Thursday, March 17, 2016

An Interview with Audrey Dalton on Olivia & Joan, Bob Hope, and William Castle

Born in Dublin in 1934, the beautiful and talented Audrey Dalton fashioned a film and television career that spanned three decades. In the 1950s, she acted alongside screen legends such as Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton (My Cousin Rachel), Bob Hope (Casanova's Big Night), Barbara Stanwyck (Titanic), and Alan Ladd (Drum Beat). She also starred in cult film favorites The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) and Mr. Sardonicus (1961). In the 1960s, she was a frequent guest star in classic television series such as Wagon Train, Thriller, Perry Mason, and Gunsmoke. Ms. Dalton recently appeared at the Williamsburg Film Festival in Williamsburg, Virginia, and graciously agreed to an interview.

Café:  How did you get into acting?

Audrey Dalton at the 2016
Williamsburg Film Festival.
Audrey Dalton:  I had always wanted to ever since I was very little. I was fortunate enough that my family moved to London when I was 16. I later auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and was admitted. I was trained there and, while still at the Academy, a scout from Paramount Pictures saw me in a theater production. That led to an audition for a film in Hollywood. I came over for six months...and here I am. I'm not going to tell you how many years later (laughs).

Café:  So you had a contract with Paramount?

AD:  I was on contract to them for two years. I did loan-outs to Fox and then I became a free agent--not under contract anymore.

Café:  One of your first film roles was My Cousin Rachel. What was it like starring opposite Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton?

Audrey Dalton and Richard Burton.
AD:  Olivia de Havilland--I was awestruck. It was Richard Burton's first movie in Hollywood. He was a character, such a raconteur. He'd talk and talk. I think he was a little intimidated by Olivia de Havilland, too. She was always so gracious for a major star. It was Richard Burton's first film and he had trouble shooting, as we do, in segments. He wanted to do the whole scene. He didn't like to do it again for different shots and different cuts. But he learned to do it. I saw My Cousin Rachel for the first time in about 30 years just the other night on television. I sat and watched it when I should have been packing to come here. It was a good movie and Richard Burton's performance was wonderful--all that fire and energy and with that wonderful speaking voice.

Café:  His character should have stuck with you instead of Rachel.

AD:  Well, who knows what might happened later after Rachel died? It was all shot on Twentieth Century-Fox's backlot except for the ocean scenes, on what is now Century City. If you have been in Beverly Hills, that's a huge shopping center. So, the place where I shot Titanic and My Cousin Rachel is now all buildings and hotels.

Café:  You starred with Olivia's sister, Joan Fontaine, in Casanova's Big Night. Did you get a feel for the relationship between the sisters? I have read where it was very cool.

AD:  I have heard that, too. But the subject never came up. Those were the kinds of things you didn't talk about. They were so different, in looks and personalities. Joan was very effervescent and a great match for Bob Hope. They just traded barbs all the time and laughed and joked.

Café:  What was it like playing in a Bob Hope comedy?

AD:  It was fun. On the set, he always had the same group of small-part players with him. He knew all these people and would make sure that they were included somewhere in his movie so they always had a job. He took care of people. He was very, very sweet. In fact, when I first came here, I was 18 and on my own. He had a son and a daughter, who were a little younger than me by a couple of years. On Sunday evenings, he would sometime take me to dinner with his wife. They would come pick me and take me to dinner because they figured I needed a little looking after. He and Dolores were kindness itself.

Café:  Did Bob Hope stick with the script when filming?

AD:  Oh, no! He drove the writers and the director crazy. He kept twisting lines to try to make them funnier. He would say "gon-dole-la" instead of "gondola," which the writers wanted him to say. It goes back and forth a bit in the movie.

Café:  How well did you get along with Alan Ladd on Drum Beat?

With Alan Ladd in Drum Beat (1954).
AD:  Alan Ladd was wonderful to work with--very professional. He was very quiet off the set, very much a gentleman. I knew his family in Los Angeles. My father had known Alan because they were both into race horses. When I came here, Alan was asked to keep an eye on me. He took me into his family. He had a daughter who was a student at UCLA and she and I became good friends. We're still friends.

Café:  Delmer Daves is one of my favorite 1950s film directors. How would you describe his working style as a director on Drum Beat?

AD:  He was very tall and gregarious. He had a wonderful background of stories. He knew every day what he was going to shoot and he coaxed and pulled to get people to do what he wanted. He was very upbeat, never down, and always smiling. The world was wonderful. I was so sad when I heard that he had passed away.

Café:  The Monster That Challenged the World has become a well-regarded science fiction film of the 1950s. What was your initial impression when you read the script?

That's not Audrey on the poster!
AD:  I was puzzled by it. I was a working actor. I believed that was my job and you did your job. In those days, I was not picking and choosing. I never really did, unless it was offensive or something I didn't want to do. I thought it was a very interesting experience--as all my movies were in different ways. The director, Arnold Laven, had formed a production company with Jules Levy and Arthur Gardner. The monster stuff was fun, crouching behind a desk with a monster breaking down the wall. But you had to play it very straight. Once you start seeing the funny side of it, it doesn't work. Tim Holt had come out of retirement to do this movie. He was a quiet, very nice man--the most "unactor" actor that I ever worked with. The film's poster features a woman in a bathing suit. People think it's me, but it was the actress whose character was drowned in the opening sequence. She's pulled into the water by the monster. We shot down on the beach for that. I think the rest of it was filmed along the California Aqueduct.

Café:  You and Jacqueline Scott both worked with William Castle on different films. What was it like working with William Castle on Mr. Sardonicus?

Dalton in Mr. Sardonicus.
AD:  William Castle loved those kinds of movies. He got such a kick out of enticing the audience. He would literally giggle and laugh. I even have shots at home of him in the torture chamber of Baron Sardonicus. One of the devices was called an iron maiden, which was like a sarcophagus tomb standing on end. But when you opened it, it had all these nails sticking out. I have a picture of William Castle going into it. Oscar Homolka was the butler and had this face that he could pull in five different directions and he'd threaten young maidens. The clothes, especially the gowns, were beautiful. I had a very good time making that movie.

Café:  You've appeared in a number of fine films and classic TV series. What are some of your favorite roles?

AD:  Usually, I loved the one I was in at the time...which is not giving you an answer. I loved going back to Wagon Train, because I knew everybody. I think I did eight episodes of Wagon Train. There was one where I had to sing an aria from La Traviata. I am one of those people who has been blessed with not having a voice to sing with...at all. I can't carry two notes. I needed to be singing this aria. So, the studio gave me a recording of it and I had to learn it by rote so you could see the throat muscles work during the scene. Later on, of course, they substituted a singing voice for mine. But the poor crew had to listen to me sing it on the set. They deserved some extra money for having to put up with the awful screeching.

Café:  I recently saw one of your Wagon Train episodes. It was one where you fell in love with a man who may have been John Wilkes Booth. We never know for sure.

AD:  I also remember "The Liam Fitzmorgan Story" episode, which had an Irish feel to it.

Café:  Can you still do an Irish accent?

Audrey Dalton and her daughter Tara.
AD:  Well, it's not too hard (spoken in an Irish accent). In fact, if I'm talking on the phone to people at home, it comes without even trying.

Café:  When people come up to you at conventions like this, are there one or two roles that they ask you about the most?

AD:  Titanic (1953) is a big one. People are interested in it and, of course, the Westerns. One of my favorites was a Bonanza episode with Mercedes McCambridge (1962's "The Lady from Baltimore"). I was trying to marry Little Joe and big brother knew what I was up to.

Café:  Were you bad?

AD:  Oh, I was bad! And with a scheming mother.

Café:  Do you have any upcoming projects you'd like to share with our readers?

AD:  I enjoy events like this and do them every once in awhile. We have great grandchildren now and I love to take care of them. My life is more domestic now.

10 comments:

  1. Rick, great interview. I love Ms. Dalton's revelations on Burton's problems with his first film, that is, about not understanding the film process of doing takes and having to stop and then do it again. The interview also reminds me I have not seen "Casanova's Big Night" in a long time and I love Bob Hope. Got to find a copy.

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  2. What a wonderful way to start St. Patrick's Day. I adore catching Ms. Dalton in my classic TV watching, and the interview is a genuine treat.

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  3. Wonderful interview. She seems so sweet,just like many of her screen characters, and her anecdotes are great. Just saw her in "My Cousin Rachel" last week and she was so good in a rather underwritten role. She seemed to have very good rapport with Richard Burton, if anything better than Olivia de Havilland, so I understand the question about getting together with Burton in the movie.

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  4. The exquisite Audrey Dalton from Dublin! Could there be a more perfect post for St. Patrick's Day? What a lovely lady and a forthright interviewee. I absolutely adore the black and white picture you posted and loved seeing her photo with her beautiful daughter, too. Rick, you are an excellent interviewer. Thanks for sharing your time with Miss Dalton!

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  5. I remember the "Wagon Train" opera singer episode! I would have liked to have heard about being in "Separate Tables." That was an amazing cast.

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  6. Lovely interview! Thanks for sharing this conversation with Audrey Dalton. :-) Christy

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  7. What a delightful interview! Such a gracious person, with wonderful things to say about those with whom she worked. Loved the things she said about Bob Hope and Alan Ladd.

    Nice job, Rick!

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  8. Nice interview, great to hear about her working with all those different people though I'm disappointed their was only the most glancing reference to "Titanic". That's my favorite of her films, would loved to have heard her impressions of not only Barbara Stanwyck & Clifton Webb but the logistics of filming.

    That aside a fascinating read.

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  9. Before we knew who Grace Kelly or Barbara Stanwyck were, we were familiar with the name of Audrey Dalton...thanks to Casanova's Big Night ( a childhood favorite ). This was a very entertaining interview to read. Ms.Dalton is such a beautiful and talented actress and is such a joy to watch onscreen, even if she can't sing a note!

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  10. Audrey Dalton! Gee. She was such a pretty girl, and very poised. I'm glad you got the interview. I'm glad she was amenable to talking. Gee.

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