It must be hard to parent in Hollywood. For one thing, it’s a job where you’re likely to be taken away and made to work long, exhausting hours in other states or even countries. You’re constantly in the public eye. It’s probably worse for women, too, because of course the expectations are higher on mothers than fathers. A father can leave the kids with their mom for months and that’s just how things have been with fathers. Mothers get shamed for leaving their kids with their father for a few hours, and it gets called “babysitting.” So while I don’t know how much her son’s characterization of Mercedes McCambridge’s parenting corresponds with reality, I also don’t know how much it stems from trying to parent in show business.
She got her start in radio. She did some Broadway, but she did enough radio to make that actually easier to research. Which, as we’ve talked about, is a lot of radio. I mean, this is not just being a member of the Mercury Theatre. Orson Welles called her the greatest living radio actress. (One wonders how many dead ones he was thinking of, all things considered.) She was on the original radio version of Guiding Light. She was the title defense attorney on Defense Attorney. She did CBS Mystery Theater. All in all, she did more than a dozen radio shows, several of them for years.
This is where I admit that I’m not sure I’ve heard her radio acting. Possibly. She’s done enough so that it’s hard to be sure. But also, of course, radio dramas aren’t easily accessible these days. I like that the Criterion Collection will sometimes include episodes of what’s usually Lux Radio Theatre on their discs, if there was a radio adaptation of the movie, but while there are websites dedicated to old-time radio, it feels like people who might consider listening to them are listening to podcasts instead.
But she did do a certain amount of not-radio work. Some TV, including two episodes of Lux Video Theatre, but little of note. Conversely, while she wasn’t one of the Mercury Players who went to Hollywood and made Citizen Kane, she did work with Welles—though I’m not sure she shared a scene with him—in Touch of Evil. She was in The Other Side of the Wind, which I still haven’t gotten around to, and Suddenly, Last Summer, which I have but don’t remember clearly. I have seen her Oscar-winning debut in All the King’s Men, but I have to admit it’s one of those movies that has aged poorly and makes you question the Academy’s taste. And of course Johnny Guitar.
Yes, and The Exorcist. Which she was promised she’d be credited on and originally wasn’t. Director William Friedkin claims she initially insisted she didn’t want credit because it would take away from Linda Blair. So, you know, believe who you want. Either way, she’s credited now, at her own insistence. Though it does have an “acting, dear boy” feel, because not only did she drink whiskey and smoke and things to get her voice rougher, but she was actually tied up during recording so she sounded like she was struggling against restraints. Can anyone hear that when they watch the movie?