Her Brains Didn’t Get in Her Way (Mar, 1953)
Her Brains Didn’t Get in Her Way
First her I.Q., then her beauty, brought fame and fortune to Vanessa Brown. Now, in Broadway’s funniest hit, she demonstrates that nothing succeeds like sex BY HYMAN GOLDBERG
When a movie called “I’ve Always Loved You” opened several years ago, a young critic named Smylla Brind declared in the student newspaper of the University of California at Los Angeles that Vanessa Brown, the feminine lead, made the picture seem much better than it was. Miss Brown would bear watching, the young critic wrote, for she was certain to make her mark as a serious actress.
A few months ago, when the play “The Seven Year Itch” became an overnight hit on Broadway, the college critic’s judgment was borne out. For New York’s hard-bitten critics described Vanessa Brown’s acting as “a delight,” “a joy to watch,” and “a perfect performance.”
This was highly gratifying to Vanessa Brown, whose real name is Smylla Brind.
Her I.Q. Is in the Genius Class Strange and wonderful things are to be expected from young ladies with Vanessa’s attributes. Vanessa is beautiful and extremely shapely. She has blue eyes and auburn hair. When her I.Q. was taken some years ago, she scored 169, in the genius category. This makes her a definite anomaly in Hollywood, where bust and I.Q. measurements work in reverse.
Among the pictures she has made are “Margie,” “Mother Wore Tights,” and “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” In “The Late George Apley,” she played Richard Haydn’s daughter. In “The Foxes of Harrow,” she played Haydn’s wife. “I suppose,” she says, “that eventually I’ll play his mother, then his grandmother.”
When Vanessa was fourteen, she made her debut on the legitimate stage in the road company of “Watch on the Rhine.”
At the same time, she became one of the famous “Quiz Kids.”
Vanessa has struggled to live down her Quiz Kid reputation. When she called on Katharine Hepburn to read for a part in a play, Miss Hepburn snapped, “You’re that Quiz Kid, aren’t you?” Vanessa blushed. “Well, if you’re so damn smart, tell me what Shakespeare meant by ‘bearded like the pard’?”
“I had no idea,” says Vanessa, recalling this encounter, “but I’ve never been afraid to make a wild guess, which is very often mistaken for brilliance. So I took a guess. I said, ‘Leopard, bearded like a leopard.’ Miss Hepburn jumped up and yelled. ‘How did you ever know that? Lord, do you know Shakespeare that well?’ But I just smiled, and didn’t say anything, which is also sometimes (continued) taken for brilliance. I got the part, and toured with Miss Hepburn for five months. We got along fine.”
Vanessa Brown got along so well, indeed, that Katharine Hepburn has called her the one young Hollywood actress sure to achieve greatness on the stage.
Elliott Nugent, co-producer of “The Seven Year Itch,” Vanessa’s current play, says he was warned about Vanessa before he heard her read the part. “I was just a little leery,” he says, “about her reputation as a Quiz Kid. I was warned that she was too intellectual and that she’d probably be constantly theorizing and analyzing the play. But I saw from the start that she had just the right combination of innocence and provocativeness for the part, and I found that she is intelligent. But her intelligence was an asset, not a hindrance. She studied the play and her part so thoroughly that she brought depth of character to her portrayal of a girl who is essentially a simple type. You don’t often get that combination of good looks and intelligence in an actress.”
Vanessa, an only child, was born in Vienna. Her father is Dr. Nah Brind, a philologist, or student of languages. “He speaks nine languages,” says Vanessa, “or maybe it’s fourteen; I forget.” Her mother is Dr. Anna Brind, a practicing psychologist. Both her parents earned their doctorates at the University of Vienna, and both now lecture at UCLA. They left Vienna to go to Paris in 1932.
“My father,” says Vanessa, “has a strong historical sense, and he could see trouble brewing. I went to school in Paris, and then, five years later, my father went to America, because he saw that even Paris wasn’t going to be safe. After he had established himself in New York, he sent for Mother and me.
“Just before we left, Mother decided to go back to Vienna to visit her mother. When we came back to Paris we found a cable from Father warning us not to go to Vienna before we left Europe, because it would be too dangerous. That very day, Hitler marched into Austria.”
Vanessa speaks French and German fluently, and gets along fairly well in Italian. Although she was out of school for almost a year while she traveled around the country with the road company of “Watch on the Rhine,” she still managed to graduate from junior high school among the top ten in her class.
She did her schoolwork with the help of five girls who took turns sending her the assignments. She attended Hunter College High School in New York, which accepts only honor students, and then transferred to Hollywood High School when the family moved to Los Angeles after Vanessa was signed to a long-term movie contract. She was graduated from UCLA. She hopes eventually to earn her doctorate. “Everybody in my family is a doctor. I don’t want to be the only one who isn’t.” she says.
Her Husband Has Positive Ideas Her husband is Dr. Robert A. Franklyn, one of Hollywood’s leading plastic surgeons. Dr. Franklyn, a New Yorker who served in the medical corps of the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. is a man with positive opinions. When the management of the hotel in which he was then living objected to, his huge German shepherd dog, he had built for himself a large, ultramodern home, of rock, glass, and rare woods, where he and the dog could live undisturbed.
Several years ago, while Vanessa was in New York, a man serving a summons on Dr. Franklyn in a civil suit involving $100 complained- that he was greeted at the Franklyn house with a revolver shot. Dr. Franklyn said he had been asleep and was awakened by his dog’s barking. “Since I was alone.” he said, “I got my gun. As I walked down the driveway, a man came toward me. mumbling, and I fired into the air to scare him off. I thought he was a burglar, or a prowler, and I called the police.” The incident was settled as a misunderstanding.
Dr. Franklyn and Vanessa met through the good offices of a mutual friend named Martin Abramson, a magazine, radio, and television writer. “I had interviewed both of them before,” says Abramson, “and when I was in Hollywood gathering material for stories, I visited Dr. Franklyn. My wife. Marcia, was with me. She asked him how it was that a man like himself, rich and successful, and with a wide acquaintance among Hollywood beauties, had never married.
” “I’m tired of all this shallow Hollywood glamour.’ he answered. ‘If I could find somebody young and with a cultural background, sexy but innocent, beautiful and clever, glamorous and witty, maybe I could fall in love with her.’ ”
Abramson and his wife stared at each other. “We’re on our way,” said Abramson, “to see the girl you jus! described. Do you know Vanessa Brown?” Dr. Franklyn couldn’t believe such a girl existed, but he went along. Vanessa’s mother engaged Dr. Franklyn in a heated discussion as soon as they were introduced. Plastic surgeons, she maintained, do not give their patients sufficient psychological preparation before their operations. In the midst of the debate. Vanessa announced that she had a date. Dr. Franklyn told her later that he was appalled that she could think of going out with someone else when he was there, but he agreed, nevertheless, to drive her to where she was going.
They were married a year later, and Vanessa moved into Dr. Franklyn’s ultramodern home.
Every two weeks Dr. Franklyn flies to New York to see her, and they call each other two “or three times a day. “We talked about all the money we spend on long-distance telephone calls,” says Vanessa, “so Bob bought stock in the telephone company.
“Of course, being separated like this isn’t the best thing in the world, but it does have its advantages. When we meet every two weeks, it seems like a perpetual honeymoon. And. anyway, it’s Bob’s fault that I’m away from him so long. When I said I wanted to do a play, he picked ‘The Seven Year Itch’ because he thought it wouldn’t run very long.”
Her Husband Requests Glamour Dr. Franklyn. who is ten years older than Vanessa, has guided and influenced her in other ways. Before they were married, Vanessa’s wardrobe ran largely to skirts and sweaters. Her husband, whose taste runs to off-the-shoulder dresses and blouses, taught her to dress more glamorously.
Every night when she comes to the theatre. Vanessa asks what organizations have bought up blocks of tickets. She doesn’t vary her performance to suit the audience, of course, but she likes to know for whom she’s playing because she has lectured to so many different groups.
Vanessa, incidentally, is a startling lecturer for groups expecting a Hollywood beauty who will simply smile and add glamour to their gathering. Vanessa seldom passes up a chance to speak out.
When she was invited recently to attend a meeting of the Nassau County Cancer Committee, who wanted her help in publicizing their cause, she called on a friend of her father’s, a noted cancer expert. She spent several hours with him. absorbing technical information. As a result, the Nassau County Cancer Committee heard a learned lecture on cancer by Vanessa Brown, star of stage, screen, and television.
When she was introduced at the Dutch Treat Club, a luncheon group of New York business and professional men, as “a young lady who thinks like a man.” she took umbrage. “The greatest compliment a man can pay a woman.” she remarked, “is to say that she thinks like a man. But I think that maybe it isn’t such a great compliment, when I look around at the state of the world and consider that men made it that way by thinking like men.”
Though Vanessa Brown is undeniably an intellectual, she is not hesitant in letting it be known that her face and form are lovely to look at. for she well understands the sweet uses of publicity. In “The Seven Year Itch,” she plays the part of a giddy and acquiescent young model who cooperates thoroughly with a married man. whose wife is away in the country, in proving to himself that marriage hasn’t robbed him of his appeal to other women. In the play, Vanessa is supposed to have posed for a photograph in the nude, which she shows to Tom Ewell. who plays the married man.
With this material at hand. Vanessa embarked on a highly successful publicity stunt. She let it be known that since she was going to play the part of a girl who had posed for a nude picture, she thought she should have her picture taken unclothed. Next came word that she was looking for “a respectable married man” to take her picture in the nude. Thousands of photographers volunteered.
Then word came from Hollywood that the picture of Vanessa in the nude had already been made, but that it would not be released. This set off a great debate: Did Vanessa pose in the nude, or did she not?
Recently Vanessa told the story of what actually happened. “It did seem like a good idea,” she says, “so I had pictures made of me in the nude by ‘a respectable married man’—my husband.”
At twenty-five, Vanessa feels, rightly, that she has a long career ahead of her in the movies and on the stage and in television. “But,” she says, “in the American theatre, the accent is on youth. I’ll have to prepare for the time when I won’t be in demand.”
She Writes—and Sells—Stories When that time comes, Vanessa hopes to be established as a writer. She has collected masses of rejection slips, but she lias sold three short stories. And she has written a play, which some people think has merit. “An actress gets old.” she says, “and people don’t want to see her. But a writer improves with age, like brandy.” The End