I once had a boss who I referred to, not so fondly, as The Dragon Lady. Dripping with privilege and obsessed with status, she was quick to cut down anyone who didn’t fit within her narrow definitions of societal importance. She reminded me, then and now, of a real-life Merle Kittridge. Kittridge, of course, was the well-to-do cold fish featured in 1958’s Bell, Book and Candle, the charmingly glossy look at the touching heartaches of a modern witch, perfectly played by the ever-enchanting Kim Novak.
Thankfully, the fictional Kittridge was eventually given some comic pathos by the film’s denouement via her majestic portrayer, Janice Rule. This turnabout is further emphasized by the subtle restraint this consummate performer gives to even her most cutting observations of Novak’s Gillian, ever an outsider due to her peculiar talents. That being said, as rivals for the affections of Jimmy Stewart’s quiet Shepard, the two actresses convincingly play up the polar opposites of their characters. Thus, Merle emerges as a classic example of a woman that you love to hate.
Nicely, in real life, Rule, who died in 2003 at the age of 72, seemed to be the exact opposite of her very popular creation. Earning her degree as a psychoanalyst, she spent the majority of her life helping others between her frequent acting gigs.
Fun Fact: Both Rule and Novak played the heroine in Picnic, William Inge’s classic look at the subtle torments and soft joys of smalltown life. Rule appeared in the original Broadway production while Novak took over in the popular film adaptation.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!