Who is that woman?

June 15, 2010

ANNE SEYMOUR

At last, I know. I have been wondering for decades about an actress who had a brief role in an episode of “The Honeymooners,” and last night I found out by chance who she was.

The episode – one of the so-called “classic 39” – is a Christmas story in which Ralph Kramden saves money to buy Alice a present, but spends it on a bowling ball. Then he uses what money he has to buy a hairpin box that’s made of  2,000 match sticks glued together, believing the salesman’s story that the box came from the home of the Emperor of Japan. On Christmas Eve, before Ralph gives Alice this present, a neighbor – Mrs. Stevens – comes to the door and says she’s going to be away for the holiday and wants to give Alice a present before leaving. Of course, when Alice opens the  package it’s a box just like the one Ralph bought, and the neighbor says she bought it at a novelty shop near the subway station.

ANNE SEYMOUR

The rest of that story doesn’t matter. What matters — to me, at least — is that I have always felt that the woman who played that small part was a wonderful actress. She created such a strong impression of Mrs. Stevens as warm and self-effacing that, even as a kid, I had a feeling that I’d like her to be my neighbor or even a member of my family — an aunt, maybe. Every time I see that episode, I’m entranced by that actress’s performance. But “The Honeymooners” producers were stingy with the credits, so the actress wasn’t identified.

So the other might I watched the 1949 version of “All the King’s Men” on TCM. The film is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren, and it is the story of Willie Stark, a corrupt politician modeled after Huey Long. I had not seen it before, and the first time I heard the voice of the actress playing Stark’s wife, Sally, I knew my question had been answered. A little Googling confirmed that the Kramdens’ neighbor was portrayed by Anne Seymour.

ANNE SEYMOUR and RALPH BELLAMY

Anne Seymour, it turns out, had an extensive career. The International Movie Database lists 121 film and television appearances for her between 1944 and 1988. “All the King’s Men” was her second movie. Her last was “Field of Dreams.” She played the newspaper publisher in Chisolm, Minnesota who helped Ray Kinsella learn about Dr. Archie “Moonlight” Graham.

The actress’s birth name was Anne Eckert, and her family was in the theater for at least seven generations dating back to the early 18th century in Ireland. Her brothers, James and John Seymour, were screen writers. Anne made her stage debut in 1928, and she later also worked in radio drama. Though she spent the bulk of her career working in television, she played Sara Delano Roosevelt, the mother of Franklin Roosevelt, in the 1958 Broadway production of “Sunrise at Campobello,” for which Ralph Bellamy won a Tony award for his portrayal of FDR. Although Anne Seymour got good review for her work in that play, she was not cast in the film version.

KIRBY PUCKETT

The only time I have carried on a conversation with a naked man, the man was Kirby Puckett. I met him in the Twins’ locker room after a game at Yankee Stadium, and although I had no real business there, and although he had no idea who I was, and although he had just finished playing nine innings and hadn’t showered yet, Puckett couldn’t have been friendlier. The conversation confirmed Puckett’s reputation as Mr. Nice Guy, which is a good reputation to go along with one of the outstanding baseball careers of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, Puckett’s image and Puckett himself eventually came to grief. He was accused and acquitted of sexually assaulting a woman at a Minneapolis restaurant, and he was described in a column by Frank Deford as someone very different from his teddy bear image. He also developed glaucoma and suffered a stroke and died when he was only 45.

Things like that happen to a lot of people, but they take on Shakespearean proportions when they happen to the kinds of heroes and flops that baseball creates in a way that other team sports seldom do. That’s because baseball, unlike other team sports, pauses so often to focus attention on an individual player at an individual moment in time. This is why baseball has contributed so much to literature and film.

"MOONLIGHT" GRAHAM

Consider Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, who became familiar to millions of people in the novel “Shoeless Joe” and the motion picture “Field of Dreams” not only despite the fact that he appeared in only one major league game — and never came to bat — but precisely because of that. Graham played two half innings in the outfield, but that distinguished him from most of us American men, who would be satisfied if we could say the same. He was one guy among thousands who have made it even momentarily to the bigs, and in a way that was good enough.
Twenty three men who made it to the top, plus one who never did and one who never existed at all, are the subjects of “Top of the Order,” a collection of essays edited by Sean Manning. Each of 25 writers responds in this book to an invitation to identify his or her favorite baseball player. Kirby Puckett was the choice of Craig Finn, singer and lyricist for The Hold Steady, the Brooklyn-based rock band.

JIM BOUTON

There is nothing obvious about this book. The writers don’t choose their “favorites” based solely on careers such as Puckett had. A couple of players are in this book, in fact, because they stunk, and some are there because they were only adequate, but still played the game hard and, from time to time, came through with a thrill for the fans.
Jim Bouton, pitcher-turned-media man, writes about Steve Dembowski, who went to high school in Rutherford, N.J., and college at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and at both places was an outstanding baseball player. He was small for a pro player — five foot four — but besides having all the usual requisite skills, Dembowski has mastered the art of getting hit by a pitch again and again and living to tell about it. This is no joke. In his senior year at FDU, he hit .375, walked 39 times, stole 27 bases in 28 attempts, and drove in 21 runs. He was also hit by a pitch 36 times and had a .729 on-base percentage — unheard of at any level of play. The scouts showed no interest, Bouton writes, because they thought the kid was too small to play among the giants in the modern game.
Lou Gehrig, Pedro Martinez, Dave Kingman, Jackie Robinson, Vic Power, Mookie Wilson, even the fictional Crash Davis. They’re all among the “favorites” in this book, and they make for good spring reading.