Joseph Cotten Biography


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Birth Name: Joseph Cotten
Born: 05/15/1905
Birth Place: Petersburg, Virginia, USA
Death Place: Westwood, California, USA
Died: 02/06/1994


Older than the conventional new find at age 36, Cotten combined a mature and sometimes cynical pragmatism with an inner idealism either challenged by emotional pressures and social circumstances, or else shown to give way to scheming menace or dangerous rage. Delicate work came in his wonderful performance as a rejected inventor in Welles' brilliant follow-up to "Kane", the study of family decay "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942); and his chillingly ambiguous portrait of a kindly uncle who may be a murderer in Alfred Hitchcock's subtly unnerving "Shadow of a Doubt" (1943). A sensitive lead well-suited to romance, Cotten played a shell-shocked soldier on leave tentatively courting prisoner-on-leave Ginger Rogers in "I'll Be Seeing You" (1944) and his moody poet embraced the amnesiac Jennifer Jones in "Love Letters" (1945). One of his best performances came opposite Jones in William Dieterle's "Portrait of Jennie" (1948), as a painter involved with a mysterious waif from long ago. For his work in this poignant whimsy, Cotten, the kind of effortless performer who never wins awards, was named Best Actor by the Venice Film Festival.

Characterizations calling for sturdiness found Cotten loving Merle Oberon unrequitedly in "Lydia" (1941), helping Claudette Colbert through wartime misery in "Since You Went Away" (1944) and rescuing a victimized Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight" (1944). The light touch Cotten displayed opposite Katharine Hepburn in Broadway's "The Philadelphia Story" (1939) returned in his work as a charming politician who supports maid-turned-Senator Loretta Young in "The Farmer's Daughter" (1947) and the determined romancer of Margaret Sullavan onstage in "Sabrina Fair" in the early 50s. He was also an effective hero in the wartime thriller "Journey Into Fear" (1943), set up by and co-starring Welles.

Working with Welles even as co-star seemed to bring out the best in Cotten, as in Carol Reed's masterful thriller of postwar black marketeering, "The Third Man" (1949), as the ingenuously American Cotten became disillusioned while skulking through the ruins of Vienna in search of an old buddy. Cotten himself may have been disillusioned during the 50s as his roles gradually declined. He still played leads, but the films were less important, the productions generally mediocre. The bizarre "Beyond the Forest" (1949) used him only as a glum sounding board for the explosive antics of Bette Davis. "September Affair" (1951) was a decent romance reuniting him with Dieterle, but "Under Capricorn" (1949) was one of Hitchcock's biggest misfires, "Half Angel" (1951) a cutesy reteaming with Young, and "Peking Express" (1951) a half-baked attempt to recreate 1932's "Shanghai Express". "The Killer Is Loose" (1955) was a solid, if minor Budd Boetticher thriller, and supporting Van Johnson in "The Bottom of the Bottle" (1956) provided one of his richer parts of that time. Cotten's best 50s part, though, came in "Niagara" (1953), Henry Hathaway's lurid but stunningly directed thriller, as the unstable husband driven crazy by the unfaithful schemings of Marilyn Monroe, in the role that clinched her stardom.

Cotten returned to the stage occasionally as the 50s progressed, and he lent his solid presence to TV's courtroom anthology "On Trial" (1956-57). His cameo as a drunken coroner was but one of many highlights of Welles's dazzling "Touch of Evil" (1958) and Robert Aldrich gave Cotten a classy if hammy villain role in "Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte" (1964). Cotten was extremely prolific during the twilight years of his career, alternating shlocky U.S. and Italian-made melodramas and horror films ("Baron Blood" 1972, not one of Mario Bava's greatest; "The Hearse" 1980) with routine TV-movies ("Cutter's Trail" 1970), bland all-star Hollywood features ("Airport '77" 1977) and occasional worthy, offbeat films ("Petulia" 1968, "A Delicate Balance" 1973). Throughout he demonstrated solid if not always exciting professionalism regardless of the material, his slightly grim, firmly set yet still delicate visage always a welcome reminder of his halcyon days of yore.




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