In the midst of weather-storms, and life-storms, and all kinds of tempest boiling-up everywhere, I’d surfed across the IMDB birthday list for today, and with a heart-pang saw Elizabeth Hartman’s name.
She would have been 69 today — Hartman committed suicide in 1987 after battling depression just about all her life.
One of the most-talented actresses of her generation, she appeared in a way-too-short list of classics, and all of them in a tight, way-too-small wad: ‘A Patch of Blue‘ (1965),Â ‘The Group‘ (1966), ‘You’re A Big Boy Now‘ (1966), ‘The Fixer‘ (1968), ‘The Beguiled‘(1971), and ‘Walking Tall‘ (1973),…
Despite those movies and the awards (Golden Globe winner, Oscar nominee), Hartman walked slow and low from 1973 onward, appearing in few films and TV shows.
She a testament to how mental illness can greatly effect anyone’s life.
Illustration found here).
This the lede graphs from People magazine in September 1987:
On June 10 she probably rose early and made coffee, as she always did.
She dressed as she always did, in a crisp cotton shirt, chino trousers and sensible Rockport walking shoes.
She gathered her strawberry blond hair in a bun at the back of her neck; the style was severe, but it did not obscure her delicate beauty.
Later, some of the neighbors would tell reporters that they had heard that this quiet, anonymous 45-year-old woman had once acted in a movie; she was certainly striking enough.
She almost surely read the paper; she took the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette every morning and worked her way through it. Perhaps, that morning, she listened to her records: She knew hundreds of Broadway tunes by heart; she could listen to them endlessly.
We know that she became very upset.
We will probably never know why, exactly, she opened the window next to her turntable, five stories above the ground, stepped out, and became, in the words of a Pittsburgh detective, “an ordinary suicide.”
No one is ‘ordinary.’
Everybody’s extraordinary in their way, good or bad, and some real bad, but all people have their own individual flavor and exceptional qualities in their own right.
Crazy is also everybody’s right.
When I spied Hartman’s birthday notice, the information seemed to influence and perpetuate a sorrowful-violent sensibility the news cycle has produced the past 10 days or so — apparently the whole world has gone bat-shit crazy.
A sorrow for lives cut way-short.
Also from that People article and Gil Dennis, screenwriter (‘Walk The Line‘) and married to Hartman for nine years: “On our wedding night she wept for six hours,” Dennis told an interviewer. “I truly had not loved anybody else, and I didn’t know if this was what happened on wedding nights.”
Hartman was an actress of life.
She was today’s Jennifer Jason Leigh: The performer ‘becomes‘ the character.
Hartman’s portrayal of liberal, soft-hearted ‘Priss’ in ‘The Group,’ was wrenching and so-humanÂ — her character is the only one I still vividly remember.
Also among that august group of girl friends, was a young Candice Bergen (who played ‘Lakey‘) and Jessica Walter (‘Libby‘).
Bergen was only 20, and Walter just 25 — Walter, after a fairly-accomplished film/TV career, is now that most-marvelous of mothers (Way-Not!) in ‘Arrested Development.’
Only much later did Bergen develop as an actress, especially on TV with ‘Murphy Brown,’ and some good film credits in comedies, like ‘Miss Congeniality.’
She was not very good for a long time, and wasn’t much of a stand out for Steve McQueen’s only big epic, ‘The Sand Pebbles‘ (1966), and I always felt Hartman should have had the part of Shirley Eckert, McQueen’s love interest in the movie (Bergen’s role), which would have transformed ‘Pebbles‘ into a classic.
Hartman was called “Biff” by her friends and family — a off-sided take on “Elizabeth,” and a long-time, good-friend of Hartman, Robert Temple, paid tribute to her in this post from off hisÂ Website in 2009.
Temple, a science writer whose works include ‘The Sirius Mystery‘ (1976), which supposedly revealed evidence of alien contact with humans 5,000 years ago, knew “Biff” for many years.
He described her:
You need to know that Biff was so enchanting, she was like a vision, if you like that kind of girl, that is.
There was something other-worldly about her, she was fragile like a delicate and beautiful butterfly which is on the verge of extinction and you want to preserve it because it will never come again.
She had a delicate beauty, but it was not her looks that were the main thing.
She was so aetherial that she was more spirit than body.
I donâ€™t believe she was properly incarnated, and part of her hung out.
When I say that Biff and I had a spiritual bond, that is precisely what I mean.
Maybe these days people donâ€™t have spiritual bonds anymore.
I donâ€™t see them.
Everybody is too busy binge-drinking and copulating with strangers they never see again to think about anything which is not grossly physical and basic.
But I can assure you that there are other dimensions of love and friendship, forgotten as they are today.
Whether they will ever return, I donâ€™t know.
Perhaps, as F. Scott Fitzgerland would say, not â€˜this side of Paradiseâ€™.
Sad state of affairs nowadays.
Temple also had this to say about the director of Hartman’s film, ‘You’re A Big Boy Now,’ which garnered ‘Biff’ a Golden Globe:
The director was a rather goofy fellow named Francis Ford Coppola.
He was very amiable, and everybody liked him, but nobody took him seriously or ever imagined that he would â€˜make itâ€™ in the film business.
He had no control over the crew or the film.
The film was a sprawling mess, and it was only saved by the clever editing of Aram Avakian, who was an immensely impressive fellow of great brilliance.
Which goes to show if life is allowed to run its course, life takes care of shit.