Piper Laurie is hitting the red carpet, where she feels right at home.
The three-time Oscar nominee, who has led a decades-long career in Hollywood, is being honored at the 13th annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood April 21-24. Attendees will get to see the 90-year-old introduce two of her movies, 1952’s “Has Anybody Seen My Gal” and 1961’s “The Hustler.” Those films paired Laurie with Rock Hudson and Paul Newman, two actors that forever changed her life.
Laurie spoke to Fox News Digital about what it was really like working alongside two sought-after leading men, how she feels about the 1976 film adaptation of Stephen King’s “Carrie” and why she ate flowers for the press.
Fox News: You worked with Paul Newman on 1957’s “Until They Sail” and 1961’s “The Hustler.” What was your initial impression of him?
Piper Laurie: We had smaller roles in “Until They Sail,” and we never had a real scene together. We never really spoke to each other. That changed, of course, with “The Hustler.” That’s when I was really confronted with that beauty, those spectacular eyes.
Fox News: What’s your favorite memory from making “The Hustler?”
Laurie: Oh, we were shooting often at this warehouse in New York. It was at the bottom of a building that used to be some sort of factory or office. I was given one of the little offices as a dressing room. Paul was given one as well. I had a little hot plate that I could use for my lunch.
I remembered he particularly loved this kind of soup that came in an envelope that you mixed with water and heated it. I believe they were from a European maker. It was quite delicious. So I used to prepare soup for him during lunchtime. It was nice, just enjoying each other’s company and eating this soup. It allowed me to take care of him a little bit, which was an important element of the story we were portraying.
Fox News: How did you survive those kissing scenes with someone as beautiful as Paul Newman?
Laurie: How did I survive? *laughs* Well, it was a great gift to be part of a wonderful film and participate in moments like that. So, I enjoyed every moment of it.
Fox News: Jackie Gleason was also part of the film. What was your impression of him?
Laurie: I love answering this question because I never got to meet him! The night before we started shooting, [director] Bob Rossen took me on a walk to meet him. Jackie Gleason had already left for the day. And that was the end of it. I never got the meet him.
Fox News: You were nominated for an Oscar, but you didn’t think you were going to win. Why?
Laurie: I just didn’t think I was that good. And to be honest, I was startled the first time I saw the movie with an audience. It just didn’t look like what I initially imagined it was going to look like. I was so extreme in my response at that time because I invested so much of my personal life in it.
But the truth is, I thought it was just silly for me to attend the ceremony when I didn’t think I was going to win. I didn’t understand how I got nominated to begin with, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. So, I stayed in New York at my mother-in-law’s apartment.
Instead of going to the Oscars, my mother-in-law, husband and I had a nice little dinner and watched it. I do remember when they announced my name. My face got really hot. I knew I was flushing as I did back in school. Oh, I was thrilled I didn’t go. I couldn’t have survived that! And of course, I didn’t win. Not with Sophia Loren’s performance. I mean, my goodness, was it even a debate?
Fox News: What comes to mind when you think of 1952’s “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?”
Laurie: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is Charles Coburn because he was such a hoot! He couldn’t have survived today because he loved pinching the ladies, and he got to do it whenever he wanted!
And of course, Rock [Hudson]. We had been friends for several years by then. We did our first screen test together at Universal, and we were both signed. We became fast friends. He used to come to my apartment and eat meals that my mother would cook. My mother loved to cook, and Rock used to love eating her food *laughs*. We were such good pals, so it was a lovely experience.
Fox News: How was it working with Rock Hudson?
Laurie: It was wonderful. We were more than friends – we were acting mates. We worked together quite a few times. I remember the first was for a screen test that we both did together. It had this passionate love scene. I was miscast in it, but I guess the studio was trying to figure out what they could do with me. The line for the scene was kind of ridiculous, but they hired us. And they kept putting us together in movies.
When I think of Rock Hudson, his laughter comes to mind. We used to laugh all the time. He was terribly insecure but so gifted and magnetic to look at. I remember him walking at the entrance to the commissary at Universal. He was just standing there and that alone took your breath away. He was this big guy with a perfect body and perfect face. He was quite a sight. He was born to be a movie star. And there was that smile behind his eyes, which was real. But he loved to laugh more than anything. And he was such a devoted friend.
Fox News: You were lucky to have worked with such beautiful co-stars.
Laurie: Yes, I was! *laughs*.
Fox News: A younger generation remembers you from 1976’s “Carrie.” How do you feel about that film today?
Laurie: I think it was a terrific movie. At first, I didn’t know if it was a comedy or what. I remembered I tried some things during rehearsal, and I was told, “Piper, I don’t think you could do that. You’re gonna get a laugh!” We were all supposed to take this seriously. But I played my role very big and flashy. And I guess in some ways, it still turned out to be funny. I will say, my daughter’s friends were very young and easily frightened. When they would come to visit, they would not look at me in the face! They would just go straight to her room *laughs*.
Fox News: Early on in your career, you were known as the movie star who ate flowers. What’s the story behind that?
Laurie: Oh, that all came from my press agent to create some publicity around me. What did I know? It was reported that I took these milk baths. They put a bathing suit on me, put me in a bathtub with this pitcher of milk over me. And then for my first movie [1950’s] “Louisa,” there’s a scene where the character makes this marigold salad for the family.
That gave the press agent an idea. He gave out this press release to all the newspapers about this new young starlet who ate flowers only. They invited someone from the press to sit with me in the commissary. The cook prepared this elaborate plate with all sorts of flowers and plants. I ate them! I thought that’s what they were paying me to do. They certainly weren’t giving me acting parts … I went through about five contracts during the first year.
Fox News: What’s life like for you today?
Laurie: It’s very pleasant. I work when I want to. And when I don’t, I bake bread. That’s something I’ve always loved. My father and my father’s father were bakers, so I was born with that. I have some friends that I like. I don’t have a pet, which I would like to have. I used to carve stone, but I don’t have a studio now.
Fox News: What do you hope audiences will get from your films today?
Laurie: That’s an interesting question because it has to do with the audience rather than the films. I made this lovely film that wasn’t seen very much, [1995’s] “The Glass Harp” with Walter Matthau. It was a really wonderful film with a lovely cast. And Walter was truly wonderful in it.
It had many terrific actors. And there was a very nice part for me. I’m truly proud of that movie. I wish more people saw it … I’ve done many parts. Some were lovely, some I didn’t care for. I think the work I’ve done on stage is the work I’m most proud of. Of course, it’s easy to say that because no one can prove me wrong right now!
Fox News: What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self starting out in Hollywood?
Laurie: Gosh, I could write a book about that. I wrote a book, but I don’t think it covered that. So much of life really must be lived. You can give some advice, but there’s nothing like doing the real thing. The one thing I’ve heard over and over in my life was, “You have to be ready to work very hard.” And I did. I like to work hard, and I always wanted to be good. I always wanted the work to be good.