Thursday, June 25, 2009

For Your Consideration: Esther Howard

Esther Howard
April 4, 1908 - March 8, 1965

Let's look at another classic movie performance sadly overlooked at award time.

It's 1947, and former Broadway musical star turned Hollywood comedienne and staple of film noir, Esther Howard shines in a thrilling crime drama from director Robert Wise.

The film is Born to Kill, based on the novel by which it is sometimes known, Deadlier Than the Male by James Gunn. A story of murder and of loyalty. Loyalty of sister for sister, friend for friend, lover for lover, detective for client, justice for victim. Loyalties that are and that should be. The story begins with the murder of a divorcee (Isabel Jewell) by a violent boyfriend (Lawrence Tierney). Another divorcee (Claire Trevor) becomes obsessed with this new man who has come into her life despite her feeling that he may be involved in the murder. Life gets complicated when Tierney, while continuing the affair, marries Trevor's rich sister (Audrey Long). The best advice and concern of his hapless cohort (Elisha Cook Jr.) is misplaced in this emotional set-up.

While caught up in life in San Francisco, back in Reno the first murder has not been forgotten. Boarding house proprietor (Esther Howard) will not forget the murder of her friend and neighbour. She hires a private detective (Walter Slezak) to investigate. When this shady character starts holding out on his client, Mrs. Kraft takes matters into her own hands with thrilling consequences.

Mrs. Kraft contemplates justice (third row, far right)

At first a garrulous busy-body, then a good-hearted friend, Mrs. Kraft is a role that provides ample opportunity for Ms. Howard to shine. A determined and loyal friend who shows bravery in the face of terror and defeat in the face of overwhelming brutality. Nowadays, she'd be hitting the chat show circuit and posting clips on YouTube in a bid for a nomination. Born to Kill is a movie worth checking out and Mrs. Kraft is a memorable character. Awards help to attract notice to these outstanding movie moments, but in place of a plaque, take the word of an old-time movie buff.

Read more about Esther Howard.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this! Esther Howard was my great-aunt. I have researched her career on Broadway (1914-1929) and in Hollywood (1930-1952) since I was a teenager in DC, at the Library of Congress and at the New York Public Library. Her younger brother, Robert, was my grandfather, who settled in DC. My father worked for the government. She died in 1965, when I was a baby. I have lived in LA since 1983, and I'm now a psychotherapist for creative professionals (see Thanks again for a lovely article!


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