Despite the winter storm that hit on the opening night of the Noir City X film festival on Friday, January 20, the Castro Theater was filled.
Devoted fans like Morgan Von Rueden and Jenifer Strickland did not want to miss the opening because of the rain, so they rented a car. "We got to the theater early because we wanted to make sure we got seats," said Von Rueden.
"We sold out," said Noir City founder, Eddie Muller, as he greeted this reporter. Local movie enthusiast and writer Tom Mayer noted that Muller was in fine form for the Noir City opening that Friday, And, Saturday, the following night of the festival on Jan. 21, the theater was filled to maximum capacity again as actress Angie Dickinson met with Muller on stage for a live interview.
The audience stood to their feet as the legendary star of TV and movies was escorted by Muller on to the stage. A montage of clips from her various films and TV appearances announced her arrival and the standing-room- only crowd was cheering. As Dickinson sat down she said to the audience, "that was so wonderful, that means so much to me, I will try not to cry." Muller conducted the interview in a talk-show host style his first question was where's the skirt?"
Dickinson noted that those days of sexy 'leggy' outfits are gone, "I don't wear skirts anymore," she said. Yet she was stylishly dressed in a paint-suit and a cashmere beret. Her eyes lit up and her warm and inviting smile beamed as she turned to the audience to answer each of Muller's questions.
As Muller was eager to hear details about co-stars, directors and the behind-the-scenes antics of some of her most famous films like "The Killers" which was featured along with "Point Blank" that Saturday evening on Jan. 21. In the more-than-an-hour chat, Dickinson kept saying at various points in the conversation, how "lucky" she was.
Born and raised in North Dakota, as Angeline Brown the daughter of a small town newspaper man, whom she described as "witty and could really write." Dickerson noted that she knew she had to do something more than be a housewife, mother, nurse, teacher or secretary. "Those were the only roles, women in those days did not have careers," she said.
As the Great Depression and then World War II was a time of hardship for many, Dickerson's family moved westward to California to find more work and better opportunities. She laughed as she said "everyone was moving out to California to find more opportunities, in fact I think my entire hometown of Klum, North Dakota headed west."
Raised in a conservative and devout home, Angeline was married by age 20 to Gene Dickinson. But some how she knew the path set before her by convention was not the one she wanted."Women in those days were teachers, nurses, homemakers; I just wasn't sure what I could do, I just knew that I had to make it and earn my own way."
Attending Immaculate Heart College and Glendale Community College, she was able to get a job as a secretary to earn money. Obviously, her charm, beauty and that sharp sense of independence was noticed and in 1953 she entered a local beauty contest as something fun to do. And, she clarified to the audience that despite what has been reported of her biography at sources like Wikipedia, she had no interest in being a writer and she did not obtain a college degree in business for she did not want to stay working as a secretary.
Fortunately the beauty pageant opened a door of opportunity that introduced her to a television producer and that lead Dickinson to acting, which she said was "accidental." It was while guest-staring on "The Colgate Comedy Hour" she met singer, entertainer, Frank Sinatra. Dickinson pointed out that It was Sammy Davis, Jr. who urged Sinatra to have Dickinson in the cast of the original Ocean's 11.
Muller was curious if there was any inclination to romance with Sinatra since he had just broken up with the stellar-beauty Ava Gardener. But Dickinson made it clear while she admired Sinatra, saying that he was "magical," she "had do designs on him." She treasures that time because this was her first experience of Hollywood. And contrary to people's idea of her being with the "Rat Pack," "we were not together that often, only a few times, but when we were together we had fun. We were the fun," she said.
Muller was curious to know from the "Rat Pack" days what JFK was like. Dickinson was taken aback (mostly in jest as she knew Muller was curious to know if Kennedy's alleged womanizing reached out to her). But Dickinson made it clear that her visits with all the Kennedy family (Jackie included) was wonderful. Dickinson said she was very pleased to have the opportunity to campaign for John F. Kennedy during his run for the U.S. presidency.
After "Oceans' 11" she learned acting was not as easy as it looked. "Not every acting gig was like working with Sinatra," she said. Like so many of the post-WWII generation of actors, she found work here and there as the old "studio system" was dying. She went to acting school. The studios like Universal did not know what to do with the new talent and so, like many others of the time, they let go of Dickinson. But despite the disappointments she found acting jobs.
When she talked about co-stars like Lee Marvin, "President" Ronald Reagan, John Cassavetes, William Shatner and Marlon Brando, Dickinson had only good things to say. Of Lee Marvin who co-stared with her in "Point Blank" which is set on Alcatraz, Dickinson said "Lee was a great actor, a brave man and all US Marine." She noted that despite his tough-guy demeanor "he carried a sadness - as a Marine in World War II, the war left its mark on him and he carried that," she said.Dickinson noted that ordinary civilians don't realize the impact war has upon the soldier and Marvin was deeply affected by WWII.
Of Brando, she mentioned the usual temperamental traits that most say about Brando. Only, she said that "he had a sense of humor, not many people know that about him," as he often played pranks upon cast members in jest.
Dickinson said she learned most of her acting skills from working in TV and then movies. Most of her roles were small. Yet as the 1950's ended the wheel of good fortune still turned in her favor as she was cast in the classic film "Rio Bravo" starring along side John Wayne.
It was Dickinson's new and unknown talent that apparently as Dickinson speculated, got the part. "Because director Howard Hawks had just finished a film with Marilyn Monroe and it was said that he was tired of the antics that 'stars' like Monroe did."
It seems Hawks wanted a less-spoiled actress to play the part. Muller noted that "Rio Bravo" was Dickinson's break out role. Yet, just as Dickinson thought her career was now stable with the guidance of a major director, Hawks sold her contract to Warner Brothers studios. The audience laughed as she said, "what a surprise it was to find out that Howard had hocked me (to another studio)."
Yet, Dickinson like so many actors at that time did not give up and continued on her chosen path of acting. Again she reiterated the "lucky" aspect to her "accidental" career in acting. Her popular role on the TV series "Police Woman" provided more opportunities such as staring in the Hitchcock-like thriller, "Dressed to Kill."
Director Brian De Palma wanted Dickinson for the part of the unsuspecting victim, because as she explained it, "Brian said the character gets killed in the first 25 to 30 minutes of the film and I want the audience to identify and like her immediately."
Yet, Dickinson said she had reservations and was thinking of declining the role because it involved an extra-marital affair in the backseat of a taxi. "I am Police Woman, I told Brian," she said. The audience laughed. Yet she said that De Palma told her "We will get a body double to do that scene and so don't worry about it and let's get to work," said Dickinson.
Dickinson said she was very proud of the work she did on TV and in her films. She was so charmed by the audience and their appreciation as their applause continued throughout the interview. Dickinson was happy that people still enjoy her work and classic films as those featured at Noir City film festival each January. Crowds lingered outside the theater hoping to catch a glimpse of Dickinson as she was escorted by Muller to a waiting limousine, near the front door. Even though it was close to 11 PM, and Dickinson was getting tired, she graciously chatted a bit more with fans before driving way. Muller noted it was a memorable evening one that he will treasure.
For more information about Noir City San Francisco see the Noir City web site.
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