Bright Lights Film Journal

So long, Beverly Garland (1926-2008)

In addition to losing Forry Ackerman (see below), we lost another icon of the classic horror genre, Beverly Garland, this weekend. Garland was a true Hollywood survivor, battling and slinking her way through several Roger Corman quickies in the 1950s (including It Conquered the World, Swamp Women and the under-appreciated Gunslinger!), and going on to play Tuesday Weld’s mom in Pretty Poison, as well as Kate Jackson’s mom in TV’s Scarecrow and Mrs. King. . She also ran a Holiday Inn named after her, and that, aside from being Kate Jackson’s mom, is one of my dream jobs. I could go on and on and on, but you can probably find a better obit in the LA Times, elsewhere.

In her 50+ year working career, Garland was always a welcome presence on set, with “an infectious laugh” and loads of friends. What can we learn from her? Well, perhaps it’s telling that even as a Corman fan I never really made the connection that she was in all these other pictures and shows. That’s no dis, but something I can imagine she would have been rather proud of as an actress. It’s one thing to be a scenery chewer who sees every role as a chance to grab a statuette or cult infamy, yet another to quietly nail your part so well you yourself remain unseen, and thus are able to slide from playing sex symbols to on-screen mother roles without needing to disappear until the public wonders where you are and you stage your comeback. Garland’s 50 year career is filled more with good honest work than Oscar nominations of camp infamy, but she never needed to make a comeback, never fell into the “old bat” typecast any more than she let herself be constrained by the narrow parameters of the sex symbol. She brought enough nuance and gusto to make the character come alive, but refrained from scenery chewing and never impinged upon the momentum of the story.

A class act all the way, Hollywood is lucky to have had such a great lady in its midst for so long. If there’s roles to play beyond this world, I’m sure she’s right now passing the audition to play mother to the angels as opposed to a nubile victim writhing in the many tentacled vice grip of Corman’s menagerie; but then again she could always do both, and damn well.

(Read a great interview with Garland about the fine old time she had making the horror film pictured above right, here.)