Lee Tung Foo, left, and Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker in a scene from “Laura.”
In case you just tuned in, I’m using Louella Parsons’ May 15, 1944, item on Rouben Mamoulian being replaced as the director of “Laura” to take a meandering look at the making of the film, which was released in Los Angeles in November 1944. Previous posts have examined the writing career of “Laura” novelist Vera Caspary and the state of the detective story in 1941, when she was writing the novel. We also explored some of the locations Caspary used in the book.
In the next few posts I’m going to look at the characters as portrayed in the novel, starting with the smaller roles and working up to Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb in the film). Although the book and film are titled “Laura,” Waldo is the most important character and the one who required the most work, as Caspary noted in her autobiography, “The Secrets of Grown-Ups.”
Although Waldo’s butler (played by Lee Tung Foo) is never identified in the movie and has a non-speaking role, the novel describes him as a “Filipino manservant” named Roberto, whom we meet on the first page as he announces the arrival of Detective Mark McPherson (played by Dana Andrews in the film).
The Making of “Laura” Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21 | Part 22
Waldo has apparently been using Filipino manservants for some years, for it was Carlo, identified as Roberto’s predecessor (Page 13), who was out doing the daily grocery shopping when Laura Hunt (played by Gene Tierney in the film) paid her first visit to Waldo’s apartment about seven years earlier. (In the screen adaptation, this scene was moved to the Algonquin Hotel, where Laura endures a public rebuke from Waldo. More about that later).
After being absent for most of the novel, Roberto returns (Page 227) and surprises Mark as he is rummaging around Waldo’s apartment in search of the murder weapon.
At this point, the relationship between Waldo and Roberto becomes somewhat enigmatic. Except for Laura, Waldo’s interest in women is rather nebulous in the film (much more about that later) and this is explored more fully in the novel.
The reader gets a not too subtle hint from Caspary (Page 227), writing in the voice of Mark in the final section of the book.
I heard the snap of a light switch in the next room. My hand went automatically to my hip pocket. But I had no gun. As I had once told Waldo, I carry weapons when I go out to look for trouble. I hadn’t figured on violence as part of this evening’s entertainment.
I turned quickly, put myself behind a chair and saw Roberto in a black silk dressing gown that looked as if he was paying the rent for this high-class apartment.
Before he had time to ask questions, I said: “What are you doing here? Don’t you usually go home at nights?”
“Mr. Lydecker need me tonight,” he said.
”He not feel himself.”
“Oh,” I said.
A bit later, Caspary writes:
Roberto’s view was strictly out of the tabloids. Miss Hunt was a nice lady, always friendly to Roberto, but her treatment of Mr. Lydecker showed her to have been no better than a dance hall hostess. According to Roberto, all women were the same. They’d turn down a steady fellow every time for a big sport guy who knew all the latest steps.
As Mark gains Roberto’s trust, he learns about Waldo’s behavior on the night Laura was killed. He claimed to have “eaten a solitary meal and spent the evening reading Gibbon in the bathtub.” (Page 230). Not true, according to Roberto.
To be continued.