In the run-up to next month’s TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, host Robert Osborne has hit the road to help spread the word, and a little cinephilic joy, along the way. A series of free public screenings of some of Hollywood’s most popular classic films will be shown across America in the coming weeks, all accompanied by the actors who contributed so greatly to their success. Genial TCM host Robert Osborne, with his deep, affectionate knowledge of film history and lore, begins the screenings by opening a question-and-answer session with each film’s star, and if this week’s premiere presentation in Seattle was any indication, the series should be a rousing success.
This unique series of films, which will traverse the U.S. in the coming weeks, began appropriately with Alfred Hitchcock’s great cross country pursuit North by Northwest. Seattle’s state-of-the-art SIFF cinema, with Bernard Herrmann’s taut, memorable score never sounding better, truly was the perfect venue in which to fully appreciate the film’s beautiful restoration.
To introduce the film, Eva Marie Saint, perhaps the coolest of Hitchcock’s ice blonde princesses, gingerly descended the auditorium’s long stairway to the sold-out crowd’s appreciative ovation. Her beauty and sharp sparkling wit completely belied her not insignificant age (Saint was already thirty when she and Marlon Brando won their On the Waterfront Oscars well over half a century ago). Saint spoke admiringly of Hitchcock’s kindness and directorial brilliance, as well as the on-set generosity of co-star Cary Grant, whom she adored. (When pressured by Osborne, Saint ranked Grant as tops among her leading men, even above Paul Newman and the painfully shy Montgomery Clift.)
Among the many fascinating North by Northwest anecdotes, Saint spoke of an unfortunate slide down the film’s Mt. Rushmore set, and then proudly showed off the tiny scar she still carries on her arm as a result.
Living the rare scandal-free Hollywood life (her husband of 59 years beamed lovingly from the sidelines), Eva Marie Saint provided one of the evening’s funniest highlights, sharing the story of her only brush with Tinseltown shame decades earlier. Having reluctantly agreed to be a presenter at a Hollywood student film award function, Miss Saint said she knew the evening was off to a bad start when Simone Signoret took her aside to warn of studio head Jack Warner’s derriere-pinching proclivities, justified presumably in his own mind because “She was French, I guess?”
Soon after this awkward opening, host Jack Benny rose to introduce the uncomfortable Miss Saint, then continued on showering her with effusive praise, going so far as to call her, “the Juliet … the Ophelia” of Hollywood. Thrown for a loop by Benny’s hyperbolic introduction (and unaware that a priest was sitting on the dais as well), Saint confessed, “I was so embarrassed. I didn’t know what to say, so I just stood up and said … ‘Oh, Shit.’”
Looking out at her husband in the audience, she noticed that sitting next to him was powerful gossip maven Hedda Hopper who, true to form, crucified the actress in the press the following day for her shocking slip-of-the-tongue. “The Saint said Shit,” laughed Eva Marie of her grievous transgression. Small potatoes indeed, if this was the worst scandal Saint had to offer after her many years in Hollywood. Still, she did express mild disapproval of another actress’s recent dropping of the F-bomb on the widely viewed “classy” Academy Awards, as opposed to Saint’s small private-function faux pas. Funnier still, in Eva Marie Saint’s Oscar acceptance speech she actually made a point of thanking the longshoremen who worked on her film, rather than somewhat embarrassingly talking like one.
Amusing insider stories like these are one of the primary joys of attending TCM’s intimate film screenings. They help to keep alive Hollywood history, as filtered through the reminiscences of those who played crucial roles in creating these classic films. In the upcoming weeks, highlights of TCM’s traveling road show will include Angela Lansbury speaking on The Manchurian Candidate, Tippi Hedron accompanying The Birds, Angie Dickinson with Rio Bravo, and Ernest Borgnine on From Here to Eternity. A complete schedule of these and many other auspicious pairings follows, and is also available on TCM’s Road to Hollywood website. If you’re fortunate enough to live near a town that Osborne and company will be passing through, do yourself a favor and see some of these wonderful films up on the big screen where they belong.
TCM’s Road to Hollywood schedule:
Cleveland – Wednesday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m. (ET) – Russell B. Aitken Auditorium at Cleveland Institute of Art
North by Northwest (1959) – Hosted by Robert Osborne, with special guest Eva Marie Saint
Tickets available March 2
Tampa, Fla. – Monday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m. (ET) – Tampa Theatre
Smokey and the Bandit (1977) – Hosted by Ben Mankiewicz, with special guest Burt Reynolds
Tickets available March 9
Chicago – Thursday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m. (CT) – Music Box Theatre
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) – Hosted by Robert Osborne, with special guest Jane Powell
Tickets available March 10
New York – Saturday, April 2, at 7:30 p.m. (ET) – School of Visual Arts (SVA)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – Hosted by Robert Osborne, with special guest Angela Lansbury
Tickets available March 18
St. Louis – Monday, April 4, at 7:30 p.m. (CT) – Hi-Pointe Theatre
The Birds (1963) – Hosted by Ben Mankiewicz, with special guest Tippi Hedren
Tickets available March 21
Long Island (Huntington, N.Y.) – Wednesday, April 13, at 7:30 p.m. (ET) – Cinema Arts Centre
The Birds (1963) – Hosted by Robert Osborne, with special guest Tippi Hedren
Tickets available March 30
Austin, Texas – Saturday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. (CT) – Paramount Theatre
Rio Bravo (1959) – Hosted by Ben Mankiewicz, with special guest Angie Dickinson
Tickets available April 2
San Francisco – Tuesday, April 19, at 7:30 p.m. (PT) – The Castro
Elmer Gantry (1960) – Hosted by Ben Mankiewicz, with special guest Shirley Jones
Tickets available April 5
Los Angeles – Thursday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. (PT) – American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre
From Here to Eternity (1953) – Hosted by Ben Mankiewicz, with special guest Ernest Borgnine
Tickets available April 7