I had an early crush on her, mostly because of early TV appearances in such series as The Immortal, Then Came Bronson, Mission Impossible and Alias Smith and Jones, to name a few. And mostly from Play Misty For Me.
I had a suspicion that she had made a film with George Segal, and lo and behold, they'd made the Sidney Lumet film Bye Bye Braverman in 1968 together. Too strange that they died within days of each other.
After four years doing guest spots on television, Jessica Walter made her feature film debut in 1964’s LILITH. In the drama, “Vincent Bruce” (Warren Beatty), a young Korean War veteran, returns to his Maryland hometown and begins working as an occupational therapist at a nearby mental institution for the wealthy. There he meets the beautiful “Lilith Arthur” (Jean Seberg), who lives in a secret world of her own creation, and he falls in love with her. Vincent also visits his former flame, “Laura” (Jessica Walter), who is worn from marriage to a boor (Gene Hackman).
Jessica Walter in LILITH
Because of her early work in Britain and France, particularly her lead role in Jean-Luc Godard’s BREATHLESS (1960), Jean Seberg is often thought of as a French actress. But she was born in Iowa of Swedish, English, and German ancestry. She regarded LILTH as her favorite film.
Robert Rossen directed the film, his last. Kenyon Hopkins’ score was released on a Colpix LP, but has not been re-issued on CD. The film generated weak box office of $2.4 million.
Jessica Walter had her first regular series television role in “For the People”, a legal drama that starred William Shatner as assistant district attorney “David Koster.” The show also featured Howard Da Silva as “Anthony Celese,” a district attorney and Koster's boss; Lonny Chapman as “Frank Malloy,” a police detective; and Jessica Walter as “Phyllis Koster,” David's wife.
William Shatner and Jessica Walter in “For the People”
CBS premiered the series on Sunday, 31 January 1965 at 9 PM, as a mid-season replacement for two cancelled sitcoms—“My Living Doll” and “The Joey Bishop Show.” The show went up against “The ABC Sunday Night Movie” and, unfortunately, the number one show on television, NBC’s “Bonanza.” “For the People” couldn’t compete and was cancelled after 13 episodes.
In June 1933, eight young women, who are close friends and members of the upper-class group at South Tower College, graduate and start their adult lives. THE GROUP documents the years between their graduation and the beginning of the Second World War in Europe, and shows, in a serialized style, their romances and marriages, their searches for careers or meaning in their lives, their highs and their lows. “Libby” (Jessica Walter), attractive and the most ambitious of the group, plunges into New York's literary set and rapidly achieves professional success, but is frigid and a personal failure. Candice Bergen and Hal Holbrook made their feature film debuts in THE GROUP.
Jessica Walter in THE GROUP
THE GROUP is based on the 1963 novel by Mary McCarthy, which stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for almost two years. There was a longstanding rumor that producer Charles Feldman, having already bought the film rights to McCarthy's novel in advance of publication, made sure it would be a best-seller by sending employees to bookstores all over America to buy up numerous copies of it. The prestige accruing to the book allowed him and director Sidney Lumet to make the film with unknown actors and without too much interference.
Lumet agreed to direct the film purely on the basis of Sidney Buchman's screenplay, which he praised highly and to which (so he claimed) he made no alterations. He did not read Mary McCarthy's novel until later and was dismissive of it, saying the screenplay had improved upon it.
The making of this film was the subject of a long, notorious article written by critic Pauline Kael, who was present throughout the shooting and who attacked almost every aspect of the film, accusing the leading actresses of being pretentious and snobbish, the director of being incompetent and a fool, and the screenplay of being a travesty of what Mary McCarthy had written about. At no point did she address the obvious question arising from her remarks (how good was the finished film?), perhaps because she (years later) conceded that it had turned out quite well and that she had enjoyed it. The essay is included in her collection, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
With a budget of $2.6 million, THE GROUP was the most expensive film to be made in New York to that time. The film grossed $7.2 million at the box office. The score by Charles Gross has not had a release.
I seem to recall that Kael was sanguine about Walter's prospects, likening her to an old-fashioned movie star with "the restorative vitality of vulgarity."
Let's see. How have the rest of "The Group" fared? Candice Bergen, who was massively hyped even before the movie opened, had a good career in films and became a major star on series television.
Joan Hackett and Elizabeth Hartman were significant talents who died much too young. So was Shirley Knight, who was blessed with a long career and left us just last year.
Joanna Pettet, who played the central character, made a number of films and retired in her forties. Kathleen Widdoes worked for many years, chiefly in television. Mary-Robin Redd had the smallest role and made only a few movies.
GRAND PRIX told the story of four Grand Prix drivers, naturally of different nationalities -- American “Pete Aron” (James Garner), Frenchman “Jean-Pierre Sarti” (Yves Montand), Brit “Scott Stoddard” (Brian Bedford) and Italian “Nino Barlini” (Antonio Sabato), with their allegiance sworn to the different manufacturers they drive for, which includes Ferrari. They come together on race day to outperform one another, and more often, the movie focuses on their love lives, with Sarti in a budding relationship with writer “Louise” (Eva Marie Saint), Scott having to deal with an accident caused by Pete, and facing the prospect of losing his model wife “Pat” (Jessica Walter) to that same man, and Nino just being the playboy he is with his latest squeeze “Lisa” (played by French singer Francoise Hardy). Rounding up the international cast is Toshiro Mifune, who plays the Japanese businessman for whom Pete Aron drives.
James Garner and Jessica Walter in GRAND PRIX
John Frankenheimer directed this 70mm roadshow spectacle. According to Frankenheimer, the character played by Jessica Walter was based on Louise Collins, an actress who married British racing driver Peter Collins, who was killed on the track in 1958, only one year after their wedding.
All the shooting was done at speed. Frankenheimer refused to film cars moving slowly, then speed the film up. He felt the average moviegoer would be able to notice the difference. During filming, Yves Montand spun out and subsequently was terrified to go fast again. The crew modified a racecar that was then towed behind a Ford GT40. This setup would reach speeds of 130 mph. Montand was more comfortable with this setup than with having to drive the car himself.
The opening sequence with all the closeups of the car parts and the multi-image montages was shot and edited by Saul Bass. Maurice Jarre’s score was released on an MGM LP, which was re-issued on CD by Chapter III in 2000. Film Score Monthly released the complete score in 2008. GRAND PRIX was the #8 film at the U.S. box office in 1966, with a $23.8 million gross.
BYE BYE BRAVERMAN was based on the 1964 novel “To an Early Grave” by Wallace Markfield. After Braverman, an idealistic minor author, dies, his four best friends, writers who in one way or another have all sold out, decide to attend his funeral. The foursome includes “Morroe Rieff” (George Segal), a disenchanted magazine writer; poet “Barnet Weinstein” (Jack Warden); book reviewer “Holly Levine” (Sorrell Booke); and embittered bellyacher “Felix Ottensteen” (Joseph Wiseman). Jessica Walter plays Braverman’s widow, “Inez.”
Barbara Walter in BYE BYE BRAVERMAN
Sidney Lumet directed this 1968 bittersweet comedy, which had an unreleased score by Peter Matz. The film did minimal box office, grossing just $2 million domestically.
NUMBER ONE told the story of “Ron ‘Cat’ Catlan” (Charlton Heston), a washed-up quarterback who turns to drink and women to solve his problems. But he soon discovers that his problems are just beginning. Jessica Walter co-starred as his wife, “Julie Catlan.”
Charlton Heston originally planned to make this film with Franklin Schaffner, who had directed him in PLANET OF THE APES. But when Schaffner instead signed to direct PATTON, Heston turned to Tom Gries, with whom he had recently worked on WILL PENNY. The 1969 drama has an unreleased score by Dominic Frontiere. The film didn’t win at the box office, grossing just $2.9 million. NUMBER ONE never had a foreign release, due to international disinterest in American football.
In PLAY MISTY FOR ME, the life of disc jockey “Dave Garver” (Clint Eastwood) is turned upside down after a romantic encounter with an obsessed fan, “Evelyn Draper” (Jessica Walter). Soon, “Tobie Williams” (Donna Mills), Dave’s former girlfriend, is imperiled.
Jessica Walter and Clint Eastwood in PLAY MISTY FOR ME
In addition to producing and supplying the services of Eastwood as an actor, Eastwood’s Malpaso Company was responsible for casting the two leading actresses and other major roles. Universal Pictures originally wanted Lee Remick cast in the role of Evelyn, but Eastwood had been impressed with Jessica Walter's performance in Sidney Lumet's film THE GROUP (1966) and cast her instead.
Eastwood made his directorial debut with PLAY MISTY FOR ME. The screenplay, which was originally set in San Francisco, was rewritten by Dean Reisner at Eastwood’s request, and the location was changed to Carmel, California, where Eastwood lived, so that he could easily scout filming sites.
Over the years, Jessica Walter contributed to multiple pieces about Clint Eastwood in which she praised him enthusiastically. However, the late Sondra Locke noted in her autobiography that when she talked with Walter at a party in 1971 right after this film was made, "she spoke in measured tones about Clint, and I got the distinct impression that she did not view him as a very generous actor or human being for that matter." (Of course, Eastwood and Locke had their own issues over the years.)
Dee Barton provided the unreleased score for the 1971 release. Despite the title of the film, Eastwood stated that Universal originally wanted him to use the song “Strangers in the Night” instead of Erroll Garner’s rendition of his instrumental “Misty,” but Eastwood felt that “Misty” was more appropriate, even though obtaining its rights was difficult. Eastwood noted that it cost $25,000 to purchase the rights to Garner's composition, and that at Eastwood's request, Garner re-recorded a new version of the song, adding string instruments, which was played at the end of the picture. Eastwood also insisted on the inclusion of the song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” sung by Roberta Flack, which is heard over a montage of Dave and Tobie Williams spending a romantic day together. Although the song initially had been released in 1969 to lackluster sales, after the film opened, the song became a major hit and helped to promote Flack’s career.
Eastwood accepted the minimum Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild wages, and instead took a percentage of the gross, in order to persuade Universal to provide funding for the film, which was budgeted at $1.2 million. PLAY MISTY FOR ME ended up among the top 40 films of the year at the U.S. box office, with a $10.6 million gross. Jessica Walter was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as “Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.” She lost to Jane Fonda for KLUTE.
In THEY CALL IT MURDER, small-town district attorney “Doug Selby” (Jim Hutton) is saddled with several major investigations, including the swimming pool murder of a gambler and a possible insurance scam. Leslie Nielsen is “Frank Antrim,” a wheelchair bound millionaire, and Jessica Walter is his wife “Jane”, the daughter of the man in the pool.
Walter Grauman directed this made-for-television film, which was based on a character created by Erle Stanley Gardner. The film was shot in 1969, possibly as a pilot for a series, but was not broadcast until it aired on NBC on 17 December 1971. Robert Drasnin provided the unreleased score.
In HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, an ailing “Benjamin Morgan” (Walter Brennan) summons his four daughters—“Christine” (Sally Field), “Joanna” (Jill Haworth), “Frederica” (Jessica Walter) and “Alex” (Eleanor Parker)—home for Christmas and asks them to kill his much younger wife, “Elizabeth Hall Morgan” (Julie Harris), whom he suspects is trying to poison him.
Sally Field, Jill Haworth, Jessica Walter, and Eleanor Parker in HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
The film marked Walter Brennan’s final television appearance. John Llewellyn Moxey directed the film from a Joseph Stefano script. George Aliceson Tipton provided the unreleased score. The film aired on ABC on 28 November 1972.
Two HURRICANE hunters, “Paul Damon” (Larry Hagman) and “Major Stoddard” (Martin Milner) track a huge, violent hurricane that is bearing down on a Gulf Coast town. Jessica Walter plays Paul’s wife “Louise” in this made-for-television film, which aired on ABC on 10 September 1974. Jerry Jameson directed the film, which had an unreleased score by Vic Mizzy.
In late 1976 and early 1977, two U.S. television films, airing within 4 weeks of one another, told the story of the hijacking of Air France Flight 139 on 27 June 1976 from Athens, and the subsequent Israeli mission to rescue the hostages from the airport terminal at Entebbe in Uganda. Each of the films played in a 3-hour slot.
The first of these films was the David L. Wolper production of VICTORY AT ENTEBBE. The film boasted an all-star cast, which included Helmut Berger, Theodore Bikel, Richard Dreyfuss, Helen Hayes, Anthony Hopkins, and Burt Lancaster. Julius Harris played Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, replacing Godfrey Cambridge, who had died during production. Kirk Douglas played “Hershel Vilnofsky,” a man who is at home in Israel with his wife “Edra” (Elizabeth Taylor) when he hears that his daughter “Chana” (Linda Blair) is on the hijacked plane. Allan Miller and Jessica Walter were “Nathan and Nomi Haroun,” a couple on the ill-fated flight. This was the sixth of seven films that Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster made together.
Allan Miller, Jessica Walter, Helen Hayes, and David Groh in VICTORY AT ENTEBBE
Marvin J. Chomsky directed the film, and it was scored by Charles Fox. The film aired on ABC on 13 December 1976. In order to beat its competition on air, VICTORY AT ENTEBBE was rushed through production, being videotaped instead of filmed. It was later converted to film by Warner Bros. for subsequent theatrical showings overseas.
In BLACK MARKET BABY, young college girl “Anne Macarino” (Linda Purl) becomes pregnant, and she and the baby's father (Desi Arnaz, Jr.) are targeted by a black-market adoption ring that is out to get the baby. David Doyle and Jessica Walter play “Joseph and Louise Carmino.” Robert Day directed the made-for-television film, which aired on ABC on 7 October 1977. Richard Bellis and George Wilkins provided the unreleased score.
From other dimensions, demons dispatch the sorceress “Morgan LeFay” (Jessica Walter) to Earth to eliminate the aging supreme sorcerer “Thomas Lindmer” (John Mills) and his intended successor. In New York City, Morgan possesses the body of psychology student “Clea Lake” (Anne-Marie Martin). She makes Clea push Lindmer off a bridge, although he survives the fall. A frightened and confused Clea is taken to the hospital where she is assessed by psychologist DR. STRANGE. Dr. Strange (Peter Hooten) is Lindmer’s intended successor, although is not aware of this. Lindmer then visits Dr. Strange and introduces him to the world of sorcerous arts.
Jessica Walter in DR. STRANGE
Philip DeGuere Jr. wrote and directed the film, based upon the comic and character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The film aired on CBS on 6 September 1978. Paul Chihara provided the unreleased score.
In SECRETS OF THREE HUNGRY WIVES, when a millionaire playboy is murdered, suspicion falls on three married women, each of whom had an affair with him. They are: “Christina Wood” (Jessica Walter), “Karen McClure” (Gretchen Corbett), and “Lynn Briskin” (Heather MacRae). Gordon Hessler directed this made-for-television mystery, which aired on NBC on 9 October 1978. Johnny Parker provided the unreleased score.