, bore a passing resemblance to everyone from Helen Twelvetrees to Barbara Stanwyck. She really didn't come into her own until she was a lady of a certain age, and even then, closeups were few and far between.
She is, as many I suspect will have guessed by now, not your ordinary Movie Star. She really, in truth, wasn't a star at all (which is in itself remarkable for someone who appeared in more than 700 movies, don't you think?). No, she's the woman fondly remembered as Queen of the Dress Extras, Miss Bess Flowers.
Who? Well, she's the elegant lady who "is so happy for you, Eve," as Miss Harrington receives her Sarah Siddons award in All About Eve. Decades earlier, she's a racy artist's model in A Woman of Paris and at the other end of her career a regular in the background of Perry Mason. She arrives at premieres; she decorates nightclubs and your ritzier private parties; she shops, travels in style, and only occasionally slums it as a secretary or nurse.
She was tall, which helps in finding her in crowds, and by the 40s she sported a distinctive silver 'do that stands out beautifully in color. Back in the days when Manhattan was spotted with theatres showing old movies, you would sometimes hear, out of the darkness, a particularly avid fan give a pleasantly startled "oh!" or even a pleased "Bess!" when she'd pass by, stop to greet the leading man, or even on rare, special occasions (as in Eve) deliver a gracious line.
She's looking - for Bess - a little more hard-boiled here, as a society matron at a fashion show, from the big "Girl Hunt" number in The Bandwagon. Given that there are a bevy of identically clad ladies in this number, presumably this is one time that she wasn't called on to supply a costume from her extensive personal wardrobe.
This is an especially lovely little Bess moment, from the Doris Day picture Lucky Me (that's Doris, in blue). Bess enters from the right in her dainty pale rose shopping outfit. She pauses in front of the highly apropos "Flowers" sign, is surprised by some falling water on her neat parasol, and gives a marvelous moue of surprise and distaste as Doris moves off. One has to think there might have been a fond directorial hand at work here, giving Miss Flowers a little special recognition.
Bess's filmography, beyond the plethora of familiar titles (and they do dazzle - It Happened One Night, Imitation of Life, Judgment at Nuremberg, Rear Window, Singin' in the Rain, Humoresque - twelve Crawford pictures, actually, all told! - Gilda, The Lady Eve, A Day at the Races... you get the idea) is the sheer volume of product pumped out by Hollywood during the years that she worked. For every well-known old friend, there are half-a-dozen or more utterly forgotten names - You Can't Buy Luck? Black Sheep? Private Buckaroo? Hold That Blonde? They sound more like parodies of old movie titles than anything, but Bess appeared in all of them and doubtless dressed them up in much the same way she did Call Me Madam, To Catch a Thief, and My Man Godfrey (as Carnival Guest, Nightclub Patron, and Mrs. Merriweather, respectively).
So, even though despite best efforts all around, no one guessed her name, now you have, if you like, a new little hobby. When sitting down in front of TCM or your newest DVD from the Warners Archive, keep a sharp eye on things and you too can become a Bess Spotter. She's always out there, alighting from her limousine, looking carefree at a ladies' luncheon, or looking on admiringly as the principals dance, flirt, or otherwise try to steal focus in the foreground. Have fun...