The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Star’s death stirs memories
YOU PROBABLY missed her obituary. That happens when an actress dies at age 92, and her film credits include comedies that starred a mule named Francis, Abbott and Costello as members of the Foreign Legion, and the Three Stooges cavorting with Snow White.
But the British-born Patricia Medina was a stunning woman. In her youth, she was called “the most beautiful face in England.”
Later, as the wife of the Virginia-born actor Joseph Cotten, she was part of a marital duo admired and respected for their love for each other and for their model of stability in a Hollywood known for romantic frivolity.
Medina’s death last month in Los Angeles reminded me of the time I visited with Cotten in their apartment above the Sunset Strip, and of the many other opportunities I’ve had to meet the people who make movie magic.
The biggest regret I had when I interviewed Cotten three decades ago was that Medina was not there. She was out for lunch with friends.
Yet it was still a memorable visit. The courtly Cotten, born, bred and now buried in Petersburg, opened the door and invited me into a beautifully decorated home 15 stories above Hollywood.
The star of such classic films as “Citizen Kane” and “The Third Man” escorted me to his balcony, where he pointed toward the Pacific. On clear days, of which there weren’t that many back then in smoggy L.A., you could see the ocean.
Cotten was a pure joy as he reminisced about his collaborations with Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, and his work with Marilyn Monroe in “Niagara.” I remember him asking me if I knew a “young man” named Levin Houston, then the theater critic for The Free Lance–Star and well past most definitions of “young.” He and Houston had known each other as young actors in New York.
I grieved when Cotten died in 1994, and again this month when I heard of Medina’s death.
Though I never met her, I could tell from my chat with Cotten how much they meant to each other in a marriage that began in 1960 at the home of David O. Selznick (the producer of “Gone With the Wind”) and Jennifer Jones.
There are so many other moments that linger from those times when I went behind the scenes in Hollywood.
After watching John Travolta and Olivia Newton–John rehearsing their big school dance scene from “Grease” in the late ’70s inside a sound stage at Paramount Pictures, I felt exhausted. What energy they had!
Over at 20th Century–Fox, on the set of the iconic TV comedy “M*A*S*H,” I remember listening to Harry Morgan (Col. Potter) crack jokes with language you’d never hear on television.
And I still reflect on that memorable visit by Lillian Gish, the first lady of silent movies, to the University of Richmond in the early ’70s. She eloquently reminisced about her astounding career, which began in the early 1900s.
I’m not one for collecting autographs, but I will always treasure her signature in my copy of her book about working with the legendary director D.W. Griffith, “Mr. Griffith and Me.”
She was a classy lady who lived to be almost 100. What a blessing to have been able to hear her talk about the days when movies were born.
Ed Jones: 540/374-5401