Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Birthday Girl: Mambo!

In honor of the lady's 88th birthday, let's spend a moment celebrating Dorothy Malone's fabulously demented performance in a rather fabulously demented picture, 1956's Douglas Sirk epic Written on the Wind.  She's a heedless young Texas heiress who mesmerizes the boys with the wild abandon of her mambo, and then later selfishly mambos her tiresome father right down the stairs (which I swear are the same ones that turn up a few years later on The Beverly Hillbillies - is that even vaguely possible?

I will admit to being rather surprised that Miss Malone is not yet a Fabulonian, a nice thing to know; she's apparently a retired Dallas matron whose last cinema appearance, in Basic Instinct, I've managed to miss (as I have as much of the career of Miss Stone as I can manage).  She took the part in WotW in part to dispel the good-girl image that had with few exceptions kept her a second-string B player in more than 40 pictures, something it did with a vengeance, nabbing her an Oscar in the process.

To me, her mambo scenes are everything that is glamorous and ridiculous, fabulous and tawdry, repressed and over the top about the 1950s.  She's set off to perfection by a Freudian dream of a cast, with Robert Stack as her brother, a conflicted young husband, Lauren Bacall going all schoolmarm as as his fish-out-of-water wife, and (swoon!) Rock Hudson as the charismatic interloper who disrupts their lives.*  Malone plays her neurotic, alcoholic character with all the brio of an actress who's been bored for a decade and is on a make-or-break mission, her desperation fueling a characterization that sears through the artifice of what is after a truly silly melodrama and makes it something special.

Malone shares her day with a long line of wild-at-heart types, starting with the Empress Livia (Augustus's wife, and for all of us I, Claudius fans forever seen as Siân Phillips in full fury) and taking in FDR, Broadway titan Hal Prince, Goops author Gelett Burgess, cinema immortal Vanessa Redgrave, and TV half-of-team Dick (Rowan and) Martin.  It's also burdened with a few wet blankets, Dick Cheney chief among them, but really what day isn't?

I don't know about you, but I plan to mark the day with a quick mambo before bedtime...

* It also features dear Miss Bess Flowers in one of her trademark roles, Restaurant Patron.


  1. Well, that was utterly fabulous! And I agree about Ms. Stone, with the exception of Casino.

  2. I desperately want to be known as "a heedless young Texas heiress who mesmerizes the boys with the wild abandon of her mambo." I guess it would be true, but you'd have to put mambo in double entendre quotation marks.

  3. Goops! Oh my!!!!
    I read those books as a child! I'd almost forgotten about them

  4. It's not just the mambo but the utter delight she takes in ripping into her dialogue. Chief among those tasty lines:
    Robert Stack/Kyle-"You're a filthy liar!"
    Dorothy Malone/Marilee-"I'm filthy, period!!"
    Heavenly bliss.

  5. "Imitation of Life" could have used a good mambo number like that.

  6. How Dorothy ended up in "Beach Party" just a few years later, I'll never know.

  7. Utterly wonderful - and good to know Miss Malone is still with us, mambo-ing away... Jx