LIZABETH SCOTT was born Emma Matzo on this date. 1950s Hollywood set out to make her a star. They gave her a glamorous American name, taught her to act, dress and carry herself. Lizabeth Scott was born.
Paramount introduced her to the press with a fake biography, and made sure all press releases included the words, “beautiful”, “blonde”, “aloof”, and “alluring”. Later they decided she would be a tough femme fatale, and created for her a nickname: “The Threat.”
Critics were relatively complimentary of her performances, and she worked with some of the biggest leading men in Hollywood. Sometimes the gossip columnists wondered why she didn’t have a steady boyfriend. A few also noted that while all of her leading men praised her as an actress, none of them seriously dated her. At the time it was expected for leading men to have passionate flings with their leading ladies. The flings were usually just publicity stunts, but Scott stayed out of that.
Scott worked steadily, but at the time she wasn’t the only actress playing tough dangerous roles. Her rivals were Veronica Lake and Lauren Bacall. Scott was prescient, she knew what it took the studio a while to figure out. She was beautiful, but no where near as beautiful as Veronica Lake,. And while a good actress she just wasn’t as talented as Bacall. She invested her money well but little did she know that her career wouldn’t be destroyed by the competition. She was about to be hosed.
Despite insurmountable competition she actually had a modestly successful career. Her only goal as a movie actress was to earn enough money and fame to go back to her first love-the theater. She never earned the big money or got the best parts. She didn’t mind. Her goal was to return to the theater with enough fame to sell tickets, and have enough money to live so she could take roles in smaller but more interesting productions.
In fact she would have been just as happy away from Hollywood and looked forward to the day when she could make the choice to leave. In the end, she had no choice.
As you may have guessed, she was a lesbian. Many male stars from the golden age of Hollywood were gay and the big studios threatened them with humiliation and sometimes even bodily harm if the came out. But there was a thriving underground gay culture in Hollywood that was discreet and gave the male stars a chance to connect, bond and date.
Lesbians were not so fortunate. Hollywood made no allowances for them and they had to remain deeply in the closet. Studio threats against them were swift and terrible, and unfortunately many starlets had to live their lives in ways that they were by no means proud. Some like silent star Alla Nazimova picked up naive young aspiring actresses fresh of the bus and manipulated them into affairs through promises of helping their careers. Whether the girl was gay or straight didn’t matter to them. Often they simply took advantage of women via alcohol, drugs, or threats to call their parents. Before you judge them, remember how lonely, isolated and desperate for companionship they were.
Lizabeth Scott was lonely too, but had way too much integrity to take advantage of women. As you will see, she wasn’t paid that consideration. When she could, Scott traveled to Paris which was more tolerant of her lifestyle. She even began to date Frede, an openly gay Parisian entertainer.
The studio wasn’t happy, but in the 40s and 50s Americans generally got little news from Europe, at least nothing not related to the Cold War. So as long as it was discreet and stayed in Paris, they magnanimously gave her permission. Bound to return to America, she turned to comfort in the arms of prostitutes. There were many highly expensive courtesans that catered to Hollywood’s lesbians.
Unfortunately, many of Hollywood’s top call girls had a second source of income-selling stories to the tabloids. Some also made fortunes with blackmail but that is another story.
Young people today who have never read even a regular newspaper can’t possibly fathom the depths that 50s tabloid newspapers would go to sell a story. Even 80s babies who watched the National Enquirer destroy presidential candidate Gary Hart or sneak reporters with mini cameras to photograph celebrity funerals can’t imagine it.
50s Tabloids were bloodthirsty. The worst was Confidential. Publisher Robert Harrison made modern TV and web shows look like amateurs. He made the FBI and the CIA look like amateurs.
They destroyed enough lives for five books, but as mentioned were watching Scott closely because of her lack of interest in men. For a while they didn’t have enough, but in 1954 the Confidential purchased the address books of several of Hollywood’s most popular prostitutes. The magazine was salivating because after all, an actor’s name, address and phone number in a call girl’s little black book was incriminating and could be sold as innuendo. While they happily disgraced the call girl’s male clients, they were particularly lurid with lesbians (hey… the rag was owned and run by men.) Scott became the target of accusing articles. They could only go so far though since all they had was her name in the book.
The magazine continued to follow though and eventually found a prostitute who had never sold information so Scott trusted her, and sadly liked her. The call girl recorded everything.
Scott made her final film appearance in her second comedy noir, Pulp in 1972, alongside Michael Caine and Mickey Rooney in a nostalgic pastiche of noir tropes. The director spent a long time coaxing Scott out of retirement to fly to Malta for the shooting. Scott said that while she enjoyed Malta, she was not pleased that most of her footage was cut out—eight scenes in all. Despite disagreements among the cast, crew, and past critics, Pulp, as with the 1949 Too Late for Tears, is increasingly considered an artistic success by film historians.
After that, Scott kept away from public view and declined most interview requests. From the 1970s on, she was engaged in real estate development and volunteer work for various charities, such as Project HOPE and the Ancient Arts Council of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she was also a major donor.
Unlike her favorite actress, Great Garbo, Scott’s seclusion was not total. She continued to date within a close circle of old Hollywood insiders. “One of her best friends was the singer Michael Jackson and on very rare occasions, she could be spotted on his arm.” Nor did she forget Hal Wallis. She appeared on stage at an American Film Institute tribute to Wallis in 1987 and fondly recalled her time with him. In 2003, film historian Bernard F. Dick interviewed Scott for his biography of Wallis. The result was an entire chapter titled “Morning Star”, in which the author observed Scott was still able to recite her opening monologue from The Skin of Our Teeth, which she had learned six decades earlier. Scott died of congestive heart failure at the age of 92 in January 2015.