Vogue: Katherine Ross
The brightest actresses should be likened to jewels or gemstones rather than stars. With astrophysics and immense rocket tonnages, there is a decidedly masculine type of romance pervading space and the stretches of unfeminine science. As knowledge brings us closer to the actual stars—with their ponderous mass, incalculable temperatures, vast distances--it becomes harder for the petite to perpetuate the simile of "star." But gems are just as sparkling, and such more intimate. Films now bring us closer too: with near-angle camera shots we are already inside the frame of exquisite faces. There are no more stars--except for those out there, almost too real. That once were distant stars are gemstones, closer to us and all the more easily becoming part of ourselves. And with all the precious scatterings each cinema season, once in a while--with a rare brilliance and uncommon hue--someone like Katherine Ross catches every eye.
Of all the gems, Katharine Ross is most like a peridot. The alchemists called it chrysolite, amazed by its mutability: in sunlight it flashes bottle greens, yellow greens, chartreuse-‑under other light it becomes deep pink, sometimes shading to violet-red, almost amethyst. So cooly changeable, the peridot remains, structurally, a nevertheless perplexingly crystalline constant. It is only light from the world of appearances around it making the cut stone seem to change from within.
Then she is in her near-amethyst phase, every facet of Katherine reflects the actress within her. She once told me in violet seriousness, "Essentially the actress is a victim. Not just the cliché victim of the male lead...she is also the necessary victim of any good director, and another inevitable victim of the writer as well."
In Life (the unreal one) she described herself as "a sympathetic crippled clubfoot" on Gunsmoke. She has played one of Chekhov's Three Sisters, another victim in King Lear (a play of victims), a twisted figure in The Balcony of Jean Genet, one of the quasi-losers of Games, and the unwitting, eventual (though presumably not permanent) victim of a funny yet foul affair conducted by The Graduate.
If a purple cast mythically denotes nobility, it is that kind--for the actress Katherine, anyway--acquired through considerable suffering. She tends to take parts and do as she is told by her studio, more eager to work whatever role into perfection than to squander energies on tactical gambits involving temperamental scenes in the old Hollywood style. Meanwhile, her art is being further polished for a confrontation with that one great role which must, for every true actress, sometime come.
The other side of Katherine Ross is light, like the tender green of young pines above Pacific Palisades. On the high hills up from the old Will Rogers ranch, alone with one of her high-bred horses--there chartreuse Katherine is probably at her best. There are the warmly natural olive greens also of the peridot; and Katherine has earth green, too, in her eyes-‑all the resilient gentleness of a ranch girl, utterly opposed to the artificial brittleness that used to mean movie star.
Just before Katherine left for Houston (to be John Wayne's temporary celluloid daughter in The Hellfighters) I asked her what would happen if she ran out of roles someday. What if she began being bored as someone else's victim--and wanted to get clear beyond always doing something else for someone else? Wasn't there a more truly radical level on which she might act?
She replied half way between the actress-lady and the natural ranch girl, her two essential states of being: "Maybe there isn't anything really radical anymore. Or if there is, it must have to do with the mess inside. If I could pick only those parts for which I felt something real...it would take hard work, but good work, and it would come with naturalness. But it can also work the other way around. I suppose I become, in some way, each one of the parts after I have played it."
There is clearly too much healthy naturalness to have to worry about the free, sunlight Katharine--and too much unquestionable talent, precisioned acting skill and love of her art, to let the chartreuse phase of the jewel dominate the violet flashes for more than its share of bright, mutable moments.
She will probably stay crystalline and quizzically constant: an essential woman and serious actress, but also reassuringly shifting—whether working, riding, laughing—always a girl.
VOGUE • Katharine Ross
By Kurt von Meier March 17, 1968