I am a serious fan of the second banana female character actor. Think Eve Arden in Stage Door (1937) and Mildred Pierce (1945) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959). Think Joan Blondell (bless her) in anything she graced but most specifically focus on the buddydom and fun of Desk Set (1957). Think Ruth Hussey (and Virginia Weidler for that matter) in The Philadelphia Story (1940). And I embrace the wonders of Thelma Ritter in any role I’ve ever seen her perform … testy and gracious and grounded and full of wit and wisdom. And funny.
A favorite Thelma Ritter scene from the murder mystery and testimonial to big city apartment life, Rear Window (1954), includes a bit of scripted wisdom articulated by Ritter in the role of Stella, an insurance company nurse (can you imagine?) detailed to tend to the needs on an outpatient basis of our hero, news photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies. Here Stella is telling Jeff to get off his duff and marry the girl already.
STELLA: Look, Mr. Jefferies. I’m not an educated woman but I can tell you one thing. When a man and a woman see each other, and like each other, they ought to come together — wham — like a couple a taxis on Broadway. Not sit around analyzing each other like two specimens in a bottle.
JEFF: There’s an intelligent way to approach marriage.
STELLA: Intelligence! Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence. Huh! Modern marriage!
JEFF: Now, we’ve progressed emotionally ….
STELLA: Baloney! Once it was see somebody, get excited, get married. Now, it’s read a lot of books, fence with a lot of four syllable words, psychoanalyze each other until you can’t tell the difference between a petting party and a civil service exam.
JEFF: People have different emotional levels …
STELLA: When I married Myles, we were both a couple of maladjusted misfits. We are still maladjusted misfits. And we have loved every minute of it.
JEFF: Well that’s fine Stella. Now would you fix me a sandwich, please?
STELLA: Yes I will. And I’ll spread a little common sense on the bread. Lisa is loaded to her finger tips with love for you. I’ve got two words of advice for you. Marry her.
JEFF: She pay you much?
Rear Window (1954). Stella and L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies.
© Martha Wade Steketee (December 2, 2009)