A look at the genius, madness, cruelty and sensitivity of an acting legend.
Writing a biography of stage-film-TV actress Stanley, author Krampner (The Man in the Shadows, 1997) faced a daunting challenge. Stanley fabricated accounts of her life, leaving the author to sort matters out. (She was not born in Texas, as she always insisted, but in Albuquerque.) Some theater artists found her luminous, while others found her behavior indulgent and enraging. Katharine Hepburn walked out of a nascent project when Stanley, a proponent of Method acting, started writhing on the floor; another actor chased her around backstage with an axe. Krampner plies these storm-tossed waters by hewing to a thoroughly documented account of the actress’s career. Stanley turned to acting to receive the approval her Southern Baptist father withheld. After brief work in regional theater, she set out for New York, where, during the 1950s, her acting early on drew raves. Her performances in Picnic and Bus Stop became legendary. So did her behavior. She chugged alcohol to the point that actor Kevin McCarthy insisted she’d just thrown up before she kissed him onstage in The Cherry Orchard. She often cancelled performances and usually wangled out of contracts soon after her plays had opened. She fared better on TV in brilliant one-night performances during the golden age of live drama. She worked on five films, most notably The Goddess and Séance on a Wet Afternoon. Her appearance in The Cherry Orchard in London in 1965, directed by Lee Strasberg, went down as one of the greatest disasters in modern theater history, effectively ending her stage career. She was, Krampner concludes, a Mona Lisa—astounding, but unknowable.
A steadily turning kaleidoscope of vivid, unsettling images.