Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Lady Godiva" and a working-class approach to fame

Title: Lady Godiva of Coventry
Released: 1955
Genre: Technicolor epic with the illusion of nudity
Notable because: Clint is in Medieval England!
Clint's subliminal message: "Wait. Was I really in this picture?"

Lady Godiva is famous for riding naked (hubba, hubba m'lady) but we knew better than to expect much on that score. This movie was made in 1955, when even a glimpse of side boob was scandalous. Scandalous, we tell you.

Here is how Hollywood's image-makers beat the nudity problem. They built a body suit covered with a thatch hut of hair. This thoroughly concealed all the female bits of star Maureen O'Hara in a way that looked odd and vaguely repulsive. Good work, men!

Despite their disappointment, flesh-wise, Andrew and Brad both were surprised to enjoy "Lady Godiva" (called "Lady Godiva of Coventry" in the title sequence), even though Clint is nearly invisible.

It's a movie with deceit, betrayal, growth and redemption, all set in castles with occasional sword fights and crossbow attacks. Men fight for honor and say things like "the ancient boundaries of my earldom."

"Classic drama," Andrew said by way of praise.

For Clint, this was his first appearance in a top-of-the-bill picture meant to be taken seriously. It was his first color film, too.

But he was given an uncredited role with just two barely noticeable lines. One line -- "30 men from Ludlow" -- was spoken with only the back of Clint's head visible. For all we know, they might have filmed a coconut with a wig and dubbed his voice later.

This film was made when Clint was paid $75 a week to be a contract actor for Universal.

Figuring for inflation from 1955, that translates today to an annual salary of $31,219 a year. School teachers make more.

Clint came from a laboring family and took a low-paying, entry-level job at a movie studio. He stuck to scut work for four years, helping churn out whatever the studio assigned him. Only in 1959 did he make it big on the "Rawhide" TV show.

Four years may not sound very long, but it must have felt like an eternity for a guy hoping to break through in movies while getting "30 men from Ludlow" to show for it.

No wonder Clint was always a working man's actor.

Next up: "Tarantula."

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