Saturday, January 15, 2011
R.I.P.: Susannah York (1939-2011)
As a hormonally inflamed adolescent during the 1960s, I harbored considerable lust in my heart (and other vital organs) for British actress Susannah York as she appeared as a sprightly, sexy and altogether scrumptious presence in movies as diverse as Tom Jones, Sebastian, Duffy – and Kaleidoscope, the cheeky 1966 comic-thriller in which she played the vivacious romantic interest for an audacious gambler (Warren Beatty) who breaks into a card-printing plant to mark the cards and thereby ensure his winning streak at various European casinos.
Well into the ‘70s, as she shared a bubble bath with Roger Moore in Gold (1974), became Elliott Gould’s partner in crime in The Silent Partner (1978), and ultimately served as the hypotenuse of a romantic triangle with Michael Caine and Elizabeth Taylor in X, Y and Z (1972), she continued to impress as a slow-simmering hottie, sassy and sensual but, when she needed to be, endearingly vulnerable.
But, trust me, she was not just another pretty face. In 1969, York – who passed away Saturday at age 72 – earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress with her devastatingly potent performance as a Jean Harlow wanna-be in Sydney Pollack’s metaphorical Depression Era dance-marathon drama, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? She richly deserved the Best Actress prize she received at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival for Images, Robert Altman’s engrossing psychological thriller about a troubled housewife who may or may not be threatened by men from her past.
And, of course, if you’re a comic-book fan of a certain age, you’ll surely have fond memories of York as Lara, the Krypton-born mother of the Man of Steel in Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980).
On the other hand: I would be remiss if I did not admit to remembering Susannah York best for a role that, as far as I can tell, isn’t getting much mention in the first wave of her obituaries. You see, way back in the fall of 1968, during my senior year of high school, I dated a slightly “older” woman – 19 to my 16 – who was bisexual with a pronounced preference. How pronounced? Well, let me put it like this: After she asked me to take her not once, not twice, but three times to see Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George – in which York played an elfin beauty who bares her bountiful breasts while being seduced by the conniving rival (Coral Browne) of York’s brazenly butch lover (Beryl Reid) – I kinda-sorta figured that I didn’t have a chance of scoring with this particular switch-hitter.
Funnily enough, York seemed richly amused when I told her about my York-lusting ex-girlfriend during an interview a few years later. And that emboldened me to ask: In the wake of The Killing of Sister George – a movie graphic enough to get an X rating back in the day – did she receive many admiring letters from other women who enjoyed her, ahem, revealing performance?
“Quite a few,” York replied with just a trace of a naughty smile. “Quite a few.”
Yeah, I bet she did.