Tribute By Monica Sullivan
My friend Alvah thought that actress Ruth Roman was the most beautiful woman in the world. That she may have been in real life, but onscreen, she looked mean. She would have made a great villain, but she wasn't cast that way often enough to do her career much good. She arrived on the Warner Bros. lot at exact1y the wrong time, when the star system was disintegrating. In fact, she appeared in "Beyond the Forest," Bette Davis' last film as Queen of the Lot. Fan magazines projected a career like Bette Davis' for the 25-year-old newcomer, but the studio squandered her talents in forgettable films like "Always Leave Them Laughing," starring Milton Berle.
She got better parts on loan-out: she was every child's idea of a menace in R.K.O.'s "The Window" and she made a strong impression opposite Kirk Douglas in a gritty noir indie, "The Champion." Back at Warner Bros., she was in good company with Oscar nominee Eleanor Parker and future Oscar winner Patricia Neal in Robert Wise's "Three Secrets." Parker and Neal became big stars, but Roman appeared in just one more screen classic, 1951's "Strangers on a Train" for Alfred Hitchcock, although her career spanned nearly fifty years. She became a journeyman actress in films like 1972's "The Baby" and in telefeatures like 1973's "Go Ask Alice" and was always a welcome presence, but she rarely won the sort of roles with bite that her promising appearance in "The Window" revealed she was born to play. A hint of Anna Magnani's passion lurked below the surface and occasionally emerged in character roles.
In real life, Ruth Roman was a survivor of the Andrea Doria shipwreck of 1956 and newsreel cameras studied her anxious face as she waited for news that her son was also safe. The year before, she'd made a striking appearance in "Joe Macbeth," a British update of the Shakespearean tragedy, but who saw it in America except for late night buffs? To movie buffs and to viewers who discover her by accident while flicking channels, Ruth Roman IS a star, and, through Alvah Bessie's eyes, the most beautiful woman in the world.
© 1999 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 9/15/99
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