Neuroses in the sagebrush: Australia's Judith Anderson in the 1940s, from Hitchcock's Rebecca to Raoul Walsh's Pursued

When

12.00pm–1.30pm

17 March 2009

Topics

Culture

Professor Desley Deacon, from the Australian National University's Research School of Social Sciences, presented her research on Australian-born actor Judith Anderson. One of the 'First Ladies of the American Theatre', Anderson forged a lucrative movie career as a character actor.

Famous for her role as Mrs Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), Professor Deacon highlighted Anderson's performance in Pursued (1947), cited as one of the top five Westerns and the first 'Western noir'.

Judith Anderson boldly set off for the US as a young woman in 1918. Although she never attained the fame of the swashbuckling fellow Australian Errol Flynn, Anderson showed that her considerable theatrical talent could be used effectively by women in Hollywood. (She remarked that Hollywood was "a good place to learn how not to act".  Anderson did not fit the ‘starlet' stereotype but earned great respect from directors, audiences and critics alike for films like Rebecca and Pursued. She was renowned for her 'thrilling' voice and portrayal of 'deep' emotion and illicit sexuality and power.

Seminar guests were treated to clips from Pursued (1947), directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Robert Mitchum in one of his first major roles. Pursued has been called 'one of the top five Westerns' and has recently been restored under the auspices of Martin Scorsese. It is the first 'Western noir', melding the two genres in a psychological thriller involving trauma, memory, family secrets, forbidden sexuality and revenge. Anderson's role in Pursued helped establish feamle character actors.

Anderson maintained her transnational ties and always spoke warmly of her Australian connection. She spent her adult life in California, a place which reminded her of Australia. She died in 1992 aged 95.

Amongst the 12 guests who attended the seminar were a small band who hailed from Adelaide-Judith Anderson's hometown.

Desley Deacon is Professor of Gender Studies in the Research School of Social Sciences at the ANU and Immediate Past President of the Australian Historical Association. She taught from 1986 to 2001 at the University of Texas at Austin, where she founded, with Professor John Higley, the Clark Center for Australian Studies and was a faculty member of the American Studies Department. She is currently writing a biography of Dame Judith Anderson.