Sunday, April 17, 2011

ANABEL SHAW ~ Intellectual Beauty       by Colin Briggs c. 1998

Anabel Shaw was born Marjorie Henshaw on June 24, (not June 7 as usually reported) 1921 in Oakland, California. A gray eyed ash blond she was the second daughter of Ransom Henshaw, a real estate broker, and Eleanor Earl Henshaw. After grammar school she was educated at the private Marlborough School for Girls. Even then her thoughts were on dramatics, but the Marlborough School frowned on any of its young charges who thought of acting as a possible profession. For well brought up young ladies of the time, drama was respectable only in an amateur or academic setting. At first her parents and older sister Jane objected too. With a blue blood lineage that included her grandfather, Guy Chaffee Earl, who was a prominent attorney, State Senator and Regent of the University of California, she was a top drawer debutante when she made her debut in Los Angeles.

Despite the fact that Los Angeles high society families of the time were distinctly aloof from Hollywood, Marjorie committed herself to a film career. After a brief stint at Warner Bros., where she tested with every new male hopeful, but did no acting herself, Anabel was dropped. "Of course, I was bitterly disappointed," she recalled, "for I had been so repeatedly optimistic that tomorrow would be my lucky day to be called in for some actual work before the camera. So, in the meantime I enrolled in dramatics. Then my parents visited San Francisco and while there I enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, graduating with a B.A. degree and ma

joring in short story writing. It was a wonderful experience attending that university as both my parents were alumni and it was a sentimental thrill to follow in their footsteps."

The agent who had arranged her test at Warner Bros. showed it to Paramount who signed her in 1944. After one role in Here Comes the Waves with Bing Crosby and Betty Hutton, she was again idle. "There were a lot of Paramount starlets in that motion picture - Ruth Roman, Noel Neill, Yvonne de Carlo, Mona Freeman and the beautiful Catherine Craig, so apart from Betty Hutton, who played two roles, no one else had much chance to stand out. Another six months went by, and time and again I'd 'almost' have a film role," she related.

Tired of hanging around uselessly Anabel asked for and received her release. Her agent came to the rescue once again and secured a contract for her at 20th Century-Fox. She'd only made that one test and her agent was continually peddling it around all the studios. "I hesitated briefly before signing, but then I thought - why not take another chance? Perhaps it's a case of third time lucky."

By this time, Anabel had loads of little theater experience and her excellent diction made her a casting certainty for English drawing room comedies. "They were so much the rage back then and I especially enjoyed acting in Tony Draws a Horse, but no Hollywood talent scout ever appeared. In 1942 I did a show for the Assistance Leagues' Nine O'clock Players. Aftercurtain, a Warner Bros. talent scout did appear and asked, 'Would you like to make a screen test?' I felt like embracing him and exclaiming, 'At long last here you are!' But although nothing much happened in my six months at Warners I will always be grateful for all the studio training in dramatics, singing and dancing."

With similar bone structure and coloring to the promising Warner star, Alexis Smith, Anabel must have been at a disadvantage. Miss Smith had already established herself and the studio didn't need another actress like her. The major difference between the two beauties was height. Alexis looked impressive on screen, being a willow 5' 9" while Anabel was a medium 5' 5". It came to pass that Anabel's contract was allowed to lapse.

Over at Fox they wasted no time in using her. Along with some other Fox contractees, she was tested for the film Shock. With herlarge expressive eyes, often compared to those of Bette Davis, she won the role of a woman traumatized by witnessing a murder. The film starred Vincent Price and Lynn Bari, who were both helpful to the newcomer. Of Lynn Bari she said, "I did two pictures with her and she couldn't have been nicer, and totally free of jealousy. One day on the set Lynn mentioned she was a direct descendent of Alexander Hamilton who was in George Washington's cabinet as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Lynn revealed that her great-great-great aunt, Margaret Schuyler, was married to Mr Hamilton and that Lynn's own mother was named after her. 'Oh, no,' I said in amazement, 'my great-great-great Uncle was Aaron Burr, the man who killed Hamilton in a duel.'"

Frank Latimore played her husband in the film and he was being tested for a role in The Razor's Edge which he succeeded in getting. Many actresses were mentioned to portray Sophie in the film, from Judy Garland to Alice Faye. Susan Hayward, who was not under contract at Fox at that time was among a number of Fox starlets including Anne Baxter and Anabel who tested. Richard Sisson was the young actor given the task of playing opposite all the aspirants. He recalled that Susan Hayward's test was not good and that Anne Baxter and Anabe

l were probably the best. Anabel herself told me that she felt the very best acting she ever did on screen was that test for The Razor's Edge. Fox executives and the director were very excited about her histrionics, and for a short time it appeared that she had snagged the role. Zanuck had the final say and congratulated her, but said they'd decided to have another name above the title, which resulted in Anne Baxter getting the role and subsequently winning a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award.

In the meantime Shock was released and

"Picture Show" magazine described it as a "gripping thriller with fine direction and good acting." Time magazine noted: "Nothing so apparently fascinates Hollywood as the unsettled mind, especially when it inhabits a beautiful body (Anabel Shaw)." Indeed, Anabel displays a terrific range, showing fear, hysteria and total collapse, all in the first half of the movie.

Home Sweet Homicide, her next Fox release, gave her the glamour role of a Hollywood star. When the wife of her lover (Sheppard Strudwick) is murdered, they are both suspects. This delightful comedy features Peggy Ann Garner, Dean Stockwell and Connie Marshall as the children of a mystery writer, Lynn Bari. Randolph Scott as a

police detective is the leading man, but it's the kids who solve the murder and steal the movie.

Anabel made her Technicolor debut in a promotional film, shot at San Bernardino. Take It or Leave It also featured Wally Brown, Don Beddoe, Spike Jones and Donald McBride. The movie was made for Coca Cola, to be used for personnel training.

Fox then put her in the Technicolor hit Mother Wore Tights.Anabel said of this film, "Vanessa Brown and I played the school friends of B

etty Grable and we had a lot of fun in an opening song and dance sequence. Our other scene had us play prudes when Betty Grable tries out for a stage show and William Frawley asks us to show our legs. Betty was nice, and Vanessa and I became friends. Ironically 40 odd years later we met again at a TV commercial try out

." Anabel continued, "The Hollywood of the 1940s was really as exciting as it all seemed to outsiders. On the Fox lot if I needed a certain type of shoe, they sent me to their cobbler who made them."

For some contractees of the major studio

s there were other benefits, too. For years Anabel received large supplies of Lux soap, so that the company could advertise that she used it. Her actual pay wasn't bad either. Anabel's salary was luxurious at that time - $300 per week.

Strange Triangle offered Anabel probably her lengthiest screen role at Fox. Once again cast opposite Sheppard Strudwick she is a loyal bank employee who suspects he is embezzling funds. Preston Foster played the investigator with Signe Hasso as the unscrupulous adventuress married to Strudwick. While Picture Show called it "rather a slow moving melodrama," Film Review described it as a "Suspense movie with actionful, gun toting climax."

When option time came up at Fox her contract was not renewed. Producer Sol M. Wurtzel, whose product was released by

Fox, liked her work and signed her for Dangerous Years. Another contractee, Marilyn Monroe, had a small role in this well directed juvenile delinquency drama. Anabel had a showy role as the supposed daughter of the district attorney (Richard Gaines) who is trying to convict a young man (William Halop) on a murder charge. Because he is trying to protect Anabel by not revealing her past, the youth faces conviction.

Freelancing now, Anabel moved over to Columbia for Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1947). Ron Randell was the famous sleuth in this episode. Picture Show said of this one, "the whole film goes with a swing as Randell solves the puzzle of two charming girls who claim a rich inheritance, through which a Scotland Yard Inspector is murdered". Gloria Henry was the other applicant and both Anabel and she were enigmatic enough to keep viewers guessing which was the phony heir until the conclusion.

Producer Jack Wrather hired Anabel next to play a newspaper woman in High Tide (1948). With a clever screenplay by Robert Presnell Sr. and a strong cast headed by Lee Tracy, Don Castle and Julie Bishop, it held quite a lot suspense and surprises. Picture Show praised it: "The story, told in flashback is excellently acted and competently directed." Anabel provided the love interest with Don Castle. Jul

ie Bishop played the alcoholic wife of the murdered editor, who also has a yen for Castle.

Anabel really enjoyed working with director Fritz Lang when she made Secret Beyond the Door at Universal. In the relatively small role of a society girl whose various queries unhinge the disturbed Michael Redgrave, she makes her presence felt.

P.R.C. then employed her services for Killer at Large which "Film Review" described as, "yet another ace reporter uncovers another racket." Robert Lowery was the reporter and Anabel, looking her most attractive, was the heroine who happens to be daughter of the prime suspect. Staying on at P.R.C. she made In This Corner starring her opposite Scott Brady. The finished film became a 1948 Eagle Lion release.

Always an academic, Anabel was never part of the Hollywood dating scene. She was invited to glamorous parties, however, and appeared on the covers of "Life" and "This Week" the newspaper magazine.

On December 11, 1948 she married Joseph Ford, a professor of sociology. This more or less put her career on hold. Before she began to travel the world with her brilliant husband, three of her films were released in 1949.

Hold That Baby a Bowery Boys comedy gave her a rare chance to be a glamorous mother. Boisterous as ever, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall and gang get mixed up with a baby in a kidnap plot and have to deal with a rival gang.

City Across the River (1949) had a ground breaking freshness with its plot on delinquency, violence, and sexual behavior. It also gave a rare chance for Stephen McNally to play a warm and likable character. Anabel portrayed his supportive and sympathetic wife.

Her final 1949 release was the classic Gun Crazy starring John Dall and Peggy Cummins as two criminals in the Bonnie and Clyde mold. Deglamorised here, Anabel does fine work as Dall's sister whom the two fugitives try to use.

There then followed a six-year hiatus in her film career. "This was a tremendously successful time for Hollywood and the agents were just bringing in the money," Anabel recalled. "I had signed with the biggest talent agency, but they were more concerned with their big stars than developing projects for a promising new actress. Where I slipped up was in not managing my career, because I was naive. I was afraid to knock on the right doors but would have done so, if someone had advised me to. I don't think I ever really wanted to quit film making but my husband's job in urban sociology had us live in Rome, also Beirut, Madrid, Mexico City and Vienna for some years. Our family grew to include my daughters Anabel [an archeologist], Cecelia [a professor in linguistics] and my son Stephen [education technology and industrial design]. By the time I returned to California in the mid 1950s, acting jobs were harder to find."

After her return, Walter Wanger cast Anabel in Riot in Cell Block 11. Made with an almost all-male cast the stark documentary-like feature was well received. Prior to release, all of Anabel's scenes as a worried wife on the telephone were cut. "I guess the continual interruptions my scenes created, destroyed the building tension," she commented.

In 1955 Universal used her in a wife role in Six Bridges to Cross, starring Tony Curtis. "My brief scene went well and they called me back for an additional one. This was to explain Tony Curtis' motivation for choosing a life of crime," she recalled.

Audie Murphy was America's most decorated hero of World War II and his experiences inspired the film To Hell and Back which became a big hit for Universal. Anabel had one memorable scene when Murphy is in the hospital recovering from wounds and is visited by one of his buddies (Jack Kelly). Playing a nurse in an Army hospital she gives her lines plenty of bite. Kelly refers to her as "Sir" throughout their exchanges and she neatly displays a sense of humor.

At Gunpoint, a widescreen color Western, was her final film in this second phase of her career. Once again, drawing on her ability to portray mounting fear and hysteria, she was cast as the wife of Whit Bissell and the mother of two small children. In a plot resembling that of High Noon Fred MacMurray is the man who finally defends the town from a bunch of outlaws.

Anabel also made TV commercials and guested on TV shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in a 1957 episode titled, "The Deadly". One career move she rejected was replacing Jan Clayton in the popular Lassie TV series. "There were a couple of conditions attached to my getting the part but the length of time involved and early shooting start, had me decline the role. I realized if the show continued its long run, my children would suffer from my absence."

With her intellectual interests still strong, she kept busy taking university level courses, and occasionally did some theater, including State of the Union. Years later, out of the blue, an offer came from Fox to play a nurse in their horror film The Mephisto Waltz (1970). She accepted the role and joined Curt Jurgens, Bradford Dillman and Alan Alda. Despite the talented cast, this shocker was not too well received.

My first meeting with Anabel was at her home in Northridge, California where I was welcomed warmly by both Anabel and her husband Joe Ford. She was youthfully delightful and those "Bette Davis" eyes were as full of sparkle as in her halcyon days. Busy as ever, she was working on a book, as was her husband.

In 1977, her eldest daughter Anabel helped organize an Anabel Shaw Film Festival. Sponsored by The Graduate Student Association the three-day event was held at the University of California (Santa Barbara). Introduced at the three sessions by Richard Proctor, Anabel also had radio interviews and lots of press coverage. Scott Brady and Vincent Price and other unannounced stars made the trip to appear. The films shown as part of film noir program were Shock with Secret Beyond the Door, then a week later Killer at Large and In This Corner and finally Gun Crazy with Strange Triangle the following week.

A surprise communication in 1986 had Anabel tell me she was "delighted to be playing the zany neighbor in A Majority of One, and it's marvelous fun". Reading on, "By the way not so much fun is that Joe and I are in a divorce proceeding. Wow! So, lots of drama in my life".

More surprising news came with the revelation that she was marrying George Scopecek, a wealthy businessman living in Oakland, California. They had known each other years and years before. This was a mostly joyous time for Anabel as she had a beautiful home and had reactivated her theatrical interests. She referred to her husband as "Hap" and such was his love and devotion that he even played a tiny role in one of her plays. This was Murdered Alive and although she thought the play "silly" woman the audiences loved it.

One role she did enjoy was in Fools Paradise (1992). "I played the zaniest Jane and had a great time. The audience thought so too and I wowed 'em. A blazing success, and in a play where I had the best time of my life."

A tragedy occurred when their home, along with 3000 others, was destroyed in a massive fire on October 20, 1991. They moved to an apartment in Alameda where tragedy struck again with her husband's death on April 20, 1992. She wrote, "With all these vicissitudes life has been black and bleak, for "Hap" was a dear man and independent to the last".

Her daughter Anabel and her husband Mike resided in Santa Barbara, so Anabel senior bought a home there, where she resides today. Her son Steve and his wife Linda have also moved there and have happily made Anabel a grandmother with their daughter, Elle.

Still on her agenda is a book about her travels and the challenges of raising of a family in so many different countries. Blessed with good health, she continues to amaze with an itinerary that would tire a woman half her age. Constantly traveling within the U.S. and abroad her endless vitality is probably due to her ever eager sense of discovery. Seeking knowledge has been a lifelong quest for Anabel Shaw, and it has helped keep her young.

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