An Interview with Seán Martinfield
By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka
Anne Frank would have been 80 years old this month. In honor of the occasion and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film version of The Diary of Anne Frank , Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has released the cinematic classic in Blu-ray (BD) and DVD format. The studio worked closely with George Stevens Jr. to create this edition which includes all-new bonus features that address the film’s history including the letters that were shared between George Stevens and his son during the making of the film and a reflection by the film’s surviving stars Millie Perkins and Diane Baker.
Anne Frank (at 13), Millie Perkins (1958)
Diane Baker is currently the Executive Director of Motion Pictures and Television and Acting at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University. She was invited to the AAU to build an acting program for graduate and undergraduate students. She inaugurated the first sound stage at the university and its first black box theater, both of which are used by students in the Acting and Film programs to create their portfolios. She has recently been promoted to Executive Director of the Motion Pictures & Television and Acting School. Her future dream is to build a film center for serious filmmakers who want to make meaningful films that will inspire, educate and entertain.
I was a kid when the original version of Jules Verne’s Journey To The Center of the Earth played at the Balboa Theatre in San Francisco. Today the DVD remains on the top shelf of my favorite science fiction films. Released by Twentieth Century Fox and promoted as “a fabulous world below the world”, the film was loaded with spectacular special effects including jewel encrusted caves, phosphorescent pools, flesh-eating dinosuars, exploding volcanoes, and extravagant performances by James Mason, Arlene Dahl, Thayer David, and an ill-fated duck named “Gertrude”. The young romantic leads were the then very-dreamy Pat Boone who was way high on the recording charts with ”April Love”, and Diane Baker whose career was blossoming that year with the release of The Diary of Anne Frank in which she plays Anne’s older sister, “Margot”. Young Miss Baker was totally intriguing in balancing emerging sexual appeal, all-American-type beauty, vulnerability, and inter-continental know-how. She was the perfect sweetheart – the girl to whom Pat Boone croons, “My Love Is Like The Red, Red Rose”, and for whom she remains faithful even though he is galavanting in the center of the earth with his shirt off in front of a voluptuous redhead and – but for a bewildered sheep – prancing naked on the grounds of a cloistered nunnery.
That year, major journals and Hollywood fan magazines – along with monster and science fiction weeklies – were loaded with photos from these two popular films. As the years went by, she was very much in my view with numerous guest appearances on popular TV shows including Adventures In Paradise, Route 66, Mr. Novak, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Wagon Train, The Big Valley, The Fugitive, Bonanza, Fantasy Island, Murder She Wrote, and Law and Order SVI. In between, she appeared with Hollywood’s most desirable leading men including Richard Egan, Maximilian Schell, Gregory Peck, Dean Jones, Clint Walker and most memorably with Paul Newman in The Prize and Sean Connery in Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller, Marnie.
DIANE BAKER – Mirage (1965) and The Prize (1963) with Paul Newman
I met with Diane Baker recently in her office at the Academy of Art University. I was anxious to talk about the re-release of The Diary of Anne Frank . But I started off by confessing my childhood infatuation with her and the fact that her image is frequently in view at home via Journey To The Center of the Earth, Marnie, and an occasional visit with The Silence Of The Lambs.
Diane: A brand new book just came out, Spellbound by Beauty. Donald Spoto wrote about Hitch and all the women in his life.
Seán: And the predominance of blondes?
Diane: It’s not only that. I’m in the last part with Tippi. I love Donald. He lives in Denmark now. He called me about an interview, “You’ve got to!” So, I spent two hours with him when he came to L.A. a year ago. The whole last part of it is my experience with Hitch on the set. It was about trying to get the real truth. It was about his troubled world with the women in the movies. Donald will be invited up here because we’re starting a new course on Hitchcock.
Seán: What is your outstanding memory of that film?
Diane: The best part of it was the genius of his ability to see his vision and to see him try to make that real for him. Even to the point of coming up and moving me just exactly the way he wanted me behind a curtain looking out a window. I think the one that created the biggest impact was the fact he was having such a traumatic time with Tippi – that he was trying to court me, bring me in and groom me to become the next person in the work. And I wouldn’t have any part of it.
Seán: Because it was so controlled?
Diane: So controlled. He wouldn’t speak to Tippi through the whole of production. It was devastating. It comes out in the book. He would say wonderful things to me right near her dressing room window. And I would say, “I wonder what you’re saying about me behind my back.” He would say, “Not at all. I think you’re wonderful. I love you. I care about you.” I think that dichotomy of what he was doing to Tippi and how he was trying to be wonderful to me and kind to me – and when he saw that I wasn’t joining and partnering with him, in the sense of his so-called plot, then he began to create difficulties for me too.
Seán: Was he doing that to just keep her going in being that crazy/nuts character?
Diane: He was so angry. All of this could have been, but he was also not well. He was drinking a lot of wine at lunches and falling asleep during the take. The Assistant Director had to get in and say, “Just cut.”
Seán: I find it a difficult film to watch. My partner loves it – probably for Sean Connery.
Diane: A lot of people love it for many good reasons. It was the first truly psychological film that imparted what many of his own feelings were. His own personality began to come into Marnie, more than any of the other films.
Seán: What comes through for me about your performance is the obvious disappointment of your character towards Sean Connery and his obsession with this idiot blonde. And you are so incredibly beautiful.
Diane: It’s wonderful to read some of the stuff coming out on the blogs from people who really responded. There are a lot of comments saying they wish he had taken me. But, you know, none of this phases me today. I don’t connect to the past. Is that possible? I don’t live in the past. I have pictures around and I have nostalgia for a lot of great movies. I’m very close to Bob Osborne – we have been since I was 18. We did a scene together for the Fox contract. He didn’t get it. I did get offered the contract. But, we always thanked God that he didn’t because he went on to write. Lucy Ball said, “Bob, your career is writing. That’s what you’re going to do really well at.” Thankfully, it was the best thing that happened. Bob became a writer and a collector of information and met so many great stars. Now he has all these great stories that he can use on Turner Classic Movies.
Seán: I got my cable connection because of TCM.
Diane: I’m amazed we haven’t talked before this because I have been so fascinated by San Francisco. I’ve gotten to know many interesting people. Bob Redford and I talked on the phone for over an hour the other morning. We keep up all the time. He’s wanting to spend more time in San Francisco. We’re having a meeting at the end of the month in the Presidio. I’m fascinated by what’s going on. We don’t know who our next governor will be, but I won’t vote for anyone unless they are so passionate about the film incentive tax or a rebate. In this country, independent films started in San Francisco and L.A. and some in Massachusetts as well. Amy Zims in Oakland has become a great friend. She has helped our students, we’ve written letters to Mayor Dellums to support her, I’ve been on committees to help. I’ve filmed over in Oakland. I’ve gotten help for the students and they are all thrilled about Oakland. She’s gotten something put through about not costing the students any money not for parking, helped us find a restaurant – so much good stuff. I’ve gone in front of the Board of Supervisors on two occasions speaking for Public Access and I’ve stood up for the school on the issue of St. Brigid’s (see Ordinance #263-06). I thought that was a pretty sad thing.
Diane: The Academy puts up money to save its life by putting up a roof and keeping it from demise because of its falling apart, rehabilitates it, and doesn’t change a thing inside. And then these people come screaming into the Supervisors – “What have you done?” I said to the people angry at the Academy that they’ve saved your building that you didn’t get together and buy or help the parish fix. I said to the Supervisors, “Have any of you ever gone to any of the buildings that the Academy actually took over or purchased? Like, on Powell or the church at Mason and Post?” No, they hadn’t. I said, “Go in and look and you’ll see that they’ve kept the pews, the facade, kept all the stained glass. Nothing has been changed – except they keep it in maintained order.” So, I said, “Please, give me a break. If you all want it, buy it. Help the parish. Get the Archbishop. Raise funds, do a community effort.” But, of course, no one did a thing. Don’t start knocking something that’s still standing and will still be a monument.
Seán: Let’s segue to George Stevens. Talk to me about working with this amazing director.
George Stevens – on the set, during a read-through
Diane: The day I did the test for George Stevens on the lot of Twentieth Century Fox, Mr. Otto Frank was there on the set. And Millie and I did a scene. He came up to me during the shooting and said, “You’re so like my daughter, Margot.” And I’m, like, I don’t know what to think or say or anything. I didn’t know. I just had – how wonderful, how moving. All that innocence was there for both me and Millie. I’m sure that the reason he responded to me so well was part of the reason I got the part. And why George said, “If Mr. Frank thinks she’s like his daughter, then she must be the right person for the part.” All I can say is that meeting with Mr. Frank – it’s amazing to me that I wasn’t old enough to understand – how to keep in touch with him for the years following before his death. What a great thing if I had only known and I was smart enough. Today, I would have immediately wanted to know more and called. But, at that time, I think I was so overwhelmed by being in a movie. But being in that movie that I wouldn’t have known how to —
Seán: How to use your own power.
Diane: My own power. I was so shy. It didn’t occur to me that I should pursue knowing somebody and to know them as long as I could. So, I’m not doing that anymore. I keep talking to them. I call people I haven’t seen five years in L.A. and say ‘please come over, let’s have dinner / let’s visit / let’s eat.’ Bob (Redford) and I were in high school together, he was two years ahead of me. We double-dated, we were friends, we knew each other. We’ve spent time over the years talking. The point is, I want to know him now. And I want him to know me now. We’re too old for garbage and silly nonsense. We’re vulnerable, we’ve lived a life, and we’ve more to live. I want to know the people I respect and care about from all those years. Millie and I are friends. We don’t see each other but four or five times a year, but we talk. She’s come to the school, she’s acted with me in a scene for a class. I brought Tippi Hedren up to talk and to receive an honor. I brought Martin Landau up to get a doctorate, and Mike Medavoy to get a doctorate this past April. Mike was my first agent. He’s now the head of Phoenix Pictures.
Joseph Schildkraut and Millie Perkins
Seán: Tell me about Joseph Schildkraut who played “Otto Frank”.
Diane: Oh, he was a character! You could never take it seriously. He would leave his dressing room door open just enough – and be in his shorts. There was a certain exhibitionist in him that wanted people to see how he looked – his attractive legs.
Diane: Another of my favorite films. He was always mannered, always proper. He was a good actor.
Seán: His performance in The Diary of Anne Frank is so different from all his other work.
Diane: He was at his best.
Seán: On to Shelley Winters.
SHELLEY WINTERS, Best Supporting Actress – The Diary of Anne Frank
Diane: “Shelley! Shelley!!” I truly believe Shelley had a great mind. I think she was a great, politically savvy, wonderful woman. She had a side of her that seemed to be always allowing the vulnerability to take over. And the excesses and, in some ways, the wonderfully humorous. You fell into a pattern when you would start acting like Shelley. I would be in the dressing room or out doing makeup and it would be, “Shelley! Where are you, Shelley!!” We were just crazy and we would act like that. One day, Shelley broke those ammonia things which she used on the set to cry. I knew nothing about this. Neither did Millie. In acting class we learned to cry. Shelley had a packet full in her robe – these little ammonia things she would crack. It went right to your nose, into your eyes, and suddenly you were smarting. She did this to me one day. I never knew anything about this. She didn’t warn me and I nearly dropped to the floor.
Seán: I’ve never heard of this.
Diane: What a shock! I stayed away. It makes you tear, like onions, but it’s shocking. She used them before a take. George, Sr. had a way of treating her. Some days he had to treat her with kid gloves, other days he had to be very strict with her – like a parent. “Shelley! We’re going to break now until you pull yourself together. Go to your dressing room.” “Yes, George. George, I – I’m sorry – what …?” “No, Shelley. We’ll wait until you pull yourself together. Then we’ll resume shooting.”
Seán: Too much ammonia on the brain.
Diane: It went from loving her, which he did, after A Place In The Sun which was so brilliant. In that film she was scared to fall in the water. She was pushed by Monty by the boat, she gets up, she’s shaking and frightened. So, George, Sr. jumps in and says, “If I can do it, you can do it.” He had to treat her in a very special way, which he did – all through the shooting.
Seán: She was not that old at that time to be so odd.
Diane: No, she wasn’t. She was just vulnerable. She was never awful, just insecure, and needy. And wanting his approval – “George, George, what did I do wrong?” But with me, he was so wonderful. I had such a crush – I can only tell you. He wore dark shady glasses. You could never quite see everything. He was a mystery. And yet, he treated me with warmth, kindness, and respect. If I was having a day when I was troubled on the set, he would say, “Diana? Were you in acting class last night?” And I’d say, “Yes, Mr. Stevens, I was in acting class.” It’s Monday. “I know,” he said. “I can tell. Don’t act.” “Yes, Mr. Stevens, yes.” I understood what he meant. Don’t do anything. Just be. And I’ll never forget the day I got a compliment.
George Stevens – the dailies, with Diane Baker, Lou Jacobi, Gusti Huber
Diane: You wanted, you waited for something to be said that would give you an idea of how you were doing. When we watched the rushes in the big screening room, in the big chairs – he was always in the back. And we’d be down in the front, nervous to see ourselves and see what would happen. How were yesterdays dailies? And one day he goes, “Now watch her. Diane. Watch what she’s doing. She is simple. That! She is listening. I sunk into my seat and thought, “Oh, my God. What is he going to say first? Was that good? Was that good what I did?” He would always send me for a cup of water. When he thought I was nervous, he would give me a little peppermint candy. One day I came into his office while he was eating lunch. I knocked on the door and asked his secretary if I could see Mr. Stevens. “Yes.” I went in and started to cry. The tears just —
Seán: What were they about?
Diane: I don’t know! Any number of things. He got up, took his napkin and dried my tears. He put his arm around me and said, “Now, you’re my good girl. You go back. Everything’s fine.” He just gave me that confidence.
Diane Baker, Gusti Huber, and Millie Perkins
Seán: Would you say that essentially he wanted you just to be you.
Seán: And who we are at 19? Who knows?
Diane: He was so kind and loving that it only made me want to work harder. That’s always been the case with me. Mr. Hitchcock used the opposite method.
Diane: On days when he wanted me to be tough, he would look at me across the room… [At this point, Diane does an astonishing facial impression of Hitchcock – that everyone would recognize – looking slowly back and forth at me as though I were her at that moment on the set. The energy in the characterization was the noisy silence of passive aggression, her/his eyes conveying the bitter pills of remonstration and insolvable resolution.] Other days, he game me presents. For Christmas, he gave me a clock radio. It was pink. There was a note attached, “Think of me every night before you go to sleep.”
Seán: [By now, I’m flushed and stifling a guffaw of laughter.] Oh—dear.
Diane: He would tell me how important I was, that he really cared about me. Another day he would… [Diane launches back into Hitchcock, this time his familiar mask of droopy-eyed apathy.] And I’m thinking [she whispers], “What did I do?” So, what works for me mostly – is love. If the director shows me that he believes and trusts that I can do the best performance, that I am good, that he or she cares – then I give 150 percent. I live on relationships, on care, on kindness. I truly believe, as did Anne Frank, in the goodness of people.
DIANE BAKER. Photo, Scott Alan
Download Carmen Milagro’s BlogTalkRadio interview with Seán Martinfield and jazz composer/pianist Terry Disley: Women and Legends Who Really Rock, 6/12/2009
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Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.