The line to get into The World of Henry Orient (1964) screening at the TCM Classic Film Festival was a bit hectic but well worth the temporary chaos. I knew nothing about the film except that Paula Prentiss was in it and that she would be at the screening. It was an added bonus that actress Merrie Spaeth was there too and that this film would become a new favorite.
Cari Beauchamp, author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood, interviewed actresses Merrie Spaeth and Paula Prentiss before the screening. This was the first time Spaeth and Prentiss had been together in 50 years.Beauchamp calls this film one of the great female buddy movies, the other one being Where the Boys (1960) Are which also features Paula Prentiss. Beauchamp shared a story about seeing Where the Boys Are for the first time. She had always been the tallest of her female friends so when she saw Paula Prentiss and noticed how tall she was Beauchamp wore her height proudly after that. Being tall myself (wishing I was even taller), I've always admired Prentiss' stature and beauty and dreamed of growing an extra inch and a half so I could be as tall as her.
The movie was shot in July and August of 1963. It was director George Roy Hill's third movie and the screenplay was adapted from a novel by Nora Johnson, director/writer Nunnally Johnson's daughter.
Prentiss was doing Shakespeare in the Park when George Roy Hill approached her about the part. She wasn't sure she could do both but she liked the idea of being in a film about a pianist. Prentiss also said that she could identify with the parts of the two teen leads.
The film follows two fourteen year old girls, Gil (Merrie Spaeth) and Val (Tippy Walker), as they stalk an eccentric pianist, Henry Orient (Peter Sellers) around NYC. Paula Prentiss plays Stella, a married woman who is having an affair with Orient. The plot makes it all sound rather creepy but the film itself is funny, charming and quirky.
George Roy Hill was looking for two girls who weren't professionals for the parts of Gil and Val. Spaeth's only acting experience was in an 8th grade production of Alice in Wonderland where she played the White Knight and a second part as Tweedle Dee. Needless to say she didn't have a professional acting background and after a long casting process she got the part of Marian Gilbert (aka Gil). She was 14 years old at the time and Spaeth remembers that the pigtails she wears in the film were her idea.
There are only a couple of scenes in which Spaeth and Prentiss are together. Spaeth remembers being on set with Tippy Walker and watching Paula Prentiss film her scenes. Spaeth says they were in awe of Prentiss' beauty and compliments Prentiss by saying "she's just as beautiful inside as she is outside."
The film takes place in the Fall but was shot during the summer. Prentiss remembers filming a scene in Central Park and they painted leaves of the surrounding trees so they'd give the background an Autumnal look.
Spaeth told the audience to watch carefully at the Central Park scenes. She wears a very heavy double breasted wool coat, over a sweater, with a wool kilt and wool knee-high socks which proved to be very hot in the summertime.
There is a scene when Spaeth and Walker yell a made up word "splitzing" (you can watch it here). It's from Nora Johnson's novel and it means to jump high over objects which is what they do in the scene. After The World of Henry Orient, Spaeth did some TV but realized that being actress wasn't for her. Today Spaeth has a successful career in finance. She graduated summa cum laude from Smith and went to Columbia Business School. Members of her team were in the audience. And Prentiss' husband actor Richard Benjamin was in the audience too!
In the video below, Beauchamp, Prentiss and Spaeth discuss Angela Lansbury (who plays Val's mother) and Peter Sellers. Beauchamp briefly mentions Tippy Walker's affair with the director George Roy Hill (controversial considering their age difference and the fact that Hill was married). I really love Spaeth's tip about Peter Seller's accent changing from Bulgarian, Spanish, Italian and then to a Brooklyn accent. I watched for this in the movie and it made it even more enjoyable!
This was a wonderful screening! I thoroughly enjoyed the interview, loved seeing my beloved Paula Prentiss in person, I became a new fan of Merrie Spaeth and then was treated to a very entertaining movie.