Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Birthday Tribute to Joseph Cotten

Actor Joseph Cotten was born in Virginia on this date in 1905.

Cotten had his first success in New York theatre and radio, including working with Orson Welles and starring as C.K. Dexter Haven in the original Broadway production of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. When he moved to Hollywood, he had a knack for choosing high-quality film projects. Cotten shifted easily from romantic hero to disturbed killer to light comedy, playing opposite many of Hollywood's very best leading ladies.

Cotten's long association with his friend Orson Welles included appearing in the Welles films CITIZEN KANE (1941), THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1943), JOURNEY INTO FEAR (1943), and THE THIRD MAN (1949); he's also said to have a bit part in OTHELLO (1952), and he was uncredited as the Coroner in TOUCH OF EVIL (1958).

Cotten was under contract to David O. Selznick for a period of time. He appeared with Selznick's wife, Jennifer Jones, in several memorable films starting with the WWII "homefront" classic SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944); Cotten brings a light touch to the film as he attempts to cheer his friends who are missing their father and husband. His work with Jones continued with LOVE LETTERS (1945), DUEL IN THE SUN (1946), and the unforgettable fantasy PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948), in which Cotten played a struggling artist inspired by a mysterious, ethereal girl.

Alfred Hitchcock's classic SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), in which Cotten very memorably played Teresa Wright's murderous uncle, was only Cotten's fourth film. He also worked with Hitchcock making UNDER CAPRICORN (1949) with Ingrid Bergman.

He appeared in a wide variety of other quality films, including playing opposite Deanna Durbin in HERS TO HOLD (1943), appearing with Ginger Rogers as a shellshocked soldier in the underappreciated Christmastime story I'LL BE SEEING YOU (1944), starring opposite Best Actress Loretta Young in the absolutely delightful THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER (1947), and costarring with Joan Fontaine in SEPTEMBER AFFAIR (1950). Cotten was later reunited with Loretta Young in the lightweight but enjoyable comedy HALF ANGEL (1951).

Cotten appeared in a number of suspense films in the 1950s. He was quite effective in the title role in the period mystery THE MAN WITH A CLOAK (1951), which has a most enjoyable final reveal of his character's identity. He played Marilyn Monroe's disturbed husband in NIAGARA (1953) and solved the murder of his niece in A BLUEPRINT FOR MURDER (1953). He was the police detective trying to capture psychotic Wendell Corey in THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956).

In later years Cotten did a great deal of television work, as well as continuing to appear in films. His last film appearance was in 1981.

Not long ago Cotten was played by actor James Tupper in ME AND ORSON WELLES (2008), a story about the Mercury Theatre's 1937 stage production of JULIUS CAESAR.

Cotten had two successful long-term marriages, the first being a union of nearly 30 years to Lenore Kipp LaMont, who died in 1960. Cotten's only child was his stepdaughter with LaMont, Judy. Cotten then married actress Patricia Medina, a marriage which lasted until Cotten's death over 33 years later.

Patricia Medina is now 91; she's the author of a memoir, LAID BACK IN HOLLYWOOD: REMEMBERING in which her husband figures prominently. Cotten wrote his own autobiography, VANITY WILL GET YOU SOMEWHERE.

The September 2009 issue (No. 57) of Films of the Golden Age has an excellent profile of Cotten by Brad Richards. Cotten was asked about his favorite costar and replied by paying tribute to Jennifer Jones and David O. Selznick: "I suppose it was Jennifer, the boss' wife. I had some happy days with the boss and Jennifer, and it was just fine with me, thank you."

May 2012 Update: Actress Patricia Medina Dies at 92.

May 15, 2012 Update: More Cotten reviews: CITIZEN KANE (1941) and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942).

May 15, 2013 Update: Last New Year's I reviewed Cotten in AIRPORT '77 (1977).

2014 Update: This year I reviewed TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

2017 Update: Here are reviews of DUEL IN THE SUN (1946) and PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948), plus new Blu-ray releases of I'LL BE SEEING YOU (1944) and SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944).

2018 Update: Here's a review of the new Kino Lorber Blu-ray release of THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER (1947).


Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I didn't know it was Joseph Cotten's birthday today! How awesome! I'll have to try to watch part of one of his movies tonight once my kids are in bed. I haven't seen "Since You Went Away" or "Shadow of a Doubt" in far too long. He always strikes me as such a sweet guy (who was good at playing creepy bad guys, but hey).

(You commented on a friend's blog, Sidewalk Crossings, which is how I found your nifty blog.)

4:37 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for stopping by! Glad to "meet" you -- I enjoy Sidewalk Crossings!

I think that sweet side is a definite part of his appeal -- funny how such a nice guy could also be pretty scary in some roles (grin).

I'm hoping to watch a Cotten film later on myself -- enjoy!!

Best wishes,

4:41 PM  
Blogger Melissa Clark said...

Hi Laura,

Great tribute to Joseph Cotten. I've gotten really interested in his movies over the past several months. He was always so good and had a quiet intensity that fascinates me. I love his wavy hair, beautiful voice, and interesting, not quite handsome face.

It's amazing how many great movies he was in. I especially enjoyed his performances in "Shadow of a Doubt," "Portrait of Jennie" and "The Third Man."

Cotten was also great in the episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" he made, particularly "Breakdown." A really chilling performance, especially given that most of it is done as a voiceover. I believe you can watch the episode and some others he made on Hulu. :)


4:59 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Nice to hear from you, MC! So glad you enjoyed the tribute. I like your description of Cotten -- "quiet intensity" is apt. I like his voice, too.

Thanks for the tip on his Hitchcock TV shows! :)

Best wishes,

6:11 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wonderful article, thanks for sharing...what ever happened to Mr. Cotten's step daughter?
Thank you

7:35 PM  
Blogger Jon D'Souza-Eva said...

Joseph Cotten's step-daughter, Judith LaMonte, died young:

4:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you for adding that information, Jon. I'm sorry to hear that she died at such a relatively young age.

Best wishes,

4:10 PM  

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