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.

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U1078577The man mixing it up with Carl Malden in this  photo is George Mathews, whose face was as familiar as the next door neighbor for almost three decades. Mathews appeared in nearly 60 properties – mostly television, including many of the major series. He made himself immortal, in a way, when he played Harvey, the tough guy Ralph Kramden – with a lot of help from Ed Norton – challenges to a fight after a poolroom argument in “The Honeymooners.” I don’t know how much stage experience he had, but in this photo he is appearing with Paul Newman, Malden, Patricia Peardon, and George Grizzard in a 1951 Broadway production of “The Desperate Hours.” We saw George Mathews last night when we watched “Pat and Mike,” one of the seven movies costarring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Mathews, as always, played a heavy – one of a trio of thugs trying to pressure Hepburn, through Tracy, to throw a golf tournament. George Cukor had the three thugs play it for laughs, and Mathews contributed at least his share. He appeared on “Death Valley Days,” “The Phil Silvers Show,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Gunsmoke,” and “The Untouchables,” among many other programs, and his movies included “The Man with the Golden Arm.” Mathews, who died in 1984, was the quintessential actor that everyone recognizes but no one can name. On the Internet, at least, it seems impossible to find out anything about the man beyond the dates and places of his birth and death and the list of his television and movie appearances. In death as in life, he is The Unknown.