A look at the wild career of BEETLEJUICE’s Sylvia Sidney

“I plan to die without a nickel,” actress Sylvia Sidney told him LA Times in one 1990 interview. The edgy 80-year-old star recently stole the show as an otherworldly employee in Tim Burton’s rare escapist hit Juno. Beetlejuice. Entering his seventh decade in the industry, Sidney has always been as raw and raw as the chain-smoking Juno, even as he almost shunned the role that defined the twilight years of his career.

Director Burton was a fan of the actress and wanted the role so badly that he pursued her several times, even though she turned it down several times, saying she didn’t understand the script. When the two met for breakfast and then lunch, Sidney recalled in the same interview, “I was in love . . . with her sensibility, the way she thought out the scenes.” Sidney won a Saturn Award for her performance in the film, and Burton wrote the role of the cantankerous grandmother Florence, whose Slim Whitman records finally conquered the Martians in 1996’s cult classic. Mars attacks!specifically for himself.

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But what was it about Sidney that attracted the director and so many others over the decades? James Baldwin wrote in his major works about cinemaThe devil finds work, that Sidney was “the only American film actor who reminded me of reality.” His life and career trace from his early work on stage, to Paramount fame in the 1930s, to an Oscar-nominated turn in a 1970s family drama, to television movies in the 1970s and 1980s, and finally. His iconic collaboration with Burton proves that Sidney is a string of fascinating contradictions. Despite his great talent, he remained ambivalent about his art throughout his career.

Sidney Sophia Kosow was born in the Bronx in 1910 to Romanian and Russian-Jewish immigrants. Her parents later divorced and Sidney was adopted by her mother’s second husband, who later used her surname for her stage name. This is how the actress Sylvia Sidney was born. He first turned to the theater to overcome his shyness, but he saw that he could make a good living out of it, making his Broadway debut at the age of 15. Bad girl it so impressed Paramount Production Chief BP Schulberg that he immediately signed him. Nicknamed “The Ugly Kid” by the studio, Sidney often joked that she was “paid for tears,” as her role often saw her as a good girl grieving the traumas of loved ones.

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Yet even in the most clichéd roles, Sidney’s unique energy shone through, often stealing the spotlight from her more established co-stars. Taking on the role originally intended for Clara Bow, Sidney’s first big break was opposite Gary Cooper City Streets, a pre-Code crime film from a story by Dashiell Hammett. Theirs 1931 revision The variety he said, “the picture is lifted from mediocrity by Sylvia Sidney’s intelligent acting and appeal.” He would carry that intelligence into similar films An American tragedyand Street Scene that same year

In 1932, Sidney teamed up with Dorothy Arzner—the only female director working in the studio system at the time. Let’s Go Gladly To Hell. In that drama Sidney played an heiress named Joan who was in love with the alcoholic playwright Jerry (Fredric March). The film doesn’t give Sidney a meaty role as Joan—she decides whether her husband can play it, so does she—but Arzne’s direction often places the camera in Joan’s point of view, enhancing the modernity that Sidney brings to the role.

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Although his Paramount contract saw him make dozens of films below his talent, he occasionally found another director who could elevate the material with him. At the end of the 30s he made three films with the German director Fritz Lang: the rage (1936), You Only Live Once (1937), and You and me (1938). In all three films, Sidney plays ordinary women struggling against a system stacked against them. Graham Greene wrote about his performance in his review the rage for the viewer, “never has he conveyed more deeply the pain and inarticulateness of tenderness. . .it is ordinary agony, which is recognized, in the way he knows he lives”.

In 1936, she also played Alfred Hitchcock’s wife who suspects her husband is a terrorist. sabotage, the Master of Suspense ratcheted up the film’s tension through possibly the most infamous use of a bus, a child, a dog, a bomb, and nitrate film ever put to celluloid. While working in England at the time, Hitchcock specifically asked Sidney to make the film. in one Interview with Turner Classic Movies, she said she loved working with him, “He was obviously a great director.” Although Sidney would later attribute his performance in this film solely to Hitchcock’s direction, many critics drew particular attention to his “genuine intensity”.

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As his career began to wane at the end of the decade, Sidney appeared in a few films with Humphrey Bogart, among others. Dead End and Wagons Roll at Night. Although Bogart and his wife Lauren Bacall were great friends, according to his biographer Scott O’Brien, after a night of drinking, Bogart made an anti-Semitic remark to Sidney, which ended with him throwing away his drink—and his glass. face, cutting the eye. Bacall reportedly said he deserved it, and while Bogart was shocked, he told Sidney, “I didn’t know it was the fire type.”

During the 1940s and 1950s, Sidney made only a handful of films, focusing instead on the burgeoning television scene. He did not return to the cinema until 1973 Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams In front of Joanne Woodward her confused mother. Sidney received widespread critical acclaim for her brief appearance in the film, earning her only Academy Award nomination, for Best Supporting Actress.

Sidney spent much of the 1970s and 1980s raising pugs and writing needlepoint books, although he claimed to have made more money from the books than from the movies. He also appeared in numerous television films, earning a Golden Globe Award and Emmy nomination for his role in the groundbreaking 1985 AIDS drama. Early Freeze Against Aidan Quinn, Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara. The first feature film about the epidemic, Sidney brought her signature realism to the role, drawing on her own experience nursing after her son was diagnosed with ALS. He said The Washington Post at that time the film was “about the education of people [about dread, complex diseases]” and “helping victims in the most difficult moments of their lives”.

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In what would arguably be her most iconic role, the overworked Juno afterlife worker Beetlejuice, Sidney embraces his cantankerous reputation, barking frustrated orders at his clients, including the recently deceased Maitlands (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis). His work with Burton allowed him to show his comic timing, like when Mars attacks! “Congress has been blown up!” and then he giggles with joy. Although both films received lukewarm reviews upon release, their popularity has since grown, largely due to Sidney’s light-hearted character work.

Along with a couple of Tim Burton films, Sidney also starred in romantic comedies Persons Used By Director Beeban Kidron. Although the film had a star-studded cast that included Shirley MacLaine, Marcello Mastroianni, Kathy Bates, Marcia Gay Harden, Doris Roberts, Joe Pantoliano and Jessica Tandy, it was mostly panned by critics. Sidney himself said in one 1992 interview that, “if I wasn’t there, I don’t think it’s the kind of movie I’d want to see. I do not know. Things about families don’t reach me.”

After all, his comedic and pivotal role Mars attacks! it would be his last. He died of throat cancer at the age of 88, just over a month after his 89th birthday. When he asked if there had ever been a paper, he wanted to but he didn’t, -he answered cheerfully- “that he made too much money to care.”

A practical spirit to the day he died, Sidney left a unique body of work that continues to touch new audiences with its unparalleled authenticity and incredible originality.

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