Hollywood is filled with stories of child actors who grew up too fast, but Tuesday Weld might just be the ultimate one. Weld's penchant for scandal made people uncomfortable, but she still managed to become a star in her own right. Before that day, however, she was a verifiable hot mess. Let’s sink our teeth into these facts, and see what turned Tuesday Weld into an unlikely Hollywood survivor.
Actress Tuesday Weld was born Susan Ker Weld and it was not, as you might expect, on a Tuesday. It was Friday, August 27, 1943—a fateful day in the middle of Manhattan. But before you get images in your head of a privileged Manhattan upbringing, think again. While Weld’s father’s family had a lot of money, her father didn’t. Weld's family lived a precarious existence—one that could tumble at any moment.
Weld’s father, Lathrop Motley Weld, was the black sheep of the family. He had some serious baggage: addiction and a scandalous romantic history. After all, Weld's mother was her father's fourth wife. It could be that the only thing good about Lathrop was his ability to access his parents’ money. If that tap were ever to dry up, Weld would be in a heap of trouble.
Just before she turned four, Susan Weld faced her very first crisis. Her small family became even smaller: Lathrop passed suddenly and left them in a terrible financial position. Weld’s mother, Yosene Balfour Ker, had her hands full with three kids and no source of income. What could she do? She needed a guardian angel. However, what she got was something altogether different.
Weld, her mother, and her siblings were living in a shabby, cold-water flat in a Manhattan slum—and still barely making rent. Weld’s father’s wealthy family saw the difficult position that Weld and her family were in. They lived up in Tuxedo Park—which was about as fancy as it sounds—and could easily help out the family with some much-needed cash.
Out of the goodness of their hearts, they offered a home and education to the kids. They did, however, have one completely cruel stipulation.
The Welds offered to save Tuesday and her siblings, but there was a vicious catch: The kids could never see their mother again. It turned out that the Weld clan thought that Yosene had come straight from the gutter. It’s strange because Yosene’s father was a Canadian-American illustrator whose drawings appeared in Life Magazine. She was also related to telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell.
Sounds fairly far from the gutter to me, except for one small detail.
Yes, Weld’s mother had come from a fine family, but it turned out she’d been an orphan. The Welds held this against her because they had no idea who her real family had been. They assumed that she came from trashy roots and wanted her as far away from her children as possible. Yosene took one look at her three lovely children—and made a bold decision.
Yosene couldn't bear to part with her three children, so she said no thank you to the Welds’ twisted offer. That, however, left her alone and without an income to feed and clothe her three children. It was in this desperate moment that Yosene noticed something about her daughter Susan that gave her an idea. Susan was remarkably pretty, and Yosene had a brilliant idea that would solve her small family’s financial dilemma.
Yosene was desperate for money, so she tried to find work for young Susan as a model. Weld’s young life soon became filled with countless auditions. To make matters worse, she had the added pressure of earning money for food, as well as supporting her mother emotionally. Yosene expected Weld to fix all the problems in her life. All of this happened before Weld was even 10—and the consequences were chilling.
At nine years old, the pressures of being a replacement father to a family of four were too much for Weld, and she had a nervous breakdown. Yosene took the opportunity to move the family to Fort Lauderdale, where Weld could finally attend school more regularly—away from all the auditions back in New York City. Sadly it was too late for Susan Weld to have a normal childhood.
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Weld had very grown-up problems, so she turned to a very grown-up solution: booze. By 10, she already had a pretty serious addiction. However, the pressures of providing for a family still remained, so Weld had to start working again. This time, her mother left the other kids with a friend in Fort Lauderdale and took Weld back to the Big Apple.
It was time to make much-needed money.
Weld’s modeling soon led to something else: acting roles. When she was just 12 years old, she got in front of a camera for a small role in a television series. That same year, 1956, the big screen came calling and the director was a big deal in more ways than one. Alfred Hitchcock gave Weld a small role as a giggling adolescent in his film, The Wrong Man.
But appearing in a film was no fairy tale. For Weld, it was closer to a nightmare.
After her one stint on TV and one on film, Weld still had serious emotional problems. Maybe she wasn’t cut out for acting. Or maybe she wasn’t cut out for being the sole earner for a family of five. These pressures eventually led Weld down a dangerous path: adding pills to her booze addiction. And what about her young love life? Well, it was equally messed up.
Weld claims that she had her first full-on affair at the tender age of just 11. She also says that she tried to take her own life at 12, and for a very adult reason: She'd fallen in love with a gay man. On that disturbing day, Yosene found Weld unconscious and rushed her to the hospital. Because of her attempt, Weld ended up in a coma, temporarily losing her hearing and vision.
When she finally woke up, Weld begged her mother for some psychological help—but Yosene's response was infuriating.
Weld's mother refused to get her the help she needed. Instead, she continued to push her daughter into the spotlight against her will. Weld’s first lead role was in Rock, Rock, Rock!, called a jukebox musical because the songs in it were already hit singles of the time. While Weld was certainly the lead, the film’s real draw was the list of already established singers working on the film.
Still, Weld stood out—and for a scandalous reason.
While there were plenty of young actors playing teenage roles, critics noticed something unique about Weld—she portrayed them as unwholesome. This led one critic from Time magazine to call her “the archetypal nymphet”. It seemed that Weld’s inappropriate childhood was coming out in her characters, and, sadly, she was receiving recognition for that.
While Hollywood is still famous for hiring adults to play teenagers, when it came to Weld, the opposite was true.
Weld must have looked older than she was, because she was still just 12 when they started filming Rock, Rock, Rock! She was supposed to be a teenager—but that wasn't the most disturbing part. The actor playing her on-screen boyfriend was actually a 21-year-old man. As we'll see, Weld's taste in men only mirrored the cringeworthy roles she had to play.
Weld’s next feature led her and her mother out to Hollywood for the production of 1958’s Rally Round the Flag, Boys!. This comedy had Weld playing the oddly named, teenage nymphet, Comfort Goodpasture. It was, however, her co-stars that made the film important for Weld. She played opposite husband and wife dream team, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
However, it was Weld's performance alongside Dwayne Hickman that gave 20th Century Fox a money-making idea.
Weld had now signed on with 20th Century Fox and they liked something about the way she interacted with Dwayne Hickman in Rally Round the Flag, Boys! In 1959, they put the two together in a CBS TV show called The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Weld, now officially using Tuesday as her name, played one of the loves that Gillis couldn't have. There was, however, something else keeping these two teen stars apart.
It turned out that Tuesday Weld and co-star Hickman were not at all fond of each other. Hickman didn’t think Weld took acting seriously and didn’t come to rehearsals prepared. Weld, on the other hand, found Hickman to be too into himself and out of touch with the real world. Besides this, there was another reason why the show wasn’t working for Weld.
The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was a family show and Weld…well...Weld was being herself. In one scene she’s flirting with a classmate—played by Warren Beatty—where Beatty is simply describing the clothes in his closet. Both Beatty and Weld pushed the scene to an inappropriate climax that the sponsor of the show was not comfortable with.
The producers dropped Weld after one season. But there were bigger things in store for the fired actress.
Allied Artists took Weld from 20th Century Fox, as well as something else far more precious—her innocence. For most of her career, she'd played teenagers in love, but now she was appearing in Sex Kittens Go To College. The 1960 film, whose dubious claim to fame was the appearance of Brigitte Bardot’s sister, might just be one of the worst movies ever made.
There was, however, something else that brought notoriety to the film—something even more scandalous than the title.
To make as much money as possible, Allied Artists decided to do something radical. They shot some naughty footage with some dancers and a robot—yes you read that correctly—and added it to the film. They then released the film in theaters that catered to…er…more adult audiences. Weld was only 17 years old, starring in an x-rated movie. But then she took it a step further.
Her next film was even more risqué.
The Private Lives of Adam and Eve came out a year later, but Weld had made it a year earlier when she was just 16. The film follows a group of bus travelers as they all share a dream that they are back in the Biblical Garden of Eden. The film starred the curvaceous Mamie Van Doren, and unsurprisingly, boasted B-movie status. This one, however, was different as it enraged a particular group of people.
It was the 1960s and moviegoers were used to a little titillation at the theater. The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, however, pushed the envelope a little further by including a biblical reference. The Catholic Legion of Decency called the film blasphemous and sacrilegious. In the UK, the movie didn’t even receive a cinema certificate. It was official, Tuesday Weld was a bad girl who had no problem making unwholesome movies.
It wasn’t just the movies that gave Tuesday Weld a bad reputation. You see, the actress's dating rampage didn't help matters, especially when her lovers were so much older than her. Some of her legendary conquests included Frank Sinatra, Raymond Burr, and George Hamilton. When she was just 16 years old she dated Spartacus actor John Ireland who was 45 at the time.
When Weld’s mother found out, she was furious and she told Weld that she needed to clean up her act. Weld’s response was not at all what her mother expected.
When her mother tried to curb her scandalous dating habits, Weld used her most powerful munition to silence her. Remember, Weld was the sole breadwinner of the family, which gave her a certain amount of leverage. She told her mother that if she didn’t stop meddling in her affairs, she’d quit acting. Weld ended her threat with this colorful bit: “there ain't gonna be no more money for you, Mama”.
In some ways, Weld was just a typical teenager, but in other ways, she was anything but.
Weld, like any teenage girl, struggled to negotiate her journey into adulthood. Most of that trouble came directly from her mother. A reporter once asked Yosene if Weld had an 11:00 pm curfew. Her reply stunned the reporter: “That’s when she starts out". Unlike most teenage girls, Weld had an easy out. When she was only 16 years old, she moved out of her mother’s house and into her own.
After all, Weld didn't have to save up babysitting money to become independent. She had a film career.
Once she escaped her mother’s house, there was no stopping Tuesday Weld. She soon became fodder for the scandal sheets of the day. She loved to push her reckless lifestyle in the press’ face. The actress unabashedly flaunted her older boyfriends and her love of excess. She even appeared at interviews barefoot. Remember, this was a young woman in her teenage years, and this is the early 1960s.
Weld was ahead of her time, and in her mind, there was nowhere to go but up.
1961 saw Tuesday Weld in Return to Peyton Place. While this was a higher class of film than her previous ones, it again dealt with taboo subjects. Weld played Selena Cross, a young woman whose stepfather forced her into inappropriate relations. Weld was still fairly unknown as an actor, but her talent shone through in this film.
TV Guide noted that Weld had a natural appeal—one that was rather carnal in nature.
In 1961, Weld appeared in Wild in the Country with Elvis Presley. It turned out that the set of the film was also wild as Elvis had ignited the amorous interest of two of his co-stars. Both Hope Lange and Tuesday Weld batted their eyelashes at Presley, but Weld won out—mostly because Lange already had a husband and was unavailable for a relationship.
With Lange out of the way, Weld was free to make her move. But that's when Weld’s bad girl reputation reared its ugly head.
Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, had a rigid control over Presley’s career. When the Colonel heard that his number one client was courting Hollywood bad girl Weld, he put a stop to it immediately. All those Weld pictures with racy titles—and her numerous boyfriends—had given her a bad rep and even Elvis, with his gyrating hips, wasn’t allowed to go there.
Sometimes, however, a bad rep can get you a great offer.
In 1962, Stanley Kubrick was casting his film version of the novel Lolita. The story, about a relationship between a middle-aged man and a 14-year-old girl, was already more than icky in book form. But on the screen? For some reason Kubrick immediately thought of Weld for the title role—go figure. Weld's response to the offer said a lot about her real life.
In turning him down, she said, "I didn't have to play it. I was Lolita".
The story of Lolita certainly seemed to fit Weld’s love of controversy in film. While her rejection of the role seemed cavalier, it was perhaps a huge mistake. The film went on to get rave reviews and multiple award nominations. The woman who took the role, Sue Lyon, won a Golden Globe for her performance. Weld, meanwhile, continued to struggle, failing to find the right films.
So, she did something surprisingly practical: She took a break.
Weld didn’t like the roles producers were offering her, so she took a hiatus from acting. But she didn't exactly choose the most relaxing getaway to facilitate her moment of self-reckoning. Instead, she decided on the bustling Greenwich Village in Manhattan. As flakey as this may sound, something happened in the village, because Weld emerged as a changed woman.
Ater her soul-searching effort in Greenwich Village, Weld actually became quite successful. In 1965, she appeared opposite Steve McQueen in the hit film The Cincinnati Kid. Next, Weld got serious and took a role in a TV version of The Crucible playing opposite George C. Scott—and her performance garnered her a good dollop of praise.
Whatever had happened to Weld during her hiatus somehow helped her move away from always playing the libidinous teen. What's more? Her personal life mirrored this change.
Around the same time, Weld got serious about her relationships as well. In 1965, she married screenwriter Claude Harz and the two had a child named Natasha. It seemed like a perfect time for Weld to settle down. Sadly, it didn’t last. By 1971, they’d divorced and the actress put the blame squarely on her mother’s shoulders. Weld said that Yosene hated all the men she'd been with, including her husband.
And speaking of hating men, Weld’s next film had her battling it out with her director.
One of Weld’s next feature films was 1968’s Pretty Poison. This black comedy, which later became a cult hit, gave Weld a heap of trouble. In spite of her crazy off-screen lifestyle, Weld was actually known as being quite professional on set. Not so, with Pretty Poison. Weld did not get on with director Noel Black, and there was a “put up your dukes and fight” situation right from the get-go.
The director of Pretty Poison was brand new at the job and not prepared to deal with someone like Weld. Yes, he was an amateur, but it didn’t excuse his lousy acting notes. His direction to Weld for one scene was to “think about Coca-Cola”. Faced with his brutal direction, she became increasingly neurotic. Weld eventually told Black to speak to her co-star Anthony Perkins so that he could interpret the directions for her.
Weld later went on to say it was her worst performance on film. The project, however, might have been doomed from the very beginning.
Pretty Poison actually got quite good reviews and did eventually achieve cult status. There is, however, a good reason why it failed at the box office. The release date of this comedy about two brutal young people on a rampage in America was right around the time that there were two horrible American tragedies: the murders of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy.
America was simply not in the mood for this kind of parody. And do you know what Weld wasn’t in the mood for? Roman Polanski.
Tuesday Weld was not afraid to say no when she thought a part wasn’t right. In 1971, Roman Polanksi offered her a role in his version of Macbeth where she had to sleepwalk wearing nothing at all. Weld very matter of factly told Polanksi where he could shove his offer. Maybe Weld had a sixth sense about Polanski, because six years later, he was on the run from the law for mistreating a 13-year-old girl. Phew, close call.
It turned out that Weld was actually quite famous for near misses.
Much has been said about all the films Weld didn’t do. In 1969, she refused an offer to appear in True Grit. This would have been alongside John Wayne, who won an Oscar for his role. She also rejected 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde and 1969’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. For these two films, she told reporters that they sounded like they would be too successful—so she wanted nothing to do with them.
In 1975, she again said no, this time to a film that would have kept her name alive forever: the ultimate cult hit, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
In 1972, Weld had a starring role in Play It as It Lays. Here, she got to star beside her friend Anthony Perkins for the second time. Some call this role one of Weld’s best, and I would say it's because she’s played a character that hit close to home. In the film, she plays Maria, an ex-model (check) and B-movie actor (check) who is unhappily separated from her husband (check).
Unsurprisingly, she nailed it. The people at the Golden Globes agreed and gave her a nomination for best actress.
1977 saw Weld team up with Diane Keaton in Looking for Mr. Goodbar. That same year, Keaton had made Annie Hall—which won her a Golden Globe and an Oscar—so it was a good match for Weld. It was Weld, however, who found the greater success in this film: She got the nod from the Academy for the supporting actress role. But that wasn't all.
Due to the role, she also began dating ultra-handsome Richard Gere. Coincidentally, Weld and Keaton would soon cross paths again...when they both dated Al Pacino.
Between all the amazing dates she had, Weld also managed to marry two more men. In 1975, Weld married the bumbling, comedic actor Dudley Moore, and they had a son together. This marriage ended in divorce in 1980, but another marriage followed soon after. In 1985, she hooked up with and married a violinist and conductor named Pinchas Zukerman.
This marriage, however, seemed like trouble from the start—and for a very scary reason.
In 1988, Norman Kean, a Broadway producer, took a blade to his wife and then jumped off the roof of his apartment. Neither Kean nor his wife survived the harrowing ordeal, which meant that their home in Montauk went up for sale. Weld and Zukerman were house-hunting at the time and seemed to have no qualms about living in the home of this obviously deranged man.
Without a second thought, they bought the house and moved right in.
After the unlucky 13th year of marriage, Weld and Zukerman decide to call it quits. Weld reportedly said that she didn’t want to hear another note of his music, which made living with a musician kind of difficult. What was more difficult, however, was selling their allegedly haunted home. Even 20 years after the horrific incident, buyers were still wary of buying a house linked to such infamy.
In 2009, Weld finally sold it: for about $2 million dollars under asking. The actress had more or less solved her housing problem. Now, it was time for her reputation to take another nosedive.
Weld and her mother had a rather horrible relationship, and it led Weld to do something awful: She told people her mother was no longer alive. It’s a pretty nasty thing to do, but Yosene eventually got her revenge. Mom got her story told in a book, and the title was probably the best thing about it. She called it: If It’s Tuesday…I Must Be Dead.
In the book, Yosene gets to blame all her troubles on Weld. Some even gave it the nickname Daughter Dearest, comparing it to Mommie Dearest by Joan Crawford’s daughter. Incidentally, Yosene passed in 2001: two years before the book's release.
The passing of Yosene was a difficult time for Weld and she seemed very conflicted about it. While she said that without her mom around she finally felt free, she also said that her passing meant very little to her. Creepier still, Weld insists that she continues to feel Yosene’s presence in her life. She even entertains the idea that she could be reincarnated.
Her mother had been a dominating force her entire life. What would Weld do now that Yosene was gone?
Just before her mother’s passing, in 2001, Weld said so long to Hollywood—and movies—and moved to Colorado. It seemed Weld was in search of some peace and quiet, expressing a hunger for silence. Still, dark rumors swirl around her. Some wonder if Weld has bipolar disorder; others have said that she dabbles in the occult. This is all speculation, but we do know one thing...
17 years after moving away to find peace and quiet, she moved back to Hollywood. Maybe we’ll see her in the movies one more time.
Even if she never makes another film, Weld’s talent and allure will stay with us. Her name has been referenced in such diverse TV shows as The Flintstones, American Horror Story, and Two and a Half Men. Her face even appeared on the 1999 cover of the Matthew Sweet album Girlfriend. Two other bands went a little further and actually took her name for theirs: British band The Real Tuesday Weld and a German band simply called Tuesday Weld.
Weld says she appreciates her cult status, calling it “a very nice thing”.
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