Well Dressed Brats Invade
The World of Henry Orient

2014 TCM Classic Film Festival


Merrie Spaeth and Tippy Walker

The World of Henry Orient (1964) follows a pair of teenage girls around Manhattan as they stalk their piano playing idol, Henry (Peter Sellers). This was the eve of Beatlemania and possibly the last time anyone got laid playing classical music. I’ve never been a particular Sellers fan and even as a kid in the 1960s found his accents and mugging a bit much.Orient2 The beauty of this film, however, is that the supporting role of odd, “foreign” Henry is tailor-made for him and he’s onscreen just enough. The real stars are Gil (Merrie Spaeth) and Val (Tippy Walker), the prep school girls who worship Henry and hang on his every recorded note. Besides his virtuosity, his accent and quirky personae seem exotic to them. Nora Johnson adapted her own autobiographical novel so as far-fetched as the story seems today, it is based in reality. Both acting professionally for the first time, Spaeth and Walker are perfectly cast as best friends out for adventure.world_henry_orient_screenshot

In the pre-screening interview, it came out that director George Roy Hill [Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)] and young Walker began a relationship during the shoot. She was underage and he was married at the time. It must have made for a lively set! In the movie, the girls start turning up everywhere, interfering with Henry’s love life as he romances a married woman named Stella, played by Paula Prentiss.vlcsnap-2013-01-08-00h01m31s184 Prentiss, who was also in attendance, is under used in the film. Granted, she looks fabulous when she does appear, usually in absurdly comic scenes with Sellars.

worldofhenryorient014 True to type, Tom Bosley from Happy Days (1974-1984) plays an understanding dad. Angela Lansbury [The Manchurian Candidate (1962)] in yet another bad mom role, violates her daughter’s trust in the worst possible way. world of henry orient tippy walker1It was the first costume design credit for Ann Roth who’s had an extensive career [Midnight Cowboy (1969), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)] that’s still going strong. Her costumes here aren’t the mod 60s, mainly what New York rich people and their children would wear. Before her last-minute mod makeover, Gil’s preppie outfits are close to Ali MacGraw’s famed collegiate wardrobe in Love Story (1970). By contrast, Val’s matronly fur coat (paired with a plaid skirt) is an inspired, so square it’s hip, fashion choice.

IMG_8122-1 My colleague, Raquel Stecher, has allowed me to re-post her photos from the Merrie Spaeth and Paula Prentiss interview with an excerpt from her excellent write-up. For the complete story and more of her coverage of the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival, visit Raquel’s Out of the Past blog.

Cari Beauchamp . . .  interviewed actresses Merrie Spaeth and Paula Prentiss before the screening . . .  the first time Spaeth and Prentiss had been together in 50 years. Beauchamp calls this film one of the great female buddy movies, the other one being Where the Boys Are (1960) which also features Paula Prentiss. Beauchamp . . . had always been the tallest of her female friends so when she saw Paula Prentiss and noticed how tall she was Beauchamp wore her height proudly after that. Being tall myself (wishing I was even taller), I’ve always admired Prentiss’ stature and beauty and dreamed of growing an extra inch and a half so I could be as tall as her.


Merrie Spaeth still in red, with a more subdued Paula Prentiss.

3 thoughts on “Well Dressed Brats Invade
The World of Henry Orient

  1. A shame that the TCM folks could not see fit to find Elizabeth “Tippy” Walker, whose troubled life tends to mirror the expectations for her character as they’re represented in Nora (daughter of Nunnally) Johnson’s source novel. She can be found in New Haven, CT, where she’s lived for the past thirty years after she floundered in late 60s Hollywood, following up her unfortunate affair with Hill with one with another married man (a prominent member of the Mothers of Invention). Still very much a child of the sixties, Elizabeth would have brought some interesting frisson to the interview, given her diametrically opposed political views with Merrie Spaeth, who was a ringleader in the “Swift Boat” takedown of current Secretary of State John Kerry in 2004 when he was running for President.

    Probably not TCM’s cup of tea, however. Walker’s current outfits (since we seem to be focusing on that in the text above…) are probably not all that far off from what she wore in TWOHO, and it’s oddly to her credit that she survived a series of misfortunes and maladies in large part by maximizing her unconventionality. After one eviction in New Haven, she found a way to live in a U-Haul truck for several weeks before the matter was resolved. Unlike Val Boyd, however, there was no grand piano inside the truck when she came in for a landing…

  2. I read a fairly in depth interview with Elizabeth Walker. She probably would not want to be part of the show, not because she is politically opposed to her co-star, but because she has been so ravished by her life of addiction.

  3. Actually ETW had a reasonably coherent interview on the East Coast shortly before the TCM event which may still be on You Tube. It isn’t addiction per se, as there’s little evidence of her having used anything much stronger than cocaine in the 80s, with pot becoming the drug of choice in more recent years…rather, it’s more of an enveloping messianic condition that has prevented her from finding a way to successfully work in collaborative situations. She should have written her memoirs, but she’s too conflicted in certain ways to do so (a shame, because she is actually a tremendous writer). It’s probably best at this point that she isn’t disturbed by those who would ultimately be unable to treat her with sufficient kindness no matter how hard they tried…

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