Monday, March 31, 2008

Florence Bates

Florence Bates played small, though sometimes memorable roles, as a character actress in films and on television until her death in the mid-1950s. She was the bullying, vainglorious and vulgar Mrs. Van Hopper in “Rebecca” (1940). A career portraying unpleasant society women with sharp tongues was probably not what she intended when she became the first female lawyer in the state of Texas in 1914 at the age of 26.

Miss Bates practiced law at least until the middle 1930s, when something induced her to become involved with the Pasadena Playhouse. Her first film role came in 1937, a brief, non-credited part. However, she zoomed to fame as Mrs. Van Hopper in her second film, and from then on perhaps law looked a little dull.

Not all her roles were as pivotal to the story of the film; she played a lot of walk-on parts as shoppers in various movies that took place in stores, like “Kitty Foyle” (1940) and “The Devil and Miss Jones” (1941). She reprises her nastiness as the sour landlady Mrs. Jekes in “Portrait of Jennie” (1949), and plays a kinder, gentler society dame in “I Remember Mama” (1948) as the famous writer Irene Dunne approaches on behalf of her daughter to ask advice on writing. Miss Dunne, judging by Miss Bates’ girth, surmises that this famous writer is also a famous eater, and bribes her with a Norwegian delicacy.

Apparently, Miss Bates did not mind portraying stereotyped heavy eaters anymore than she minded playing bossy women, as she has a very brief scene on the train in “Since You Went Away” (1944) complaining about not getting enough to eat on trains these days while gobbling corn on the cob.

You’ll know her when you see her, in this and many other films even though her role may be small. She had a big screen personality.


Campaspe said...

She was wonderful in everything she ever did, completely fearless about playing unpleasant characters. She is so good in Rebecca, snidely letting Joan Fontaine know that she won't measure up to the "beautiful Rebecca." Ah, whither the Florence Bateses of yesteryear?

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Yeah, she sure played that part with gusto. Errol Flynn with a rapier couldn't cut up Joan Fontaine's mousy character half so well as Florence Bates. I imagine scores of wallflowers slinking out of the movie theater in despair after that scene.

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