The Magnificent Second Act of Barbara Loden

Barbara Loden in WANDA (1970)

Barbara Loden, who was born on this day in 1932, had one of the most interesting career trajectories we can think of. From her beginnings as a teenage dancer and pin-up model through to her Actor's Studio training and first roles on the legitimate New York stage to her television work as a bit player on Ernie Kovacs' show, generally wearing tiny outfits and getting hit by pies or sawed in half.

After a few bit film roles she was cast by director Elia Kazan as a Marilyn Monroe type in the Broadway production of AFTER THE FALL, written by Monroe's erstwhile husband Arthur Miller. She won a Tony Award and wowed audiences and critics. She also wowed Kazan, who became her second husband.

A promising film role in Frank Perry's oddball John Cheever adaptation THE SWIMMER was squelched, possibly as a result of Kazan's interference, and the part was recast. Loden's film career was obviously not headed in a positive direction so she took the reins of production herself, rewriting one of Kazan's stories until it truly became her own, full of autobiographical details, putting together a small crew and making her own film, WANDA for a microscopic budget.

WANDA (released in 1970) is now considered one of the touchstone films of American independent cinema. At the time it received little attention in the states, though it won a Best Foreign Film Award at Venice, but the years have been kind to the film and it is now seen as a very special, ahead-of-its-time work. Its roughness and obvious economy were not seen as assets at the time, but today we see them as so. Most impressive of all is Loden's performance, though there today is a tinge of sadness that we do not have more Loden films. She died in 1980, aged 48, before making any other feature films.

Here is a really interesting TV interview from the Mike Douglas talk show, during that bizarro-world period when John Lennon and Yoko Ono co-hosted. Lennon and Ono asked all manner of interesting people on the show and as a result here we have Barbara Loden on national television talking at length about WANDA and even playing extended clips.