Piper Laurie rides into town for Western Film Fair
Piper Laurie made only a few Westerns early in her career, including Dawn at Socorro (1954) with Rory Calhoun and Smoke Signal (1955) with Dana Andrews, yet she’ll be a guest at the 2014 Western Film Fair, which runs July 9-12 in Winston- Salem.
“I don’t know why I was invited, but I’m delighted!” says Laurie with her distinctive throaty laugh.
In any genre, Piper Laurie is a legend. In an illustrious career that spans over 60 years, she has thrice been nominated for an Academy Award (Best Actress in The Hustler, Best Supporting Actress in Carrie and Children of a Lesser God), nine times nominated for an Emmy (winning for Promise in 1986), and four times nominated for a Golden Globe (winning for David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” in 1990).
She’s worked with such legendary leading men as Paul Newman, George C. Scott, Jack Lemmon, Albert Finney, James Garner, Alan Arkin, Peter Ustinov, Nicol Williamson, William Hurt, Jason Robards, Mel Gibson, Ronald Reagan and even Francis the Talking Mule.
“Rock Hudson and I had out first screen test together,” she recalls. “In my first acting class, Tony Curtis joined shortly after he’d been signed by Universal.”
In 2011, she published her autobiography Learning to Live Out Loud: A Memoir, a frank and honest, but often affectionate look back at a career that’s still going strong.
Recently, the actress completed a stage stint in the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler musical A Little Night Music. “Oh boy, that was one of the scariest experiences I ever had – but it was fabulous!” she exclaims. “I love working with live music.”
Laurie revels in the energy of performing on stage but admits “there aren’t that many interesting roles for older women.”
Born Rosetta Jacobs in Detroit, Piper Laurie was signed to a contract by Universal at age 17, although she asked for – and received – permission from the studio to graduate high school before embarking on her professional career.
Recalls Laurie: “I immediately went into my first movie (1950’s Louisa) as a featured player, then right into leads,” including The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951), Son of Ali Baba and No Room for the Groom (both 1952) with fellow contract player Curtis. And, yes, there was Francis Goes to the Races (1951) opposite the studio’s favorite four-legged moneymaker.
“I found it difficult because I had visions of doing serious work as an actor,” she candidly admits, “but those movies were adorable and people loved them.”
Dissatisfied with the roles she was being assigned, Laurie turned to television and found greater fulfillment in “Studio One,” “Hallmark Hall of Fame,” “GE Theater” and “Playhouse 90” (an early triumph was a production of Days of Wine and Roses co-starring Cliff Robertson).
As the self-destructive Sarah Packard, Laurie earned her first Oscar nomination (as Best Actress) for The Hustler (1961), in which she starred with Newman, Scott and Jackie Gleason – all likewise nominated.
And then, she walked away. From movies, from television, from show-biz entirely. She married writer Joe Morgenstern and devoted her life to being a wife and mother to their daughter Anne.
Laurie’s 15-year hiatus ended in spectacular fashion, playing telekinetic teenager Sissy Spacek’s deranged mother in Brian De Palma’s 1976 screen adaptation of Stephen King’s best-seller Carrie, earning her second Oscar nomination (Best Supporting Actress). Laurie’s career was back in full swing, as if she’d never been away.
Her post-Carrie feature films included Curtis Harrington’s 1977 chiller Ruby (in the title role), Return to Oz (1985), the all-star Agatha Christie whodunit Appointment With Death (1988), Norman Jewison’s screen version of Other People’s Money (1991), Dario Argento’s Trauma (1994), and as Marlee Matlin’s estranged mother in the 1986 screen version of Children of a Lesser God, which yielded another Oscar nomination. (Matlin won the Best Actress Oscar and remains the youngest person to have won the award, being 21 at the time).
Her television credits were no less ac claimed, including Emmy-nominated turns in The Thorn Birds (1982), “St. Elsewhere” (1983) and The Bunker (1981), in which she gave a chilling performance as Third Reich wife Magda Goebbels, meticulously murdering her children while ensconced in the titular enclave where Adolf Hitler (Emmy winner Anthony Hopkins) met his own end.
For Promise (1986), she earned a Golden Globe nomination and won her only Emmy to date as Annie Gilbert, long-time friend of James Garner’s Bob Beuhler, who is left to care for his schizophrenic younger brother D.J. (Emmy and Golden Globe winner James Woods) after their mother’s death. “I think James Woods was just beyond wonderful,” praises Laurie.
She earned two Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe award for playing the wicked Catherine Martell on ABC’s “Twin Peaks.” Any fan of that eclectic ‘90s mystery series recalls its many twists and turns, among them the recurring character of a mysterious Japanese businessman billed in the credits as “Fumio Yamaguchi.” One guess who it really was.
“That was a challenge,” Laurie says, particularly because series creator Lynch insisted that no one – not even cast and crew members – know who was actually playing the role. As a result, Laurie had to remain isolated from her co-stars, remain silent on and off the set, and refrain from laughing, which could ruin her makeup. “In retrospect, it was fun … at the time, it was very difficult!”
The Western Film Fair will be held at the Hawthorne Inn & Convention Center (420 High St., Winston-Salem). For specific times, ticket information and periodic updates, visit the official website: