Happy 92nd birthday, Lizabeth Scott!
Lizabeth Scott, a champagne blonde with ice-blue eyes and a husky, low-pitched voice, was best known for her on-screen portrayals of the duplicitous dame who more often than not received her comeuppance in the last reel. Labeled as “The Threat,” Scott was one of the quintessential bad girls of film noir, starring in seven pictures from the era: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Dead Reckoning (1946), I Walk Alone (1947), Pitfall (1948), Too Late for Tears (1949), Dark City (1950), and The Racket (1951).
On the occasion of Lizabeth Scott’s 92nd birthday, I’m taking a look at her early years and the journey that this unique actress took to Hollywood. So grab a piece of cake and join the party!
Scott was born Emma Matzo on September 29, 1922, the eldest of six children of an English-born father and a mother of Russian descent. A native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, an industrialized mining town, Emma was raised in a culture-filled home and participated for several years in a variety of lessons, including piano and elocution. By her own account, however, the future star was frequently rebellious and outspoken: “As a child, my mother used to tell me to keep my emotions subdued, to be ‘a lady.’ Instead of which I was a noisy, screaming little brat, definite about everything.”
Working in her father’s grocery store, Emma fostered many ambitions, including becoming an opera singer, a journalist, or a nun – a notion that was promptly vetoed by her mother. During the summer after her graduation after her graduation from Central High School, Emma worked with May Desmond’s stock company at Lake Ariel, New York, and the following fall, she enrolled at Marywood College, a Catholic school near Scranton. However, after only six months, she left the school, later recalling, “I never wanted to finish college because of the feeling I had . . . that life was very short and there were so many more important aspects of life to be explored.”
Instead, Emma turned her signs toward an acting career, moving to Manhattan to attend the Alvienne School of Dramatics. She landed her first professional job in the national company of Hellzapoppin’ – after a year-long tour, she did summer stock in New York. One of her many roles with the 52nd Street Stock Company was the lead in Rain, for which she was billed as “Elizabeth Scott.” The actress later explained that she chose the first name “just because I always liked [it],” and the last name in honor of one of her favorite plays, Mary of Scotland.
It appeared that the aspiring actress may have gotten her big break when she was hired for a walk-on in Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, and was asked to serve as understudy to the star of the play, Tallulah Bankhead. But for the next seven months, Scott remembered, she “waited for the Long Island train to break down or for Tallulah to get a cold. But the train ran and she remained robustly healthy.” Later, after Bankhead had been replaced by Miriam Hopkins, Scott quit the play, making ends meet by landing several modeling assignments, including a full-page spread in Esquire and a number of appearances in Harper’s Bazaar.
Coincidentally, three months after leaving The Skin of Our Teeth, Scott received a call from the play’s producer, who requested that she step in for a one-night replacement of Miriam Hopkins, who was ill, a several months later, she filled in again, this time for a three-week run. She received favorable notices for her performance, but when the play closed, she was force to resume her modeling activities. Before long, her four-photograph layout in Harper’s Bazaar caught the eye of agent Charles Feldman, who asked her to come to Hollywood for a screen test. Of the request, Scott later said, “I wanted to be a great stage actress. I never once thought of movies. But, it was off season on Broadway . . . and since I wasn’t able to find a job there, I thought it might be a good experience to come to Hollywood and find out what it was all about.”
Once in Tinseltown, Scott made screen tests for Warners and Universal-International that were less than well-received, but she wasn’t idle for long – in August 1944, Feldman informed her that producer Hal Wallis wanted to sign her to an exclusive contract, and a few months later, she was cast in a starring role in what she termed “a lovely film,” You Came Along (1945), with Robert Cummings and Don DeFore. The following year, Scott entered the realm of film noir with a featured role with Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, and Kirk Douglas in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) – and the rest is history. During her screen career, she would only appear in a total of 22 films, but she made an indelible mark on the film noir era, and she remains a uniquely talented product of Hollywood’s Golden Age; in a 1996 interview, Scott said, “There was something about that lens that I adored – and it adored me back. So we were a great combination.”
You said it, Liz. Happy birthday!