Barbara Loden in 1958.
July 8, 1932|
Marion, North Carolina, U.S.
|Died||September 5, 1980
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Breast cancer|
(m. 1968; her death 1980)
|Awards||Tony award for Best Featured Actress in a Play - After the Fall, 1964
International Critics Award (as director) - Venice Film Festival, 1970
Barbara Loden (July 8, 1932 – September 5, 1980) was a Tony-award-winning American stage and film actress as well as a director of off-Broadway theater and a critically acclaimed feature film. Loden began her career at an early age in New York City as a commercial model and chorus-line dancer. She became a regular sidekick on the irreverent Ernie Kovacs Television Show and was a lifetime member of the famed Actors Studio. She appeared in several projects directed by her second husband, Elia Kazan, including Splendor in the Grass. She wrote, directed, and starred in Wanda, a groundbreaking independent film that won the International Critics Award at the 1970 Venice Film Festival.
Loden was raised by her grandparents after her parents divorced in rural Marion, North Carolina. She described her childhood as emotionally impoverished and she left home at age 16 to live in New York City. There she found modeling jobs for detective and romance magazines and danced in the chorus line of the Copacabana. At the time, she professed to hate movies, saying, "People on the screen were perfect and they made me feel inferior."
Early theater and television work
Loden made her New York theater debut in 1957 in Compulsion and also appeared on stage in The Highest Tree with Robert Redford as well as Night Circus with Ben Gazzara. She joined the cast of The Ernie Kovacs Show as a "scantily clad" sidekick to Kovacs, a job that her first husband, television producer and film distributor Larry Joachim, helped her attain. She said she owed a lot to Kovacs, as another producer on the show had initially vetoed Kovacs' decision to hire her. In interviews, Loden said "Ernie felt sorry for me" and gave her another job as a stunt sidekick, rolling around in a rug or getting hit in the face with a pie.
In 1960, Loden appeared in Elia Kazan's film Wild River as Montgomery Clift’s secretary. She was perhaps better known for her role in Splendor in the Grass (1961), in which she played Warren Beatty's sister.
She famously portrayed “Maggie”, a fictionalized version of Marilyn Monroe in Kazan's Lincoln Center Repertory Company stage production of After the Fall (1964), which was written by Monroe's former husband, playwright Arthur Miller. Loden received a Tony award for best actress for her performance in After the Fall, as well as an annual award of the Outer Circle, an organization of writers who covered Broadway for national magazines. After the Fall reviews touted that Loden was the "new Jean Harlow" and a "blonde bombshell". She married director Kazan, her second husband, in 1966.
Her acting career on film had a troubled history. Her first major screen role was to be in the Frank Perry-directed film The Swimmer, starring Burt Lancaster. However, during post-production there was a dispute about the scene between producer Sam Spiegel and the film's writer-director team, the Perrys. According to notes by screenwriter Eleanor Perry, Spiegel began showing the troubled rough-cut of the film around Hollywood, polling several of his famous film director friends about what he should do with it. Kazan was a major film director who had great influence. He had also secretly been shown a private screening of the film by his friend and producer Spiegel (producer of Kazan’s On the Waterfront), and had reportedly interfered with the final cut. Perry was ultimately fired from the film. Several of the film's scenes were re-cast and re-shot by Sidney Pollack who was hired to replace Perry and with Lancaster reportedly paying for some of the reshoots himself. Among the scenes that were entirely re-cast and re-shot was the notorious Loden scene, with Broadway stage actress Janice Rule replacing Loden. Neither Loden nor Sidney Pollack was credited on the film. All that remains of the lost scene are still photos taken on the set, which appear in the 2014 documentary The Story of The Swimmer, by Chris Innis.
While on safari with Kazan in 1966, a mutual friend, Harry Schuster, offered Loden $100,000 to make her own movie. Encouraged, she wrote the screenplay for Wanda. The story, an existential rumination on a poverty-stricken woman adrift in Pennsylvania coal country, did not attract any potential directors to the project, including Kazan. So Loden directed it herself, made in collaboration with cinematographer and editor Nicholas T. Proferes, on a meager budget of $115,000.
Wanda is a semi-autobiographical portrait of a "passive, disconnected coal miner's wife who attaches herself to a petty crook." Innovative in its cinéma vérité and improvisational style, it was one of the few American films directed by a woman to be theatrically released at that time. Film critic David Thomson wrote, "Wanda is full of unexpected moments and raw atmosphere, never settling for cliché in situation or character." The film was the only American film accepted to, and which won, the International Critics' Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1970, and was presented at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. In 2010, with support from Gucci, the film was restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and screened at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.
Although Wanda never received proper distribution, screening briefly in New York and in Universities but never nationally on the theater circuit, it was noted for its groundbreaking anti-Hollywood view of a woman adrift in the American underworld. Loden said of her title character, "She’s trying to get out of this very ugly type of existence, but she doesn’t have the equipment." — an independently minded idea for a cinematic heroine at the time, making Wanda an anti-heroine.
Loden worked on several more screenplays with Proferes that Kazan described as, "devoted to the neglected side of American life." She prepared to direct a feature about Kate Chopin's The Awakening, but she wasn't able to bring more work to the screen before her premature death at age 48.
Experimental filmmaker Marguerite Duras cited Wanda as an inspiration, particularly Loden's ability to inhabit her character onscreen, saying in an interview with Kazan, "I think that there is a miracle in Wanda. Usually there is a distance between the visual representation and the text, as well as the subject and the action. Here this distance is completely nullified; there is an instant and permanent continuity between Barbara Loden and Wanda." Duras described Lodan's performance of Wanda's "demoralization" as "sacred, powerful, violent and profound."
Kazan compared Loden's acting technique to Marlon Brando: "There was always an element of improvisation, a surprise, in what she was doing. The only one, a far as I know, who was like that is Brando when he was young. He never knew exactly what he was going to say, therefore everything would come out of his mouth very alive."
"I really hate slick pictures…. They’re too perfect to be believable. I don’t mean just in the look. I mean in the rhythm, in the cutting, the music—everything. The slicker the technique is the slicker the content becomes, until everything turns into Formica, including the people."
With its hand-held camera, anonymous locations, available lighting on 16mm (blown up to 35mm), and improvisation by a mostly amateur cast, critic Richard Brody considers Wanda to be not so much in the tone of the concurrent French New Wave, but more like the improvisational directorial work of John Cassavetes.
Although Loden was one of the very few women directors of the late 60s/early 70s, she didn't consider Wanda a feminist film at the time she was working on it, saying:
"When I made Wanda, I didn't know anything about consciousness raising or women's liberation. That had just started when the film was finished. The picture was not about women's liberation. It was really about the oppression of women, of people . . . Being a woman is unexplored territory, and we're pioneers of a sort, discovering what it means to be a woman."
Loden was described as a shy, humble, statuesque and soft-spoken loner who was born in a small town in North Carolina (Marion). She was raised by her religious maternal grandparents, after her own parents had divorced, and her mother went to another town to find work. Loden moved to New York at the age of 16 and worked her way up as a pin-up girl, model, and dancer at the famed Copacabana nightclub, before studying at the famed Actor’s Studio and becoming an actor.
After an affair while they were both married to other people, Loden married film director Elia Kazan, who was twenty-three years her senior. Though the couple had become estranged and had previously considered divorce, they were still married at the time of her death from breast cancer at the age of 48. She had one child, Leo, with Kazan. Loden had another child, Marco, by her first husband, film and television producer and film distributor, Larry Joachim, whom she had married in the 1950s.
Kazan could be contemptuous when describing his relationship with Loden. In his autobiography, Elia Kazan: A Life, he revealed his desire and lack of ability to control her. Kazan wrote about Loden "with a mix of affection and patronization, emphasizing her sexuality and her backcountry feistiness." In a "condescending" way, Kazan bemoaned that Loden had depended on her "sexual appeal" to get ahead and that he was afraid of "losing her". But Kazan was also, in his words, "protective" of Loden.
- Look After Lulu! by Noël Coward
- Night Circus with Ben Gazzara
- The Highest Tree with Robert Redford
- The Long Dream
- After the Fall – as Maggie – written by Arthur Miller, directed by Elia Kazan (*Tony award)
- Winter Journey
- The Country Girl by Clifford Odets
- Home is the Hero
- The Love Death Plays of William Inge
- Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean
- But for Whom Charlie
- The Ernie Kovacs Show (1956–57) TV series, regular
- Wild River (1960) as Betty Jackson, directed by Elia Kazan
- Splendor in the Grass (1961) as Ginny Stamper, directed by Elia Kazan
- The Boy Who Wasn’t Wanted (1962) Alcoa Premiere TV Series, as Betty Johnson
- Naked City (1962) TV series episode “Torment Him Much and Hold Him Long” as Penny Sonners
- The Glass Menagerie (1966) CBS Playhouse television production
- The Swimmer (1968) directed by Frank Perry (omitted from final cut)
- Fade In (1968) TV movie with Burt Reynolds
- Wanda (1970) writer, director, and star
- The Mike Douglas Show as herself (1971)
- The David Frost Show as herself (1971)
- The Frontier Experience (aka ‘’The Boy Who Liked Deer’’) (1975) short film, director, producer
- Cinema cinemas (TV series documentary filmed before her death) “Kazan Barbara Loden”
Awards and nominations
- After the Fall – Tony Award – Best Featured Actress
- Wanda - International Critics Award – Venice Film Festival
- The Hollywood Reporter, Barbara Loden obituary, September 8, 1980.
- "Actress dies of cancer". The Star News. September 6, 1980. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
- Acker, Ally (1991). Reel Women - Pioneers of the Cinema, 1896 to the Present. pp. 78-81. The Continuum Publishing Company, New York, NY. ISBN 0826404995.
- Garfield, David (1980). A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. p. 279 "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of January, 1980." MacMillan Publishing, New York, NY. ISBN 0025426508
- Taylor, Kate (August 29, 2010). "Driven by Fierce Visions of Independence". The New York Times. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
- Wilson, Earl (March 20, 1964). "13 Years of Plodding Turns Barbara Loden Into Star". The Toledo Blade. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
- Wilson, Earl (March 23, 1964). "Barbara Loden Shows Some Humility". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
- Longworth, Karina. (April 17, 2017). "Barbara Loden (Dead Blondes, episode 12)," You Must Remember This podcast. Retrieved on July 30, 2017.
- Chris Innis, "The Story of the Swimmer” documentary; available on the 2014 Grindhouse Releasing release of The Swimmer on Blu-ray/DVD
- “She's at Home”, The Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1966.
- Longworth, Karina. (March 17, 2011). "One-Hit Wanda", LA Weekly. Retrieved on July 30, 2017.
- Wilson, Earl (February 2, 1971). "Actress Raises $100,000". Beaver Country Times. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
- Duras, Marguerite and Kazan, Elia. (June-August, 2003). "Conversation on Wanda, Cahiers du Cinéma (excerpts from an interview in Cahiers du Cinéma, December, 1980). Retrieved on July 30, 2017.
- McCourt, Kate. "Who was Barbara Loden?", Propeller Magazine. Retrieved on July 30, 2017.
- Brody, Richard. (January 26, 2010). Wanda, The New Yorker. Retrieved on July 30, 2017.
- Burt A. Folkart, “'Dumb Blonde' Made One Brilliant Film”, The Los Angeles Times, September 8, 1980.
- Profile, imdb.com; accessed October 7, 2014.
- ”Elia Kazan: A Life” by Elia Kazan, Alfred A. Knopf, pp. 794-814 (1988); ISBN 9780394559537.
- Variety, Barbara Loden obituary, September 8, 1980.
- Reynaud, Bérénice, “For Wanda”, in The Last Great American Picture Show, Thomas Elsaesser, Alexander Horwath and Noel King, eds, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2004, pp. 223–47.
- Léger, Nathalie, Suite for Barbara Loden