Friday, October 21, 2011

Cay Forester & Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945)


Cay Forrester (1921-2005), of Stockton, CA, made her screen debut in the 1943 Trail Blazers western Blazing Guns, and she would go on to grace several other B-Movies and westerns, including Jimmy Wakely's Song of the Range (1944) and the 1945 Columbia serial Brenda Starr, Reporter. I shall report back after watching all three in the near future.

Described in 1944 as “a former lifeguard, tumbler, beauty contest winner and budding screen actress," Cay Forester took time out in 1945 to appear at Salt Lake City, UT in Victor Herbert's “The Only Girl” with fellow Hollywood refugees Margia Dean and Patricia Lynn.

She retired from the screen in 1950 after marrying investment banker Ludlow Flower, Jr. Then she and Jane Russell helped found WAIF, “an international fund-raising group for the adoption of homeless children." Returned to acting after taking classes with Sanford Meisner, she later persuaded producer James Ellsworth to cast her in what would become Five Minutes to Live (1960). According to Cay herself, she had deluged the producer with ideas for her character, a suburban wife menaced by a killer, that he finally gave in and hired her to write the entire screen treatment. Originally meant for television, Five Minutes to Live was released theatrically starring brooding country & western singer Johnny Cash (and featuring budding child star Ronnie (later Ron) Howard and Cay's own daughter, Cynthia).

In March of 1967, Forester appeared with Dan O'Herlihy and Eileen Herlie in Michael Dyne's Victorian drama “The Right Honourable Gentleman” at Los Angeles' Huntington Hartford Theatre. Sadly, her performance incurred the wrath of at least one reviewer. Opined Hal Bates in the Van Nuys Valley News: “A sour note must be sounded for the performance of Cay Forester, who as Mrs. Dilke, was appallingly amateurish. She seemed as out-of-place among the professionals as did the unruly first-night audience with its ridiculous applause at every entrance and exit.”

The former starlet was last seen on screen as one of the passengers in Airport 1975.

Brenda Starr, Reporter

I cannot praise Blair & Associates, Ltd. enough for bringing this long-lost serial to the light of day. Yes, most of the sound and/or footage are missing from chapters 3 and 4 but VCI Entertainment, who releases the DVD, has made stills available to bridge the missing parts. Often a film thought to be lost proves not really worth the effort, but not in this case. I am not one of those detractors of every serial not Republic; in fact, narrative speaking, Republic serials are vastly overrated. Columbia's Brenda Starr, Reporter, in contrast, virtually sparkles and not just because of VCI's fantastic restoration. Screenwriters Ande Lamb, Dale Messick and the ubiquitous George Plympton must also take a bow, posthumously speaking. Yes some of the dialogue is tired:

Chuck: It sure is dark in here!
Brenda: You can say that again!
Chuck: It sure is dark in here!

But delivered by the likes of Joan Woodbury and Syd Saylor, why you cannot help laughing. Miss Woodbury emerges as one of the very best sound era serial heroines, much better, acting-wise, than, say, Linda Stirling or Kay Aldridge. No wonder she enjoyed a B-Movie career longer than most. Saylor and Frank Jaquet, as Brenda's photographer and editor respectively, are more than tolerable as the comedy relief, and we all know what a fine leading man Kane Richmond could be. Chalk Brenda Starr, Reporter up as a delightful surprise.

Emerging as a rather mature-looking 24-year-old, Cay Forester, as chanteuse Vera Harvey, turns up in chapter two, performing a little ditty in villainous George Meeker's Pelican Club, i.e. one of Columbia's standing sets that lent spectacle even to low-brow Sam Katzman serials. Her car, it appears, was used as a getaway vehicle by the gang but Vera has an alibi: her boss had declared it stolen. Which, of course, is a lie, and soon Vera is used to lure the intrepid Brenda into a trap. Will she survive the collapse

To be continued ...

Due to the loss of audio in chapter four, we do not know exactly what Cay, as Vera Harvey, tells policeman Kane Richmond but it certainly doesn't please her boss, George Meeker. She later has a tense telephone conversation with Brenda Starr, apparently revealing some secret to the enterprising girl reporter. The call, however, is rudely interrupted by one of the henchmen but Vera leaves her compact behind in the telephone booth, a clue, it appears to her whereabouts.

To be continued ...

2 comments:

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  2. I never thought I'd read anything about Cay Forester. My dad was one of the original investors in "Five Minutes To live." In the summer of 1960, we saw a screening on Sunset Blvd. and went out to The Tail Of The Cock afterward with James Ellsworth, Cay Forester, her husband, and Cay's daughter. As seen that night, the film was a tight, taught thriller with a riveting performance by Johnny Cash. Ms. Forester's performance, a supporting role, in no way matched that of Mr. Cash. Later that fall, we saw a sneak preview at the Wiltern Theatre, on a double bill with "Midnight Lace." "Five Minutes To Live," in this re-cut version that gave Ms. Forester much more screen time, was practically laughed out of the theatre. My father managed to get his money out of it, and it was shelved for about seven years. In the summer of 1967 --if memory serves-- it was finally released on the drive-in movie circuit as "Door To Door Maniac." I think, according to what Mr. Ellsworth told dad at the time, whatever investors remained managed to make some money. I also saw Cay Forester in "The Right Honorable Gentleman" in spring of 1967, on the stage in Los Angeles. I have no memory of her performance, but Eileen Herlie was absolutely riveting, as was the rest of the main cast.

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