Barbara Rush at Cinecon 2019
December 18, 2019
Cinecon bestowed their esteemed Legacy Award to three actresses at this year’s festival: Ann Robinson, Gigi Perreau and Barbara Rush. I had the grand opportunity to be present for all three awards and Q&As, two of which I’ve already covered, Robinson's and Perreau's. That leaves Rush.
I’ve heard Barbara Rush speak after a screening of one of her better known sci-fi flicks, When Worlds Collide (1951), at the TCM Classic Film Festival last year. For Cinecon's award presentation, the festival went with a more obscure movie, Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (1957), which Cinecon President Stan Taffel said they chose because Rush absolutely shined in it—and that was no easy feat considering the talented cast she appeared with, including Ginger Rogers, David Niven, Dan Dailey, and Tony Randall. No big deal. Rush recalled that she had so much fun making this film; in fact, she laughed so hard at times that she found it difficult to keep a straight face, especially when Randall was around!
Barbara Rush at TCMFF 2019.
The list of actors and directors Rush worked with over the course of her career was quite impressive: Douglas Sirk, Nunnally Johnson, Jimmy Stewart, Ginger Rogers, James Mason, and many more. She fondly recalled wonderful times working with such legends. “When you work with the greats… people like that keep you on your toes,” she said.
Some of Rush's most famous work was in the sci-fi genre. It Came from Outer Space (1953) is probably the best remembered of them all, and one thing Rush found interesting about that picture—and many sci-fi movies she appeared in—was that the aliens were usually the nice guys. They were there to fix their spaceship or submarine and go along their way, she recalled, but then everyone on Earth wanted to kill them! The aforementioned When Worlds Collide was another sci-fi tale Rush starred in, this time without any aliens. In that picture, which took the characters on a spaceship to another planet and a brand-new future, there was a beautiful panorama at the end created by a famous artist, depicting what he thought the future would look like. Rush extolled that expansive piece of art and all the work that went into movies and sets like that one. “It’s such a huge business,” she said, and working as an actress she was able to admire all the hard work the crew put in, how giant sound stages turned into incredible locales, and everything else that goes into the industry behind the scenes. (She shared that same admiration with me before on the TCMFF red carpet, so I can tell her interest and enthusiasm is genuine!)
Rush early in her film career.
Taffel also brought up some of the other legendary actors Rush worked with, including Marlon Brando in The Young Lions (1958). Rush called the legend a "very interesting man," and went on to share a story of shooting a scene where they were supposed to be in the Alps with snow coming down around them. Acting the part, Rush came down a flight of stairs shivering and trying to warm herself up, but since they were on a sound stage surrounded by soapy snow, not the real stuff, Brando asked her what she was doing. "I'm being cold!" she exclaimed. "This is a sound stage, this isn't cold at all. You're doing something that's not really happening!" he told her. “I am being cold! …That’s called pretending!” I don’t know much about Brando, but I can see that sort of exchange happening with him, even considering he was known as a method actor!
Rush also recalled working on The Young Philadelphians (1959) with Paul Newman, saying it was "the rare script that comes along that's like reading a book." But the person she shared memories of wasn't Newman; it was co-star Billie Burke. "She was like a little bird," Rush remembered. "She'd get so excited about things!" Of course, Burke regaled her with stories of her late husband Flo Ziegfeld, which seemed to be a treat to Rush.
The conversation eventually turned to an important topic: Since Rush worked with so many iconic leading men, Taffel had to know: Who was the best kisser? “I don’t know, you’d have to ask him!” she laughed. “I always say that!” (This is true—I've heard her say it in another Q&A, so her mouth is quite obviously zipped.) "The wonderful thing I think for me, anyway, and I’m so grateful for it, is my career was always an adventure," Rush said. "I don’t think I ever did anything in any picture I didn’t really like; I loved everybody I worked with." Well, that was a heartwarming answer, nonetheless.
Rush with Frank Sinatra in Come Blow Your Horn (1963).
But before we forget, Rush wasn’t at that screening just to regale us with stories; she was also the year’s second recipient of Cinecon’s 2019 Legacy Award. And to present such an honor, Cinecon certainly made it an event, complete with a surprise. Taffel brought up one of her directors, Randal Kleiser, who cast Rush in his USC thesis film Peege in 1973. Kleiser was always told that it was hard to get into the business unless you knew someone, and he never thought he’d find an actress who worked with icons like Newman, Brando and Sinatra to act in his student film. The short ended up launching his career. “I’ll always be forever grateful to you for starting me out,” he told Rush.
The surprises didn’t end there, though. In addition to Kleiser, Cinecon brought together Rush’s Peege co-stars Bruce Davison and Barry Livingston to present her award. Davison shared a lovely, if somewhat surreal, story of shooting the sequel to Peege, Portrait of Grandpa Doc, for a 1977 ABC Weekend Specials series. He recalled being woken up at 3am by someone on set to prepare for a scene at LAX, where they were shooting, and ending up on a conveyor belt next to Rush, who was doing her own makeup (that's what he said!). Davison remembered turning to her and saying: “Barbara, do you ever get confused about what’s real and what’s not?” He said she gave him a lifeline that he cherishes to this day: “Darling, it’s only real when they say action!”