Louise Latham jumped out of a car to catch Alfred Hitchcock's eye
Call it a leap of logic. First she wowed in Hitch’s movie Marnie, then she had her pick of choice TV roles.
In 1977, The Waltons gave us "The Milestone," an episode where Olivia runs away from home.
It’s an episode about menopause, which hits Olivia unexpectedly and causes severe mood swings that send her off the Mountain and over to see her Aunt Kate, seeking advice.
Playing Aunt Kate to Michael Learned’s Olivia was Louise Latham, a character actor who rapidly rose to fame when she memorably played a mother character in the Hitchcock movie Marnie.
That auspicious first movie role, she later said, allowed her to pick and choose from the best TV roles. That means that you can be sure any time you see her on TV, she’s there because she was drawn to the particular part she was playing.
As Latham tells it, she got the Marnie role after the iconic movie director happened to see her performance in a guest role on the TV show The Defenders.
Hitch was so impressed by Latham, he sent a wire to her agent that just said: "I MUST SEE LOUISE LATHAM."
Latham, of course, jumped at the chance to audition for Alfred Hitchcock and immediately accepted an invitation to fly out to Hollywood from New York.
"Before I could catch my breath, I was whisked off to Los Angeles at the expense of Universal, given a charming suite at the Montecito and furnished with a copy of the Marnie screenplay," Latham told the Los Angeles Citizen Evening News in 1964. "Upon finishing it, I knew immediately I wanted the role of the mother."
The stars seemed to be aligning – but then Latham found out firsthand why L.A. traffic has such a bad reputation.
"My taxi arrived a half hour late – traffic was terribly heavy – and just as we were pulling up to our designated meeting place, Mr. Hitchcock’s limousine began driving away," Latham recalled.
Desperate to still read for Hitchcock, Latham asked her driver to follow the limo.
The chase was on, and once they were close enough, Latham jumped out of the cab and into traffic.
Pumping with adrenaline, she walked straight up to Hitchcock’s limo, tapped on the window and said, "I’m Louise Latham."
A shocked Hitchcock tried to see through his car window to recognize her from TV, where she typically played older characters. He responded to her bold approach in heavy traffic by saying, "You’re supposed to be much older."
"Believe me, I’ve just aged 10 years!" Latham was quick to quip, and perhaps because he was impressed by her bravado, later she landed the Marnie role.
After Latham appeared in Marnie, critics raved about her performance, and many considered it a snub when she wasn’t nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
But Latham said the greatest victory in an actor’s life is getting to a point where you have your choice of roles. Marnie gave Latham that kind of a win, and she always appreciated Hitchcock for seeing something special in her.
"The most important thing in an actress’ life is choice, and with success comes a broader choice," Latham told The Herald-Palladium in 1965.
In her career, Latham appeared in TV shows and movies spanning four decades, from Perry Mason to The X-Files.
Growing up in Texas, her entire family was full of ranchers. She never dreamed she’d find the fame she did, but she said she also never dreamed that with fame would come so many different acting opportunities that she found truly fulfilling.
"All I want from acting is to satisfy my soul," Latham said. "Marnie did that, now I want some more of the same."
After Marnie, Latham said her family joked that Hitchcock was OK and all, but an uncle once told her in a slow Texas drawl that if she really wanted her family to actually see her act, "you better get yourself on Bonanza."
Within two years after Marnie was a smash hit, Latham did appear on Bonanza.
In her career, she’d eventually appear again, but that first time was a special episode centered on Dan Blocker’s character Hoss.
It makes sense why Latham would choose to appear in this episode, "A Real Nice, Friendly Little Town" because her character was a wild one.
In 1966, Blocker told The Journal Herald that part of Bonanza’s evolution on TV was moving toward embracing comedy in character-driven episodes like Latham’s first appearance.
"Our characters and concepts have changed a lot in eight years," Blocker said. "Some of those early shows would look funny now. Now we do comedy once in a while, but it’s intentional. No slapstick, just way-out characters in a serious situation. Like yesterday, we had a scene where little Louise Latham was supposed to slap her big, goofy son. I told her to give him a good round-house punch. Now, it was a serious scene, but it will get a good laugh, seeing a little woman haul off and belt a grown man. That’s what I mean by comedy."
While most of Latham’s fans remember her best as the mother Bernice Edgar in Marnie, it’s likely that Latham’s rancher family got that big laugh Blocker describes when they saw their little girl throw that big old punch on Bonanza.