EVA MARIE SAINT: LOOKING AHEAD
By Paul Freeman
Eva Marie Saint, incandescent star of film, television and stage, can look back at a career filled with unforgettable performances. But she prefers to look forward to her next performance. With an Oscar and an Emmy among a myriad of honors, her passion for acting still burns brightly.
Ms. Saint and her husband, stage and television producer/director Jeffrey Hayden (whose list of credits is astounding) will perform A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” in The Rrazz Room at San Francisco’s Hotel Nikko (222 Mason Street; www.therrazzroom.com; 866-468-3399).
Ms. Saint and Mr. Hayden, a charming couple, brimming with mutual admiration and affection, are kind enough to chat by phone with Pop Culture Classics.
Ms. Saint tells us, ”I went to Bowling Green State University and a dear friend, Chuck Coletta, is a professor at the Pop Culture department there. So we e-mail back and forth, every time we come across something. I took a tour there years ago and I’ve been hooked on pop culture ever since. My whole desk is filled with pop culture,” she says with a warm, welcoming laugh.
Ms. Saint and Mr. Hayden have been presenting “Love Letters” across the country for well over a decade. They’re eager to return to the Bay Area.
“We love San Francisco,” says Ms. Saint. “It reminds me of what New York used to be. We do have a daughter here (L.A. producer Laurette Hayden) and a son, Darrell (a designer teaching at San Francisco Academy of Art), up in San Francisco. He loves it up there.”
In the intimate, Pulitzer Prize-nominated “Love Letters,” two characters sit side by side, reading notes and cards, penned over nearly half a century, revealing intricacies of their separate lives and their special bond.
“Pete [A.R. Gurney’s nickname] has written many wonderful plays,” says Ms. Saint. “We rehearse a lot before we do it each time. And each time we do it, it’s different.
“I think people enjoy it, because it’s really about first love. And everybody has a story about his or her first love. The play is funny and it’s sad.
“A friend of mine, his wife died. He was in a wheelchair. Somehow, he connected with his first love. Her husband had died. And she was in a wheelchair. They were in their eighties. He called me and he sounded like a schoolboy. He was going to marry her. And then he died. That was his first love, way, way back in grade school.”
Mr. Hayden relates, “When I was in college, the little Viennese coffee shop in which we would hang out had a sign on the wall. That sign has been on my mind ever since. It said, ‘One returns always to one’s first love.’”
Ms. Saint interjects, “You never told me that, after 58 years!” They both laugh.
She describes the characters: “These people are very different . She’s an artist. And he ends up a politician. He’s a lawyer, very successful. So they grow apart. But she needs him and he needs her for a certain amount of stability and happiness.“
Mr. Hayden said, “Pete Gurney is a really profound playwright in this play and in several of his other plays. There’s a lot of depth to these characters.
“You can tell that he’s lived through this. He’s not just superficially describing some situation out there somewhere. He describes relationships that come right straight smack out of his own life, which we know about, since we know Pete and know a little about his personal life. So it comes right from his innards. It’s his very strong emotional background and experiences that were poured into this beautiful piece of work, ‘Love Letters.’”
Ms. Saint said, “It’s extraordinary, Jeff, when you think about it, that it’s very personal and yet, very universal. Every one in that audience had their first love. I had my first love in high school... But Marie Arnold had him,” she laughs. “Probably because I couldn’t have him, I wanted him.”
Mr. Hayden offered, “The closer you zero in on the very, very personal, and the more honest and true that it is, that’s the secret in playwrighting.
“Eugene O’Neill wrote about what he knew and what he experienced and that’s his power as a playwright. Arthur Miller wrote about his family. And there you have great drama. Tennessee Williams lived through all those experiences, in one way or another, in all of his plays.”
Hayden said of his “Love Letters” performances, “I’m not an actor. But we do really act out the parts, it isn’t just a reading. It’s a drama with conflict. When people see this, they get the mistaken impression that I’m an actor. Well, no, I’m not an actor. I’m just doing this with my dear wife.”
“But you’re so good,” said Ms. Saint. “I’ve never told you this, Jeff - I can’t imagine doing it with anyone else.”
“Well, that’s quite a compliment.”
“Then accept it gracefully.”
Ms. Saint and Mr. Hayden have been married since 1951. “Jeff and I were doing an interview on television. We’re sitting on stools. And the lady, who was very nice, but kind of prim and proper, asked me about the success of our marriage and I say, ‘Sense of humor, patience, if both are giving, then both are receiving, so that’s being generous to one another.’ I go on and on and on.’ She turns to Jeff and says, ‘Well, Mr. Hayden, what do you think the success of marriage is?’ He says... “
“Sex,” Hayden chimes in.
Ms. Saint continues the story. “And they went to commercial. She was absolutely thrown. So I said, ‘Jeff, you knew what kind of lady she was. I think that was a little much.’
“So next time we have an interview with another person, they ask Jeff and he says, ‘Patience, enjoying the same things, seeing eye to eye on money, on raising children.’ He goes on and on.
Then she turns to me and says, ‘Well, Miss Saint, what do you think the secret is?’ And I said, ‘Sex.’”
They both laugh. Then he recounts how they met in New York in the late ‘’40s. “I saw her walking on the subway. I didn’t see her face, but I loved the way she stood - straight, tall - and the way she walked. And just from the profile. And she had one of those big briefcases, a modeling book of 8x10 photos, and on the side it said, ‘Eva Marie Saint.’ I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh! What an interesting name with this lovely blonde figure.’
“About a week later, on the third floor of NBC, where I was working in the program department, the actors had a lounge up there where they would call their respective agents. I happened to see the same briefcase with the name Eva Marie Saint and there she was, standing at the telephone, by the only actor I knew in New York at the time, called Arnold Stang. He just recently passed away. Lovely, lovely actor, lovely man.
“I said hello to him and he was very gracious and introduced me to Eva Marie Saint. I said, ‘Nice to meet you, would you like to have coffee?’ I thought we could go downstairs in the drug store, where I knew the actors used to congregate. She said, ‘No, thank you.’
“So I went on to the studio where I was working and thought, ‘Oh, well, I tried. Nice looking lady. She seemed so sweet.’ And a few weeks later, walking through, from the elevators to the studio, there she was again on the telephone. Once again, I walked over. I said, ‘Hi, remember we met a few weeks ago. Arnold introduced us. I’d love to have coffee with you downstairs in the drug store.’ ‘No thank you.’
“Well, I figured that’s it. Goodbye. Went to my work. Until a few weeks later, walking through the same lounge, of course, looking eagerly to see if that blonde might be there on the phone again. And sure enough, one day, there she was. I walked across this large room and something prompted me, when I got there, to change the script slightly. I said, ‘Hi, remember we met?’ She said, ‘Oh, yes, yes, I remember.’ I said, ‘Would you like to have lunch with me?’ She said, ‘Oh, I’d love to.’ So we made a date and we went out a few days later to have lunch.”
Ms. Saint adds her perspective. “The reason I said no,Jeff, wasn’t that I didn’t think you were adorable. And I liked the way you spoke. I had my little book and I had things to do. I was making my rounds. I started at nine o’clock. I’d get back to my little apartment at six. And I was just tired of actors sitting around, talking about other actors and the parts they should have gotten and all of that. So my nose was to the grind and I didn’t want to waste time.
“But when you said, ‘lunch,’ that was nice, because I was always sitting on a stool at a counter at a drug store, smelling all that sour stuff from the ice cream and all of that. But I would eat my tuna fish sandwich and sit there alone. So it was nice to have company.
“Jeff was in radio. He wanted to get into television. I was understudying in ‘Mister Roberts.’ I had been understudying for four or five months. Jeff said, ‘Why don’t you get on with your life, get on with your career?’ And I’m saying to him, ‘Why don’t you leave there and get into television?’ So, from the very beginning, we were very supportive of one another.”
An actress and a director? A match made in heaven. “I don’t think actors should ever marry actors,” Ms. Saint says. “I never dated an actor. I knew that when I was in my twenties. I didn’t want that. But being married to a director is wonderful, because we have so much in common. When one is working, the other one understands. If I had married a lawyer, I don’t think I would have found such happiness in the arts.”
Why not an actor? “The competition. Waiting for that phone to ring. That’s not to say it can’t work. Paul Newman and Joanne, it was wonderful. The Lunts. Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. Eli and Annie Wallach. But there aren’t many who have survived.”
Mr. Hayden has often directed Ms. Saint in stage productions. They both appreciate the medium’s magic.
Mr. Hayden says, “When you’re working in theatre, you have time... and time is such an important element of the creative process. In television, and even in film, you don’t have time. Time is money. Tick tock, tick tock. The clock is always working against you. But in theatre, it’s wonderful. You have weeks and weeks of rehearsal and you can get to know characters. And dig deep. And work and work. So for me, at the moment, theatre is much more exciting than the other media.”
Ms. Saint concurs. “The journey of rehearsal, when you work in the theatre, that’s the best of all worlds, with those weeks and weeks.”
Performing in Horton Foote’s play “The Trip To Bountiful” in 1953, on Broadway and on television, she shared the stage with the legendary Lillian Gish. Gish become her mentor.
“She was just a wonderful spirit. She was the first one to rehearsal, the last one to leave. And that’s what I try to do. Also, Lillian had a backbone of steel. And yet, she was very sensitive. And that’s what you have to be. At least, that’s what I have to be. I have to be strong and yet you have to be sensitive in order to act.”
Ms. Saint drew on her strength when she was fired from the Broadway production of “Mister Roberts.”
“It was a shocker to be fired. Later I found out they felt I was too angelic for David Wayne, so when he took me down to have a drink, the audience worried about me. And Josh Logan was smart enough to know that he couldn’t have that. He didn’t want people worrying about the nurse downstairs. And I had replaced somebody else, who was really tough. I was the opposite. And Jocelyn Brando [who wound up playing the part] was just the perfect one for it. So I understudied.
“And Hank, - Henry Fonda - wrote a book and that’s when I learned why I was fired, because I was too innocent-looking on that stage. But at the time, I never knew why I was fired.”
Both Ms. Saint and Mr. Hayden were employed in many outstanding live television shows. “I equate those days in live television, in the fifties, to the theatre,” she says, “because we rehearsed two or more weeks. And by the time you were ready to do that show, you were really ready. You could have walked on any stage and done it.
“That was my beginnings - in live television. I’ve never been nervous about anything since - except driving on the freeway in L.A. - because anything could happen on live television... and it did! But that was the excitement.
“I was doing a show called ‘One Man’s Family.’ It was a series set in San Francisco. In the scene, I was on an airplane with my father-in-law and he was talking about marriage. I was married to his son. It was really his scene. I was just listening. I had a few words. And all of a sudden, in the middle of the scene, he looked at me and he said, ‘Jesus Christ! I’ve blown the scene!’ This was live.
“So I just said, ‘Oh, Father Roberts, I’m awfully tired. I think I’ll take a nap.’ And I put my head down near the window. And the director, Eddie Kahn, went immediately to a Sweetheart Soap commercial. So while they were doing the commercial, the actor said ‘Oh, my God! What have I done?’ I said, ‘Oh, nobody noticed.’ And here we were, going coast-to-coast live. I got him back on track and we finished the scene after the commercial and he was fine.
“ I don’t drink. A little wine now and then. But I sat on that make-believe airplane. The show was over. They were taking the lights down. And I couldn’t get up. I was paralyzed. And I found myself saying, ‘Would somebody bring me a shot of whiskey, please?’ Everybody looked as if to say, ‘What’s wrong with her?’ They brought it, but I didn’t even take a sip. I guess I had seen that in the movies, where somebody gets upset and asks for a shot of whiskey. Well, that was just one of many incidents in live television. And to this day, people will come up and ask me about that show and I’ll say, ‘Yes, he did say that.’
“So how could you get nervous about any other thing in life, when that happens to you?”
Both Ms. Saint, as an actor, and Mr. Hayden, as director, were involved with the revered Actors Studio.
“They were absolutely the most exciting, wonderful years,” Mr. Hayden says. “But you don’t realize, while you’re doing it, that this is something important, in terms of the American theatre or the American experience for actors. You just enjoy what you’re doing.”
Though The Studio offered the opportunity for creative joy, the participants still had to make a living. Ms. Saint says, “I remember one time, I’d been working really hard on a Chekhov play, doing a scene in class and it came off beautifully. And my peers and Lee Strasberg enjoyed it. That very day, I had to leave the Studio and do an Admiral commercial.
“I said to Lee, ‘You know, it’s really hard for me to make that transition, from Chekhov to an Admiral commercial.’ I was almost in tears. I just wanted to stay in that building all day. Lee said, ‘Do you like a roof over your head?’ I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ ‘Do you like to eat?’ ‘Yes, of course.’ ‘Well, just go out and do your best.’
“So I left the Studio that day with my head held high and did my Admiral commercial. He said, ‘You can’t go around doing scenes with actors the rest of your life.’ That’s what we would do. We’d go to each other’s homes or apartments and work on the scenes and then bring them to the Studio for Lee and our peers. But he was very practical that way. There was nothing indulgent about it.”
Strasberg was an extraordinary teacher. “From the time he met you, he just sort of figured out your instrument and realized what you should do,” explains Ms. Saint. “If you’d been acting and doing certain parts, he would give you something completely different, so you would really have to reach deep down and expose yourself. That was the best, to be able to do that and not be embarrassed.
“He would say our bodies are our instruments and we have to take care of our instruments. We have to be healthy. And the director’s the conductor. You are the instrument. You should be able to do what the conductor wants. And that’s always an image I’ve had, all my life, since the Actors Studio.”
Among the other gifted artists at The Studio at that time were Paul Newman, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, Marlon Brando, Patricia Neal and Maureen Stapleton.
Mr. Hayden says, “All these wonderfully, wonderfully talented people. And they grew, with the help of Lee’s insight and his sensitivity to the actors instrument and the whole concept of creating from within the actor instead of superficially learning the lines and just kind of indicating. It was a very heady, wonderful, wonderful experience.”
Ms. Saint agrees, “It was a very special time, when I think about it. We had a home to go to, in that big, big city. It was a church, which I always thought was interesting.”
Mr. Hayden elaborates, “We all chipped in money to buy that old church and rebuild it. We painted it. We did all the work on it. And it’s still there and it’s still going strong.”
Ms. Saint remembers, “You would leave it and then face the big, harsh world and go do your Admiral commercial. But Lee seemed to understand that. It was really amazing, when I think about it. He wasn’t indulging any of us. It wasn’t a sacred place. He was preparing us to go out in that big, harsh world. And working with other actors - you don’t get up there and do it all by yourself. And he would work with you working with one another and listening. Listening is one of the most important things an actor can do in any scene, in any piece.
“The way the studio works,” says Mr. Hayden, “you do a scene, then tell what you were working on in that scene and then the other actors will respond to what it is you were trying to get at in that scene. And after the actors have had a chance to respond, then Lee Strasberg would take his own time to discuss his response to the work. What were you trying to do in that scene? That was always the pivotal element. What were you using in your instrument?
“And the measure of success didn’t depend upon the measure of success of the scene. It depended upon what you set out to do - and did you achieve it?”
Strasberg made an indelible impression on Eva Marie Saint. “You hear about some teachers where students will buckle under the teacher,” she says. “There have been some who have been very strict and, I think, cruel, to aspiring actors. Lee was never, never that way. Now, there were some who couldn’t take the criticism. And they left. But he was never harsh. He just did it out of love. And if you understood that, you didn’t buckle. You wanted to hit the mark. You wanted to do better. You knew that you could be better, if you listened to Lee. And I found that fascinating.
“The first scene he gave me, I had to cry. As a young person, I didn’t cry. Or if I did cry, I cried in my own little room, when I was growing up, so no one would see. And he gave me something where I had to cry and I was terrified. But I worked on it and did the scene and it was very quiet. My peers were appreciative. Some were crying. And that was my breakthrough. He gave me the perfect scene for me to break through something within myself. And it happened in the Actors Studio.”
At this point, Mr. Hayden had to step away to take care of a previous commitment. Ms. Saint was kind enough to continue with her recollections.
She was born on Independence Day, 1924, in Newark. “My Dad was Quaker. He was a businessman, with the Goodrich Tire and Rubber Company. He was a hardworking man. He worked six days out of seven. So I come from that work force attitude of keep going, no one’s going to just hand you anything. You do it. And you do your best.
“My mom had been a teacher. And I’m sure she had been a great teacher. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse in New Jersey. She was tiny. She was five feet or a little under, weighted 99 pounds. And she had students from these tall, 19 year-old kids to seven-year-olds. So I learned a lot from my mom, about patience, as well as working.”
The seed of theatre’s allure was planted early. “When I was about eight or nine, my mom took me to a play. It was in Albany, New York. And Katherine Cornell was on that stage. I think it was the first play I’d ever been to. We were sitting in the front row. And she seemed to be like ‘Avatar.’ She seemed to be the size of those people... except she wasn’t blue. But she had so much perfume on. And I just sat there, just smelling that perfume and looking at this image crossing the stage, with these beautiful clothes. And, to this day, when I’m on stage, I wear much too much perfume. It’s always lavender. My mom wore lavender - April Violets. I still wear not the perfume, but the cologne. And I wear much too much, hoping that some little girl or some little boy in the front row might take a whiff.” She inhales deeply.
“I didn’t want to be an actress then. But I was always performing in high school. I played the violin in the orchestra. I was in the chorus, singing with the others. I was in modern dance, dancing with all the other young ladies. I played basketball. I was on the team. I played hockey. I was on the team. I was a runner on the track team. When I look back, it’s really strange. I never wanted to perform by myself. But I loved being with the group.
“I loved playing the violin, but I was not good. I took about four years. My sister played the cello. She was much better than I was at what she was doing. But then, years later, I knew somebody who could read palms. I was looking at my mom’s hand and I noticed that her little finger was short. Look at your little finger. Does it come up to the second joint of that next finger? Mine does not. Mine is just a little bit above the first joint, maybe half an inch above. So when I looked at my mom’s finger and then I looked at mine, I realized that’s why I couldn’t really play the violin. I couldn’t get up to those second and third positions easily.
“Now why didn’t that teacher look at my hands? Why was she taking all of that money from my parents, which we really just could afford. Maybe she didn’t even think about it. But I think anybody who gives lessons to young people should look at their hands before...,” she laughs. “It would have been hard for piano, too, I guess.
“My father, though we didn’t have much money, he sent the girls to college with this understanding - we didn’t have to work in the summers. He wanted us to work hard in school. We didn’t have to make money. Just enjoy yourself in the summer. I thought that was so sweet. So we did work hard. But he made us promise that, when we graduated, we would work at least two years before we got married. In those days, people got married pretty early. We were to work out in the world, so that, when we did get married, we could appreciate what our husbands were going through out there.
“My sister worked for Dupont - she was a scientist - then she married another scientist. So she worked, too. It was interesting, because all my friends were either engaged or almost engaged by the time they graduated. Some were married in college. But I fulfilled my promise. And I’ve never stopped working. Never want to.”
Ms. Saint had entered Bowling Green State University intending to become a teacher. “For two years, I was in Education there. Someone dared me to try out for a play, which I did.
“I just loved everything about it and went home that summer. My folks were living in Queens. I was a Delta Gamma. I started thinking about that experience that I’d had and I wrote a letter to the house father, Dr. Elden Smith, who became a dear friend. I wrote to him about my feelings, whether to be a teacher or if I should try to make it as an actress. Many college students don’t know, by their sophomore year, what path to take. I envied those who knew exactly what they wanted to do.
“He wrote - and I always keep the letter on my desk - about the possibilities, that television was starting in New York. He knew somebody who worked for Arthur Godfrey and he could introduce me to him. He was a writer. He also talked about education, how that was a wonderful field. He was a professor.
“But he had met my folks. He felt that I was pretty stable, that I could take rejection. It’s a beautiful letter. And when I finished, I thought, ‘I think he thinks I can do this.’ And I decided to go that way.
“It was hard to making a living. We had enough for our needs, but we weren’t a wealthy family. I went to my Mom and Dad and told them how I felt, what I was thinking of. I said, ‘Professor Smith thinks I can do this. What do you think?’ Without hesitation, they both took my hand and said, ‘Honey, whatever you want to do, just do your very best.’ And that was it. They could have said, ‘It’s impractical. No one in our family has ever been in show business,’ But that wasn’t the discussion at all. They were very supportive, but never wide-eyed about the business. They were very practical people and they enjoyed the fact that I was doing well in it.
“I lived with them for a year, when I graduated, with the idea that, within a year, I could be financially independent. And almost a year to the day after I started making the rounds, I could afford the $85 a month, shared by my roommate, Peggy Lobin, who was in radio, and I was on my way. Our first apartment was way up on Morningside Drive. It was a small, one-room apartment. Peggy had her twin bed and a dresser. I had my twin bed and my dresser. And the kitchen and the bathroom - that was one room. And we loved it. We could walk around the Columbia campus. There was a little park there. Thinking back, it was pretty grueling. But when you’re young, you don’t think about things like that.
“I still have a little book, as I sit at my desk, 1949, with all my appointments, when I’m called for auditions, when I got the job. Jeff’s name is in it a few times. We had an argument,” she laughs. “Or, ‘Oh boy, Jeff for dinner!,’ with a little heart.
“I would make the rounds on my own. In the beginning, I didn’t have an agent. I don’t know if you could do that in New York now. But then, I could just walk into the offices, talk to them about what was happening.”
Ms. Saint landed many plum live TV acting assignments. In 1955, on NBC’s “Producers’ Showcase,” she played Emily opposite Paul Newman in a musical version of “Our Town.” Frank Sinatra played the role of stage manager.
“It’s still a beautiful show,” she says. “It’s in the Museum of Broadcasting. Paul and I both wanted to sing. If I had my career over, I’d have been a singer. I loved singing. Paul and I both wanted to dance. So we had a chance to do all that.
“The show was live. And Sinatra didn’t show up until air, because he was having some kind of problem with the studio at that time. So we didn’t know whether he would be doing it until the very last minute. But they had a young man doing it and I thought he was wonderful. He had a beautiful voice. So it didn’t bother me - if Frank Sinatra shows up, fine. But I had Paul Newman, i didn’t have to worry, right?” Ms. Saint giggles girlishly.
“So Sinatra turned up. And we were watching it on DVD the other day and I said, ‘My goodness, just think, he did that without rehearsal! How did he do that? He put his hand on his lapel at one point when he’s the narrator and all these little things that he did. I said, ‘Did he work with someone before, in case he was going to do this?’ We just adored him, Frank Sinatra and his talent. My God, has anyone ever sung that way? The phrasing? They try, but they can’t. He was one of a kind.
“So that was a wonderful experience. Del Mann directed me. He died a few years ago. I worked with Del as many times as I’ve worked with my husband.
“Live television was like a repertory group - all of us together, going from show to show. Fred Coe was producing. Delbert Mann and Arthur Penn directing. Writers like David Shaw, Paddy Chayefsky. It was a heyday.”
1955 was also the year of “On The Waterfront.” Ms. Saint’s first screen appearance came in this searing, timeless drama.
“When they picked me up to take me to Hoboken that first day, I was crying. Jeff put his arm around me and said, ‘Honey, you’re in good hands. Kazan is directing this movie. Marlon’s in it. Rod Steiger, Nicky Persoff, all these people from the Studio. Don’t worry.’ And so by the time I got to the curb and they whisked me away to Hoboken, I wasn’t worried. That’s all I needed was for someone to pat me on the head and say it was going to be all right,” she laughs.
Elia Kazan knew how to capture intense performances. “I’ve never worked with anyone quite like Kazan. He would give direction and he would whisper in your ear, so no one else could hear what he was saying. And he was very specific. The first scene I did in the movie, on the tenement roof, where I present my dead brother’s coat to Marlon, who is on top of a pigeon coop, lying down. It was at night. It was dark.
“Kazan is telling me quietly, behind a pigeon coop, ‘Now Eva Marie, you are a Catholic girl. You don’t have that much experience with the opposite sex. So you’re terrified. Just make believe behind each pigeon coop, a ferocious monster could come after you.’ I’m sitting there thinking, ‘You don’t have to tell me any of this. I am terrified.’
“Marlon was so relaxed, so giving. From the first word I spoke to him on, I was never nervous on that set. He was incredible. And the finest actor I’ve worked with.”
Working with powerful, magnetic actors earns Ms. Saint’s esteem, but it doesn’t daunt her. “I’ve never been in awe. I’ve been in awe of painters or conductors. I have respect for other actors. But I’m not in awe. Otherwise, how can you perform? You can’t go in with that. Working in The Actors Studio, doing scenes with all these people, I just never thought of them as gods.”
Her portrayal of Edie Doyle in “Waterfront” brought Ms. Saint a well deserved Academy Award.
“Jeffrey and I did ‘Person to Person’ [Edward R. Murrow’s TV interview show]. I have a print of it. It was right after ‘Waterfront.’ I’m saying, ‘I would never leave New York. Hollywood, oh, no, no, no. I made this one movie, but I would never ... No, the theatre is our life.’ I was so serious,” Ms. Saint laughs. “You never know. Never say ‘never,’ right? As I talk to you from La La Land.”
She starred in a number of pop culture classics, including one of the most entertaining movies ever made - “North By Northwest.”
“I sound like Pollyanna, but working with Hitch and working with Cary Grant, it’s the best of all possible worlds. And playing a sexy spy lady! I went from Chekhov at the Studio to the sexy spy lady,” Ms. Saint laughs. “But that’s what you’re supposed to be able to do. And who wouldn’t want to play a sexy spy lady?
“Hitchcock certainly helped with my clothes, which I picked out at Bergdorf Goodman, when he wasn’t that fond of some of the clothes that were made for me. We sat down at Bergdorf and he said, ‘Anything that you like, Eva Marie, you just tell me.’ And the model walked by in the black dress with the red, embossed roses and I said, ‘Oh, Hitch, I like that.’ And he said, ‘Wrap it up for Miss Saint,’” Ms Saint recounts in a spot-on Hitchcock impression. ”And that was it. I called him my Sugar Daddy from then on... not to his face,” she laughs.
“You respected Hitch so much. Cary, James Mason, Martin Landau, he had his cast. And you trusted him. And you think, ‘If he thinks of me as a sexy spy lady, I am a sexy spy lady.’”
Hitchcock gave her three particularly valuable pieces of direction: “He told me, the first day, not to use my hands and to lower my voice and to look directly, at all times, into Cary’s eyes - which, of course, wasn’t difficult. Those were mainly the three things. So those were interesting things to work on, that helped me with that character.
“An actor is very influenced by what they wear and how they wear it and those clothes helped me form that character. From head to toe, what you have on is very important. Hitch knew that about his leading lady. Everything - the shoes, the hairdo. Sydney Guilaroff did the hairdo. And Sydney just had an idea - he used the hot iron.
“Sydney did all our hairdos at MGM. I wasn’t with MGM under contract, but it just so happens that I made so many movies there. But he did Liz Taylor and Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, all these people he did. And we would be all working maybe, at the same time. When I think back, oh my goodness. But at the time, when I was there, I wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, look at all of us.’ I was thinking, ‘I hope my hair turns out okay today.’ Sydney’s story could be a wonderful story, because he knew all of us. And he knew us intimately.
“I remember Marilyn Monroe one day was in there and she had her make-up on and her hair done. She looked gorgeous. She saw a few wrinkles and she just left and went to the dressing room and washed it all off, because she saw a few wrinkles. Had she lived, I think she might have had a difficult time getting older. She was gorgeous and she was talented and she was so sweet.”
Ms. Saint also has praise for her “North By Northwest” co-star, Cary Grant. “He was so generous. He had dark skin. And I’m very fair. In the middle of a scene - he never stopped shooting, he’s such a professional - but he saw me squinting a little. He said, ‘Hitch, could the lighting please come down? It’s too bright for me.’ Well, he had in his contract how bright it should or shouldn’t be. And if it went over a certain wattage, he knew. And that’s the only one time he did stop. But he stopped really for me. He saw me squinting. But he made believe it was too much for him. Now, is that a sweet story? A true, true gentleman and such a good actor.
“Have you seen some of his earlier films, when he’s like a baboon? Well, he did start in the circus. The things he would do with his body? Like an acrobat!”
She reunited with another great actor, Paul Newman, for “Exodus.” “He never talked about ‘Exodus’ afterwards, when I would read things about him. He seemed to have written it off. I don’t know why. I never talked to Joanne about it. Maybe he wasn’t that happy with Preminger. They never yelled at one another, but who knows?
“When I worked, I put the blinders on. I don’t know about any conflicts on sets. I just have my blinders on, like I’m in a horse race. And I just do the best I can. I cannot get involved in all the other business that goes on.
“Preminger did scream on the set. It was like 115 degrees. He had a temper. It would come out maybe once a day. Before it came, people were a little nervous. And then after the explosion, people were nervous. But I wasn’t nervous. He didn’t yell at the stars. There were so many extras. Some of these people had been on the real exodus and said that was easier than working with Preminger,” she laughs. “But he did do an incredible job of keeping it all together.”
Ms. Saint’s notable film roles also include “A Hatful of Rain,” “Raintree County,” 36 Hours,” “All Fall Down,” “The Sandpiper,” “Grand Prix,” “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” “The Stalking Moon” and “Loving.”
There’s more quality than quantity in her movie credits, because she devoted time to raising her children. From the ‘70s through the present, Ms. Saint has focused primarily on stage and television work. Her memorable TV performances include the miniseries “How The West Was Won,” a recurring role as Cybill Shepherd’s mother on “Moonlighting” and an Emmy-winning turn in the 1990 miniseries “People Like Us.” She still occasionally graces the big screen, as in 2000’s “I Dreamed of Africa” and 2005’s “Because of Winn-Dixie.”
Ms. Saint’s body of work has definitely withstood the test of time. A new generation of fans has discovered her brilliant film career.
“it’s great.,” she says,“the young fan mail that I get. It makes me feel like a contemporary.”
Like her films, Eva Marie Saint is ageless. If you have an opportunity to catch one of her performances in “Love Letters” with husband Jeffrey Hayden, you owe it to yourself to do so. Her combination of strength and sensitivity continues to move audiences.
“As I get older, the main thing I remember about Lillian Gish is that she didn’t look back. Of course, she looked back to silent movies, because she was the only spokesperson left.
“We live in a condo near UCLA. And Jeff and I went to a wonderful evening, where she talked about the silent movies. And she had all these young people, college students, listening to her. And at the end, there was a standing ovation.
“She was the only one who could talk about silent movies, how you would write some of the dialogue and how she would work on her costumes herself. She was a one-woman show, a one-woman band. And she looked back, because she was the only one to tell us about all of that. But she would continue to work. And she would never complain about the new directors or the bad scripts or this or that. No, it was today and tomorrow and look ahead.
“I’ve known other actresses who were about her age who would sit around and just complain, longing for the good old days. Jeff and I have to be a little careful about the good old days of television, because they were good. And it was live. And it was black-and-white. And we had ‘Middle of the Night’ and ‘Marty’ and all these wonderful shows about people. So we can indulge and look back to those days and say, ‘Thank God we were part of it.’ We were very fortunate to be part of it.’ But we have to be a little careful. So that’s what I learned from Lillian - it’s today and it’s tomorrow. And look always ahead.”