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Legendary actress Barbara Rush has a story about everyone, from Rock Hudson to Frank Sinatra

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Barbara Rush poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Aug. 16, 2019.
(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

Legendary actress Barbara Rush has lived on a quiet Beverly Hills street for several years. Then Justin Bieber and his wife, Hailey Baldwin, recently moved in next door.

“I never know who anyone is,” she said with a sigh. “I never heard of him.”

But Rush certainly knows who the couple are now. “When they moved in, they sent everybody on the street a bottle of champagne and a box of chocolates,” she recalled. “It was just a horror. I mean the tour buses were coming down the street. The street was so crowded you couldn’t get through. But now, they’ve got it under control.”

Except for Bieber’s motorbike. “He wakes me up at 5 in the morning,” she said. “I really can’t take too much more of the motorcycle, you know.”

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Rush isn’t angry at her new neighbors. It’s hard to believe she would ever be angry at anyone. She talks about everybody she’s worked with — even the notoriously difficult Joan Crawford — with an endearing sweetness that makes you feel like you’ve known her forever.

And in a way, we have.

The still stunning 92-year-old, who grew up in Santa Barbara and cut her acting teeth at the Pasadena Playhouse, made her film debut 69 years ago in “The Goldbergs,” the feature version of Gertrude Berg’s long-running radio and TV comedy series.

Rush, who was married to actor Jeffrey Hunter (“King of Kings”) and PR giant Warren Cowan, is a delightful chronicler of Hollywood history. Ask her about anyone and she has a story.

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For example, she has vivid memories of working with Montgomery Clift in 1958’s “The Young Lions,” which also starred Dean Martin and Marlon Brando. Clift, she said, was still dealing with physical and psychological pain from a near-fatal car crash in 1956 that affected his face.

“He was very ill,” Rush said quietly. “Dean Martin called him Spider because he had no weight. But he was still a wonderful actor and taught me a great acting lesson.”

Her character was supposed to ask Clift a question at a cocktail party scene when he interrupted her. Clift thought she was telegraphing to the audience how he was going to answer.

“He said, ‘Barbara, just a minute. I know what you are trying to get me to say. The whole audience in the theater knows what you want me to say. You have to disguise it.’”

His advice worked.

At the end of the scene, she recalled, costar Hope Lange came over to her and said “’Oh, Barbara, I wish I could do what you do. You do it so well.’ I said, ‘I didn’t do that, honey. That was Monty Clift. He told me exactly what to do.’”

On Saturday Rush will receive the Cinecon Legacy Award at Cinecon 55, the five-day classic film festival that kicks off Thursday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and concludes on Labor Day with the screening of the 1957 comedy “Oh, Men! Oh, Women!” Directed by Nunnally Johnson, “Oh, Men! Oh, Women” also stars Dan Dailey, Ginger Rogers, David Niven and, in his film debut, Tony Randall.

“I picked this movie because it’s the one that most people have not seen,” said Cinecon president Stan Taffel. “There are so many terrific people in it. That means something to classic film people.”

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Rush, who was best known for her work in such sci-fi classics as 1953’s 3D “It Came From Outer Space” and dramas including Douglas Sirk’s 1954 “Magnificent Obsession” and Nicholas Ray’s 1956 “Bigger Than Life,” gets a chance to show her comedic chops in “Oh Men! Oh Women!” in which she plays a flighty young woman who is engaged to shrink Niven.

She fondly recalls her time on the set with Niven and others.

“I was just this foolish young girl,” she said of her character. “David Niven, he made me laugh so hard. They couldn’t [shoot] me because I was laughing so hard. I kept apologizing. He was a raconteur, always telling stories about what he did. Nunnally Johnson made me laugh all the time. I was really hopeless.”

Rock Hudson also made her laugh when they made three films together at Universal for director Douglas Sirk: “Magnificent Obsession,” 1954’s “Taza, Son of Cochise” and 1955’s “Captain Lightfoot.”

“Rock was the funniest person in the world to work with,” she said. “He had nicknames for us. I remember when he was working with Doris Day, he would call her Eunice. What did he call me? I can’t remember. He had this rolling laugh. He made everything funny.”

She noted matter-of-factly that it was no secret in Hollywood at the time that Hudson was gay. “His agent decided that there had been enough about [the rumors] about Rock being gay and he wanted to clear that. So, he had him marry a secretary. And that didn’t work out at all.”

Rush worked with Frank Sinatra in the 1963 comedy “Come Blow your Horn” and in the 1964 Rat Pack musical “Robin and the Seven Hoods.” She admitted she was nervous about working with Sinatra because she learned he didn’t rehearse. “I am from the stage,” she said. “I really can’t do [a scene] unless I rehearse. I didn’t know what to do.”

Rush talked to an actress who had just worked with him. “She said, ‘This is what you do, Barbara. You go up to him and say, ‘Mr. Sinatra?’ He’ll say, ‘Call me Frank. Now what I can do for you?’”

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So, she asked Sinatra if they could rehearse their first scene just one time. “He said, '`Baby doll, of course. I’ll do that with you. Clear the stage. Get everybody to leave. Barbara and I are going to go over the scene.’ We went over the scene just once. From then on, he said, ‘Are you OK? Do you want to go over it again?’ He was just wonderful to me. And he gave me my wardrobe by Edith Head [from the film]. I wore the most wonderful clothes.”

During the production of “Robin and the Seven Hoods,” though, John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and Sinatra’s son, Frank Jr., was kidnapped. “He just went inside himself,” she said. “He wouldn’t talk to anybody. He just stayed in his trailer. He couldn’t believe all of it happened, particularly with his son being kidnapped. So, it was hard. The movie kind of worked but didn’t work the way it would have if we hadn’t those two tragedies.”

Cinecon 55 Classic Film Festival

Aug. 29-Sept. 2

Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

Tickets: $249 for five-day pass; $50-$60 for day passes

Available at eventbrite.com/e/cinecon-55-classic-film-festival-august-29-to-september-2-2019-tickets-62736639979

For more information go to cinecon.org.


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