Friday, October 20, 2017

Birthday Girl: The Delightful Star

In this low world, it's increasingly vital to hold on to precious things; for me, that very much include the memory of a woman born on this date 110 years ago.

Arlene Francis was never the greatest actress, nor the most beautiful (in the classical sense), nor even, in the broadest sense, the most famous. What she had, instead, was an abundance of that most elusive of qualities, charm, unrivalled by all but a very, very few, and a work ethic that kept her very busy indeed for more than six decades. What sets her apart even further is that she had a consummate ability - and an enormously rare one it is, too - to make both the charm and the work look quite entirely effortless. She found her greatest success in television, where the quality of being likable was, especially in the medium's earliest days, invaluable. Personally, I find it impossible to imagine not liking Arlene Francis, and even, truth to tell, not loving her, at least a little.

The marvelous YouTuber saraismyname captures all of that rather wonderfully in this clip compendium, and if I were you, I'd use the excuse of this special occasion to spend as much of your Friday as you can manage in the exceedingly pleasant company of the birthday girl.  Go down the rabbit hole that is the brilliant What's My Line? channel; catch her film debut (as a streetwalker!) in Murders in the Rue Morgue, menaced by Bela Lugosi; or enjoy her (and Mary Wickes) in an episode of The Gertrude Berg Show from 1962. In whatever setting (and there are also lots of other game show appearances, bits and pieces of her various talk shows and other TV work, and much, much more) she's the best company you can imagine and a tonic to one's shattered nerves.

I may never reach the cosmopolitan heights of Mrs. Martin Gabel, of the Upper East Side and Mount Kisco (and countless summer-stock stages from Mineola to Santa Monica), and I know I'll never be one-tenth as endearing (far too prickly for that, on the whole), but I think today I'll keep her in mind and work to be, as a result, just that one iota kinder, more patient, and generally Arleneische. It's the least one can do in tribute to her, no?