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Zachary Scott

Zachary Scott: Hollywood's Sophisticated Cad

Ronald L. Davis
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 256
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    Zachary Scott
    Book Description:

    Throughout the 1940s, Zachary Scott (1914-1965) was the model for sophisticated, debonair villains in American film. His best-known roles include a mysterious criminal in The Mask of Dimitrios and the indolent husband in Mildred Pierce. He garnered further acclaim for his portrayal of villains in Her Kind of Man, Danger Signal, and South of St. Louis. Although he earned critical praise for his performance as a heroic tenant farmer in Jean Renoir's The Southerner, Scott never quite escaped typecasting.

    In Zachary Scott: Hollywood's Sophisticated Cad, Ronald L. Davis writes an appealing biography of the film star. Scott grew up in privileged circumstances--his father was a distinguished physician; his grandfather was a pioneer cattle baron--and was expected to follow his father into medical practice. Instead, Scott began to pursue a career in theater while studying at the University of Texas and subsequently worked his way on a ship to England to pursue acting. Upon his return to America, he began to look for work in New York.

    Excelling on stage and screen throughout the 1940s, Scott seemed destined for stardom. By the end of 1950, however, he had suffered through a turbulent divorce. A rafting accident left him badly shaken and clinically depressed. His frustration over his roles mounted, and he began to drink heavily. He remarried and spent the rest of his career concentrating on stage and television work. Although Scott continued to perform occasionally in films, he never reclaimed the level of stardom that he had in the mid-1940s.

    To reconstruct Scott's life, Davis uses interviews with Scott and colleagues and reviews, articles, and archival correspondence from the Scott papers at the University of Texas and from the Warner Brothers Archives. The result is a portrait of a talented actor who was rarely allowed to show his versatility on the screen.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-912-9
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-2)
    Ronald L. Davis
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-7)

    The film’s titles, successively washed away by an ebbing tide and backed by Max Steiner’s searing score, have no more than run on the screen when an establishing night shot of a swanky beach house appears. From inside the cottage six shots ring out. A sudden cut to the interior reveals a stylish man dressed in a tuxedo clutching his chest after receiving a blast from the revolver. His handsome face registers shock and anguish as he crumples to the floor and with a dying gasp pleads, “Mildred!” It seems to be a cry for help, yet the name is...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Born into Wealth and Privilege
    (pp. 8-26)

    Zachary Scott not only grew up with money, but he came from American aristocracy on both sides of his family. Dr. Zachary Thomson Scott, the actor’s father, for nearly half a century was a prominent Texas physician and surgeon—a member of the consulting staff of Johns Hopkins Medical Center, president of the National Tuberculosis Association, and one of the founders of the Texas Tuberculosis Association. His ancestors came from Llangollen in northern Wales and settled near Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1694, receiving a land grant from the British crown in 1728. Elizabeth Washington, George Washington’s only surviving sister, married Colonel...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Early College and England
    (pp. 27-49)

    During his adolescent years Zach never considered going to any college other than the University of Texas. He enjoyed his hometown and loved his family far too much to think of leaving Austin. Dr. Scott still held hopes that his son would ultimately decide to prepare himself for medical school, but Zach said he couldn’t bear to watch people suffer. When he entered the University of Texas as a freshman in the fall of 1931, young Scott still talked about becoming a lawyer and began a general curriculum leading to a bachelor of arts degree. He pledged Phi Delta Theta...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Marriage, Graduation, and Summer Stock
    (pp. 50-68)

    Zach returned to Austin in December 1934 to find that friends viewed him as the hometown boy made good. Frequent articles had appeared in the Austin Statesman touting his success on the British stage. His performance in Death Takes a Holiday was reported by the local press to have been “an artistic and sympathetic interpretation of a difficult role.” From England, Zach was quoted as saying, “I’m doing something from morning till night that I thoroughly enjoy. . . . My Shakespeare is rotten, but I’m going to work on it.”

    He arrived from New York by bus and surprised...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Broadway and First Films
    (pp. 69-94)

    Shortly before Mary Lewis’s wedding, Elaine played a small role in Suzanna and the Elders on Broadway. The critics gave the show bad reviews, and by the end of the first week audiences had dwindled so sharply that the smaller parts in the play were written out to cut expenses and one whole scene was omitted to reduce the crew needed. Elaine was among those eliminated. Meanwhile Zach waited to hear if he had gotten a part in Gilbert Miller’s production of Molnár’s Delicate Story that was to star British actress Edna Best. Miller had heard Zach read twice and...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Warner Bros. Contract Player
    (pp. 95-132)

    Zach returned to Warner Bros. in late 1944 with high hopes, for he had been cast in Mildred Pierce, an A picture that would return Joan Crawford to the screen after a two-year absence and win the actress an Academy Award. The studio had paid fifteen thousand dollars for the rights to film James Cain’s 1941 novel, planning to make the picture as a vehicle for Bette Davis. But there were major problems in getting the script approved by the censors. The sordid, unsavory doings of the characters, including Mildred, in the book were unacceptable by 1940s standards. To get...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Changing Partners and Directions
    (pp. 133-165)

    A few months after his parents returned to Texas from their visit to California in January 1949, Zach started work on Guilty Bystander for Film Classics, his fourth and final film with Faye Emerson. Scott had a financial investment in the movie, but Warner Bros. was not pleased that he planned to make the outside picture and considered it “an improper” request when the actor asked the studio for a three-month release from his services. To add to Warners’ irritation, Zach wanted an advance of five thousand dollars in the middle of his absence to take care of “certain personal...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Gentleman Actor
    (pp. 166-191)

    In March 1956 Zach undertook a project vastly different from anything he had done before. He agreed to play the king in a New York City Center revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s landmark musical The King and I. It was a daring move, since Yul Brynner’s powerful interpretation of the role, both on Broadway and during a national tour, was still riveted in the public’s mind. “I am busy preparing for The King and I,” Scott wrote his father, “and singing lessons and rehearsals and publicity are taking all my time—with studying as well.” Zach had never done a...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Early Death
    (pp. 192-202)

    In the summer of 1964 Zach enjoyed his last hurrah in the theater when he undertook a fourteen-week tour of the Alan Jay Lerner–Frederick Loewe musical My Fair Lady. In preparation for the challenging show, based on Shaw’s Pygmalion, the actor intensified his voice lessons, studying with Howard Ross and Keith Davis, and searched for ways to make the role of Professor Henry Higgins, the play’s self-absorbed central character, his own. Scott earned $ 1,600 a week for heading the production, and the company played the Camden County Music Fair in Haddonfield, New Jersey, the Westbury Music Fair on...

  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 203-220)

    The Zachary Scott papers, housed in the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, offer a wealth of information on the actor’s life and career. Consisting of seventy-eight boxes, the collection includes family and professional correspondence, reviews of Scott’s films and plays, contracts and business records, photographs, most of the actor’s library, and a log from his voyage to England in 1934. Miscellaneous data in the Scott papers range from birth certificates to school report cards and notes of condolence to the family upon the actor’s death. Clipping files in the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy...

    (pp. 221-224)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 225-238)