Remick, Lee Ann
Remick, Lee Ann
(b. 14 December 1935 in Boston, Massachusetts; d. 2 July 1991 in Los Angeles, California), actress whose ail-American beauty and natural acting style graced such films as Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and Days of Wine and Roses (1962) and the television miniseries Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1975).
Remick was the younger of two children of Frank Edwin Remick, a Harvard-educated clothier, and Margaret Waldo, a stage actress. She spent her earliest years in Quincy, Massachusetts, where her father managed his family’s specialty apparel store. When Remick was seven, her parents separated, and she and her brother went to live with their mother in New York City. Her mother enrolled Remick at Miss Hewitt’s Classes (now the Hewitt School), an exclusive day school for girls on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Groomed for a career in the performing arts, she attended after-school classes in ballet, modern dance, music, speech, and theatrical costume and scene design.
Although ballet was the great passion of her childhood, Remick gravitated toward the theater as she grew older. In the spring of 1952 she answered an advertisement for dancers for summer stock at the Music Circus in Hyannis, Massachusetts, lied about her age, and ended up performing in ten different shows in ten weeks. In the fall of that year Remick met playwright Reginald Denham at Sardi’s restaurant and was given a chance to read for the part of a sarcastic teenager in Be Your Age, a comedy co-written by Denham and Mary Orr. When she was cast in the Broadway role in 1953, Remick was nearly expelled from Miss Hewitt’s Classes for breaking school rules forbidding participation in professional productions during the academic year. After lengthy deliberations, she was allowed to remain in school and to act in the play. Be Your Age closed after only five performances, but the job gained Remick an agent and a number of new auditions before her graduation.
To be near work opportunities Remick matriculated at Barnard College in Manhattan in the fall of 1953. She tried to juggle a full course load, theatrical and television auditions, and dance and voice lessons, but the effort only wore her to a frazzle. As a result she left school after one semester to begin acting professionally. Over the next five years Remick honed her craft in the live dramas that abounded in New York City during the “Golden Age” of television. She appeared in a variety of roles on such anthology programs as Armstrong Circle Theater, Playhouse 90, Robert Montgomery Presents, and Studio One, working with Richard Kiley, Viveca Lindfors, Paul Muni, and other accomplished actors.
A May 1956 performance in “All Expenses Paid” on Robert Montgomery Presents brought Remick to the attention of director Elia Kazan, who cast her in the film A Face in the Crowd (1957), a cautionary tale of the power of radio and television media. Remick’s work in the small but showy role of a seductive drum majorette resulted in a seven-year, one-picture-per-year contract with 20th Century—Fox. Remick married William Arthur Colleran, a television director, on 3 August 1957. They had two children.
After moving to Los Angeles Remick appeared in The Long Hot Summer (1958) and These Thousand Hills (1959) for Fox. Her first major role came in a Columbia picture, Anatomy of a Murder (1959), when she replaced Lana Turner, who was fired by director Otto Preminger after a wardrobe dispute. Remick got along with the notoriously difficult Preminger, and as the flirtatious Laura Manion, whose husband is on trial for killing her alleged rapist, she more than held her own in a cast that included James Stewart and George C. Scott as opposing lawyers. During a pivotal scene in which the strikingly beautiful, blue-eyed blonde removed her glasses and shook down her hair on the witness stand, film historian David Thomson wrote, “the jury audience wavers like chaff in a sensual breeze.”
Remick’s early portrayals of kittenish characters seemed to bring her to the brink of major stardom, but she resisted efforts to promote her as an American Brigitte Bardot. After Anatomy of a Murder, Remick avoided sexpot roles in favor of more challenging parts in pictures directed by Elia Kazan and Blake Edwards. Kazan put her intuitive, unmannered style to good use as a young widow with two children who falls in love with the Tennessee Valley Authority official (Montgomery Clift) sent to take her family’s land in Wild River (1960). Under Edwards’s direction she ably played a bank teller menaced by a psychopathic extortionist in Experiment in Terror (1962), and gave her most memorable film performance as a wife drawn into alcoholism by her husband (Jack Lemmon) in Days of Wine and Roses (1962). For this last role, which Remick thoroughly researched at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, jails, and rehabilitation centers, she earned her only Academy Award nomination.
Despite her string of artistic successes, Remick’s film career began to stall by the mid-1960s. The “lost, lovely ladies” she played won praise from critics, but her movies had little box-office appeal. The well-bred Remick’s aversion to self-promotion also put her at a disadvantage in the fiercely competitive atmosphere of Hollywood.
Although she received fewer scripts and experienced a drop-off in the quality of her pictures, Remick continued to turn in first-rate performances. Most notable were her portrayals of the long-suffering wife of a wandering exconvict (Steve McQueen) in Baby, the Rain Must Fall (1965), and the promiscuous, estranged spouse of the title character (Frank Sinatra) in The Detective (1968). Among Remick’s other films of the decade are Sanctuary (1961), The Wheeler Dealers (1963), The Hallelujah Trail (1965), No Way To Treat a Lady (1968), and Hard Contract (1969).
In 1964 Remick returned to New York City to make her Broadway musical debut in Anyone Can Whistle, a satirical paean to nonconformity, written by playwright Arthur Laurents and composer Stephen Sondheim. As Fay Apple, a nurse at an asylum called the Cookie Jar, she received rave reviews for her acting, singing, and dancing, but the critics were not as kind to the avant-garde show, and it closed after only nine performances. Shortly thereafter Remick relocated to Manhattan and sought more theatrical opportunities. In 1966 she originated the role of a blind woman terrorized by drug smugglers in Frederick Knott’s dramatic thriller Wait Until Dark. The play became an enormous hit and Remick, who prepped for her part at the Lighthouse (New York Association for the Blind), was nominated for a Tony Award.
Following a separation of several months, Remick and her husband divorced in November 1968. That same year she met William Rory (“Kip”) Gowans, a British assistant director, during the filming of likes the very warm JennieHard Contract. They married in December 1970, and Remick moved to London. They had no children.
Of the twelve films Remick made during her British residency from 1970 to 1982, only the blockbuster supernatural thriller The Omen (1976), in which she played the mother of the anti-Christ, and the Ismail Merchant-James Ivory art house production of Henry James’s The Europeans (1979), in which she was a fortune-hunting German baroness, garnered much attention. As a consequence, she rediscovered television as a vehicle for her talents. With the motion picture industry having tilted more toward the youth market in the 1970s, the made-for-TV movie and its offshoot, the miniseries, provided Remick with opportunities to appear in adaptations of contemporary novels and historical biographies geared to an adult audience.
After picking up Emmy award nominations for supporting parts in The Blue Knight (1973) and QB VII (1974), the first two American miniseries, Remick landed the plum role of Jennie Jerome, the American beauty who became the mother of British statesman Winston Churchill, in the British-made Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill. The elaborate, seven-part costume drama, in which Remick aged from eighteen to sixty-seven, aired in Britain in 1974 and on PBS the following year. Although she bore no resem blance to the flamboyant Jennie physically or emotionally, Remick received almost universal acclaim for her performance. “The somewhat cool Miss Remick obviously likes the very warm Jennie,” wrote New York Times critic John J. O’Connor, “and the mixture of actress and characterization is most attractive.” In addition to winning the Best Actress award from the British Academy of the Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for Jennie, Remick captured a Golden Globe award and her third Emmy nomination.
A flood of small-screen work followed and Remick was earning $500,000 to $750,000 per television movie by 1980. She was at her best in characterizations of real-life figures, including Kay Summersby, the British driver and alleged lover of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in Ike (1979); Margaret Sullavan, the troubled actress and wife of producer Leland Hayward in Haywire (1980), for which she received another Emmy nomination; and especially, Frances Bradshaw Schreuder, an unbalanced heiress who conspired with her son to murder her father in Nutcracker: Money, Madness, Murder (1987). Remick, who had moved back to Los Angeles in 1982, also portrayed first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in Eleanor: In Her Own Words (1986), a one-woman show. Among her other notable television credits are Wheels (1978), The Women’s Room (1980), The Letter (1982), and A Gift of Love: A Christmas Story (1983).
Shortly after completing the telefilm Dark Holiday (1989), Remick was diagnosed with kidney and lung cancer. She battled the disease for two years, undergoing surgery and experimental treatments, but her health continued to fail and she was prevented from taking on any major projects. Remick made her last acting appearance in the A. R. Gurney play, Love Letters in Beverly Hills, in 1990, and in the last stages of her illness, she attended the dedication of her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in April 1991. Remick died at her home in Los Angeles and her remains were cremated.
At her death, commentators praised Lee Remick’s talent, versatility, and professionalism, but most lamented the fact that she never reached the level of film stardom attained by her idols Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn and contemporaries Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. The modest Remick probably would not mind such comments. As she once said: “I don’t quite know what stardom means. It was never something I went after, as such. I love to work… and I love trying to do the best. I suppose stardom means power, basically—and I’m not too good at that.”
There are clipping files on Remick at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, California, and in the Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center. Barry Rivadue, Lee Remick: A Bio-Bibliography (1995) includes a biographical sketch, a detailed inventory of Remick’s film, stage, and television performances, and an annotated list of newspaper and magazine articles on her life and career. Lillian Ross and Helen Ross, The Player: A Profile of an Art (1962), contains a short autobiographical piece assembled from interviews of Remick. David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (1994), contains a useful entry on Remick. Michael Buckley, “Lee Remick,” Films in Review (Nov. 1988), is a substantial portrait which includes Remick’s own commentary on her work. Important tributes are by Charles Champlin in the Los Angeles Times (3 July 1991) and Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer (30 Sept. 1991). Obituaries are in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times (both 3 July 1991) and in Variety (8 July 1991).
Richard H. Gentile