A single scene in a movie can stand as a metaphor, or in some way, encapsulate the story. In Katie Did It (1951), a light and pleasant comedy, one charming scene serves both as a metaphor for the story, and also a teasing reference to the real-life reputation of the actress playing her. It is, however, the audience, more than the actress, who is being teased.
This is our contribution to the “…And Scene!” blogathon hosted by your friend and mine, Janet Sullivan over at her Sister Celluloid bog.
Katie Did It, for those of you who’ve valiantly or just stubbornly followed my blog for the past year, is a movie starring Ann Blyth, and was the one single movie in my year-long attempt to review all her films that I could not obtain—until the final moment when a friend discovered a copy online and sent it to me. I was actually finishing the manuscript on my book on Ann Blyth’s career when this movie came to me.
When I quickly shoe-horned that info into the book, I had naively thought myself done at last—until more material from other fans came through on some other aspects of her career, right up until press time. It was both an exhilarating and nail-biting last few weeks before publication.
This scene from Katie Did It is a bathtub scene. Hollywood loved bathtub scenes. I imagine few ever thought Ann Blyth would film one.
Part of a starlet’s job in those days was posing for inevitable publicity photos, from those glossy, goddess-like images airbrushed to unearthly perfection and lit so as to create a perfect fantasy woman on the couch in photographer Ray Jones’ studio on the lot at Universal, to more whimsical poses with skyrockets, bunnies, beach balls, and various holiday-themed props. Depending on the prop and the pose, the photo could depict a girl-next-door quality, or something bizarrely sexual. Surprisingly, one can do a lot in the bizarrely sexual arena with a bunny or a beach ball. Not so surprisingly with a skyrocket.
Though Ann Blyth was known for being very cooperative with her studio and soldiered through her publicity chores like a dedicated professional, she refused, as photographer Ray Jones complained, to ever do cheesecake photos.
In Katie Did It, Ann gamely mocks her own reputation. She plays a prim New England librarian who encounters a visiting commercial artist from New York, whose stock in trade is painting scantily clad ladies for girly calendars, and the occasional billboard cutie using sex to sell the product. Ann, needing money, consents to pose for him.
I discuss the plot in detail in my book, so I won’t go into it here, except to zero in on the bathtub scene.
She goes to the New York apartment of the artist, played by Mark Stevens. He works at home, currently sketching a female model lounging in a large tub of water with a few lily pads scattered in strategic places. He is perched on a platform above her, looking down into the tub. He’s got a great view. He got the idea to pose his model this way when, earlier in the film, he had discovered Ann, her clothes piled on a rock, swimming in a stream on a hot day. He is an artist who takes his inspiration where he finds it. This painting is for a billboard, intending to sell soap to a titillated public.
Ann is already embarrassed upon entering, as her plan to sell a song she wrote failed miserably. Humiliated by that, and by having to go to Mark Stevens to pay her for taking her clothes off, has made this one lousy day.
She can barely negotiate with him, her embarrassment is so acute, and so comic.
She asks, in a thin, wavering voice “How much…?”
“One hundred dollars a day.”
“Oh, no, I don’t mean about the money. I meant…” uncomfortably, she waves her gloved hand vaguely around her neckline.
“You’ll be up to your neck in lily pads.” He sends her to a dressing room to change into a swimsuit, which was more than she was wearing when he spied on her in the stream.
To the credit of the writers, what makes this movie atypical of the breaking-down-the-prude plot is that Stevens’ character is bemused, understanding, and kindly. Nor is Ann a prude, as we see in other scenes. Her character’s motto, indeed, the creed of her small community, is modesty, so when she comes back into Stevens’ living room wearing a bathrobe so big she appears to have no hands, we see she is out of her element. Stevens has to coax her into the tub like a mother with a shy child.
When she finally slinks out of the robe and slips noiselessly into the tub, while he decorously turns his back, she slides so low under the water that he must now coax her to sit high enough above the water so that he might sketch at least a suggestion of her cleavage. Miserably, she obeys. Then he tells her to smile.
“I can’t.” Her wretchedness is hysterical.
He snaps at her to smile, and she instantly beams a beautiful, 1,000-watt, if insincere, grin.
Then the scene dissolves into a wordless montage, where we see the next day she is more comfortable, and as the days pass, she strides across his living room in her bathing suit like a pro, sliding into the water with athletic grace and posing like the most sexy water nymph to ever play hymns on the organ in a New England church. They go to lunch together and eat hotdogs bought from a vendor on the street. She gets mustard on her hand, and he wipes her messy hand with his handkerchief like a big brother. We know he knows he must be careful in his wooing of this young woman, and we marvel at his canny tact. His infatuation is a given; she is the one on the fence.
Finally, the painting is completed, and she, still lounging in the tub, marvels at it, “It’s lovely! I mean, your work of course.” She has come so far as to be able to see the picture objectively as a work of art, something apart from herself.
In real life, the only time Ann Blyth ever did a cheesecake pose was for the posters to advertise this movie. One imagines, despite whatever discomfort she might have felt, having declared she would not do cheesecake, that here was a young actress with a sense of humor, not only about herself, but about that most baffling thing in an actor’s career—the audience.
She once commented, “A good part is just that: a good part. It has nothing to do with who you really are or how you live your life.” Like the prim New England librarian, she knew the picture looked like her, but wasn’t really her.
The teasing jest may be at the expense of the modest librarian, and the modest actress playing her, but the joke is ultimately on the audience.
Please visit Sister Celluloid for more great blog posts in this fun marathon.
Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star.
The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer. You can also order it from my Etsy shop.
If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.