Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mercedes Quality

On this date nearly a century ago, one of film, radio, and television's most distinctive and memorable actresses made her debut in the world. I'm talking about Mercedes McCambridge (March 16, 1916 - March 2, 2004), an Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actress (for 1949's All the King's Men) who may be best-known today for voicing a demon in the 1973 film version of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist. 

As Carlotta on Bewitched.
A distinguished performer whose admirers included the great Orson Welles, McCambridge was nevertheless no snob when it came to maintaining her career. She loved the stage, and was a radio mainstay in the 1940s, but took roles in everything from Charlie's Angels to a women's prison exploitation film. Wherever she acted, she gave full measure, and a commanding performance. I remember her as intergalactic hillbilly Sybilla on Lost in Space, as Carlotta, overbearing mother to a wimpy warlock, on Bewitched, and duking it out with Joan Crawford in the odd Western Johnny Guitar.

A good place to learn more about this talented performer is author Ron Lackmann's Mercedes McCambridge: A Biography and Career Record, a fine overview of her life and work. The lady herself wrote a quirky memoir, regrettably out of print, called The Quality of Mercy. As for me, I've heard good things about her early 1950s films The Scarf and Lightning Strikes Twice, but I haven't seen them yet. So, if you'll excuse me...

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