Flirts, Free-spirits & Frontier Women – Remembering Janice Rule (1931 – 2003)

Posted in Remember by - June 08, 2015
Flirts, Free-spirits & Frontier Women – Remembering Janice Rule (1931 – 2003)

A classy and attractive lady with Broadway experience, Janice Rule was a multitalented actress who could easily switch from playing strong or emotional ladies to wayward women, and even showed a knack for comedy. A force to be reckoned with she always had strict control of her career, even if it meant upsetting the studios.

Born in Ohio on August 15th 1931, Janice’s early years were spent as a dancer before she made her screen debut in the 1951 Joan Crawford drama ‘Goodbye, My Fancy’. Supporting parts followed with the minor Doris Day musical ‘Starlift’ (’51) and the watchable war picture ‘Rogue’s March’ (’53), playing Peter Lawford’s British girlfriend.

Never taking the easy route, Rule always preferred to take on interesting projects, even turning down Eve Marie Saint’s role in ‘On the Waterfront’ (’54), preferring stage work, and was enjoying great success in ‘Picnic’ on Broadway at the time. Back on screen Janice was Jeffrey Hunter’s girlfriend in the western ‘Gun for a Coward’ (’57) and then James Stewart’s fiancée in ‘Bell, Book and Candle’ (’58), having a spell cast on her by Kim Novak’s old college rival.

During this time Janice appeared in a handful of westerns of varying quality. First was the box-office flop ‘Invitation to a Gunfighter’ (’64) as the girl who deserts George Segal’s confederate soldier while he’s off fighting in the Civil War. Better was the William Holden starrer ‘Alvarez Kelly’ (’66) as Richard Widmark’s fiancée, and then the wonderful sleeper ‘Welcome to Hard Times’ (’67) as Henry Fonda’s tragic girlfriend. Another movie of note during this time was the Marlon Brando drama ‘The Chase’ (’66) playing Robert Duvall’s flirtatious wife Emily. After a fun part as Dean Martin’s partner in the Matt Helm adventure ‘The Ambushers’ (’67), a good role came in the cult suburban drama ‘The Swimmer’ (’68) as Burt Lancaster’s bitter ex. Replacing first choice Barbara Loden, it was a one-scene part but she was terrific in it, showing real emotion as the ‘other woman’ unable to forgive Lancaster for his mistreatment of her.

In the UK Janice had a nice little role in the under-rated homage ‘Gumshoe’ (’71) as the object of wannabe detective Albert Finney’s missing person case. After playing Dennis Hopper’s old flame in the comedy-western ‘Kid Blue’ (’73), Rule had one of her most memorable roles in Robert Altman’s wonderfully dreamy drama ‘3 Women’ (’77) as a pregnant artist and owner of the motel where Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall take refuge in. It was a nicely understated performance and won Janice many plaudits. After a five year cinematic break Rule came back with a winner, playing sympathetic journalist Kate Newman in Costa-Gavras’ excellent political thriller ‘Missing’ (’82), a festival favourite starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek as relatives searching for John Shea’s missing writer.
Rule’s final movie appearances were as aspiring cyclist Kevin Costner’s mother in ‘American Flyers’ and the sentimental drama ‘Rainy Day Friends’ (both ’85) as a psychotherapist, something that she had qualified for in real-life. Retiring from acting, Rule ran a practice in New York and would only return to the screen for a handful of television spots until 1992.

Married three times, most notably to actor Ben Gazzara, Janice Rule died from a cerebral haemorrhage on October 17th 2003. A rebel who crossed many genres, Janice was able to run the gamut of emotions, it’s just a shame she didn’t have more memorable roles on the big screen.

Favourite Movie: The Swimmer
Favourite Performance: 3 Women

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