Quiet American – Remembering Janet Margolin (1943 – 1993)

Posted in Remember by - October 27, 2014
Quiet American – Remembering Janet Margolin (1943 – 1993)

A dark-haired beauty (she sometimes reminded me of Anna Karina) and rather reserved, the much under-rated Janet Margolin was always somebody worth watching. A gifted actress from Broadway, she was adept at both comedy and drama and turned in some fine performances in exciting projects.

Born in New York on July 25th 1943, Janet graduated from the New York High School of Performing Arts, and was performing on Broadway when she was just 18. Discovered shortly after by acclaimed director Frank Perry, Janet was soon cast in one of her most memorable movies.

Making an impressive movie debut in Perry’s emotional drama ‘David and Lisa’ (’62), the film told the tale of a teenager (a star-making Keir Dullea) who hates being touched, who meets an unstable girl (Margolin) who talks in rhyme. Janet was excellent, and it was a good start to her career in what remains a wonderful and sensitive study of mental illness. After playing the small roll of Mary of Bethany in George Stevens’ biblical epic ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ (’65), Janet was given the small but meaty part of a tortured Jew rescued at sea by Marlon Brando’s German pacifist, in the exiting adventure yarn ‘Morituri’ (’65). Next came another minor role, this time as an Indian prostitute in the Steve McQueen revenge western ‘Nevada Smith’ (’66), which was then followed by a change of pace part in Carl Reiner’s cult comedy ‘Enter Laughing’ (’67), as the Jewish girlfriend of Reni Santoni’s aspiring actor.

One interesting if obscure project at this time was the 1966 Argentinian political drama, ‘The Eavesdropper’. Directed by Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, the story involves Margolin’s heroine; Inés, falling for Stathis Giallelis’s immature terrorist, even standing by him after he betray their neighbors. After playing Gina Lollobrigida’s beautiful daughter in the diverting comedy ‘Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell’ (’68), Janet had a more memorable role as the sweet girlfriend of Woody Allen’s inept criminal, in his directorial debut ‘Take the Money and Run’ (’69), a disjointed comedy but with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments.

Janet would spend much of the Seventies in television, which did at least include a couple of decent TV movies, including the foretelling Sci-fi thriller ‘The Last Child’, and the Rod Taylor drama ‘Family Flight’, a ‘Flight of the Phoenix’ type tale, but pretty good within its TV origins. In 1977 Janet reunited with Woody Allen for a small part in his Oscar-winning comedy ‘Annie Hall’, playing Robin, the frigid ex-wife of Allen’s comedy writer. Two years later Janet gave one of her best performances in Jonathan Demme’s exciting Hitchcock tribute ‘Last Embrace’ (’79), and really kept the movie together as a mysterious student caught up in Roy Scheider’s living nightmare. Her seduction/murder scene at Niagara Falls near the movies climax is very memorable indeed.

After a hiatus in the early 80’s, Margolin appeared in an excellent sleeper, the Vietnam drama ‘Distant Thunder’ (’88), in which she played troubled veteran John Lithgow’s wife, with Ralph Macchio as their angry teenage son. Janet’s final movie would be the huge hit sequel ‘Ghostbusters II’ (’89) playing “Kitten”, the Prosecuting Attorney. Sadly, Janet died of ovarian cancer, aged just 50, on December 17, 1993. Married twice, her second husband was actor-director Ted Wass, and they had two children together.

A quiet actress of stage, screen and television, Janet Margolin made some interesting choices in her thirty year career, giving memorable performances in a handful of cult features. Adept at quirky, often vulnerable characters, it’s a shame that her early success did not lead to the recognition that this talented and much-missed lady truly deserved.

Favourite Movie: David and Lisa
Favourite Performance: Last Embrace

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