Little Women (1949)
C. Aubrey Smith
Sarah Y. Mason
From the novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott
“I was lucky. I saw Little Women before I read Rossano’s memory of it, before I read David O. Selznick’s evaluation, before I heard what the critics at the time supposedly thought of his performance. It would be interesting to find out what the critics really did say. I’d never seen any other version of Little Women to compare it to, and watched this one without any preconceived ideas about it. All I knew about this Professor Baer character was what the housemaid had related about him: that he was foreigner, poor as a church mouse, who taught foreign languages to those planning to travel abroad. When he appeared (and I agreed, “Yes he fits that description: a foreigner, looks poor, seems quite capable of teaching foreign languages to others!”) there was not a moment in the performance that followed I perceived as “stiff”, “incredible” or not believable. If he didn’t understand the script, I never saw evidence of it; his accent was heavy but perfectly understandable (as I would have expected it to be), if he seemed awkward at all, I attributed this to his portrayal of a man for whom awkwardness would be perfectly within character: an intelligent, educated but very lonely man in a foreign country, captivated by the forceful and dynamic personality that is Jo March. To convey the complexities of that character, Rossano simply conveyed all of the necessary complexities — without, it appears, any outward manifestation of discomfort: awkwardness, delight, consternation, self-condemnation, infatuation, warmth, shyness, sadness — perfectly. That he did all of that while (so he says) not understanding the script or the language, and while reeling around from the shock of being cast as the character in the first place – makes his successful performance all the more astounding, when you think about it. I can understand his dismay at being cast in the role (watch Noi Vivi once, and you’ll see what a shock it must have been to him — Professor Baer is NOT Leo Kovalensky … and he fully expected to continue to be cast in those sorts of roles) — but I don’t agree with his or, if accurately reported, the critics’ evaluation of it. As a viewer, I never once didn’t participate fully in his character’s emotional ups and downs: his kindness, and shyness; his infatuation with Jo, and his honest desire to help her be the best writer she could be; his bewilderment and sadness at her abrupt departure; a foreigner who didn’t believe himself worthy of this girl he’d come to love; intimidated by the man he perceived as an unattainable rival … he knew he had nothing to give her but his heart. That he communicated all of that – it seems to me – is what makes a character successful, or not successful. Yes, I have no doubt that he was miserably unhappy in this first performing experience in the foreign country that was Hollywood, California. But you couldn’t have determined that from the performance. In the performance itself, he did exactly what the character called for him to do – and he did it concisely, and effectively and beautifully. Which, as far as I’m concerned, makes him one HELL of an actor. Watch the movie. You’ll enjoy it.”
June Allyson worked with Rossano later on Interlude, and had him as a special guest several times on her television program, “The June Allyson Show”.
Janet Leigh starred again with him in Honeymoon with a Stranger, which aired on television in 1969.
Also, for those of you who were wondering what song it was he sang in Little Women, Connie Liss helped us out with that one as well: “it was ‘None But The Lonely Heart’, sung beautifully in German by Rossano.”
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