Oscar Actors: McCambridge, Mercedes–Background, Career; Awards

 

Born Carlotta Mercedes Agnes McCambridge, March 17, 1918, in Joliet, Illinois; died in 2000.

Orson Welles, who co-starred with Mercedes McCambridge in the “Ford Theater” series, called her “the world’s greatest living radio actress.” After several appearances on Broadway, McCambridge moved to Hollywood, where she was cast in the high-profile movie, “All the King’s Men,” for which she won the Supporting Actress Oscar.

Oscar Nominations: 2

1949: Supporting Actress, All the King’s Men
1956: Supporting Actress, Giant

Oscar Context

In 1948, Mercedes McCambridge won the Supporting Oscar for her very first film.

In 1956, the winner of the Supporting Actress Oscar was Dorothy Malone for “Written on the Wind.”

McCambridge began her career as a radio actor during the 1930s while also performing on Broadway. In 1941, she played Judy’s girlfriend in A Date with Judy.She had the title role in Defense Attorney, a crime drama broadcast on ABC in 1951-1952.

McCambridge’s film career took off when she was cast as Sadie Burke opposite Broderick Crawford in All the King’s Men. McCambridge won the 1949 Best Supporting Actress for her role, while the film won Best Picture.

McCambridge also won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and New Star of the Year – Actress for her performance.

In 1954, the actress co-starred with Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden in the offbeat western drama, Johnny Guitar, which became a cult classic.

McCambridge played the supporting role of Luz in the George Stevens classic Giant (1956), which starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. She was nominated for another Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress but lost to Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind.

In 1959, McCambridge appeared opposite Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in the Joseph L. Mankiewicz film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly, Last Summer.

The Exorcist

McCambridge provided the dubbed voice of Pazuzu, the demon possessing the young girl Regan (played by Linda Blair) in The Exorcist. To sound disturbing McCambridge swallowed raw eggs, chain smoked and drank whiskey to make her voice harsh and her performance aggressive. Director William Friedkin also arranged for her to be bound to a chair during recordings, so that the demon seemed to be struggling against its restraints. Friedkin claimed that she initially requested no credit for the film—fearing it would take away from the attention of Blair’s performance—but later complained about her absence of credit during the film’s premiere. Her dispute with Friedkin and Warner over her exclusion ended when, with the help of the Screen Actors Guild, she was properly credited for her vocal work.

In the 1970s, she toured in a road company production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” as Big Mama, opposite John Carradine as Big Daddy.

Marriages:

McCambridge married her first husband, William Fifield, in 1939 when she was 23 years old. The couple had a son, John Lawrence Fifield, born in December, 1941. They divorced in 1946 after 7 years of marriage.

In 1950, when she was 34, McCambridge married Canadian Fletcher Markle, an actor-producer-director who directed her in productions on Ford Theater and Studio One. Her son, John, later took Markle’s name. During the marriage and afterward, McCambridge battled alcoholism. She and Markle divorced in 1962, after 12 years of marriage. In 1969, after years with Alcoholics Anonymous, she achieved sobriety.

In May 1977, she played the role of the “Madwoman” in Jean Giraudoux”s 1943 satire The Madwoman of Chaillot, which allowed her to teach college theater students and celebrate the dedication of the Theatre building for El Centro Jr. College in Dallas.

 

From 1975 to 1982, McCambridge devoted her time to the nonprofit Livengrin Foundation of Bensalem, Pennsylvania. She first served as a volunteer member of the Board of Directors, then as President and CEO, responsible for the day-to-day operations of the treatment center for both male and female alcoholics. Livengrin still operates today, treating both alcoholism and drug addiction. McCambridge, through her celebrity and personality, helped bring public recognition to, and acceptance of the disease of addiction, as well as the benefits of seeking treatment.