Pretty Poison–Tuesday Weld, Hollywood’s Bad Girl–Part One

About Tuesday Weld


“Tuesday’s 15 going on 27.” Danny Kaye, The Five Pennies


“I didn’t have to play Lolita. I was Lolita.” Tuesday Weld, 1970


“Miss Weld is not a very good representative for the motion picture industry.” Louella Parsons


“I don’t like interviews because your brain can be picked. That isn’t nice anywhere–even in a living room.” Tuesday Weld, 1972.


“Tuesday is a great natural actress.” George Axelord, Lord Love a Duck


“I hated Mama. I didn’t feel really free until she died. Otherwise her death didn’t really affect me much…. Tuesday Weld, l969


“I wasn’t really mad at Tuesday until she started telling everyone I was dead. I didn’t like being called dead.” Tuesday’s mother, 1971


“She took my childhood away from me. I became the supporter of the family, and I had to take my father’s place in many, many ways. I was expected to make up for everything that had gone wrong with in Mama’s life.” Tuesday Weld, 1969


“We’ve very few friends. We live in sort of isolation. She’s almost paranoid about public life. She just prefers to stay home.” Dudley Moore, at the time he was Tuesday’s husband


Part One

Tuesday: Hollywood’s Bad Girl


Tuesday Weld had her first nervous breakdown at the age of nine, began drinking heavily at ten, and attempted suicide at twelve. She has never really made big as a movie star, yet for 40 years she has been one of Hollywood’s most distinguished and most beautiful actresses.

The noted playwright and actor, Sam Shepard, once called her “the female Marlon Brando.” It’s no surprise, given the intensity and the rarity of her screen performances.


It’s hard to believe, but there’s no biography of Tuesday Weld, who’s 63. Tuesday’s rich life almost begs to be written about. Her complex life story has the makings of a juicy biography–and a revelatory TV Movie-of-the-Week.


“Is there any richer subject for a Hollywood biography or autobiography?” asks critic David Thompson in his Film Dictionary. “Tuesday Weld is plainly smart and articulate enough, and she has survived all the craziness of being a mass media nymphet in the age of Eisenhower.”


Early beginnings


Tuesday began her showbiz career as a child model. At the age of three, she became the sole supporter of her widowed mother and two siblings. Making her screen debut at 13, Tuesday specialized in portraying unpredictable nymphets or cherubic-faced sex kittens. Often cast in low-grade exploitation films and soap operas, she was largely ignored by “serious” film critics until the 1970s.


No doubt, Tuesday has made many dismal pictures. But the most impressive aspect of her career–and life–is her sheer survival. Forty years after her arrival in Hollywood, she was still cast in major feature films. Tin 1996, she was featured in Feeling Minnesota, playing Keanu Reeves’s mother in a role expressly written for her.


Except for taking “breaks” to give birth to two children–and to what one journalist called “time off for bad behavior”–Tuesday has worked steadily, averaging one feature film or one TV movie per year. Tuesday seldom got the roles her talent cried out for–Lolita or Bonnie Parker–and it is hard to follow a consistent line through her career. But there hasn’t been a Tuesday performance not worth seeing. She has never departed from her own tough standards of endowing each and every character she has played with compassionately human dimensions. Indeed, Tuesday’s best work is subtle, implicit, almost hidden.


Despite poorly written roles, Tuesday has always managed to show she can be an extraordinary actress–as well as a great beauty. Along the way, she has been compared to two of the greatest erotic icons of the silver screen: silent star Louise Brooks and tragic heroine Marilyn Monroe.


Legendary Persona


Like other legendary persona, Tuesday is at once more and less than an actress. From the onset of her career, she attracted the attention of gossip columnists, Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons and company, who saw in her “free-wheeling” life-style, a severe “menace” to Hollywood’s reputation as the country’s moral arbiter.

In the l960s, Tuesday went through a period of depression and seclusion, during which she married, had a child, divorced and saw her house burn down. But with her film career all but finished, suddenly fans began to notice that she had been a first-rate actress all along, a major talent that had the misfortune of appearing in one horrible film after another. Indeed, in the late 1960s, Tuesday became the center of a growing cult of aficionados. Special Tuesday Weld film festivals began to spring up in New York and in other cities.


From her screen debut, Rock, Rock, Rock (1956) all the way to Falling Down (1993) and Feeling Minnesota (1996), nothing about Tuesday’s work has been routine–or expected. As Zelda in the TV movie F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood (1976, Anthony Page), she has a number of scenes that are as impressive and heartbreaking as those by any distinguished American actress.


Late dramatic roles


Tuesday’s dramatic roles from the late 1970s on have been meatier and more varied. Formal recognition for her talent came rather late, in 1977, when she received a supporting Oscar nomination for Looking for Mr. Goodbar, in which she played Diane Keaton’s older sister. A few years earlier, she earned the Best Actress Award at the Venice Film Festival for her performance in Frank Perry’s, Play It As It Lays, which became a cult movie.


Tuesday was brilliant in several offbeat movies that failed, such as Pretty Poison and Thief. In 1968, Tuesday made Pretty Poison, the film for which she is best known–but one which she dislikes. “Don’t talk to me about it,” she has said, “I couldn’t bear Noel Black (the director) even speaking to me. When he said ‘good morning,’ it destroyed my day.” Tuesday claimed to have learned more from the old Dobie Gillis TV shows than from Pretty Poison.


By l168, Tuesday was becoming a little tired of playing the eternal nymphet. At 25, she was still playing the precocious adolescent but, this time, with a difference. Under the baby-doll exterior lurked a heart of pure evil. Pretty Poison, with a script by Lorenzo Semple Jr., was based on the novel She Let Him Continue, and co-starred Anthony Perkins in his usual Psycho-like psychopathic role. But somehow over the years the movie has become an underground classic.


The plot has Perkins’ Dennis, a young man just released from prison for arson (and accidentally incinerating his aunt), convincing Tuesday that he’s a CIA agent who needs her help in foiling a Communist plot in her town. But it turns out that Tuesday’s character, Sue Ann Stepanek, is miles ahead of Dennis. In the film, she gleefully pumps her own mother full of lead, bumps off someone else, and pins it all on Dennis, who’s strangely still stuck with admiration for her sang-froid audacity.


At its release, Pretty Poison was not commercially successful; it was not until some critics praised Tuesday’s performance that the film acquired a cult status. Film magazine Sight and Sound observed: “It is Tuesday Weld who dominates the film as surely as she does her weaker partner. Her gradual transformation from the seemingly innocent high-school girl into the cool killer and demanding sex-machine of the later reels is very convincing.”


Turning Warren Beatty Down


It’s easy to see from this film why Tuesday was Warren Beatty’s first choice for Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde. Her innocent face masked a limitless capacity for murder and mayhem. Consensus among critics was that Bonnie Parker made Faye Dunaway, but that Tuesday would have made the role. Is there a greater compliment for an actress

Thief (1981), which featured writer-director Michael Mann’s (Miami Blues, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat) big-screen debut, is an arresting drama about a professional thief motivated by one drive: survival. Stylishly shot and scored, the film features superb performances by James Caan (in the lead) and Tuesday Weld.


Tuesday surpassed all other “drugged” performances in the still-underestimated Vietnam picture, Who’ll Stop the Rain Her country girl in I Walk the Line had the authenticity not even dreamed of by Sally Field, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek in their l980s rural sagas (Places in the Heart, Country, and The River, respectively).


In a career spanning four decades, Tuesday has worked with first-rate directors: Frank Perry (Play It as It Lays), Richard Brooks (Looking for Mr. Goodbar), Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in America), Joel Schumacher (Falling Down). And she appeared against the major stars of two generations: Danny Kaye (The Five Pennies), Elvis Presley (Wild in the Country), Anthony Perkins (Pretty Poison), Steve McQueen (Soldier in the Rain, The Cincinnati Kid), Gregory Peck (I Walk the Line), Nick Nolte (Who’ll Stop the Rain), James Caan (Thief), Robert De Niro (Once Upon a Time in America), Al Pacino (Author! Author!), Robert Duvall (Falling Down).

Please Read Part Two.  

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