(one installment in a quick series counting down from 50 to 26!)
SUSAN HAYWARD IN MY FOOLISH HEART (1949)
The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!):
Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress
Jeanne Crain in Pinky
Deborah Kerr in Edward, My Son
Loretta Young in Come to the Stable
Susan lends a note of authenticity to an otherwise heavily Hollywood makeover of THE ONLY FILM ADAPTATION OF A J.D. SALINGER WORK (!!!!!) David O. Selznick’s production of Salinger’s Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut manages to reduce his vivid storytelling into an occasionally lyrical but mostly incredibly familiar romance/maternal melodrama, one that famously incensed the author to the point that he forbade all future screen adaptations of his work. Susan plays a bitter, drink-sucking housewife at the beginning of the film, remembering her halcyon college days, before a series of soap operatic twists leave her with a baby, without the love of her life who sired it, and married to the devoted friend she snared to save her. Susan’s strangely cute, fragile features have a certain porcelain quality in common with the title figurine, even if her ultimate fal lto pieces doesn’t quite have the heft that we would retroactively expect from the original author’s source material. Overall, she does a commendable job despite the machinations of the plot, including an implausibly schmaltzy ending. No one can hold a candle (or an oil lamp, for that matter) to Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress for 1949, but in my opinion Susan did earn her nomination.
The one thing that stands out to me about Susan’s eminently respectable Oscar career (five nominations, culminating in a 1958 win for I Want to Live!) is how often she plays an alcoholic: four of her five nominated performances (excluding With a Song in My Heart, from what I recall) feature her in scenes of heavy, unflattering drunkenness–two, the sublimely titled melodrama Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman and Lillian Roth biopic I’ll Cry Tomorrow, place her addiction at the center of the story. That’s a pretty unusual sight for 1940s and 1950s classical Hollywood films; while attention to alcoholism at the Oscars tends to cluster around Billy Wilder’s 1945 Best Picture winner (and Best Actor winner for Ray Milland) The Lost Weekend and Blake Edwards’ much later 1962 Days of Wine and Roses, it’s really remarkable to see a studio actress build part of her star persona around such an unglamorous trait.