Waldo’s portrayal, Part 2*

* By DESPINA VENETI
THE TWO WALDOS: VERA CASPARY’S AND OTTO PREMINGER’S

Before becoming one of the most memorable and popular characters in Otto Preminger’s whole filmography, Waldo Lydecker had been Vera Caspary’s literary character. Tracing his “birth”, Caspary herself has said Waldo’s idiosyncracies, talents and background had concerned her a great deal before starting writing her most famous book the summer of 1941 (originally, published in Colliers in 1942, as a seven-part serial entitled Ring Twice for Laura, and published the following year as a novel under the title Laura). She indeed spent many nights “figuring” Waldo “out” with her author friend Ellis St. Joseph; it was actually the latter who suggested the very structure of Laura to Caspary – a multiple point of view narration – pointing her to the work of writer Wilkie Collins. More specifically, Caspary’s main literary influence on Laura was the character of Count Fosco from Collins’s 1859 novel The Woman In White (which was cinematically adapted several times, the most well-known one being the 1948 eponymous film starring Sydney Greenstreet); Caspary modeled her Waldo after Collins’s Count Fosco even in terms of appearance: he was obese, with “soft flesh”, and furthermore possessed a Van Dyke beard – which makes of course for an entirely different figure, compared to the lean, elegant, ascetic physique of the filmic Waldo, who’s sporting a “pencil mustache”.

The literary Waldo is also an acidic, witty columnist, inclined to decadence. The exact nature of his relationship with Laura, however, is a point of much more significant difference compared to the film (to be discussed in length…).

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Laird Cregar, a menacing figure in ”The Lodger” (1944).

Based on Caspary’s description of Waldo’s appearance, I guess it was no wonder that Zanuck envisioned Laird Cregar in the role (a brilliant actor, but Preminger absolutely didn’t want him, for the reason that the audience would immediately identify him as the “villain”). Preminger’s idea (still from the position of the film’s producer, since the direction had initially been given to Rouben Mamoulian) to cast Clifton Webb was a stroke of genius. Continue reading

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LAURA’s opening shot

“They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

Love and desire and hate:

I think they have no portion in us after

We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream.”

(Ernest Dowson’s poem “Vitae Summa Brevis”, read on radio by Waldo Lydecker in the last scene of LAURA)

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Theater had been a major part of Preminger’s life since he was sixteen, as well as a favorite source of inspiration throughout his whole career. Although among the least “theatrical” of film directors, Preminger has often set up the first scenes of his films as dynamic “tableaux”, using the latters to unveil the narrative issues at stake, and to also put the protagonist squarely “at home” in a subtly evolving milieu. Sometimes he even planted maliciously several hidden clues in these first scenes, clues that would assume their full meaning at the end – as in the case of LAURA. Continue reading