This year will provide further proof that we never far from the scowling countenance of Frida Kahlo. During this month of March the Michigan Opera Theatre is saluting the artist in Frida and from May to November the New York Botanical Garden will feature the exhibit “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life.” The unibrow is back, front and center.
While others honor a woman who brought eyebrows together on canvas, I pay homage to the actress who kept hers widely apart on the screen: Helen Broderick, owner of some of the snappiest lines in 1930s musicals and comedies and possessor of one of the broadest bridges in film history. While Kahlo’s beetling brows chanted “Come Together,” Broderick’s spacious glabella warned “Cross Over the Bridge.”
Whether providing support for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat and Swing Time or counseling Danielle Darrieux in The Rage of Paris, Helen could be counted on to deliver tart lines with aplomb. She memorably stirred the romantic plots of musicals and comedies with her deadpan delivery of no-nonsense observations on the battle of the sexes such as “The only difference in men is the color of their neckties” and “All women are dishonest. If they weren’t, the world would be divided into two classes of people: old maids and bachelors.”
Helen’s roles became less significant in the 1940s, her career ending in a thud in one of Deanna Durbin’s lesser films, Because of Him (1946). Today, if she is remembered at all by some, it is for being the mother of tough-talking Broderick Crawford, who inherited a wide bridge from mater but little of her subtlety as evidenced by his barking interpretation of parts.
In 2015 there will be no celebrations of character actors like Broderick and Edward Everett Horton who enlivened many a movie during Hollywood’s golden age. Let the madding crowd congregate under Frida’s glowering glare; give me the wide open spaces and wit of Helen Broderick.