Tribute By Monica Sullivan
Unless you're a die-hard movie buff, your chances of knowing who Janet Shaw is are remote. Like a lot of star-struck kids, she hung around Hollywood for many years hoping to be as big a star as her idol, Bette Davis. Long before you and I were born, she was lucky enough to make over sixty films and even to appear in no less than four Bette Davis movies. If people remember her at all, they may have noticed her as Louise in Alfred Hitchcock's “Shadow Of A Doubt.” This classic film noir was famous for its overlapping dialogue & naturalistic depiction of small town life in Santa Rosa, California. With a cast full of big stars like Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright, Janet Shaw's performance as a once-dreamy school girl defeated by the monotony of her job waiting on tables was a standout. Louise is observant enough to know the difference between real jewelry and paste, but misses entirely that her former classmate Charlie is far more miserable and disillusioned than she will ever be.
To play a part like Louise and make her count meant crushing any sense of vanity or style and, with Hitchcock's guidance, Shaw delivered yet another fine performance that should have led to better parts and greater recognition as an actress. That would be the fairy tale, but it didn't happen. After her fortieth job, Shaw made twenty more films through 1950 and then called it a career. She didn't vanish into thin air: She returned to Beatrice, Nebraska where she was born on January 23, 1919 and lived until she succumbed to Alzheimer's disease three months before her 83rd birthday. You can see Janet Shaw mostly in the films she made at Warner Bros. & Universal. All but a few were B pictures, and often she was identified as Girl, if she received billing at all.
One of her larger roles was as Gerry Lane opposite Tim Holt in “Rookie Cop.” She was filled with energy and fun: Why couldn't she have played more parts like that instead of so many bits as an autograph seeker, a girl in a car, a girl in a factory, a young girl, a switchboard operator, a beautiful cabdriver...? You get the idea. There are actresses from every era like Janet Shaw: attractive and talented, they work very hard as very young women. Unless they find a safe niche, most leave the profession by age thirty. I liked Janet Shaw, though, & I try to see her films whenever I can. She gave her contract work a cool touch of realism in an unreal era.
© 2001 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 10/31/01
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