Film emissary Eva Marie Saint plays role well


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Hours before she entertained questions and moviegoers at the Byham Theater next door, the Oscar winner slid into a corner booth at the Renaissance Hotel and ordered ... hot cocoa.

Eva Marie Saint may be one of Hitchcock's famous blondes and an actress who starred opposite such leading men as Marlon Brando, Cary Grant and Paul Newman, but she's as likely to mention her husband (who was visiting the Andy Warhol Museum) or her grandchildren as her credits, which continue to grow.

And she drank the chocolatey delight, mounded with whipped cream, but later revealed that she keeps her youthful figure by walking an hour a day. Although it's considered impolite to ask an actress her age, she is 88 but looks, sounds and appears far younger.

She and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz were in Pittsburgh for a question-and-answer session and free screening of "On the Waterfront" Tuesday night courtesy of TCM and Verizon. They have an easy rapport that comes from sharing such events but even he can never get her to kiss and tell about which dreamboat she might choose.

Mr. Mankiewicz calls Ms. Saint's husband, TV and stage producer-director Jeffrey Hayden, "maybe the greatest guy in America" and quite dashing, to boot, but recently teased her with this rhetorical question on stage.

"Your husband doesn't exist, right? It's a new world. Just tell me. If you have a choice, which one? Marlon Brando or Cary Grant. And she, of course, is so innocent and sweet, 'Marlon Brando or Cary Grant what?' "

The audience laughed and when she caught on, she said, "Oh, Ben! I can't answer that question, it's Jeffrey." The next day, when she did an interview, she playfully responded with another name from her picture past: Yves Montand.

Ms. Saint has managed to stay married to the same man for six decades, raise two children who produced three grandchildren and even keep her Singer sewing machine whirring while playing roles such as the cool spy in "North by Northwest," Maddie's mother on the series "Moonlighting" and Ma Kent in "Superman Returns" opposite Brandon Routh.

She is just beginning work on a new fantasy, "Winter's Tale" based on the Mark Helprin novel and starring Colin Farrell, among others.

Ms. Saint has not seen either of the new movies about Alfred Hitchcock, one starring Toby Jones for HBO and the other arriving here Nov. 30 with Anthony Hopkins, but says nothing to contradict past reports about their smooth working relationship.

"He was a gentleman, he was funny, he was so attentive to me, with the character, and he cared about everything Eve Kendall wore. He had an eye for the specifics of the character."

She confirmed the famous story about how he took her to Bergdorf Goodman's in Manhattan to choose the suits and dresses, including the black silk cocktail number with wine-red flowers, for her to don in "North by Northwest."

Ms. Saint had undergone some costume fittings but the director invited her to New York to pick out proper clothing for the stranger on the train who shares a compartment with Cary Grant's character, on the run after a complicated case of mistaken identity.

It was released five years after Brando saved her life and his during the making of "On the Waterfront." As the pair were being chased by a truck into a darkened alley, the script called for them to duck through a door.

"It's a scary scene and the door that we go into -- to prevent being killed -- was locked. It should not have been locked. I wouldn't be sitting here if Marlon had not been so smart. He cracked the glass with his hand, put his hand inside and unlocked it," cutting his hand in the process.

"On the Waterfront" was her first movie and to shield her husband, she didn't mention that harrowing detail that day. By the time Oscar night rolled around, she was in New York and nine months pregnant and her husband tried to protect her.

"Jeff whispered to me, 'If your name is mentioned, don't run up on that stage, count to 10.' I heard my name, but he had his thumb right on my thigh," she recalled.

She counted to 10, collected her golden boy on March 30, 1955, and gave birth to the couple's son two days later. Perfect timing all around.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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