At one point in Kubrick’s film, when Lolita’s mother takes her on vacation, to Humbert-James Mason’s great despair, the tall, clumsy blonde leaves the car, rushes up the stairs and goes to kiss the sheepish sheep, who ” she hits like a tank: “Don’t forget me!”, she said to him with a devastating smile.
We weren’t about to forget Sue Lyon in the summer of 1986, after getting a very rare interview with her on a steep street in Studio City, and we won’t forget her anytime soon. The American actress died Thursday in Los Angeles, she was 73 years old.
Found by a subterfuge of classified ads in Variety, she was finally convinced. It was her fourth husband Richard Rudman, who worked as a sound engineer at a radio station in the Capitol Tower, who removed the song, but he let her negotiate the deal. “You have a choice: either you call my agent, and you know the agents … (in fact he hadn’t been taking calls for years) ; either you make me happy. Five bottles of Joy to line up over my tub. ” Happy with the bargain, and ignorant, we rushed to the nearest Macy’s to buy the trinkets – only to find that Joy was the most expensive perfume in the world. Sheerly, we had to renegotiate. She had given us her agreement for our three tiny bottles.
The whole interview was on Lolita, and she didn’t want to talk about other movies than that, her first. All the rest, starting with Iguana night, had been pure torture. She had lost the “baby fat” of her full cheeks, she was slimmer and drier, but there was the same playfulness in her eyes. She no longer played with her chewing gum, but with very long white cigarettes. Sue Lyon was coming back from afar, and we felt her fragile. Quite chtarbée, in fact, to be rude. Diagnosed bipolar for a long time, she then knew a kind of plateau in her dramas. The interview, said her husband, might be good for her. She presented you her roses by their small names (not botanical) and made disturbing remarks. But as soon as the camera turned it was transformed: clever, funny, very fine, and good storyteller.
We stayed in touch. She sent me letters signed with the printed paw of her dog, asking for advice on such or such a role that she could seek. It was lost in advance, but the charade was soft. She had embarrassed me, but kindly, when I offered to take her to a private screening of the unloved remake of Lolita and collect their reactions. “Nice try …”, said the lady, not fooled for a second. Censorship was no longer what it was in 1962 for Kubrick, but Adrian Lynne had encountered other pressures, his film being made in the middle of pedophile hysteria in the United States. The young actress was the age of the nymphet of Nabokov’s novel (12 years old, instead of 15 for Sue Lyon), and Jeremy Irons had to play the scenes where he had him on his knees protected from leaden chappe (as for radiologists) against a possible improper erection.
“I just had to play a girl who had a relationship with an old guy”
Born in Iowa in July 1946, Lyon was the youngest of five children left in trouble by the sudden death of their father. Their mother first took them to Dallas, then to Los Angeles. From the age of ten, Sue was a model and paid the rent and education for the rest of the tribe. She had also appeared on television shows like the “Loretta Young Show”. This is where Kubrick spotted her, asking her producer James Harris to summon her to the cast. As she told us, “I’ve done dozens of castings. Besides, I thought it was still for a TV soap opera. But those two, Jimmy and Stan, were something else entirely. Usually you were asked for your name, an address to contact you, and goodbye thank you. They kept me there for hours, they asked me what I listened to as music, if I preferred sanitary cloths or tampons, they were crazy. When I got out of there there were still girls waiting. This is how, they asked. I said, I don’t know, but go ahead, you’ve never had so much fun. “
“They also asked me if I knew the subject of the novel, and if that was a problem for me. My mom told me about it, but in fact I had a school friend who had mowed her mother’s copy, and we were looking for a little salty at playtime. But hey, I understood the story, and that was fine with me. I just had to play a girl who had a relationship with an old guy. It wasn’t like I had to hit it … And in fact, apart from the time it took, I have never had so much fun in this business. As well Stan and Jimmy, who protected me well, as James Mason, who was adorable with me. He said to me, come on, kiddo, we will repeat our lines. As if Mr. Mason needed to repeat his lines… He did it for me, to give me confidence. ”
“Chewing gum and funny faces, I was bored”
I asked her what she had whispered in his ear when Mason was on the collapsed camp bed, which had caused an ecstatic laugh at Mason’s (the hold retained by Kubrick). She had knitted eyebrows, as she does a lot in the film, and then remembered: “I said to him, I hope that he will magnify himself a little with his catches, because I am really hungry. You see, nothing very scabrous! ” But it was this total lack of innocence in her that made Lolita works so well. His way of driving him crazy too, with his hula-hoop and bubble gum. “The hula-hoop was in the script. Of course I knew how to do it, I was 15 years old and I was American. Six days that we shot this scene! It’s a lot of hula-hoop. But the chewing gum and the funny faces I make in the car, I was the one who was bored. I was a kid in the middle of all these guys and it was long, so I had as much fun as I could. “ Stanley hasn’t lost a thing.
Lyon, on the other hand, did not at all appreciate the long shutdown that followed the shooting. With censorship issues delaying the release of the film, she was barred from speaking to anyone until the launch. “And after, morning and evening, silly interviews with silly interviews. Once on a TV talk show – I had just lost my brother who had committed suicide – the guy attacked ball in the head and wondered if in my opinion he had committed suicide because I was playing in Lolita. I swear ! I did neither one nor two, I got up and put them there without saying a word. “
Harris and Kubrick had it under contract, and she thought they had honorable plans for her, that they planned to develop and launch it. But their financial problems on The Paths of Glory in Munich forced them to resell his contract to star agent Kirk Douglas’ agent Ray Stark. “Like a quarter of meat”, she grumbled again in 1986. Yet she has aligned films almost back to back with John Huston and John Ford. In the first (Iguana night) she was playing a young tease who makes goat Richard Burton, in the other (Chinese border) a bland missionary. The filming at Puerta Vallarta had disgusted her – Huston’s pranks, this “Burton pork” who stank of the beak and never washed … Between the visits of Liz Taylor, the drunkards of Ava Gardner and the appetites of Deborah Kerr, Lyon was however not exempt from blame either. A cabal had been expelled from filming by her current lover (and future husband), actor Hampton Fancher.
Lyon also told us that as soon as her family was safe from the need, she stopped doing this job, which was repugnant to her. His filmography is chaotic and dotted: insignificant roles Tony Rome is dangerous, Crash!, series Police Story, Evel Knievel and finally, in 1980, The incredible alligator. It must be said that her personal life was sometimes overwhelming: a marriage with an African-American sports photographer Roland Harrison (they have a daughter, Nona, whom she did not raise). In the 1970s she was also a teacher at Echo Park, and briefly challenged the story by marrying Edward Weathers in a Colorado prison, where Weathers was serving a sentence for murder, plus various armed robberies. Her longest marriage to Rudman lasted until 2002.