The jump from Tennessee Williams to Walt Disney wasn?t difficult for Malden, who told the press he was happy to be making ?a film that doesn?t have a rape in it.?
Of all the high-powered actors who spent part of July and August at the Flamingo Hotel here, filming scenes on McDonald Avenue, Gus Luer?s ranch on Guerneville Road, the train depot in St. Helena, Stag?s Leap Winery and the Old Bale Mill in the Napa Valley, he was the most accessible.
While Jane Wyman retreated to her trailer to dine alone, 13-year-old Hayley Mills was closely guarded by her father, British actor John Mills. Character actor Adolph Menjou grumped about the crowd of autograph seekers, Malden was exhibiting his earnest curiosity about the area, interviewing a reporter who had come to interview him.
?What?s the weather like here in the winter?? he demanded, pacing up and down the platform at the St. Helena train station in his clerical collar and the 90-degree heat, fanning himself with a straw hat.
He wanted to know all about theater groups in the area. He had visited Korbel Winery and Armstrong Grove, he said, and wondered why there wasn?t a summer stock company using ?that wonderful outdoor theater,? which he pronounced, ?ideal for ?A Midsummer Night?s Dream? ?Or Robin Hood.?
He knew about the Stumptown Players, Guerneville's semi-pro summer company of ?52 and ?53, which launched the comedic career of UCLA student Carol Burnett.
He was told of the Ric-y-Tik Players who had performed in a former walnut drying barn in outer Rincon Valley, a group that begat the Smothers? sidekick and perennial presidential candidate, Pat Paulsen.
He had a lot to say about local and regional groups and how important they were, even if they lasted just a season, and how much training for future stardom went on there. He was more than an interesting actor. He was an interested visitor.Break
Nobody got closer to the cast - which included Nancy Olsen, Donald Crisp, and Agnes Morehead - than the ?local talent? recruited to play the members of the Ladies Aid Society. Swathed in 1912-vintage full-length skirts and petticoats, they gathered on the lawn of the McDonald House, which had a third story in the film, painted on the screen image to look even grander. Through the long and tedious - and steamy - afternoons, they perspired their way to hometown fame.
Isabel McDonald (or, Mrs. Mark McDonald, as she was known in the age when women?s first names were virtually secret) was among them, as were her across-the-avenue neighbors, Press Democrat publisher Ruth (Mrs. Ernest) Finley and artist Elizabeth (Mrs. Frederick) Quant.
Another neighbor, Mrs. Finley?s aunt, Ruth (Mrs. H.F.) Alexander, actually had a speaking part, She said ?Oh, the suffering in this world!? as they sat, packing calves? foot jelly for the poor. It was pointed out at the time that Mrs. Alexander made four times the extras? pay for that one line. The extras made $18 a day, including a passel of children who played orphans, along with kid actor Kevin Corcoran, who at the time enjoyed TV stardom as ?Moochie? on the Mickey Mouse Club.
And they were long days. Bill Betz remembers that his mother, Eleanor Betz, was an extra in the final scene at the St. Helena depot. She claimed that she ?stood around for two days in the hot sun...and was amazed that she was only on the screen for a second.?