The Independent (USA)

Movies in the Mountains offers Clifton Webb in ‘Sitting Pretty’

- Frank Cullen was honored in 2011 by The New York Theatre Museum for “Excellence in the Preservati­on of Theatre History.” He looks forward to a post-covid future when he can resume his monthly ‘Movies in the Mountains’ series at the East Mountain Library i

Although Clifton Webb, (1889–1966), was third billed in Sitting Pretty, after Maureen O’hara and Robert Young, his role as Lynn Belvedere was at the center of the story. Played to perfection, Belvedere was a man who not only knew everything, he knew how to do everything. He demurred not when others marveled that he was a genius, an estimate with which Belvedere agreed.

Belvedere’s intrusion into the Babbitry life of upper-middle-class of America with its nosy neighbors, one of which was prissily played by English comedian Richard Haydn, who specialize­d in snooty butlers and petty gossips.

An author of societal exposés, Mr. Belvedere goes undercover. Under the pretense of offering himself as a nanny, Mr. and Mrs. King hire “Lynn” Belvedere, expecting him to be a woman. Given the post-wwii labor shortage, the Kings hire him anyway to take care of their three boys.

Playing the mother of the King family was Maureen O’hara (1920–2015), a popular screen actor and one of the screen’s great beauties. Her truly red hair and blue-green eyes made her a natural for Technicolo­r costumed adventures, dramas, westerns, and comedies, but, oddly, never musicals (although she was a trained soprano).

She earned co-star credits in 55 films: notably Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), How Green Was My Valley (1941), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), The Quiet Man (1952), Our Man in Havana (1950), Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) and co-starred with John Wayne in five films.

O’hara retired from movie-making in 1971 when she married Charles F. Blair Jr, retired US Air Force brigadier general. In 1991, after his death, she made her last film, Only the Lonely (1992) with John Candy. When O’hara appeared on television to accept her honorary Oscar, she was 83 but could have passed for 60. She died at age 95.

Playing her husband was Robert Young (1907-1998) whose career spanned 1931 to 1952. During that time he appeared in over 100 movies, often as the second male lead. His warm baritone made him a natural for radio with a show called Father Knows Best (1949–1954), which then became a television series that ran 1954–1960. His last notable credit was again on series television as Marcus Welby, M.D, 1969–1976.

Few American actors ever achieved stardom in as wide a range of Broadway shows and Hollywood movies as did Clifton Webb. A profession­al ballroom and stage dancer, Webb, after a career as a ‘juvenile,’ graduated to Broadway in 1923, at age 34 where he worked steadily in 23 Broadway shows from 1913 to 1947 as a dancing star who could also sing, act and play comedy.

Webb appeared in Broadway musicals by Sigmund Romberg, Schwartz & Dietz, Otto Harback, Oscar Hammerstei­n II, Kalmar & Ruby, Rodgers & Hart, Ira & George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. Later, Webb also acted in non-musical plays by Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward.

When Webb came to Hollywood, it was as a persnicket­y and sophistica­ted wit of indetermin­ate sexuality on the screen in dramas and comedies. He made a splash playing the aloof Belvedere, the ultimate Renaissanc­e Man, expert at everything from A to Z, anthropolo­gy to zoology, including plumbing, fisticuffs and raising children. Webb retired in 1962 to a hermit’s life for his final four years.

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By Frank Cullen

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