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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Verna Bloom, an actress who appeared in three Martin Scorsese pictures, died January 9 at 8o years old. Her family stated that she died from complications of dementia, according to Variety.

In the picture above, taken in 1979, Bloom is posing second from left at the table, in between Marcia and George Lucas and in front of Paul Hirsch. Bloom's husband, Jay Cocks, is leaning on a chair next to Nancy Allen, who was then married to Brian De Palma, who is standing in the middle between Paul and Jane Hirsch.

In 1968, Cocks was covering film for TIME magazine when he screened and reviewed Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool, which blended fiction and documentary by filming at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. "He found himself smitten with Verna Bloom, a New York actress who had given such a natural performance that he didn't realize she was one of the film's fictional elements," stated The Globe And Mail's Simon Houpt in a 2001 profile piece on Cocks. "Oh, I had the major hots from the screening," Cocks told Houpt with a chuckle. "I wasn't counting on meeting her and the review wasn't written to woo her. But she got a great review." Houpt continues:

A friend at Time introduced him to Bloom, who is now perhaps best known for her role as the dean's besotted wife Mrs. Wormer in the classic frat flick Animal House. (She also played at the other end of the spectrum, as Mary, mother of Jesus in Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ.) For their first date, the two went to a movie with Scorsese. "It was a Susan Sontag movie, Duet for Cannibals. Two out of three of us fell asleep during the picture. Guess who stayed awake? Marty!"

In 1970, Scorsese was an instructor at New York University, where, according to Les Keyser's 1995 book Martin Scorsese, politically active students (including Oliver Stone) had teamed up "with a radical group of independent documentary filmmakers" to film the May 1970 student demonstrations on Wall Street. With NYU equipment being "lost, destroyed, or pilfered" amidst all the violence, Scorsese directed a team of editors (including Thelma Schoonmaker) to cut together the amateur 16mm film into a coherent documentary. The resulting 75-minute film, Street Scenes 1970, concludes with "a heated informal debate among journalists, filmmakers, and friends," according to Keyser. Scorsese, Harvey Keitel, Jay Cocks and Verna Bloom are among those involved in the debate.

In 1971, Bloom was in a play with Robert De Niro, Kool Aid, which was actually an umbrella title for two one-act plays (Grail Green and Three Street Koans) written by Merle Molofsky. The play had a brief run at the Forum Theater at Lincoln Center in New York. Later that year, Verna Bloom and Jay Cocks (who married each other in July 1972) hosted their annual Christmas party where, on this occasion, De Niro met Martin Scorsese-- the two may or may not have been introduced to each other that night by De Palma, who was also there, but they soon realized that they had known each other casually as teenagers. They would soon make Mean Streets together.

Bloom would later appear as a sculptor in Scorsese's After Hours (1985), and she then portrayed Mary, Mother of Jesus in Scorsese's The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988). Cocks had collaborated with Scorsese on the latter film's screenplay, although his work for that one went uncredited. (Cocks has also worked on several unproduced screenplays for De Palma, and he is credited for making the documentary within De Palma's Sisters.)

Bloom also appeared in two of Clint Eastwood's films: High Plains Drifter (1973) and Honkytonk Man (1982). The Hollywood Reporter's Mike Barnes has included some nice career details and quotes in his Verna Bloom obituary:

Bloom made her big-screen debut in Wexler's documentary-style Medium Cool (1969) as a single mother from West Virginia who gets caught up in the violence surrounding the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention, which took place in Wexler's hometown of Chicago.

The writer-director-cinematographer inserted Bloom into the violence, and the image of her in a yellow dress searching for her lost son among the protestors, tear gas, tanks and armed soldiers became an indelible artifact of those divisive times.

"She was not only a wonderful actress, she was fearless," Wexler once said. "I was more frightened than she was."

In Animal House (1979), Bloom put in a great comedic turn as Marion Wormer, the wife of Faber College Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon). Her flirty character talks about cucumbers with ladies' man Eric "Otter" Stratton (Tim Matheson) in a grocery store before embarking on a fling with the college kid.

Born on Aug. 7, 1938, in Lynn, Massachusetts, Bloom graduated from Boston University in 1959. She moved to Denver and started a local theater, where she helped produce productions of Look Back in Anger and A Taste of Honey.

She came to New York and made her Broadway debut in 1967 in The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis De Sade. Wexler then cast her in Medium Cool on a recommendation from writer-historian Studs Terkel.

Her fellow Medium Cool actress Marianna Hill, in a 2016 interview with Shaun Chang for his Hill Place blog, said that Bloom was handcuffed and arrested during filming as Hill managed to flee. She said Terkel "wrote a wonderful story about two girls walking in the park and getting arrested for just being girls. It was a cause celebre and was in the headlines in the Chicago Sun-Times for about two weeks."

Bloom's big-screen résumé also included The Hired Hand (1971), directed by and starring Peter Fonda, and Howard W. Koch's Badge 373 (1973), also starring Robert Duvall.

On television, Bloom portrayed the mother of Linda Blair's character in the landmark 1975 NBC telefilm Sarah T. — Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic and was the wife of a cop (Frank Sinatra) in 1977's Contract on Cherry Street, another high-profile NBC movie.

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CST
Updated: Friday, January 11, 2019 12:06 AM CST
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