That smile, that smile... a George Herriman moon under two sadly impossible stars shining black in a pale night sky. Her small gappily placed teeth are a physical -- thus cinematic -- emblem of the eternally enticing but unbridgeable distance between predator and lover, between dream and reality. They represent the generative nature of all gaps, teasingly opposed by her "family" name while her "given" name hints at the god of conflict. Is it any wonder that she played a matricide in the '60s, and later starred in Mother and Daughter: The Loving War?
As Thalia Menninger, the tragic eternal return among Dobie Gillis's many loves, she pointedly capped America's harsh social pyramid. Like other marks of capitalist aristocracy, Thalia seemed achingly available to any male who could construct the approved magical signs of "maleness" with a simulacrum of ease, and yet always remained out of reach, a materialist will-of-the-wisp. Appropriately, "Thalia Menninger" suggests both comic muse and nerve disease: class mobility is our country's true belle dame sans merci.
In 1956's Rock, Rock, Rock, Weld established the places of Alan Freed, Frankie Lymon (recently admitted into the Rock Hall of Fame, itself named after her film), and Chuck Berry in the American consciousness, while again symbolizing (if any presence so thoroughgoingly physical can be called symbolic -- but she embodies the ethereal, and, by her contrast, fades the real to misty backdrop) the painful yet erotic, uneven and widely-spaced bitemark which protein-hungry economics leaves on the apparently yielding flesh of love.
Career tragedy struck in 1960's beautifully titled but imperfectly executed Sex Kittens Go To College, in which Mamie Van Doren ("What does she do? Sag?" -- Lou Reed) usurped Weld's natural role of un-interpreted genius. Weld retired, reflected, and returned, cardiac tissue toughened, determined to build a meaningful career of such demeaning roles.
1966's Lord Love A Duck was the first of might be termed the Dobie-deconstructions. Here Roddy McDowell plays a young upstart whose intellect (clearly signalled by a mid-Atlantic accent) is only surpassed by the passion inspired by Weld. Our Mephistophelean Helen easily reduces the owlish McDowell to hawk-like screeching and mowing down of suburbanites, ironically paralleling both the bloody technocrats who conducted the Vietnam war and the impending revolutionary fervor which would reap Richard Nixon as its reward.
In 1968, Anthony Perkins was teamed with Weld for the first time. Their Pretty Poison (760K) begins as comic eco-terrorism and ends in nuclear family disaster. Perkins's charmingly awkward sociopath makes a fetching Dobie to Weld's jeune fille fatale; one can only wish that this jaundiced stereoscopic vision had been trained on a series of such counterculture absurdities.
1970's I Walk the Line features Gregory Peck as an unusually dignified Dobie, with Weld, as a moonshiner's daughter, proving that the erotic lure of class mobility is as fatally effective in a downward direction as in an upward.
This happiest stage of her career peaked in 1972's Play It As It Lays, which should have established Weld and Perkins as the Garbo and Gilbert of our time. For once the splashy, tedious male tragedies littering the wings of Weld's performance are molted, and we are allowed to focus on her own eventual tragedy, the Kafkaesque tragedy of a wolf persuaded she's a maladjusted sheep.
Alas, then as now, nothing was more abhorrent to Hollywood than a great actress in full posession of her powers, and thereafter she was forced to split her professional life between large parts in insultingly timid films and insultingly small parts in the edgy material best suited for her.
1974's Reflections of Murder may be the best of Weld's TV work. This gloomy damp tale of female semi-solidarity is perfectly set in a New England college. Sam Waterston, resplendent in elbow patches, plays Prof. Cha. Pigg, an irritating womanizer familiar to any liberal arts grad; Weld and Joan Hackett-and-Hackett-and-Hackett play the mistress and the little woman. A sharp and tidy tale; easy to see why Nazi-collaborator Henri-Georges Clouzot also took a stab at it, albeit with a far lesser cast.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Once Upon a Time in America can stand for any number of beautifully played but utterly thankless roles, each as thinly conceived as an imbecilic scrawl on a toilet stall, each cliché transmuted by Weld into glimpses of gold behind the foregrounded rubble of inferior stars-du-jour. Over and over, she transcends the sexist rock-and-hard-place of Lovable Whore and Frigid Bitch by merging the roles into one mystically feral intelligence: an emotional travesty drafted into but well done. And such small portions, too!
But how? Much of Weld's best work is unavailable on videocassette and rarely screened in rep moviehouses. For those of you with thoroughly wired homes in the USA, turn to this month's collection of cable TV appearances, as compiled by TVnow.
Biographical notes courtesy of Jack Stalnaker.
If you like this site, you won't like the new "biography" of Tuesday Weld, Pretty Poison "by" Floyd Conner.
On the other hand, noted author and bon vivant Kevin Killian has recently produced a new play, "Wet Paint", in which Tuesday Weld and Leonora Weld appear as characters along with Jay DeFeo, Janis Joplin, Kenneth Anger, and the leads from "I Love Frida". Can Weld's elevation to Andy "The Duck" Warhol levels of iconicity be far behind?