Cybill’s Defining Role: Daisy Miller

DATELINE: Top-Notch Henry James

cybill Perfectly Cybill!

As mentor to the star, director, creative  force, and whiz kid, young Peter Bogdonavich took dry Henry James and made a fast-moving, emotionally-moving film of a famous novella, Daisy Miller.

You could not find a more perfect American girl than Cybill Shepherd as Daisy: unspoiled, direct, and completely at odds with social conventions in 19th century Europe.

Caught between women like her scatter-brained mother (Cloris Leachman) and an American social doyen Mrs. Walker (Eileen Brennan), Daisy does not stand a chance if she ignores or simply teases Frederick Winterbourne (brilliant young Barry Brown, too soon gone to a premature grave), an American who is a permanent resident of Europe.

Whether it’s going on a tourist trip to Byron’s famous castle without chaperone, or worse, going to the place of the viral Roman fever at the Colosseum, Daisy is hell-bent on living her way. Extraordinary location filming makes this a treat.

Winterbourne resists the notion that her scandalous behavior is anything bad. Yet, he cannot convince others in his social set—and crumbles in their heavy pressure.

Rich Americans policed themselves to try to avoid any ugly American image. Fast-talking Daisy, flirtatious and coy, breaks all the rules in her nouveau riche niche.

If Daisy learns there is a social convention, she is hell-bent on testing its merits. What she does not expect is that she will be shunned by the Americans living abroad. To a social butterfly, as Cybill Shepherd delineates to a T, this is far more damaging than she expects.

Perhaps this quintessential American girl could bear all if only Winterbourne remained on her side. He is sorely tested, and ultimately as the laconic Barry Brown narrates, he has lived too long in foreign places.

Alas, it is Brown, the actor, who is gone too soon, based on the promise of this extraordinary film performance.

 

 

 

Two Promising Stars of 1973

DATELINE:  Lost Causes

1973 stars Barry and Jan-Michael.

With some surprise, we noted that actor Jan-Michael Vincent was dead at 74. He had been a golden boy, playing the Disney star of World’s Greatest Athlete, always the derring-do hero.  He was at his pinnacle in 1973 when his adult role with Charles Bronson made people take notice in The Mechanic, wherein he played a bizarre homoerotic hitman.

He died weeks earlier, but no one bothered to release the information about his cremation—and his deterioration to amputee and drunkard. It was not a pretty picture at the end.

Almost a bookend in 1973 was another promising star who burst onto the scene. His name was Barry Brown. If Jan-Michael was golden, then Barry smoldered in swarthier looks. One director who worked with him, Peter Bogdonavich, claimed Barry was the only American actor who actually looked like he had read a book.

Brown had aspirations to edit and to write. His seminal performance was in Daisy Miller, opposite Cybill Shepard. He played Winterbourne, the oblivious intellectual. A year earlier he costarred with Jeff Bridges in Bad Company. He was in that league.

You don’t remember him because he died in 1978 of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head at his home. Who knows what demons drove him?

They were likely similar to the demons that caused Jan-Michael to indulge in a slow self-destruction, inebriated and useless, throwing his career into the garbage pail.

The promising stars of 1973 were polar opposites and similar in so many ways. They never appeared in one scene together, and they could have controlled a generation of buddy films.

We think of them at their acme often. Their great movies are watchable today and brilliant, likely owing to plot, direction, and costars, as well as their own contributions.

We might watch Daisy Miller and The Mechanic on a double-bill to toast these lost boys of the movies. Alas, it was our loss.