Eva Marie Saint made her film debut in 1954, when director Elia Kazan cast her in On the Waterfront. She won an Oscar for her role in that film and has been a working actor ever since.
Ojai Film Fest Honors Eva Marie Saint
Legendary Actress Awarded for Contribution to Cinema
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Eva Marie Saint is a star. The actress’s illustrious career has spanned seven decades, during which time she’s had roles opposite such screen legends as Marlon Brando, Henry Fonda, and Cary Grant, and worked with famed directors including Alfred Hitchcock and Elia Kazan. But Saint’s road to fame was uphill. Initially, she wanted to be a teacher. “Those were the years when women really didn’t think about having a career,” Saint said. “Maybe teaching or being a nurse, and that was about it. They would marry soon after college or before.” Saint’s father, however, unintentionally sent her on a different path. “My father promised he would send my sister and me to college if we worked at least one year after college so that we would know what it was like for our husbands to be working out in the world. … Well, I never stopped working.”
After attending Ohio’s Bowling Green State University, where she studied acting, the 22-year-old made her way to New York City, getting stints on radio — saying “Hello, this is your long-distance operator” was one of her gigs — and eventually TV. Saint’s big break came in 1954, when she was cast in On the Waterfront. She’s been a working actress ever since; her most recent role was in 2014’s Winter’s Tale. At 94, she has not lost her spark. On November 9, Saint is being honored at the Ojai Film Festival for her contribution to cinema. I recently spoke over the phone with Saint about the beginnings of her career, some favorite memories, and her hopes for women in film today.
By Courtesy Photo
On the Waterfront
I read that your acting career started on live TV. How did that come about? In those days, you had access to agents and producers. You could just get the addresses in New York, and you could knock on the door. … I had my pictures taken, held those under my arm, and gave them out. One thing led to another, and I found out about the Actors Studio. … Live television saved me because it was such a wonderful way to work, but really crazy things happen. [For example,] I got a series called One Man’s Family, and I played Claudia. There was a scene where I was in a strapless bathing suit in a rubber pond on the set. It was very quiet, we were doing the scene, and something was happening off camera. I trained myself as any actor on live television: If anything is happening offset, forget it; just keep going. But I suddenly saw, off camera, this man tugging at his shirt. I got the message, and I looked down and … oh, no. Yes. There I was, naked on the top.… I just slid under the water, and the water was up to my chin then, and I finished the scene. You see how that strengthens you? Nothing bothers me, even in life. It was such a scary thing, but it didn’t feel that scary because that was the work that would pay your rent and your food.
But then you made it. You won an Oscar for your film debut, On the Waterfront. Yes, that was quite an experience. I did a play, with Lillian Gish, called Trip to Bountiful. [Director Elia] Kazan saw me in that play, and that’s how I ended up in Waterfront. He was a wonderful director, and Marlon [Brando], I think he was one of the finest actors the world has ever had. To work with him was an incredible experience, because I didn’t feel anything was artificial about the set. … It was such a happy, wonderful experience …
By Courtesy Photo
North by Northwest