Return to Peyton Place: Remembering a Hollywood Starlet
by David Story
Many years ago when I was living in Atlanta, I met a childhood idol named Kasey Rogers, who played Louise Tate on the long-running Bewitched series. Yet, for many (myself included), Kasey was best remembered for TV's first primetime soap opera Peyton Place, in which she played Julie Anderson, mother of Barbara Parkin's character Betty Anderson Harrington (and mother-in-law to Ryan O'Neal's Rodney Harrington). She claimed that the Peyton Place writers incorporated real-life traits of the stars into the TV characters, thus making Julie Anderson's trademark quality one of long-suffering.
Kasey had fond memories of her Peyton Place years, once recounting a PR trip to Mexico City, where she and co-star Barbra Parkins were besieged by fans at the airport who shouted, "Hola, Julie, hola, Julie!" She was proud to claim the title of TV's first primetime adulteress, as on TV she was in love with Rodney's father Leslie Harrington, a relationship so scandalous, it raised the eyebrows of some of her real-life husband's clients.
Kasey hailed from Morehouse, Missouri, where she was born Josie Imogene in 1925 to Ina Mae Mocabee and Eben Rogers. She later married Walter Winslow "Bud" Lewis III, a Hollywood PR man, who started Bud Lewis and Associates in 1952. Lewis was a native of Oakland, California, but spent his early life in Boston where he graduated from Boston College in 1939.
For some time I have been reconstructing from memory some of my many conversations with Kasey about her life, her TV roles, Alfred Hitchcock, and her tenure as a 1940s/50s Hollywood starlet known as "Laura Elliott." Although Kasey starred in a couple of "B" western classics, Silver City and Denver and Rio Grande Denver and Rio Grand, she will always be remembered for a TV sit-com and a Hitchcock film.
Kasey said in the beginning when she was about seven or eight, she started piano lessons and later accordion, but in between her mother paid to have her take what they then called "elocution" lessons -- enunciation and pronunciation -- and she did little monologues. She said her mom was not exactly a stage mom but at heart a frustrated actress who never attempted anything, but liked the liked the glamour and influenced her in that direction. As a result, Kasey did little plays, and always had the lead, even later on in her junior high and high school plays
For young Kasey, getting in pictures came about accidentally. She told me she was twenty and had just gotten married to her first husband a year earlier (which she called a really "dumb" idea, just a "wartime" hook-up) when an agent from MCA saw her somewhere in between Beverly Hills and wanted to represent her. As she was with her hubby Mr. Donnellson, it was okay. But she was pregnant and didn't follow through, though she kept the agent's number.
She called him after her first son was born and asked if the offer still stood. "Yes, by all means," was the reply, so the agent took her to Paramount, and she auditioned, followed by a real screen test with George Reeves, who was TV's Superman. Next, she was signed with the lead in Special Agent.
However, Kasey quickly learned to be wary of "The Fishbowl," a room at Paramount that had lovely couches and chairs and lamps and a piano and light switches -- totally furnished -- but with a wall that was double-glass, floor-to-ceiling. On the opposite side were two rows of seats and an intercom. That's where the coach sat, and often the casting director, if not the producer and director, as well. Of course, added Kasey, starlets like herself could not see through that glass and were never sure who was there watching! It simply served the purpose of making actors learn to concentrate on what they were doing and rid themselves of self-consciousness.
Despite the trepidation caused by "The Fishbowl," Kasey thought it all very glamorous and very "Hollywood," even though she was assigned the moniker of Laura Elliott. While still known as "Laura," she was loaned out to Warner Brothers and worked with Alfred Hitchcock in Strangers on a Train, in which her portrayal of murder victim Miriam was described by critics as a "brilliant performance."
Strangers on a Train is her best remembered film role. She'd first heard about the role from actress Jean Ruth, a young contract player at Paramount who though it would be perfect for herself, and Kasey thought the two of them were so different, it wouldn't hurt to audition for Miriam, too. Kasey was what they were looking for, as her agent called three or four months later and told her, "Laura, you have an interview over at Warner Brothers on this Hitchcock picture." So, Kasey went over to the lot and read the scene and thought, "Oh, my God, it would be a wonderful part!"
It was the scene in the record store, and she loved doing it; the casting director loved her, too! So, after they'd interviewed girls for months, they finally screen-tested six ingénues before she even met Hitchcock. After the test, she got the role and was thrilled. When she finally came face-to-face with the legendary Hitch, all he said, was "Play it as you played it" and "Walk here; go there."
Her most outstanding physical trait in the film was her bottle-thick eyeglasses. She did the entire film without being able to see. There were six pairs that were made -- two pairs had clear lenses, two pairs had medium prescriptions in them, and two pairs were so thick she literally could not see her hand passing in front of her eyes; it was all a blur; she could not see! Hitch chose the thickest lenses for her to wear because they made her eyes look very small sort of "pig-eyed."
Kasey could not see Farley Granger's face when she looked at him, nor could she see the merry-go-round when she was trying to jump on it at the carnival. In the record store, when she's ringing up the cash register sale, she can't see the cash register. When she was running after Granger in the record store and says, "You can't toss me aside like that," she could not see him.
Hitch even insisted that she wear those glasses in the long shots out of doors. In her scenes with her two young male friends, they always offered their hands and helped her up and down steps and on and off the carousel. Co-star Robert Walker, who played her killer, was wonderful because in real life he wore thick lenses. He called the two of them the "blind leading the blind!"
Kasey always said, "Oh, yes, I liked Hitchcock!" She claimed he had a "wry sense of humor" and that one never wanted to cross him or be a "smart-ass," because he would just "cut you down" and do it with a smile. She added that one was "pretty respectful" of Hitchcock. On the positive side, she noted that Hitch's wit was "sharp" and that he was brilliant. She felt that she was lucky to be in one of his films.
She once described the scene in Strangers on a Train when Miriam is choked and her glasses fall to the ground. Kasey said the camera shot into one of the lenses and as the strangulation of character was taking place, sank lower, lower, and lower, until costar Robert "Bob" Walker stood back up. All of this showed in the reflection. The exterior shots were taken at a park, but then one day she came to the set onto an empty soundstage.
Hitchcock had this big round, concave mirror, two-and-a-half to three-foot in diameter, sitting on the concrete floor of the soundstage. The camera was on one side, she recalled, shooting down at the mirror, and Hitchcock said to her, "Now go to the other side of it and turn your back."
Kasey did so, and her reflection was then in the mirror. He told her, "Laura, I want you to float to the floor. Float backwards to the floor." She complied like she was doing the limbo, bending backwards under a stick. Hitch prodded her with "Float to the floor," and Kasey, replied, "Yes, Mr. Hitchcock." "Okay, roll 'em," commanded Hitch, and Kasey said she started leaning back further and further until she dropped two feet onto the concrete floor! He shouted, "Cut! Laura, fall out to the floor!"
Kasey said she faltered but replied, "Yes, Mr. Hitchcock." Seven takes later she said she literally fell all the way to the hard floor. Then Hitch dismissed her with a placid, "Cut. Next shot." Kasey said, though it might not have been as traumatic for her as the shower scene was for Janet Leigh in Psycho or the final scene The Birds was for Tippi Hedren, she felt as if she had callously been put through the ringer. In retrospect and as a nod to Hitch's genius, Kasey was always proud the shot is studied at UCLA and USC in film classes.
Kasey adored her Strangers co-star Bob Walker, who she once described as "very quiet" and "very much a gentleman," as well as "very talented." One can only assume she found her on-screen husband Farley Granger less cordial, as she never said anything about him except he was "handsome" in an eight-by-ten glossy kind of way.
Despite the fact she had second-leading lady status in a Hitchcock film, she often lamented no one at the studio pushed for her publicity-wise. She did recall she went on a junket full of stars to promote the movie. She said they traveled on this big bus and, going through Oklahoma, when the emcee introduced her at the film screening as "Laura Elliott," everybody gave me a very polite little "who-the-heck-is-she?" round of applause. So, she asked next time she be introduced as "Laura Elliott – who plays Miriam in Strangers," and the audience all gasped, and someone screamed out, "You horrible girl!"
After Kasey left Paramount, she changed her name back to Kasey Rogers. It didn't seem to matter, she said, as in those days, people looked down their noses at her next venue, television, but in a sense the name change gave her a fresh start as, being a single parent with a young son to support, she had to work. (By then she was divorced from Mr. Donnellson.)
Kasey, who appeared in 103 episodes of Peyton Place between 1964-68, told me after her transition to Bewitched, for "the first couple of episodes I was 'stiff as a board.' " She added, "[Producer] Bill Asher said, 'Kasey, loosen up a bit,' and as soon as my head clicked into the right place, it was fine. Comedy is harder to play. You have to analyze it much more thoroughly; it's easy to just read through a script and miss the jokes and the laughs."
Kasey was always quick to say she adored Dick York and he was brilliant with great comedic timing and a rubber face. "He was a lovely person," she once said. She blamed his health and back problems for causing him to leave the show. She called Dick Sargent "a totally different type of Darrin." She felt he brought different qualities to the character, but he, too was a "lovely" person. Yet York was and remained her favorite, though she never wanted to be quoted in print as having said so.
"Marion Lorne, another Bewitched costar, was brought here in the beginning of her career by Hitchcock for Strangers, her first picture here," Kasey later reminisced. Kasey said she played a real bitch in Strangers and loved it, but Lorne played a dithering little person and "was just wonderful!" Lorne later reprised her dithering personality as Aunt Clara alongside Kasey on Bewitched.
The last time I saw Kasey, she came to dinner at the home I shared with Virginia Washburn Smartt in Atlanta. Ginny prepared pasta, which Kasey raved over. Ginny's schnauzer Maxie and our cat Maybelline – "Maybelle" for short – were both fascinated by Kasey and the mink coat she was wearing that evening.
In her later years, Kasey faced such dilemmas as making long term healthcare decisions about her aging mother. (Mrs. Rogers passes away in 1993.) As Kasey's final illness progressed, our phone conversations became less frequent, as her throat cancer diagnosis made it difficult for her to speak. She eventually suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma from which she never recovered. Kasey passed away on July 6, 2006.
Yet when all was said and done, it always seemed Kasey had a soft spot for Peyton Place. She reminded me Bewitched and Peyton Place started the same year, stressing that playing Barbara Parkin's mother was a great experience. She said they shot two and three episodes a week, and she left the show after a little over two years.
Within a month of her departure, she met with the people on Bewitched and was hired. She was proud she didn't have to read or do anything. Peyton Place had given her that kind of exposure. (It was in the "top ten" in 1964-65, placing number nine, and it remained in the "top twenty" of Nielsen ratings during her stint on the show.)
Kasey looked at her career as incredible, especially for a woman at that time. As a supporting player, she was able to spend time at home with kids and entertain and do things with her husband "Bud" Lewis. She got to travel the world with her publicist husband. She had the time because she wasn't the lead in the series. And, when she did get to go to work, it was like a vacation. All in all, she believed it was a wonderful career for a woman. And she was a wonderful, down-to-earth person.
Copyright © 29 Nov 2013 We
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