Reconsidering Aldo Ray: Chapter One

aldo0Back in September I set aside a block of time to watch TCM on the 25th. It was actor Aldo Ray’s birthday and in celebration TCM aired a batch of great Aldo Ray films including many of the WW2 dramas he appeared in and one film I hadn’t seen before, Jacques Tourneur’s NIGHTFALL (1957). NIGHTFALL was a terrifically taut and moody ‘mid-50s noir with solid performances from everyone involved including Anne Bancroft, Brian Keith, Rudy Bond and James Gregory. But it was Aldo Ray’s turn as the deeply troubled James Vanning that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I became obsessed with the way he moved and delivered each line. Nobody smokes a cigarette like Aldo Ray. There’s no forethought involved. No effort to seduce or impress audiences with an exaggerated pose or gesture. Ray doesn’t have to pretend to be cool, threatening, bruised, battered or tough. He just is. And I find every unassuming gesture he makes utterly captivating.

Aldo Ray has never been considered a great Hollywood actor in the traditional sense but his natural, unaffected performances often seemed to emerge from some unsettled place. You could frequently hear a genuine urgency in way he delivered his lines and his casual swagger told you he’d been around the block more than once. Whenever Ray erupted on screen it felt like you were watching a volcano explode and if you didn’t get out of the way it could easily swallow you up in a heavy flow of golden molten lava.

Film historians often like to talk about the sea change that occurred in the 1950s, when actor’s like Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando brought a new kind of sincerity to Hollywood. These highly trained method actors changed the way we appreciate and understand acting today and they’ve rightfully been recognized for their accomplishments. But there were other performers that unconsciously championed a new kind of natural approach to acting. And one of them was Aldo Ray.

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James Gregory and Aldo Ray in NIGHTFALL (1957)

It’s easy to criticize the coarse and unshackled way Ray tackled his roles. He wasn’t professionally trained. He was born Aldo DaRe to a blue-collar Italian family in Pennsylvania that raised him on the West Coast in the working-class town of Crockett, California. After fighting in WW2 as a Navy frogman he returned home and taught kids to swim at Crockett’s high-school and public pool while attending University of California at Berkeley where he studied political science. Ray planned to become the constable of Crockett but fell into acting by chance. According to locals and various written accounts, one day Aldo and his brother Guido were at Crockett’s Club Tac, a bar that was originally built in 1923 and is still standing today. While there Guido spotted a column in the San Francisco Chronicle announcing that Columbia Pictures was looking for extras to appear in a football film. Guido wanted to try his hand at acting so he convinced his brother Aldo to take him to San Francisco where a cattle call was taking place at The Clift Hotel. More than 300 would-be actors showed up to try and win a part in Dick Miller’s football drama SATURDAY’S HERO (1951) before Aldo and his brother Guido arrived. Aldo was serious about his future job as a constable and hoped to eventually become a Congressman but he reluctantly agreed to read the script along with his brother. When Ray spoke his first lines with that rough husky cigarette scarred voice, director David Miller asked him if there was something wrong? Did he have a cold? Ray got irritated and told them no. That was his natural voice and he also told them that he thought the cattle call for actors was, in his own words, “A lot of crap.” Ray wanted to leave but Miller convinced him to stay and read something for them. Ray ignored the script and delivered a political speech instead, which would eventually win him the constableship in Crockett. Miller was impressed with Ray’s raw talent and immediately gave him a role in his film.

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Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray in THE MARRYING KIND (1952)

Ray’s wasn’t all that impressed by Hollywood and after making SATURDAY’S HERO he returned to Crockett where he became constable and forgot about acting, at least for a little while. But Hollywood didn’t forget about him and a year later Columbia Pictures movie mogul Harry Cohn came calling. He told Ray he had a small part for him in a Judy Holliday movie playing her husband in THE MARRYING KIND (1952). But after Cohn and director George Cuckor saw his screen test they were so impressed that they had the role rewritten to give Ray more to do in the film. Their smart decision paid off. Ray had unique qualities that made him stand apart from typical Hollywood leading men of the era. One look at his down-to-earth barrel-chested performance in THE MARRYING KIND and you knew that Ray could change a tire, mow the lawn and throw a punch. His could be your father, your brother, your uncle or your neighbor and that everyman quality was something that post-WW2 film audiences desperately needed to see on screen.

“He has a great advantage: the way his eyes are made. The light comes into them. There are certain people who have opaque eyes which refuse to catch the light. But his eyes had a certain glow and gave quite well in the photographed result. He did this silent scene very well lying there on the bed in the same room with Judy (Holliday). Then later he did comedy scenes with her–very difficult ones–and there were also emotional sequences where he broke down and cried. They were brilliant.”
- George Cuckor on Aldo Ray’s performance in THE MARRYING KIND from George Cukor: Interviews by Robert Emmet Long

My fascination with Aldo Ray recently led me to visit his hometown of Crockett where some friends of mine have purchased a house of their own. While there I heard some interesting stories about the man and learned a lot about the memories he left behind as well as the many ways in which he still haunts that sleepy little Bay Area town. Next week I’ll take you there and we can dive more into the mystique of Aldo Ray and what made him such a distinct and unforgettable screen star.

0 Response Reconsidering Aldo Ray: Chapter One
Posted By Arthur : December 20, 2012 5:21 pm

Yes, whatever happened to him? I don’t remember him as aging on the screen. He must have had a short career. I vividly recall him from the film version of Norman Mailer’s The Naked And The Dead.

Posted By Arthur : December 20, 2012 5:21 pm

Yes, whatever happened to him? I don’t remember him as aging on the screen. He must have had a short career. I vividly recall him from the film version of Norman Mailer’s The Naked And The Dead.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 20, 2012 5:25 pm

Arthur – His career in movies kind of fizzled out but he worked a lot in television until he died in 1991. Please tune in next week and I’ll fill you on more details about Ray’s last years.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 20, 2012 5:25 pm

Arthur – His career in movies kind of fizzled out but he worked a lot in television until he died in 1991. Please tune in next week and I’ll fill you on more details about Ray’s last years.

Posted By cashiers : December 20, 2012 5:39 pm

This is terrific! “Coarse and unshackled” really captures him. I’ve always felt like he was never quite comfortable in his own skin. Whenever he shows up on screen I know I’m in for an unpredictable performance.

I’m glad to hear of another person who appreciates him in Nightfall and recommend him, too, in his all-to-brief role in “And Hope to Die.”

Posted By cashiers : December 20, 2012 5:39 pm

This is terrific! “Coarse and unshackled” really captures him. I’ve always felt like he was never quite comfortable in his own skin. Whenever he shows up on screen I know I’m in for an unpredictable performance.

I’m glad to hear of another person who appreciates him in Nightfall and recommend him, too, in his all-to-brief role in “And Hope to Die.”

Posted By Cary Watson : December 20, 2012 6:02 pm

I only recall him from WE’RE NO ANGELS with Humphrey Bogart. It was a comedy and he was very good in it.

Posted By Cary Watson : December 20, 2012 6:02 pm

I only recall him from WE’RE NO ANGELS with Humphrey Bogart. It was a comedy and he was very good in it.

Posted By Qalice : December 20, 2012 6:10 pm

Thanks for writing about Aldo Ray! I’ve always liked his work because, as your essay indicates, there’s no one quite like him. I watched “We’re No Angels” again when TCM played it recently, and he just pops — no small feat when sharing scenes with Humphrey Bogart and Peter Ustinov. I’m looking forward to reading the post next week.

Posted By Qalice : December 20, 2012 6:10 pm

Thanks for writing about Aldo Ray! I’ve always liked his work because, as your essay indicates, there’s no one quite like him. I watched “We’re No Angels” again when TCM played it recently, and he just pops — no small feat when sharing scenes with Humphrey Bogart and Peter Ustinov. I’m looking forward to reading the post next week.

Posted By Errol Jones : December 20, 2012 6:25 pm

I lived and acted in (stage)Hollywood for 35 years and always admired Aldo’s performances. I think my favorite are BATTLE CRY with a huge cast including Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Anne Francis, Dorothy Malone. He was paired opposite Nancy Olsen. Also WERE NO ANGLES with Humphrey Bogart. He was an actor in a ‘field of his own’ in many ways. He owned ALDO’S restaurant on Hollywood Blvd and I would see him catching the regular bus transportation through town. He was an honest, friendly giant of a man and film star. He should have had a much larger career in films, but he was also honest about his ‘real life’ which sometimes don’t ‘fit’ with the Hollywood-style living. He is greatly missed!

Posted By Errol Jones : December 20, 2012 6:25 pm

I lived and acted in (stage)Hollywood for 35 years and always admired Aldo’s performances. I think my favorite are BATTLE CRY with a huge cast including Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Anne Francis, Dorothy Malone. He was paired opposite Nancy Olsen. Also WERE NO ANGLES with Humphrey Bogart. He was an actor in a ‘field of his own’ in many ways. He owned ALDO’S restaurant on Hollywood Blvd and I would see him catching the regular bus transportation through town. He was an honest, friendly giant of a man and film star. He should have had a much larger career in films, but he was also honest about his ‘real life’ which sometimes don’t ‘fit’ with the Hollywood-style living. He is greatly missed!

Posted By ripvandumkof : December 20, 2012 8:02 pm

his best movie is Men In War with Robert Ryan.

Posted By ripvandumkof : December 20, 2012 8:02 pm

his best movie is Men In War with Robert Ryan.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 20, 2012 8:35 pm

Thanks for the comments and I’m glad to see other Ray fans sharing their appreciation for the actor!

Cashiers – I love AND HOPE TO DIE! Such a great cast. Like most of René Clément’s films, it needs to be restored to its original glory on DVD.

Cary & Qalice – I just watched WE’RE NO ANGELS on TCM myself. I hadn’t seen it in ages but I agree. He does “pop” and it’s amazing that he was able to do comedy as well as he does.

Errol – Loved your personal story about seeing Ray on Hollywood Blvd! He does seem like the type of guy that would still be riding the bus, even if he owned his own restaurant.

ripvandumkof – He’s great in MEN OF WAR but I love all the Ray/Ryan film team-ups.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 20, 2012 8:35 pm

Thanks for the comments and I’m glad to see other Ray fans sharing their appreciation for the actor!

Cashiers – I love AND HOPE TO DIE! Such a great cast. Like most of René Clément’s films, it needs to be restored to its original glory on DVD.

Cary & Qalice – I just watched WE’RE NO ANGELS on TCM myself. I hadn’t seen it in ages but I agree. He does “pop” and it’s amazing that he was able to do comedy as well as he does.

Errol – Loved your personal story about seeing Ray on Hollywood Blvd! He does seem like the type of guy that would still be riding the bus, even if he owned his own restaurant.

ripvandumkof – He’s great in MEN OF WAR but I love all the Ray/Ryan film team-ups.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : December 20, 2012 9:10 pm

When I did a production of WEST SIDE STORY in 1981, I billed myself as “the new Aldo Ray.”

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : December 20, 2012 9:10 pm

When I did a production of WEST SIDE STORY in 1981, I billed myself as “the new Aldo Ray.”

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 20, 2012 9:33 pm

Richard – Why am I not surprised by that? If you ever upload a video to Youtube of that WEST SIDE STORY production featuring the “new Aldo Ray” please let me know!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 20, 2012 9:33 pm

Richard – Why am I not surprised by that? If you ever upload a video to Youtube of that WEST SIDE STORY production featuring the “new Aldo Ray” please let me know!

Posted By Gene : December 21, 2012 12:46 am

I’ve been interested in Aldo Ray since I saw his son in Twin Peaks. He was terrific in The Marrying Kind and Nightfall. I need to see more of his films. I know his widow was the casting director in Inglorious Basterds (as well as Twin Peaks) but I still do not care for Brad Pitt’s Aldo Ray “imitation”. There’s nothing like the original.

Posted By Gene : December 21, 2012 12:46 am

I’ve been interested in Aldo Ray since I saw his son in Twin Peaks. He was terrific in The Marrying Kind and Nightfall. I need to see more of his films. I know his widow was the casting director in Inglorious Basterds (as well as Twin Peaks) but I still do not care for Brad Pitt’s Aldo Ray “imitation”. There’s nothing like the original.

Posted By jojo : December 21, 2012 1:19 am

Aldo Ray is one of “those guys”* to me. If he’s in the cast, I’ll watch the movie.

I know there’ll at least be one good thing about it.

*”those ladies” also exist where applicable

Posted By jojo : December 21, 2012 1:19 am

Aldo Ray is one of “those guys”* to me. If he’s in the cast, I’ll watch the movie.

I know there’ll at least be one good thing about it.

*”those ladies” also exist where applicable

Posted By Doug : December 21, 2012 3:41 am

Gene- thanks for mentioning his son-I didn’t make the Twin Peaks connection until I checked IMDB. Eric DaRe was impressive as tough guy Leo Johnson.
Looking forward to learning more about Aldo Ray.

Posted By Doug : December 21, 2012 3:41 am

Gene- thanks for mentioning his son-I didn’t make the Twin Peaks connection until I checked IMDB. Eric DaRe was impressive as tough guy Leo Johnson.
Looking forward to learning more about Aldo Ray.

Posted By Emgee : December 21, 2012 6:35 am

I only saw hin in Nightfall, which is indeed terrific. He played his character cool, calm and collected, but you knew: when this guy explodes, Watch Out!!

Todays Cool Guys a la Pitt and Depp are mostly pose, little substance. As if they’re constantly checking their Coolness Detector. “Hmmmm, Looking good!!”.

Posted By Emgee : December 21, 2012 6:35 am

I only saw hin in Nightfall, which is indeed terrific. He played his character cool, calm and collected, but you knew: when this guy explodes, Watch Out!!

Todays Cool Guys a la Pitt and Depp are mostly pose, little substance. As if they’re constantly checking their Coolness Detector. “Hmmmm, Looking good!!”.

Posted By Anonymous : December 21, 2012 12:15 pm

I’m a huge Aldo Ray fan, and until about 5.3 seconds ago, I had no idea he was born in Pen Argyl PA, which is about 4 miles from me! (Jayne Mansfield is buried there).

I’ll see what I can dig up on (heh) on this end.

And like Gene, I also liked Eric DaRe very much in “Twin Peaks” – to this day I remember the assault via soap in a sock!

Pamela

Posted By Anonymous : December 21, 2012 12:15 pm

I’m a huge Aldo Ray fan, and until about 5.3 seconds ago, I had no idea he was born in Pen Argyl PA, which is about 4 miles from me! (Jayne Mansfield is buried there).

I’ll see what I can dig up on (heh) on this end.

And like Gene, I also liked Eric DaRe very much in “Twin Peaks” – to this day I remember the assault via soap in a sock!

Pamela

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : December 21, 2012 1:03 pm

Ray is very interesting in a movie that’s commonly cited as one of his worst (or typical of a period in which he did anything for money) – Bert Freed’s Haunts. It’s on YouTube. Ray has the supporting role of a small town sheriff trying to sort out a string of murders and his scenes with May Britt, as a fragile spinster with a connection to the case, is surprisingly tender. You might have to watch it twice to really get this, because Ray’s performance doesn’t call attention to itself, but it’s worth checking out if you like his work.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : December 21, 2012 1:03 pm

Ray is very interesting in a movie that’s commonly cited as one of his worst (or typical of a period in which he did anything for money) – Bert Freed’s Haunts. It’s on YouTube. Ray has the supporting role of a small town sheriff trying to sort out a string of murders and his scenes with May Britt, as a fragile spinster with a connection to the case, is surprisingly tender. You might have to watch it twice to really get this, because Ray’s performance doesn’t call attention to itself, but it’s worth checking out if you like his work.

Posted By Kingrat : December 21, 2012 2:05 pm

Emgee, we’re on the same page about Brad Pitt, who to me is like James Dean alienation as a shampoo commercial.

Kimberly, I’m looking forward to your follow-up piece on Ray’s career.

Posted By Kingrat : December 21, 2012 2:05 pm

Emgee, we’re on the same page about Brad Pitt, who to me is like James Dean alienation as a shampoo commercial.

Kimberly, I’m looking forward to your follow-up piece on Ray’s career.

Posted By Jenni : December 21, 2012 7:01 pm

I saw Aldo Ray in The Marrying Kind, not knowing what the movie was actually about. I thought it was going to be a rom-com. It turned out be a moving drama and Ray’s performance was outstanding. He was also great in God’s Little Acre. Great post and am eager to read part 2!

Posted By Jenni : December 21, 2012 7:01 pm

I saw Aldo Ray in The Marrying Kind, not knowing what the movie was actually about. I thought it was going to be a rom-com. It turned out be a moving drama and Ray’s performance was outstanding. He was also great in God’s Little Acre. Great post and am eager to read part 2!

Posted By Mike Perry : December 21, 2012 8:01 pm

Since I have always liked his 1950′s era output I thought I would mention that my earliest memory of Ray would have to be seeing The Naked and the Dead on late night TV in the 70′s. His performance hit me square in the jaw as the gruff don’t mess with me soldier. This lead me to Men in War on a cheap VHS tape and other titles like Battle Cry and Miss Sadie Thompson. Thought it was neat that that Tarantino named Brad Pitt’s character after him as well in Basterds.

Posted By Mike Perry : December 21, 2012 8:01 pm

Since I have always liked his 1950′s era output I thought I would mention that my earliest memory of Ray would have to be seeing The Naked and the Dead on late night TV in the 70′s. His performance hit me square in the jaw as the gruff don’t mess with me soldier. This lead me to Men in War on a cheap VHS tape and other titles like Battle Cry and Miss Sadie Thompson. Thought it was neat that that Tarantino named Brad Pitt’s character after him as well in Basterds.

Posted By Eleanor : December 24, 2012 11:13 am

Mr. Ray on screen is luminous, compelling, direct and ever so beguiling. There was a sincerity and depth of emotion, I am awed by him. He had scenes in Miss Sadie Thompson with Rita Hayworth that always break my heart. Simply a natural actor, one with such unforgettable passion.

Posted By Eleanor : December 24, 2012 11:13 am

Mr. Ray on screen is luminous, compelling, direct and ever so beguiling. There was a sincerity and depth of emotion, I am awed by him. He had scenes in Miss Sadie Thompson with Rita Hayworth that always break my heart. Simply a natural actor, one with such unforgettable passion.

Posted By swac44 : December 24, 2012 2:43 pm

I watched TCM’s broadcast of God’s Little Acre (nice to see it in widescreen) shortly before this post appeared, and Aldo is terrific in it, playing a small town lothario who finds himself on the losing side of the equation when the local cotton mill closes down. The characters talk a lot about him before he even turns up on the screen, and he lives up to the billing, women can’t seem to resist him, even if he is a no-good, drunken two-timer. You can feel the heat coming off the screen in his scenes with a very ripe Tina Louise, worth watching if only for that.

Posted By swac44 : December 24, 2012 2:43 pm

I watched TCM’s broadcast of God’s Little Acre (nice to see it in widescreen) shortly before this post appeared, and Aldo is terrific in it, playing a small town lothario who finds himself on the losing side of the equation when the local cotton mill closes down. The characters talk a lot about him before he even turns up on the screen, and he lives up to the billing, women can’t seem to resist him, even if he is a no-good, drunken two-timer. You can feel the heat coming off the screen in his scenes with a very ripe Tina Louise, worth watching if only for that.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 26, 2012 2:31 pm

Thanks for all the comments! It’s great hearing from so many of Ray’s fans. Hope you’re all enjoying the holidays. I’ll post part 2 tomorrow.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : December 26, 2012 2:31 pm

Thanks for all the comments! It’s great hearing from so many of Ray’s fans. Hope you’re all enjoying the holidays. I’ll post part 2 tomorrow.

Posted By pattysboi : December 27, 2012 6:02 pm

He’s also very funny in “Pat and Mike” with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

Posted By pattysboi : December 27, 2012 6:02 pm

He’s also very funny in “Pat and Mike” with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

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