The Babysitting Bachelor as Aryan Avatar:
Clifton Webb in Sitting Pretty, Part 1"/>
Print this post Print this post

The Babysitting Bachelor as Aryan Avatar:
Clifton Webb in Sitting Pretty, Part 1

webb13,860 words

Part 1 of 2

“Mister City Policeman sitting
Pretty little policemen in a row . . .
Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna . . .”

–“I Am the Walrus,” Lennon/McCartney

“Even the perfect couple needs a little help.”

– Ad for Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects

For a Traditionalist living in the Kali Yuga, there’s no better example of “riding the tiger” than making use of this fancy new “moving-pictures” technology. By providing a sort-of living image of the past, they provide solace, instruction in how things went wrong, and even, perhaps, inspiration for the future.[1]

Of course, not just any old film will do. You want to avoid anything where some smart-ass director or screenwriter tries to inject his phony, usually Leftist, notions of “uplift”– you know, that whole “Barton Fink feeling.”[2]

Usually, you want a “B” picture, where the director had neither the time, nor the money, nor the talent or interest, to impose any kind of “vision.” You don’t want some Hollywood schmuck’s outdated and stupid “vision,” you want a window onto a better time, probably just what the “message” guy wanted to screw up, and in many ways has succeeded in doing so. Forget elaborate sets or FX; these guys didn’t even use the studio back lot![3]

But don’t worry; I’m not going to force you to slog through some forgotten B movie “gem” like some French cineaste or ironic hipster. The movie I caught a few weeks back on the aptly named Turner Movie Classics[4] was somewhere in the middle, a modest but respectable little picture, based on a bestselling novel, and starring name actors, including one who would receive a Best Actor nomination to add to his two Best Supporting Actor nods. It’s Sitting Pretty, starring Robert Young and Maureen O’Hara, and featuring Clifton Webb.

You’ve probably never seen or heard of it, and Clifton Webb is probably unknown as well, though you might immediately recognize him, or his voice (he was the inspiration for Mr. Peabody on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, kids), in a “oh, that guy” way. But the picture was a hit, Webb already a big Hollywood star and would continue to be until his death in the early ’60s, and that suggests it illustrates some interesting changes in our culture. Plus, there are some rather rarified Traditionalist themes in it that add a special layer of interest.

As an example of cultural distance, consider this viewer’s reaction, on the Internet Movie Data Base:

I had never seen this movie before and was curious about it. What a disappointment – there is nothing to like about it — especially Clifton Webb’s annoying portrayal of an arrogant know-it-all jerk. There is nothing funny or humorous, all it had me thinking was why he didn’t get his ass kicked and thrown out. The way he treats the kids is mean and awful and the way the whole plot is written out is nothing more than showing how mean spirited and arrogant people can be in using and hurting others. From the rat faced neighbor to the snooty boss and secretaries – this movie is just plain mean and unpleasant. And then they made that awful sitcom with the equally annoying Christopher Hewett playing the 1980s version of Mr. Belvedere. 1/10

Well, admittedly he has a point about the sitcom. Still, it’s entirely possible this guy finds himself entertained, even edified, by the likes of Django or Basterds or Saw or Hostel. And yet the feel-good hit of 1948 nauseates him like he’s undergoing the Ludovico treatment from Clockwork Orange.

And then, I remembered an incident from literally 30 years ago, when I was in grad school in Canada. I was sitting around one afternoon with a very “progressive” folk-singing friend when Cheaper by the Dozen came on screen. And yes, that had starred Clifton Webb too! This being years before anyone had cable, we tended to watch whatever came on — itself an indication of an entirely different mode of culture-formation back then. In fact, if we hadn’t been in Windsor, with access to Detroit stations, there would only have been one, the CBC! — and this was indeed a bit of American TV slipping over the border. Again, having vaguely heard of the film, or at least the phrase, we watched. Many minutes of silence passed as we beheld this “vintage comedy.” As the lovingly, sentimentally portrayed father once more began to verbally abuse one of his many adoring children, my friend turned to me, sneered “Is this supposed to be funny?” and switched channels in disgust at this bourgeois American filth.[5]

Same reaction, same actor, equally popular film, and even largely the same character.

Why such vastly different reactions, then and now – or even then and 30 years ago? I think it lies in almost equal parts with the movie as a token of the Way Things Were, the actor as embodying a unique kind of masculinity, and the underlying Traditionalist themes of the character and plot. The movie is an affront to Liberal notions of marriage and parenting, Liberal notions of the proper way to be “gay,” and Liberal notions that spirituality and especially religion are subjective whimsies and probably bunkum anyway. And thus it also demonstrates how Liberalism functions as a pseudo-opposition to Modernity, offering false alternatives while distracting from the One Thing Needful.

The Movie: Mr. Belvedere

Tacey King: Mr. Belvedere, is there anything you haven’t been?
Lynn Belvedere: Yes, Mrs. King — I’ve never been an idler or a parasite.

The action takes place in (or on?) Hummingbird Hill, and though there’s enough budget to shoot on a studio set, we are meant no doubt to see it as reflecting, humorously, on the problems of a newly prosperous post-War generation moving into the expanding suburbs. The opposite, then, of today, with a flat housing market and college graduates moving back to live with their parents.

These suburbs, at least at first, were not today’s empty concrete wastelands but more like the British pre-War suburb,[6] or the planned or “garden” suburbs promoted by Lewis Mumford, such as Forest Hills or Sunnyside in Queens, or older, quasi-cities like Grosse Pointe. Relatively large, two storey, detached houses, some on actual hills, winding roads and plenty of space for gardening (the movie opens with a lost cab driver asking directions of a gardening denizen — who will later play a pivotal role in the plot).

We zero in on our main protagonists: Henry King (Robert Young), his wife Tacey (Maureen O‘Hara), and their three children. In this prosperous and patriarchal era, Harry is an up and coming lawyer, and can not only afford his house and car, but has no need to, and wouldn’t dream of, sending his wife out to work. And she apparently is just fine with being a “homemaker.” (Teeth are already starting to grind in the TV audience.) Except: she’s unable to handle the kids. Fortunately, Harry can also afford to hire some help.

Why she can’t handle them, since they seem to be perfectly normal, has puzzled viewers, but it’s the implausibility that is needed to set the plot in motion.

The cab, it transpires, was called by the maid or nanny, who also can’t stand living with the children any longer. A series of teenage babysitters have also given up, except for one with an obvious crush on Harry, which he tolerates with amusement, as well as his wife’s not entirely amused jealousy. Here again we see a different era; today, this would start a movie starring Drew Barrymore or Alicia Silverstone, in which she insinuates herself into the family and kills them all, or else, if on Lifetime, Tacey would start kickboxing classes and take out the kid or husband, or both, with much shattered glass. In real life, Harry too would be setting himself up for a long stay at the Crowbar Hotel. In any event, the babysitter throws a “wild” dance party, which is reported to Harry and Tacey by . . . hey, it’s that gardening guy again! Back to square one.

Tacey suggests hiring a responsible, older, live-in babysitter, and thinks the way to do this is to put an ad in the Saturday Review. Remember that bastion of middlebrow taste? And did they really take ads for nannies? Anyway, Harry is justifiably skeptical, but lo and behold, a letter arrives, announcing the imminent arrival — presumptuous, much? — of one Lynn Belvedere.

And now the fun starts! Here’s the IMDB summary:

Tacey and Harry King are a suburban couple with three sons and a serious need of a babysitter. Tacey puts an ad in the paper [sic] for a live-in babysitter, and the ad is answered by Lynn Belvedere. But when she arrives, she turns out to be a man. And not just any man, but a most eccentric, outrageously forthright genius with seemingly a million careers and experiences behind him. Mr. Belvedere works miracles with the children and the house but the Kings have no idea just what he’s doing with his evenings off. And when Harry has to go out of town on a business trip, a nosy parker starts a few ugly rumors. But everything comes out all right in the end thanks to Mr. Belvedere.

I’ve emphasized a few phrases that seem a little significant, and we’ll get to that in a bit. For now, enjoy this excerpt from YouTube that shows how Mr. Belvedere proves to the Kings that despite his gender, and self-confessed hatred of children, he’s just the man for the job.[7]

 

This is the sort of thing that delighted audiences in 1948 and disgusted my folk-singing friend just a generation later. Today, it’s impossible to imagine this in a Hollywood film, and in real life the parents, rather than chuckling and deciding to hire the guy, would have called the police.

The Actor: Clifton Webb

“I have destroyed the formula completely. I’m not young. I don’t get the girl in the end and I don’t swallow her tonsils, but I have become a national figure.”

– Clifton Webb

I called Tacey’s inability to handle the children the implausibility needed to start the plot. But as John Braine told William F. Buckley, when the latter sought advice on novel-writing, a work of fiction must have at least one implausibility, but no more. That the Kings, and the 1948 audience, don’t think Belvedere is a child abuser and potential pedophile is due to their not having been exposed to decades of “listen to the children” nonsense, therapeutic Nanny State indoctrination, and spy on your neighbors propaganda — indeed, the “nosy parker“ is the main villain of the piece. (Of course, Harry’s earlier use of a “funny” foreign accent would have already marked him out as a vicious racist in need of sensitivity training.)

The other potential implausibility is Mr. Belvedere himself; why did audiences not consider him at least to be an insufferable jerkass, and on the contrary, demanded two more sequels (until Webb, like Sean Connery, put his foot down to prevent typecasting, only, like Connery, to be sucked into at least a couple of similar roles, such as Mr. Scoutmaster and Dreamboat — in the latter he’s a college professor whose old movies turn up on the new medium of TV, like old porn roles haunting a politician today, and concludes with him watching that same breakfast clip from Sitting Pretty).

One crucial reason is that Belvedere is not bragging or overcompensating. He is what he says he is. He says he can handle the children, and does so immediately. When he accidentally meets Tacey one night and invites her to dance, he doesn’t just say “I taught Arthur Murray” he proceeds, as Tacey exclaims, to “dance divinely.”

Clifton Webb, 1930

Clifton Webb, 1930

And that scene, at least, wouldn’t work unless the actor could indeed dance divinely. Indeed, the whole performance, portraying a man of Aryan rectitude and modest pride in real accomplishments, itself succeeds because it is barely a performance at all. Clifton Webb may not have raised anyone’s children, including any of his own (he lived with his mother, throwing legendary Hollywood parties, until her death in the early ’60s) but he was a divine dancer, and he embodied the virtues of the Aryan Man.[8]

In fact, Webb had already had one career, an accomplished dancer and performer on Broadway (he introduced “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and also “Easter Parade,” thus unknowingly launching the Judaic assault on Christian holidays) long before he came to Hollywood at the age of 54. (There were some screen tests in the ’30s; he may not have actually taught Arthur Murray but the studios thought he could replace Fred Astaire). He was brought to Hollywood by Otto Preminger to play Waldo Lydecker in Laura precisely because Webb reminded him of the real life model for Waldo, New York theatre critic Alexander Woollcott. No need to “act” but a good enough performance to get a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

At this point, similarities with Humphrey Bogart begin to arise, along the lines I explored in my review of the Bogie bio Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart by Stefan Kanfer.[9]

Both were born in the late 19th century, providing them with a sense of being from an earlier, better, era. Both were raised in the New York of Edith Wharton – Webb remembers it being “completely settled only as far north as 72nd St.” — with artistic mothers; both came to prominence on Broadway before being brought to Hollywood relatively late in life by the demand of a director. There the similarity stalls a bit; Bogart was brought over to recreate his role as Duke Mantee for the film version of The Petrified Forest, not for his physical resemblance to a fussy critic. It’s interesting to note, though, that even then his co-workers remarked on how, while playing a vicious killer, his personal behavior continued to be polite, even courtly, especially to women. No Judaic “method” acting for Bogart. Bogart as a person was of Webb’s type, but also able to act against type. Indeed, his early career floundered as he played butlers and playboys (he is supposed to have been the first to utter on stage the phrase “Tennis, anyone?” — Bogart!) until the role of Mantee gave him the chance to show another side of himself.

Of course, this is why Bogart was the “better” actor, or rather, a major actor rather than a minor one, in the sense Colin Wilson gives the words in describing major and minor composers. Major composers, like Mozart, have more to say, but that doesn’t prevent a minor composer, like Delius, from being one’s favorite.[10]

As Kanfer notes, the key to Bogart’s appeal was that his WASP background (or, as I would prefer to say, his Aryan nature) gave an interesting, straight from the headlines dimension to his villains; rather than the immigrant gangsters of Little Caesar or Scarface, Bogart suggested the new, angry Middle American Whites produced by the Depression, like Pretty Boy Floyd or Clyde Barrow. And yet, being White Guys, the audience, at least the Whites that comprised the overwhelming majority of American then, could assume they must be fundamentally honest, fundamentally Nice Guys. Thus, he was able to take unlikable characters, both murderous thugs and wise-cracking detectives, and make the audience root for them, as well as make it believable that that sophisticated women played by Mary Astor and Lauren Bacall would fall for them — in the latter case, even off screen.[11]

And there was in fact some skilled acting involved in those roles of Webb’s. He was able to make audiences actually root for a manipulative psychopath like Waldo rather than the plodding detective, and believe that Gene Tierney would — almost — love him too. And he could make audiences take to the imperious Mr. Belvedere, and even believe that the children would come to love him, and that the neighbors would suspect Tacey was having an affair with him. That was the quality that Ayn Rand perceived even before Webb came to Hollywood, which led her to insist — unsuccessfully — that Webb play the role of Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead. The actor they used, she said later, “was too obviously evil.” Not subtle enough for Ayn Rand!

The studio overruled Rand, and almost overruled Preminger, for the same reason modern audiences probably don’t believe Webb in those roles: Aryan men, that is, “white guys” are all evil jerks, right? And isn’t he obviously, well, gay? The fact that creative artists as different as Rand and Preminger actually fought for him in those roles, while today’s audiences think like 1940s studio heads, suggests that moderns aren’t as “smart” or “progressive” as they think they are, that largely Judaic Hollywood studios have indeed shaped our culture, and that “gay liberation” has been a disaster for both our culture and for homosexuals themselves — as I argue throughout my book.[12]

Bogart forged a new, different kind of masculinity, “his own brand of masculinity” whose outstanding characteristics, Kanfer says, are “integrity, stoicism, a sexual charisma accompanied by a cool indifference to women” (p. xi), “aloof, proud, unwilling to accede to the demands of fashion” (p. 234) and, describing Sam Spade, “wounded, cynical, romantic and incorrodible (sic) as a zinc bar” (p. 69). All of which are exemplified by Mr. Belvedere, and Clifton Webb.[13]

Neither actor is a traditional Hollywood beefcake. Both seem slight of frame (Bogart would hardly do better than Webb in that famous bathtub scene with Dana Andrews), they share what Tom Shone has called Bogart’s “stiff, slightly old-fashioned patrician bearing,” and it’s Webb that’s clearly the handsomer, what with Bogie’s battered, scarred face — and it’s Bogart who has the lisp.

It’s when Kanfer contrasts Bogart’s masculine appeal to that of Hollywood’s crop of youthful stars like Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, and Tobey Maguire that their real similarity and appeal comes into focus. Both, in their different ways, are real men, middle-aged and with lives and accomplishments already behind them, not boys. That’s why Belvedere can excite gossip as a rival to Robert Young, a misnamed “King” who’s really just a struggling young husband under the thumb of a boorish boss. Belvedere, we recall, hates children — and that’s why then come to love him. Webb, as I said before about Bogart, embodies the Aryan character as delineated by Baron Evola:

The sober, austere, active style, free from exhibitionism, measured, endowed with a calm awareness of one’s dignity. To have the sense of what one is and of one’s value independently of any external reference, loving distance as well as actions and expressions reduced to the essential, devoid of any exhibition and cheap showmanship—all these are fundamental elements for the eventual formation of a superior type.[14]

On a personal level, Bogart and Webb had known each other in their Broadway days, and kept in touch; Webb was even a charter member of Bogart’s original Rat Pack, that index of heterosexual cool (Kanfer, pp. 201-2). As I outlined in my essay on Bogie, Webb was the sort of homosexual Bogart could like and even admire, like Truman Capote (who impressed Bogart with his work ethic – doing re-writes for Beat the Devil from a hospital – and his arm wrestling) or, fictionally, dignified, erudite, but devilishly clever Casper Gutman. Not in your face flamboyant, but ironic and quietly competent – like Bogart, like the Roman ideal.

Gutman: [Pouring a stiff drink; Spade lets him pour] We begin well, sir. I distrust a man who says ‘when’. If he’s got to be careful not to drink too much it’s because he’s not to be trusted when he does. Well, sir, here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding. (They drink.) You’re a close-mouthed man.
Spade: No, I like to talk.
Gutman: Better and better. I distrust a close-mouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk and says the wrong things. Talking’s something you can’t do judiciously unless you keep in practice. Now, sir, we’ll talk if you like. I’ll tell you right out I’m a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.[15]

As wonderful example of how Webb’s Aryan professionalism and imperturbability underlie the Belvedere character, take another look at the breakfast table scene. After Belvedere delivers his line about how horrible the children are, the baby sneezes, and Webb, without missing a beat, adds “Gesundheit.” Needless to say, you can‘t get a baby to sneeze on cue; this was entirely an accident, but Webb was able to improvise a perfect response, saving the scene and even stealing it back from the kid.

Speaking of styles of homosexuality, another reason the film succeeds in presenting an agreeable Belvedere is the nosy neighboring gardener, Clarence, played by Richard Haydn. He serves not only as a plot foil for Belvedere but also as a kind of Doppelganger, presenting a different, more hateful image of effeminacy. By contrast, Belvedere seems, as the cliché goes, crusty but benign, or a jerk with a heart of gold.

In fact, when I first watched the film, I began from the first scene thinking Haydn was Webb, especially as he began snooping around the Kings during the whole babysitter fiasco, figuring that’s how he’d get hired, but wondering why they would take in such an obvious creep.

haydn-webb-pretty_opt

Note the almost split-screen effect, Haydn’s self-hugging suggesting weakness and narcissism while Webb carries what we will learn is a present for the family, and the subtle way light and dark characters are suggested in black and white film. In the next section, we’ll see how the Clarence/Belvedere couplet works on a higher, spiritual level.

I also thought Haydn’s performance, in looks and sound, closely resembled Michael Redgrave’s Crocker-Harris in the far classier vehicle The Browning Version (Rattigan’s play premiered in 1948 as well, but was not filmed with Redgrave until 1951, so perhaps the influence went the other way). Stiff upper lip, meek wispy voice, etc. Harris‘s tragedy (apart from being a closeted homosexual with an unfaithful wife and a bad heart) is that rather than succeeding as a teacher, his prissy and haughty demeanor has made him hated and despised; the discovery that his pupils refer to him as “the Himmler of the upper fifth” precipitates his agonizing reappraisal of his failed life.

browning_version_1Sitting Pretty effectively splits the archetype of the bitchy, closeted homosexual, assigning Haydn the role of “Himmler” that Harris wandered into and to Webb the beloved pedagogue the boys all cheer for at the end: “Hooray for the Old Croc!”

Needless to say, todays’ PC viewers implicitly run to Clarence’s defense, crying “homophobia” against the film makers. How dare they suggest “there’s something wrong with that” (to paraphrase Seinfeld) in living with your mother, obsessing about cross-pollinating orchids, and amusing yourself by opening other people’s letters and going through their trash cans in search of gossip. How camp! Why, it’s positively divine![16]

Notes

1. Even grumpy old Harry Haller, the eponymous Steppenwolf, admits that the bourgeoisie’s new toy, radio, is based on “a fact which every thinker has always known [though] put to better use than in this recent and very imperfect development.” and at the end is sentenced by Mozart “to learn to listen to the cursed radio music of life and to reverence the spirit behind it and to laugh at its distortions.” As for inspiration, in “Mad Männerbund?” (reprinted in The Homo and the Negro [San Francisco: Counter Currents 2012]) I pointed out how even the modern actors themselves felt that period correct costumes helped create not only postures but attitudes appropriate to 60s characters. The example of the revolution in classical music brought about by “period performance” styles — overthrowing decades of hysterical, subjectivist Judaic “virtuosity”– which was decisively influenced in the beginning by Traditionalist Marco Pallis, and mentioned already by Hesse in the mock-historical Introduction to The Glass Bead Game, is too familiar to need discussion here. Needless to say this has nothing to do with prancing around in nerdy “Mediaeval Times” get-ups, which de Benoist rightly dismisses in On Being a Pagan, trans. Jon Graham, ed. Greg Johnson (Atlanta: Ultra, 2004).

2.

Of course, one has to use discretion here. Even the blackest of the blacklisted Commie stooges did work that’s useful at least for their location shots and retro-tech: Sam Fuller’s Pickup on South Street, for example — where Manhattan is still so underdeveloped that Richard Widmark lives in a shack on a rickety pier projecting out onto the river! — or Abraham Polonsky’s Force of Evil, one of the last great noirs, where John Garfield wears great suits, and you know he’s mobbed up because he has a secret telephone . . . in his desk drawer!

3. A good example is The Dead Talk Back, a 1953 production so bad that no one bothered to pick it up at the lab, where it sat on a shelf until 1993, when it was released at the peak of the so-bad-it’s-good wave and became the first film to actually have its debut on MST3K the next year. Anyway, about midway through there’s a chase scene that apart from its inherent goofiness – imagine Lurch chasing Arnold Stang – was obviously filmed on the street without permits and gives us several minutes of live Hollywood Boulevard circa 60 years ago. For our purposes, the most interesting feature is that the whole plot revolves around the apparent fact that in the ’50s, aspiring DJ’s and models, as well as scientific cranks, came to LA and lived in boarding houses with kindly grandmothers cooking dinners, rather than today‘s tiny little individual rat-infested cells; how do you think that influences the “art” produced therein?

Of course, being a big-budget, “prestige” picture doesn’t disqualify it. Consider, obviously, Gone with the Wind; could anyone make a picture like that today, in a Hollywood that lionizes Django Unchained? At what point will things have “progressed” enough for it to be excoriated alongside Birth of a Nation?

Speaking of D. W. Griffith and history, Woodrow Wilson was perhaps the Worst President Ever, since he’s served as the template for every Imperial President since: “idealistic” wars and meddling overseas, “progressive” legislation at home, such as imposing the Federal Reserve and the Income Tax, all bolstered by a vigorous program of domestic repression. He’s the model for Barack Obama, who I’m sure wishes he could someday put Ron Paul in jail, just like Wilson did Eugene Debs. (In the Liberal understanding of “democracy” there can be no “loyal opposition,” only cranks and stooges, so in the “progressive” state one is governed by judges, Ivy League grads and other “experts.”) Which is ironic, since the one thing Liberals despise Wilson for is the one thing he got right: inviting D. W. Griffith to the White House and praising Birth of a Nation as “history written with lightning.” That’s the aspect of the motion-picture we’re looking at here in general. As something of a Southerner, and a professional historian, Wilson knew the “story” of the movie was, as Aristotle would say, truer than mere history. Events since, wherever Negroes have come to power, have proven him right; see the work of Paul Kersey, such as Black Mecca Down (on the ultimate fate of the city of Gone with the Wind) and Escape from Detroit.

4. Stuff Black People Don’t Like includes Turner Classic Movies, “a channel devoted to lionizing Pre-Obama America and exalting it to heights that cause those in power to pause, albeit momentarily. Even DWLs [Disingenuous White Liberals] look at the actors in these films with a mixture of admiration and trepidation, recalling the time they first viewed the film and the emotions that came with it, yet realizing that the world in the 21st century resembles Falling Down more than it does Singing in the RainStuff Black People Don’t Like #61

5. Much later the same evil Americans remade the film with the very different Steve Martin, which I can’t imagine viewing, though it must have been pretty well sanitized to be acceptable today, even as what my friend would still think of a propaganda for middle class values. Even so, bothering to remake it at all is a way another indication of how popular Webb’s original character had been.

6. See “How Britain built Arcadia: The growth of the suburbs in the Thirties brought a better life to millions” by Juliet Gardiner, Daily Mail, 29 January 2010, here.

7. One of the ironic advantages of the pursuit of such unpopular material is that it’s cheap! Although it’s a cultural disgrace that there’s no DVD release of our film, it’s easy to find a copy burned from the VHS release online (mine was $5.00) and indeed, since no one bothered to renew the copyright, the whole film is available for viewing on YouTube. Additionally, some maniac has posted an almost shot by shot synopsis of the movie here.

8. Emblematic of the decline of interest in Webb is that there is only one biography, published just last year, entitled, inevitably, Sitting Pretty: The Life and Times of Clifton Webb, and published by relatively déclassé University Press of Mississippi. The first six chapters are actually written by Webb himself, part of an abortive autobiography begun at the behest of his friend Bennett Cerf of Random House. A few years ago, David L. Smith obtained the notes from the estate, and added on a standard “star” bio, for which we owe him much thanks. Webb’s own work only covers the period before his Hollywood days; the project was abandoned due to a combination of Aryan modesty and Aryan politeness; to go further would have involved talking about one’s friends and contemporaries: “Truth is a desirable quality in an autobiography,” he said, “though obviously not indispensable, and candor, I have found, compels me to put certain persons and events in a revealing, rather than a flattering light.”

9. Here, and now reprinted in The Homo and the Negro.

10. Colin Wilson, Chords and Discords: Purely Personal Opinions on Music (New York: Crown, 1966), p. 132. The 3-disc DVD of The Maltese Falcon includes “Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart,” hosted by TCM’s Robert Osborne, which documents the changing ways Warners packaged Bogart, from gangster and outlaw to romantic lead and accomplished actor, illustrating his range but also, unintentionally, his evolving style of masculinity.

11. For an example of a private dick deliberately rendered as an unlikable jerkass, consider Ralph Meeker’s take on Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly, where director Robert Aldrich wanted to make some point about fascism or something. No one likes him even in the film, and it’s hard to believe any woman would fall for his greasy smarm. And as for “who needs acting,” Mickey Spillane was so angered by the performance that he actually played the character himself in The Girl Hunters; while it’s another film priceless for its New York location shots, Hammer comes across, ironically, as even less likeable, despite everyone telling him what a great pal he is, and almost getting Shirley Eaton, right before her Goldfinger role.

12. “Constant Readers” (Waldo Lydecker, Alexander Woollcott, Dorothy Parker, get it?) will recall my discussion of Preminger’s further, less successful involvement with cinematic homosexuality in “Mad Men Jumps the Gefilte Fish Part Three: The Country of the Blind, Continued,” where the making of Advise and Consent re-unites him with Gene Tierney but not, alas, Clifton Webb, who would have made a far better President than that jerkass Franchot Tone.

13. Anyone who finds such effortless effeminate multitasking implausible would do well to “contemplate” the career of Neil Munro (“Bunny”) Roger (1911–1997) was an English couturier (he ran the department at Fortnum, invested in House of Amies, and invented Capri pants), dandy (bought up to fifteen bespoke suits a year and four pairs of bespoke shoes or boots to go with each) and . . . war hero in the Italian and North African theatres. A “major-general and major queen in the same wasp-waisted body. (Birthday Bunny by James Conway / June 9, 2011). Nicky Haslam claims to have witnessed a kilted Bunny beating his men up a Highland hill, pausing at the summit to adjust his makeup using a compact hidden in his sporran (Redeeming Features [New York: Knopf, 2009], p. 79).

He also shared Webb’s way with an ad lib:

Roger, like all proper dandies, rivaled Oscar Wilde in the one-liner department. When a gobby cab driver yelled from his window, “Watch out, you’ve dropped your diamond necklace, love,” Roger replied, in a flash, “Diamonds with tweed? Never!” [“All mouth and trousers” by Simon Mills; The Guardian, Friday 16 June 2006]

Once, when his sergeant asked him what should be done about the advancing enemy troops, Roger, who liked to wear rouge even with his khakis, replied, “When in doubt, powder heavily.” When he ran into an old friend in the hellish, bombed-out monastery of Monte Cassino in Italy he responded to his pal’s incredulous “What on earth are you doing here?” greeting with one word: “Shopping” [BUNNY ROGER | BRITISH STYLE ICON YOU’VE PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF; The Selvedge Yard, January 28, 2010, here.

Belvedere is actually a shade less violent, as fitting his Krishna-like role; his war experience was setting bones in Pershing’s army.

14. Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins: Post-war Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist, trans. Guido Stucco, ed. Michael Moynihan (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2002),, p. 261.

15. Gutman would be even more impressed when Belvedere downs a whole tumbler of gin; we know the boys are using the bottle to hold cold water, but Belvedere succeeds in horrifying Clarence the snoop. By the way, Gutman’s openly effeminate associate, Joel Cairo, who impresses Spade with his determination if not his competence, announces several times he is staying at the Hotel Belvedere.

16. Just as modern audiences react differently to Belvedere than did his contemporaries, they may find an additional, unintentional level of creepiness in Haydn’s Appleton — a strong resemblance to Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates. In that opening scene, we find Appleton lives with his mother in a gingerbread Victorian house on a hill. We soon learn that he’s a snoop, just as Norman Bates has a peephole to spy on guests. Belvedere will suggest sending a flock of bees to “ruin his irises” referring to his flowers but also suggesting his visual fetish. Appleton’s obsession with cross-pollinating orchids suggests unhealthily artificial relation to sexuality, like Norman’s stuffed birds. Above all, the scene where Appleton finds his mother in her chair, having fainted from reading Belvedere’s tell-all book, is shot almost exactly like the famous “reveal” at the climax of Psycho.

Ironically, in “real life” it was Webb who lived with his mother until her death at age 91; he died a few years later, almost to the day. (His protracted grieving led his friend Noël Coward to comment, “It must be terrible to be orphaned at 71.” His grief was similar when paying his last visit to the dying Bogart, when he collapsed into Lauren Bacall’s arms (Kanfer, p. 225); “he was definitely more of a problem than Bogie ever was” (Smith, p. 218). But unlike the scene in which Belvedere dances divinely with Tacey while Appleton, wheeling his crippled mother around, looks on censoriously, Webb’s mother, always known as Maybelle, was an uninhibited “Auntie Mame” type who helped him host some of the most decorously wild parties in Hollywood history. However, according to Myrna Loy, she did look exactly like Clifton, sans moustache, in drag, which brings us back to Tony Perkins.

 

If you enjoyed this piece, and wish to encourage more like it, give a tip through Paypal. You can earmark your tip directly to the author or translator, or you can put it in a general fund. (Be sure to specify which in the "Add special instructions to seller" box at Paypal.)
This entry was posted in North American New Right and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

4 Comments

  1. eugen
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    This is really terrific, a most enjoyable and well-informed article. Thank you, Mr. O’Meara.

  2. MrDislaw
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    One of my all-time favorite flicks. O’Meara has put the film in a whole new context for me…what a sophisticated and nuanced mind O’Meara has.

  3. Jef Costello
    Posted February 5, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Another ingenious pop culture analysis from the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred!
    Wait….I was thinking of Lovecraft…. I meant to say “from the mad author of THE HOMO AND THE NEGRO.” Alas, I find that SITTING PRETTY is not available from Netflix. One can purchase or rent it from Amazon Instant Video, though.
    Mr. Webb would have made an ideal Ellsworth Toohey, if a bit swishy.
    (Oh, and at some stage someone actually suggested Bogart for Howard Roark, but Rand blew a gasket.)

    • Posted February 5, 2013 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      Netflix likely doesn’t have it because it’s out of copyright, and no one makes money on it. Or so the libertarians would point out, in their pointing out way.

      Speaking of libertarians, Bogart as Roark? I can see it: “I schtick my neck out for nobody.”

  • Video of the Day:

  • Kindle Subscription
  • Our Titles

    New Right vs. Old Right

    Lost Violent Souls

    Journey Late at Night: Poems and Translations

    The Non-Hindu Indians & Indian Unity

    Baader Meinhof ceramic pistol, Charles Kraaft 2013

    The Lightning and the Sun

    Jonathan Bowden as Dirty Harry

    The Lost Philosopher, Second Expanded Edition

    Trevor Lynch's A White Nationalist Guide to the Movies

    And Time Rolls On

    The Homo & the Negro

    Artists of the Right

    North American New Right, Vol. 1

    Forever and Ever

    Some Thoughts on Hitler

    Tikkun Olam and Other Poems

    Under the Nihil

    Summoning the Gods

    Hold Back This Day

    The Columbine Pilgrim

    Confessions of a Reluctant Hater

    Taking Our Own Side

    Toward the White Republic

    Distributed Titles

    Demon

    Proofs of a Conspiracy

    Fascism viewed from the Right

    The Wagnerian Drama

    Fascism viewed from the Right

    Notes on the Third Reich

    Morning Crafts

    New Culture, New Right

    An eagle with a shield soaring upwards

    A Life in the Political Wilderness

    The Fourth Political Theory

    The Passing of the Great Race

    The Passing of a Profit & Other Forgotten Stories

    Fighting for the Essence

    The Arctic Home in the Vedas

    The Prison Notes

    It Cannot Be Stormed

    Revolution from Above

    The Proclamation of London

    Beyond Human Rights

    The WASP Question

    Can Life Prevail?

    The Jewish Strategy

    The Metaphysics of War

    A Handbook of Traditional Living

    The French Revolution in San Domingo

    The Revolt Against Civilization

    Why We Fight

    The Problem of Democracy

    The Path of Cinnabar

    Archeofuturism

    Tyr

    Siege

    On Being a Pagan

    The Lost Philosopher

    The Dispossessed Majority

    Might is Right

    Impeachment of Man

    Gold in the Furnace

    Defiance