What Happened to . . . ?

DAVID BLUMBERG

February 11, 1993|By DAVID BLUMBERG

It started last June, on a warm early-summer evening. The television had on one of those black-and-white film-noirs of the 1940s. You know the type -- a complicated plot, but a predictable ending. My wife was tossing and turning, too tired to yelp at me to turn the set off.

I was looking at the Cleveland Indians box score from the day before when I first heard it. The voice. I looked up quickly at the screen as I heard this ear-arresting, husky, alluring tone. Lizabeth Scott had come into my life. I was addicted.

Being a librarian and a lover of reference books and research, I dug in. Who was the blonde, blue-eyed beauty? How many pictures had she made? What did the movie historians say about her talent?

Emma Matzo was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on September 29, 1922, one of six children of Czechoslovakian parents who ran a grocery store. Emma left for New York at 19, studied at the Alvienne School of the Theater and changed her name to Lizabeth (because she liked the name) Scott (for a favorite play, ''Mary of Scotland'').

The following year, the young fashion model and chorus girl won the lead as Sadie Thompson in ''Rain.'' Her icy beauty and tough demeanor were not only perfect for the part but landed her the role of Tallulah Bankhead's understudy in ''The Skin Of Our Teeth.'' Two years later, at the urging of Hollywood producer Hal Wallis, Miss Scott headed west. Two failed screen tests followed, but Wallis eventually signed her in 1945. A star was born.

During the next 10 years, Liz Scott made 19 pictures. The movies may not all ring a bell, but her performances were all professional, crisp and laudable. Some of her leading men during this time included Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Robert Cummings, Humphrey Bogart, Martin and Lewis, Alan Ladd, Victor Mature and Dick Powell. Movie audiences preferred her as the cold-hearted vamp, dangling a cigarette from pouty lips, but she could play sympathetic characters with equal flair and vitality. No single actress of this time (Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake included) had comparable range of co-stars and diversity of roles.

In 1954, however, her career nearly came to a screeching halt. Confidential, a less reliable version of the National Enquirer, ran a front-page smear concerning Miss Scott's sexual preference. She sued and won an out-of-court settlement, but the damage was done. Dutifully fulfilling her Wallis contract with Elvis Presley in 1957's ''Loving You,'' Miss Scott appeared in only one further picture, 1972's ''Pulp'' with Michael Caine and Mickey Rooney. She is virtually unknown today, remembered only by the 50-something-and-over generation and, of course, movie buffs. Her motion-picture career ended prematurely.

What happens to former beauties like Lizabeth Scott? Does their life change drastically after the limelight fades? My attraction to Liz is far more than physical. Her whole persona, attitude and being seemed to personify a period in U.S. movie making. She portrayed power and control in her performances. A liberated woman -- maybe the first! I was very drawn to Liz Scott the actress. Now I wanted to get to know Liz Scott, the person.

I first sent roses to Liz for her 70th birthday in September. Next, I called American Movie Classics (Channel 48, United Artists) and demanded a birthday tribute for Liz this coming fall. They complied. I called a Matzo in the Scranton phone book and told him how proud he should be of his distant relative.

My wife and brother-in-law have both gotten autographed pictures from Miss Scott. I acquired a copy of the only record she ever cut (her throaty singing voice is magic to my ears), along with posters, lobby cards and magazine tearsheets. I bring up her name to acquaintances, friends and relatives at every opportunity.

My most exciting moment as a delegate to the Republican National Convention last year had nothing to do with Dan Quayle. It was a chance discussion with another Jewish delegate who lives in Los Angeles. She goes to the same hairdresser as Liz Scott! She told me that Liz was living comfortably, in good health, and looking great. Not even meeting Sonny Bono made me as happy.

On December 4, I got a reward beyond my wildest dreams -- a hand-addressed letter from the star herself.

Since Liz Scott entered my life, weekends have changed. Along with my twin brother, I frequent flea markets, paper shows, memorabilia events and public auctions. From Elkton to Pocomoke City we have searched for Liz Scott items. My brother's wife is grateful that this new habit has dissipated his former obsession -- streetcars.

David Blumberg writes from Baltimore.

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