Monday, January 17, 2011

Good night, Susannah

Susannah York, who died Saturday from advanced bone marrow cancer just six days after her 72nd birthday, always seemed to me to be one of the more accessible British actresses who gained fame during the 1960s. She came across not so much as a big screen goddess, but as the girl I sat behind in high school English class.

She wasn't, of course. She was one of the most under-appreciated and under utilized actresses of her time. She was also like a mini Haley's Comet in the '60s, appearing before my eyes in wonderful performances once every three years of that decade. The first time I remember seeing her was in 1960 opposite Alec Guinness and John Mills in Tunes of Glory. Three years later she really captured my heart as Sophie Weston in the Oscar-winning Tom Jones. Three years later she was in yet another film that won the Oscar for best picture, A Man for All Seasons, and she topped it all off in 1969 with her Oscar-nominated performance in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Of that nomination she declared it offended her because she wasn't asked to be nominated beforehand. She was named best actress at the 1972 (yet another three-year interval) Cannes Film Festival for Images, possibly the only Robert Altman film I have never seen. Unfortunately, most people today probably remember her, if they remember her at all, for playing Superman's mother in Superman, Superman II and Superman IV: Quest for Peace.

Those are not all her credits, of course, and I have not even mentioned her stage career or the fact that she wrote two children's novels. It's just that when I learned she had died, I felt saddened by the fact that I had lost my Sophie.

1 comment:

Phyllis Dietrichson said...

You are so right about her being unappreciated. She was superb in 1978's "The Silent Partner," which had an excellent screenplay by Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential"). And she was charming in what could have been a merely decorative role in "Kaleidoscope," a curious 1966 Warren Beatty caper.