In between her two career touchstone roles (Edie Doyle in On the Waterfront and Eve Kendall in North By Northwest), Eva Marie Saint gave us what might be her most quietly compelling portrayal as Celia Pope, the troubled but resolute young wife in A Hatful of Rain.
Ms. Saint's performance was nominated for a Golden Globe Award, but it has been overshadowed by the two roles that have served to define her persona for filmgoers and that have sustained her across a career that has never waned. Today, in her eighties, Ms. Saint is one of the most revered actresses of all time, both for her artistry on-screen but for her life example (an enduring, sixty-year marriage to director Jeffrey Hayden and a firm policy of placing family ahead of career aspirations).
She began in television in the late 40s, shortly after coming to New York after graduating from Bowling Green State University. Despite some meager beginnings in the fledgling medium (she humorously relates several of these early appearances in interviews), Ms. Saint rapidly gained a unique stature as an actress of unusual quality and naturally luminous beauty.
The competition for the role of Edie Doyle in On the Waterfront came down to Ms. Saint and Elizabeth Montgomery. Elia Kazan chose Ms. Saint for her down-to-earth intensity of feeling, and created a film legend by doing so. Any heterosexual male with a trace of sensitivity can only hope for a young woman with the combination of beauty and character that Ms. Saint embodies in her portrayal of Edie Doyle.
Celia Pope is a character with many similarities to Edie Doyle—it's almost as if we are seeing Edie all grown up and married to Terry Malloy. But there's much more to Celia than that: Ms. Saint captures the confusion and conflict that Celia carries with her as she agonizes over the puzzling, contradictory behavior that her husband Johnny (Don Murray) is exhibiting.
While Alfred Hitchcock sensed the hidden glamour in Ms. Saint and gently derided her "sink to sink" performances, it's also true that the role of Celia Pope is probably closest to Ms. Saint's original Actors' Studio training. Unlike the romantic foreplay that Eve Kendall so memorably displays in North By Northwest, or the searing emotion of Edie Doyle in On The Waterfront, Celia Pope is nursing her feelings, feeling her way across an emotional high-wire with no net below her.
Ms. Saint doesn't allow Celia to show all her cards, and this preserves and heightens the character arc that takes the young, troubled wife from a character subordinate to her husband to one whose emotional strength and commitment can take charge when those around her need it the most.
While she would go on to create other memorable portrayals—here at Mid-Century Productions we are especially fond of her work in Raintree County (1958), All Fall Down (1962), 36 Hours (1965) and Loving (1970)—the role of Celia Pope has a unique resonance in its depiction of a young woman coming into her own. Ms. Saint's modulation of her character is so artless and natural that it is only in retrospect that one realizes how much emotional territory has been covered, how long the character's emotional journey has truly been—and how much of a triumph Ms. Saint's portrayal truly is.
June Moon, 1949 (Studio One TV production, co-starring Jack Lemmon)
End of the Honeymoon, 1953 (Studio One TV production)
Middle of the Night, 1954 (Philco TV production of the Paddy Chayevsky play filmed in 1959)
On The Waterfront, 1954
Our Town, 1955 (Producer's Showcase TV production of the Thornton Wilder play)
That Certain Feeling, 1956.
A Hatful of Rain, 1957 Raintree County, 1958
North By Northwest, 1959 Exodus, 1960
All Fall Down, 1962
36 Hours, 1965
The Stalking Moon, 1968
Moonlighting, 1986-88 (recurring role as Cybill Shepard's character's mother)
Because of Winn-Dixie, 2005