In the Spotlight: Dana Delany

By TCM / September 9, 2021
What was the first movie you fell in love with?
I think it was The Music Man (1962), which I saw in the theater when I was six. We had the cast album and I learned "Goodnight My Someone" by heart. I then asked my first-grade teacher if I could sing it for the class. I've never had that kind of nerve since.

What artist or figure has been most influential in your life
The architect, Frank Gehry. He's always been an original. He doesn't care what other people think. He still loves what he does and he gets better and better at the age of 92. I walk into his buildings and it's like being in church. I am inspired.

What is your favorite movie moment?
A Place in the Sun (1951). When Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor first confess their love for each other. Only Taylor could pull off a shocked, "Are they watching us?" right into camera-right at us, as she pulls him out to the privacy of the terrace. The summer is ahead of them, he'll be her "pick-up." When he falters (knowing that his girlfriend is pregnant), "If only I could tell you all…" she says the iconic line, "Tell mamma, tell mamma all…," her eyes gazing at his lips as he moves in to kiss her until we are excluded. The lush intimacy of these star-crossed souls, never more sensually beautiful. Everything is in that moment: the life-long connection of the actors, Taylor thinking the world is their oyster, and Clift knowing, ultimately, he is not of her class. An American tragedy.
What movie speaks to your soul and why?
I would like to pick some cool film, but the truth is—it's Funny Girl (1968). I saw it when I was twelve and my life was laid out before me. I bought the sheet music and cast album and taught myself every song (for a non-singer I seemed to do that a lot). It's every aspiring actor's dream: with just enough moxie and chutzpah you can be the greatest star. And wear gorgeous 1920s/60s gowns, be seduced by a beautiful dangerous man, be a star on your own terms, marry that said man and then…realize you eclipse him and love him just too damn much! But you'll ALWAYS be a star. It's got it all!! And not just Barbra, but my longtime favorite, Anne Francis. I watched it again this year to celebrate my 65th birthday and bawled like a pre-teen. It's wonderful.

Which movie do you watch when you need to escape?
I started a tradition 30 years ago of watching History is Made at Night (1937) every Valentine's Day. It's a perfect confection of a movie. A love story set on an ocean liner, it pre-dates all of the different versions of Love Affair and, in my opinion, is superior. Beautiful shimmering work by Frank Borzage and Rudolph Maté. Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer are both charming and romantic and I can't think of Leo Carrillo without saying, "Salade Chiffonade!" I'm very glad that Criterion released a new Blu-ray so I can finally toss my worn-out VHS copy.

What movie would you describe as "perfect" in every way?
I don't really believe in "perfection." I prefer the Buddhist idea of "flawed beauty." I think a lasting film is one that grows with you. When I first saw In a Lonely Place (1950) as a teenager, all I could see was the tragedy of the romance. It was the Psyche and Eros myth: "They love each other, they should be together, stop listening to idle gossip!" But now that I have lived a life, I see how abusive Dix Steele is. He's not a tortured soul, he's cruel. Nicholas Ray shot the original scripted ending, where the Bogart character kills Gloria Grahame. But he knew it was more disturbing to have Dix walk away; realizing the violence inside him and what it cost him. Every time I see the film, I appreciate it more. Okay, it's perfect.
What is the one movie you would recommend to someone to get them started on their journey into classics?
What Price Hollywood?
(1932). This pre-code movie is often considered the original A Star is Born and is directed by George Cukor who later directed the Judy Garland version. Often people don't realize how risqué and socially conscious early films were. There is a direct line from What Price Hollywood? through the FOUR versions of A Star is Born, right up to today's Cannes favorite, Annette (2021). It is basically the same story but the 1932 version started it all.

If you could watch any movie with someone living or dead, whom would it be and what movie?
Gloria Grahame. She didn't live in the past or watch her old movies. She thought the 1974 TV movie, The Girl in the Late Late Show (where they used clips of her films) was hilarious. So I would choose a Marlene Dietrich movie, like Blonde Venus (1932). She could tell me why Dietrich was a favorite of hers. And I could finally tell Gloria how much she meant to me. And that her work is even more appreciated now, forty years after her death. I think she would be surprised and pleased.