Former Gifted children, take note—Beth Grant actually got into a North Carolina school for the gifted, which turns out to have been a thing that was possible for her to do. And despite decades of being told that you are Not Living Up To Your Potential, you can take some comfort in the awareness that she is now one of the most distinctive female Hey It’s That Guys in the business, even though she was clearly smart enough to [do thing you think is a better use of her intelligence]. If you can see her in something and not say, “Oh, her!” you are very different from most of my friends. Is that living up to her potential? Who cares? She doesn’t have to answer that question, and neither do you.
With Beth Grant, we are actually asking ourselves the question of if we noticed her before she played Loretta in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. I know I saw her before then. At very least, I know I saw Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael, even if I remember essentially nothing about it. I know I saw some of the shows she did, but I don’t know if I saw the episodes she was in—and I didn’t even realize The Outsiders the TV show existed. I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t. Shows where I’m sure I saw her in them are all later. There aren’t enormous amounts of those, either.
From what I’ve seen, the thing she does best is play surly, repressed women. She, like many great character actresses, has a face that is strong rather than beautiful, and she’s quite good at making it sour. She’s also good at making her voice harsh, which I don’t think it naturally is. I know basically nothing about her personality other than that it fits well enough with Michael Chieffo (who shockingly doesn’t have a Wikipedia page) to have been married to him since 1985; their daughter is on Star Trek: Discovery.
I have this little fantasy where people like this get cast as romantic leads or so forth. Wouldn’t that be interesting? Instead of Beth Grant’s being a project for the main character, or an obstacle to be overcome, cast her as the lead, whatever movie you choose to put her in. I’ve just talked myself into wanting to see her as a Mary Worth in a zany self-parodic adaptation of the newspaper strip—certainly Mary can be as surly and repressed as any other role you’ve seen Grant in.
Grant has been in three Best Picture-winning films, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Okay, so there’s the rest of her career, which is as uneven as any character actress is going to have. But it’s clear that the problems with her movies, when there are problems with her movies, are not from her. She’s a fine, solid actress, and for all I know she’s perfectly content in the work she’s doing. I’d like to hope she is. You’d like to hope anyone you’re thinking about who isn’t terrible is content in the work they’re doing, whether they’re Living Up To Their Potential or not.