A Majority of One (1961)

rosalind russell a majority of one
Rosalind Russell as Bertha Jacoby in A Majority of One (1961)

I know it’s been a while since I wrote a review. I wrote this short one (for me, that is) on the wonderful A Majority of One. It stars Rosalind Russell (of course) and veteran actor Alec Guinness, who was known for more than just being Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars series. This was one of the first films Rosalind Russell filmed after her smash hit Auntie Mame in 1958. Unfortunately, she struggled with some health problems that came her way right after filming Auntie Mame. She was out of commission for the next 3 years, but she bounced back like the resilient woman she was. She filmed several movie versions of famous plays in the 1960s, such as Gypsy, Five Finger Exercise, and Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad (and what a mouthful that one is!). But I think one of the most heartfelt and beautiful renditions she did of a play was in A Majority of One.

rosalind russell alec guinness a majority of one
Rosalind Russell and Alec Guinness in A Majority of One (1961)

Although originally played by true blue Jewish actress Gertrude Berg, Roz, with her Catholic background, had an amazing transformation.” Her New York (but also a little European) Jewish inflections are rather genuine, considering everything. She put her heart and soul into this role, trying her best to make it authentic. She says Jewish prayers, she speaks like New York Jews do, and even spouts a Yiddish word now and then. I had seen most of her films up to this point and although it was hard to get used to, I came to LOVE this character.

rosalind russell alec guinness a majority of one
Rosalind Russell and Alec Guinness in A Majority of One (1961)

A Majority of One concerns a Jewish widow, a Japanese businessman, and the prejudices present during this time between the two very different people. In a small Brooklyn apartment lives a Jewish widow named Bertha Jacoby. She lives mostly around other Jewish people, certainly not mixing on a daily basis with people of different cultural backgrounds. She has a daughter named Alice, who is married to a diplomat named Jerry Black. Jerry and “Mama,” as they both call her, clash sometimes. When she finds out that they will be leaving for another diplomatic assignment in Japan, she is taken aback. Having a son who died in World War II “at the hands of” Japanese men (according to her), she is not happy. She harbors deep prejudice for the Japanese, even though so much time has passed. In spite of all this, they are able to convince Mama to accompany them to Tokyo and live with them.

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Rosalind Russell and George Takei as Mr. Asano’s son. I’m not going to lie. I just noticed this is him!

She doesn’t have a very good boat trip abroad. But things change when she meets Mr. Asano, a very important Japanese businessman. Granted, this “Japanese” man is played by a white British man (Alec Guinness), but that’s how it was played on Broadway as well. It might be done differently today, but if we can get past how wrong this actually is, we can enjoy the story. First impressions can be tough. She is very cold to him when he does nice things for her, like picking up something she dropped on the floor. He is as polite as can be and over time, he doesn’t understand why she treats him this way. They have a serious conversation about the war. He tells her he lost a loved one in the war, too. But do we need to blame every Japanese and every American living today for the atrocities of war? She softens toward him and they share a beautiful friendship. She is finally having fun for the first time in a while, but her daughter and son-in-law don’t like it. Mr. Asano is actually someone Jerry has to deal with when he gets to Japan. He doesn’t appreciate how cozy they’re getting. Mama agrees to cut off ties with Mr. Asano if it’ll make her children happy, but she reminds them they called her a bigot before, and now they are the ones who are prejudiced.

rosalind russell a majority of one
Rosalind Russell in A Majority of One (1961)

Mama has a tough time getting used to Japanese life and is always clashing with their house servant, Eddie. Eventually, Mr. Asano is hurt by the brush off he got from his good friend, Mrs. Jacoby (this is how they always address each other). He starts acting badly at business meetings with Jerry, and when it’s the final straw, Jerry blames his mother-in-law. She informs him that he was the one who forced her to break off the friendship. Feeling badly about it, she tries to find Mr. Asano to explain. In the best scene of the movie, she dresses up in a kimono, tries sake for the first time (getting gloriously drunk on it), and samples Japanese delicacies that remind her of foods she’s had in the States. She is hilarious in this scene and has a lot of fun. But when Mr. Asano formally asks her if he can court her, things get complicated. Prejudice rears its ugly head as her daughter and son-in-law cannot stand the idea of her being with a Japanese man, someone so different from her.

rosalind russell alec guinness a majority of one
Rosalind Russell and Alec Guinness in A Majority of One (1961)

This film has wonderful highs and lows—dramatic scenes with heated arguments; comically charming lines; sparkling interaction between Rosalind Russell and Alec Guinness. I will not reveal the ending and what became of them, as I think I have done enough! Please watch this film at least once in your life. You might not take to it, but there are many things to discover.

TCM SUMMER UNDER THE STARS 2015 – August 31: Shelley Winters

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“I have bursts of being a lady, but it doesn’t last long.”
~Shelley Winters


This is the first blogathon I have ever participated in. And when I saw Shelley Winters being honored, I knew I had to write something deserving of the woman’s talent. The blogathon has been taking place here all month. If you are interested, you should check out some of the amazing profiles and reviews!

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Shelley Winters with her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for A Patch of Blue (1965)

I have always thought of Shelley Winters as an actress with an enormous talent, but one of those actresses you would file under the “underrated” category. As I am sure many people of my generation (I’m in my mid-20s) have experienced, Shelley Winters first showed up on my TV screen as that awesomely fun grandma in the 1990s television series Roseanne. Only in my late teens did I discover this same woman was in quite a few films in her heyday. She had an impressive roster stretching from A Place in the Sun and The Night of the Hunter to Lolita and A Patch of Blue. She was often cast as a pathetic lover or wife that you can’t help but feel sorry for. She may not have a happy ending, but she makes a big impression. But in other roles, she can be unlikeable or sometimes downright despicable. Her role as Rose-Ann in A Patch of Blue is a perfect example of this. She is loud, obnoxious, flat-out racist, cruel with a devilish heart. She is a terrible influence on her poor blind daughter and doesn’t seem to care what she has done to the vulnerable girl. And yet we are still fans of Shelley after this hard-to-watch performance, aren’t we?

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Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters in The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Miss Winter had an amazing ability of bringing us all into her soul. We can feel her emotions and feel her pain. In The Night of the Hunter, she is pitiably married to one of the scariest characters I have ever encountered in a movie, Robert Mitchum’s Rev. Harry Powell. He is downright frightening and Shelley’s character is incredibly acquiescing. It isn’t difficult to subdue her character, as with her sad relationship with Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun. He constantly attempts to get rid of her once he has found the beauty of Elizabeth Taylor, and once again, she comes to a pathetic end. Such is not the life of Shelley in pictures, however. She could also play strong women. Rose-Ann was strong. Mrs. Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank was strong. No, they were not necessarily the heroes of the story. They were even contemptible. But if there was one thing Shelley was not, it was ordinary.

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Shelley Winters and second husband Vittorio Gassman

She would never have taken a role—I’m sure of it—because it was showy and glamorous. She had many roles with some real meat to them. I have not seen the majority of her films, but I would love to. I highly recommend all the films I’ve mentioned here and I am certain there are many more that should be given their due fame. Who could forget her creepy and disturbing performance as the title character in What’s the Matter with Helen? co-starring Debbie Reynolds? It’s not the best film in the world, but somehow the song Goody Goody, used several times in the film, still gives me the creeps. I imagine Debbie Reynolds posing like a puppet with blood running down her face while this seemingly happy song plays.

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Shelley Winters, circa 1951

This two-time Oscar winner (playing not so likeable characters in A Patch of Blue and The Diary of Anne Frank) is one to be remembered for ages. She is not the first name that comes to mind when reflecting on the great films of the 1950s and 1960s, but she is a unique sparkle in the eye of classic film.

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Shelley Winters being her fun self while signing copies of her autobiography

Forever spreading the word of Roz's legacy