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.