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Jessica Walter was that rare actor who made people laugh, cry, or hit the sheets in shock could pull his head.
Anyone who can intimidate Clint Eastwood on-screen has real achievement, and Jessica Walter had it in her hand.
Walter, whose career spanned six decades, died in his sleep at home on March 24th. She was 80 years old.
Despite all of her exceptional work, she never really got the recognition she deserved. She was never nominated for an Oscar, although her performance as Evelyn Draper with the knife in « Play Misty for Me » was Oscar-worthy. All she earned for her first major film role was a Golden Globe nomination.
She received an Emmy, but not, as most would assume, for her portrayal of Lucille Bluth in « Arrested Development ». Walter won for the lead role in « Amy Prentiss, » a police case that lasted only one season on NBC in the mid-1970s.
Before Alex Forrest, the creepy Glenn Close character who tormented Michael Douglas in « Fatal Attraction », there was Evelyn Draper in « Play Misty for Me ». As scary as « Fatal Attraction » was, « Play Misty for Me » was a lot more scary. The film was Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut and he got the most out of Walter, whose appearance as Evelyn was the model for other actresses to follow in playing troubled stalkers. Eastwood plays a soft-spoken jazz disc jockey who is followed by a fanatic who won’t let go. You can’t help but be really scared for him when Evelyn shows up in his bedroom one night to attack him with a large knife. It’s heart pounding stuff.
In the award-winning ABC sitcom « Coach » Walter played a recurring role as the arrogant agent Susan Miller. The series played Craig T. Nelson as Hayden Fox, head coach of the Minnesota State University Screaming Eagles fictional soccer team. When Fox decides it’s time for him to move up to professional football, he hires Miller to get him a job in the NFL. Walter’s character is wonderfully ruthless and manages to intimidate the coach into going against his better judgment and abusing his players to achieve their ambitious goals.
« Bye Bye Braverman », an underrated cult classic from 1968, tells the humorous story of four Jewish intellectuals, including the writer Morroe Rieff played by George Segal. When his best friend and co-author Leslie Braverman suddenly dies of a heart attack at the age of 41, Segal’s character experiences a life crisis as he faces his own mortality. Walter is absolutely funny as the « grieving » sexually starved widow Inez Braverman. When Rieff comes to comfort her, Braverman practically seduces him in a black mourning dress and it’s all he can do to escape her clutches.
In this coming-of-age comedy, Matt Dillon plays a working-class kid who takes a summer job at a Long Island beach resort and learns valuable life lessons. It’s a warm-hearted movie, and Walter stands out as the bored Ms. Phyllis Brody. At some point she struts around in front of Dillon’s character in a red bikini. Brooklyn-born Walter no doubt channeled memories of her Jewish upbringing. In a memorable exchange with her husband Phil, played by Richard Crenna, he tells Phyllis that he hates aspic. Phyllis replies, “Oh Phil, Lizzy worked on this dish all day. I read it to her from the New York Times. “Phil replies, » I don’t want anything that moves on my plate. »
This is an obscure neo-noir drama from 1964 in which Warren Beatty appears as an ex-soldier who gets a job as an aspiring occupational therapist in a private mental hospital. He is eventually seduced by a beautiful young schizophrenic patient named Lilith, played by Jean Seberg. Walter’s character Laura was preoccupied with Beatty before marrying a chunk played by Gene Hackman. Laura is deeply dissatisfied with her marriage, but Walter conveys it more through facial expressions and demeanor than words. Their regret and despair are shown so effectively that one cannot help but deeply pity them.
Paul Guggenheimer is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected]
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