Friday, January 29, 2021

Bette Davis wants “The Catered Affair” for daughter Debbie Reynolds

The Catered Affair (1956) is an American drama directed by Richard Brooks and starring Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine, Debbie Reynolds, Barry Fitzgerald, and Rod Tayor. The musical score is by Andre Previn and the cinematography is by John Alton.

Agnes Hurley (Davis), a Bronx housewife married to cab drive Tom Hurley (Borgnine) wants her only daughter to have the wedding she never had. The problem is, she and her husband are of humble means and really can’t afford one. Their daughter Jane (Reynolds) and her fiance Ralph Halloran (Taylor) don’t want a big wedding, in part due to all the complications and conflicts they can create.

Agnes persists with the big wedding plans and Jane, Tom, and Ralph reluctantly give in, not realizing how this decision will impact family and friends as the big day approaches.

Richard Brooks (1912 – 1992) was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He received eight Oscar nominations during his career. Some of the famous films he directed include Blackboard Jungle (1955), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Elmer Gantry (1960), In Cold Blood (1967), and Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977). Brooks was married three times, twice to actresses: Jean Brooks (1941 – 1944) and Jean Simmons (1960 – 1980).

Ernest Borgnine, Bette Davis, and Debbie Reynolds

Bette Davis (1908 – 1989) was an American actress who had a career on stage and screen that spanned more than 50 years. Davis came to Hollywood in 1930 and within four years of her arrival, she was one of its biggest stars winning her first Best Actress Academy Award for her role in Dangerous (1935). Her starring role in Jezebel (1938) won her a second Best Actress Oscar. Davis would go on to star in many popular films during the 1940s including Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), and Now, Voyager (1942). In 1950 she starred as Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950), a role she is probably most identified with today. Other popular films include The Old Maid (1939), All This and Heaven Too (1940), Mr. Skeffington (1944), and The Corn is Green (1945).

Ernest Borgnine (1917 – 2012) was an American actor who had a six-decade career in films and television. His film career began in 1951 where he appeared in supporting roles in films like From Here to Eternity (1953), Vera Cruz (1954), and Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). In 1956, he starred in the film Marty (1955) where he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. He also achieved success on television in the comedy series McHale’s Navy (1962 – 1966). Borgnine made another film with Davis, Bunny O’Hare (1971) where the two played senior citizens who go on a crime spree.

Rod Taylor and Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds (1932 – 2016) was an American singer and movie actress. Reynolds made her film debut in 1950 in Three Little Words. Two years later she had her breakout role as Kathy Seldon in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). She appeared in many films during the 1950s including The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953), Susan Slept Here (1954), and Bundle of Joy (1956) co-starring her then-husband Eddie Fisher. In the 1960s she starred in How the West Was Won (1962), The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), The Singing Nun (1966), and Divorce American Style (1967). In 1973, she made her Broadway debut in a revival of the musical Irene. For her role in The Catered Affair, she was voted the Best Supporting Actress of the year by the National Board of Review.

Barry Fitzgerald (1888 – 1961) was an Irish stage, film, and television actor. He appeared in many notable films over four decades including Bringing Up  Baby (1938), How Green Was My Valley (1941), Going My Way (1944), None but the Lonely Heart (1944), and The Quiet Man (1952). He was a member of the Abbey Theatre and made his film debut in Juno and the Paycock (1930) directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Rod Taylor (1930 – 2015) was an Australian actor who appeared in over 50 feature film including The Time Machine (1960), The Birds (1963), Sunday in  New York (1963), 36 Hours (1965), The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), and Hotel (1967). Taylor was approached to play James Bond but turned the offer down, something he regretted. Taylor starred in the television series Hong Kong (1961) and Bearcats! (1971), and The Oregon Trail (1976). Taylor’s last film role was a cameo in Inglourious Basterds (2009) where he played Winston Churchill.


The Catered Affair trivia:

  • Ernest Borgnine was 39 when the film was released, just 15 years older than Debbie Reynolds who played his daughter. Bette Davis was 48 and played Borgnine’s wife.
  • The $8,000 for the cost of a New York City taxi medallion is equivalent to about $70,000 today.
  • Rod Taylor was cast in the film after his impressive screen test for the lead role in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). Paul Newman won the role, but Taylor’s Brooklyn accent during the test impressed the folks at M-G-M that they signed Taylor to a long-term contract. The Catered Affair was Taylor’s first film under this contract.
  • Debbie Reynolds said that director Richard Brooks treated her badly on the set, even slapping her once in front of the cast and crew.

To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.

To join us for a discussion on Zoom on February 2, 2021, at 6:30 p.m., click on the link. Once you RSVP, you’ll get a link to the discussion.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What did you think of the film overall? Could you relate to it?
  2. This film features Bette Davis in a character role. Was she convincing as a middle-class housewife?
  3. The cast included Debbie Reynolds in an early dramatic role. What did you think of her performance?
  4. Ernest Borgnine was at the height of his career when he made this film; do you think he was believable as a New York City cab driver?
  5. Were there other performances worth noting?

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