“THAT WAS LAURA, BUT SHE’S ONLY A DREAM…”: FINDING THE WOMAN BEHIND THE PORTRAIT

By Despina Veneti

VERA’S LAURA: THE “NEW” WOMAN

She may be have been immortalized as Preminger’s most alluring female character, but before that Laura was Vera Caspary’s literary heroine – her favorite one, and the one closest to her heart. The Chicago-born author of Laura was a dynamic, strong-willed woman, ahead of her time: coming to adulthood just as WW I was ending, she made up her mind to seek a job in a male-dominated business world, dreaming of a writing position. Starting out as a stenographer, and accepting being paid significantly less than her male colleagues, she eventually got a break at an advertising agency; soon she moved up to a copywriter position, where she had the chance to display her writing skills and imagination. However, Caspary left what had become a highly paid job, to pursue her dream of becoming a “real writer”.

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Vera Caspary

She wrote for papers and magazines with great success, published a few books, and after a while several of her stories became “Hollywood material” – but her dream novel still eluded her. In the summer of 1941 the idea of a “murder mystery” with well-developed characters and multiple point of view narration crystallized into Laura. The eponymous heroine clearly bears a strong resemblance to her literary mother: an aspiring, ambitious young woman, eager to succeed in the advertising world, and determined to live her life on her own terms. Moreover, Vera’s Laura is a beautiful, obviously sexually liberated woman. She was Caspary’s vision of the “modern woman”: professionally successful, living according to her own free will, and yet retaining her femininity. Continue reading

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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