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Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby moira finnie » December 17th, 2016, 8:24 pm

clore wrote:Have you seen Sidney's turn on the NAKED CITY TV series? It's almost as if we're seeing one of her Depression heroines in 1961, now confronting several bank robbers/killers, one of whom is her nephew played by Robert Duvall. It's quite tense and she has a number of powerful scenes.


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Above: A mature Sylvia Sidney in a tense episode of Naked City in 1961.

I hope Scott can address this one too, clore! Saw this episode of Naked City, "A Hole in the City" for the first time about 2 years ago. Sylvia was remarkable--I wonder how Robert Duvall and the actress liked working together? Have you seen "A Motherless Child" on Route 66 with Sidney? Another great turn by Sylvia.
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 17th, 2016, 10:56 pm

Moira - Sylvia was well-acquainted with the ups-and-downs of an acting career, certainly by the time she was 18. A few silent films (1926-27) acquainted her with what it was like to be an "extra." In her Hollywood talkie debut Thru Different Eyes (1929), she returned home to New York to play in what she referred to as "a few flops." In Sylvia's eyes, she didn't have another "hit" until Bad Girl (1930) with Paul Kelly. This was the play that brought her back to Hollywood and into the arms of producer Ben Schulberg. So, by the time Sylvia was twenty, she knew the score—success and failure went hand-in-hand.
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with Paul Kelly in Bad Girl (1930)

My records show that Sylvia did over 90 plays (1926-1984). Most of them were dramas (Crime, The Trial of Mary Dugan, Angel Street, Jane Eyre, Joan of Lorraine, Picnic, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Glass Menagerie, The Little Foxes), but she relished the opportunity to play comedy (Pygmalion, Design for Living, Barefoot in the Park, Arsenic and Old Lace). She received excellent reviews in both genre, even for her one musical, Cabaret.
Angel Street (1942)
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Did she prefer stage work over film?
I believe she did. By 1950, Hollywood was simply a job to Sylvia. She made it clear that she preferred New York and its accessibility to good play parts. When Sylvia was filming Les Miserable, she mused, “I come out and haunt Hollywood every few years.”

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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 17th, 2016, 11:21 pm

Clore - Very interesting details on Raft's career. I'm glad Sylvia had the opportunity to work with him and appreciate what he had to offer.
Sidney, Raft and Fritz Lang, You and Me (1938)
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I did get to see Sidney's episode on Naked City (1961). Ed Asner was also in this. I met Asner earlier this year and asked if he had any recollections about her. He sheepishly admitted that he didn't (they had no scenes together), but readily admitted how much he admired her acting.

Sylvia's best work on TV was in Siege (CBS 1978). This is TRULY a knockout performance. She and co-star Martin Balsam play couple dealing with the crime and fear generated upon the elderly in big cities. Filmed in New York, it was as if Sylvia's Depression heroine had never left the confines of inner-city neighborhoods.
Sylvia and Martin Balsam in Seige
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 17th, 2016, 11:33 pm

Moira - I didn't come across any comment by Sidney on working with Robert Duvall (and vice-versa). As I mentioned to Clore, neither did Ed Asner have memories to share from the NAKED CITY episode, "A Hole in the City."

I did enjoy the Route 66 episode. Her scenes with George Maharis were especially touching.
Sylvia, between Martin Milner and Maharis, in "Like a Motherless Child" (1961) ROUTE 66
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 18th, 2016, 12:36 am

Aside from acting, Sylvia had a life-long passion for needlework. Her skills culminated in two best-selling books: Sylvia Sidney's Needlepoint Book (1968), and Sylvia Sidney: Question and Answer Book on Needlepoint (1974). She did cross-country book tours, and aficionados of needle work showed up in droves to ask questions. Sidney's caustic humor accompanied her wherever she went. She was quite a cranky lady, but fans seemed to love her for it. Oh yes, she was every bit as passionate about pug dogs, and raised some prize-winners! She admittedly preferred them to people. Here she is "doing her thing" with her adoring fans: Madame Too, Small Wonder, and Captain Midnight
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A few of Sidney's original patterns.
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » December 18th, 2016, 1:29 am

Scott, we're so happy you have joined us! Thank you so much for stopping by. Sidney's appearance in Beetlejuice is certainly a striking moment on the screen. Did she have any reflectioins on her appearance in the film? Was she happy to be a part of such an unusual movie? With the changes she must have experienced in the entertainment industry, did she feel that such a part was beneath her? And do you know how her casting came about?

By the way, I love the photos you posted !
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 18th, 2016, 1:11 pm

Hi Sue Sue, thanks for the warm welcome and good question. Sidney's role as the chain-smoking case-worker in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice was a role she resisted, at first. She kept throwing the scripts he'd send into the garbage. She finally relented and flew to California, where Burton made a point to greet her personally. After the film was complete, this is what Sylvia had to say.
“I had never heard of Tim Burton. I couldn’t understand the script. We had breakfast together. We had lunch together, and I was in love ...
his sensitivity, how he thought about scenes.”
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Sidney, BTW, was awarded Best Supporting Actress at the 16th Annual Saturn Awards. In 1995, Sylvia met again with Burton and signed to play the grandmother role in Mars Attacks! Soon afterwards, she was hit by a car in New York City—a near fatal hit-and run. Burton went directly to her bedside in the hospital reassuring her that they would hold shooting her scenes until she fully recovered. “He really made me feel like a movie star!" Sylvia remarked. There was a great deal of affection between those two.

Alien-destroyer Sylvia in Mars Attacks!
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby movieman1957 » December 18th, 2016, 1:42 pm

Mr. O'Brien, it is great to have you back again. Thanks for coming. I recently saw Sylvia in an episode of "The Equalizer." Was quite surprised she turned up there even if it was a small role.

She has a huge body of television work. For her was it a matter of just working and keeping herself busy or did she find that whole part of her life fun? In know you said earlier that she was cranky but it seems you don't put together that body of work unless something is going well.
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 18th, 2016, 1:43 pm

Truly the most important person in Sylvia's life was her son Jody. Her "comeback" to films in 1945, was partially due to doctor's advice that Jody (age 5), in fragile health, would do better in California. After her divorce from Luther Adler (1946), Sylvia, as a single mom, was determined that her son would have the best education.

Jody had a brilliant young mind. I contacted several of his classmates from the progressive Oakwood Friends School (New York), and they confirmed that Jody was a "genius." He was a gentle soul, and offered to help fellow students with their studies. After MIT, where Jody studied nuclear physics, he took interest in scientific photography. It was Sylvia who financially supported her son's educational pursuits. Then, he was diagnosed with ALS.

Emotionally, Jody's health crisis knocked the wind out of her. Jody lived another 10 years, gradually fading until he could only communicate with his eyes. He passed away in 1985. Sylvia acknowledged at the time,
“He was already gone physically when he died, but he will never be truly gone from me for as long as I live.
What a marvelous, loving human being he was."
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Mother and son, 1946

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Jody's senior portrait, Oakwood Friends School (1957)

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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 18th, 2016, 3:56 pm

movieman1957 -
Excellent question. During the 1950's and early 60's, Sylvia financed her son's education. When he was diagnosed with ALS, expenditures increased considerably. It was rare for Sidney to talk about personal finances, but at one point she revealed a crisis that occurred prior to 1960. The day after her accountant died, her bank called to report that Sidney had $90 left to her name—period. She said,
“None of the taxes had been paid and the money that was to be put in a trust for my son wasn’t.
I owed the government a lot of money. The manager, you see, had spent the money himself.”

In the aftermath, Sidney’s pursuit of money seemed relentless.

This might explain Sidney's "huge body of television work." She was also a classy lady, and quite the fashionista ... she LOVED clothes and spent a fortune on them. Just feast your eyes on this shot of her at the annual Emmy Awards!
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As for Sidney's crankiness .... I feel it was a combination of failed marriages, disappointment with Group Theater, and, most certainly, the heartache surrounding her son's health issues.

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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby Lzcutter » December 18th, 2016, 4:29 pm

Scott,

Thanks so much for joining us this weekend.

Dead End is one of my favorite movies. The cast includes Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea, Bogie and the Dead End Kids.. I was hoping you could talk a bit about the making of the film.

Thanks!
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 18th, 2016, 5:25 pm

Lzcutter - Dead End is a favorite of mine, too. That scene where Sylvia is ironing her kid brother's (Billy Halop) shirt, allowed her to complain (profusely) in her later years, "I was always ironing somebody's shirt!" Sidney felt she had been typecast and wanted more variety, which is partially why she returned to the stage.

There was lots of drama on the set during filming.

In March 1937, Sylvia signed ($75,000) with Samuel Goldwyn to play Drina in Dead End. Goldwyn insisted that Sidney play the role. Sylvia's only resistance was working with William Wyler. After a long day's shoot, she injured her face at a Elizabeth Arden salon. When she returned to the set sporting an eyepatch (18 stitches), Wyler shouted, "That's a movie star?!?" Sylvia stomped off the set. Goldwyn got word and rushed over to let her know that she didn't have to film anything until she recovered.

When Sylvia did return, Wyler kept her on the verge of tears. She recalled, "He knew I had a concussion and my nose hurt. But that didn’t stop him. He’d do thirty or forty takes of the same scene.” She grew to despise him. Sidney moaned to Goldwyn, “I hate this goddamned picture!” To make matters worse, after one strenuous day’s shoot, Wyler was in hot pursuit of her. In 1990, Sidney recalled:

"Wyler was ... a sadistic son-of-a-bitch. He had a habit of treating you badly and then trying to make love to you. At least that was
my experience with him. I had a wonderful little hideaway in Palos Verdes, and he showed up there one night. It was after we had a fight. I left the set. I just tore down to the beach. I guess he thought I was alone. Fortunately, Luther Adler was there with me. If it hadn’t been for him, I might have ended up in the crazy house. Wyler almost put me there."

As usual, Wyler's "technique" created one of the best films of the 1930's. Lillian Hellman’s scenario (from Sidney Kingsley's play) was keyed to enhance the dramatic contrast between helpless squalor and excessive riches. (Kingsley and Hellman —both liberals—were advocates of slum reform.) The Dead End Kids proved to be the "new sensation." So many riveting scenes graced this film. A favorite of mine is Bogart's encounter with his mother (Marjorie Main). Following her line “You dirty rotten bum,” Main slaps him across the face. As usual, Wyler demanded numerous takes, and Main never held back. As Bogart’s face began to swell, he turned to Wyler and fumed, “If she slaps me one more time, I’m going to wipe up the floor with her!”

Oh yes, Sylvia thought Joel McCrea "an absolutely beautiful man!"
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby mongoII » December 18th, 2016, 5:51 pm

Hello Scott and welcome to the Silver Screen Oasis. I enjoyed reading all the replies regarding the lovely Miss Sidney, and enjoyed watching most of the films that she made, including her Oscar nominate role in "Summer Wishes. Winter Dreams"
Can you tell me what her favorite film was? Her favorite co-star? Her least favorite co-star?
Thank you very much indeed.
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby moira finnie » December 18th, 2016, 6:07 pm

A family emergency kept me from being here for much of the day but thank you to everyone--especially Scott--and all SSO members for carrying the conversation forward.

One area that I don't think we explored too much is the role of politics in Sylvia's life. From the Group Theater in the '30s on to her role in The Searching Wind (1946), was she involved in the tumult of the period?

Thanks in advance for any insight you can give.
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Re: Welcome Scott O'Brien for a Q & A on Sylvia Sidney 12-17 & 12-18

Postby oscotto » December 18th, 2016, 7:26 pm

Moira - Don't worry, we're doing just fine. Family emergencies always come first. My thoughts were with you.

You're right, it's important to cover Sidney's involvement with politics/social issues. Her commitment on this score, was as devout as her job as an actor.

In the 1930’s, Sidney was alarmed about the rise of Nazism and spoke on behalf of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. As Vice-Chairman of the Motion Picture Artists Committee, she raised funds on behalf of Republican Spain’s fight against fascism. Before Europe entered WWII, Sylvia supported the Committee of 56—actors lobbying to boycott German trade.

Sylvia was also involved in protecting the WPA. She (and former boyfriend) Franchot Tone flew to D.C. and presented Roosevelt with 200,000 signatures protesting cuts to the Federal Theater Project. Politically, Sidney was on the list for Roosevelt during his 1944 campaign.
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Sylvia was very enthused about working in Lillian Helman's The Searching Wind. The theme of U.S. isolation contributing to the horrendous loss of Jewish lives, came close to home. While she honored her Jewish background, she confirmed, "I have no orthodox religion."

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During the Communist witch-hunts of the 40's-50's, Sylvia was listed in Myron C. Fagan’s Red Treason in Hollywood (1949) and Red Treason on Broadway (1954), which included among “Stalin’s Stars,” Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn.

During the AIDS crisis, Sylvia lent her name and money to help fight what was considered a deadly disease. In 1985, she jumped at the opportunity to be in the first televised production tackling the AIDS epidemic, An Early Frost. Sylvia wasn’t concerned about any flak to which she might be subjected—she was used to it. “I donated a considerable amount of money to a recent AIDS benefit,” she said, “and when certain people found out about it, they yelled and screamed at me. People were offended that I wanted to help fight the killer.” She received a Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress for her powerful turn as Aiden Quinn's grandmother in An Early Frost (below).
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