The Showgirl as Walter Cartier's Counterpart and Her Relationship to Killer's Kiss

Go to Table of Contents of the analysis (which has also a statement on purpose and manner of analysis and a disclaimer as to caveat emptor and my knowing anything authoritatively, which I do not, but I do try to not know earnestly, with some discretion, and considerable thought).


Everyone's already aware of Kubrick's Killer's Kiss having some filming roots in his earlier Day of the Fight (1951) which was based on the article he did for LOOK Magazine in 1948 on the Cartier brothers.

And by now many are aware of the photos Kubrick took, in 1949 of, showgirl Rosemary Williams. What I hope to add, with this post, is how the unpublished LOOK photos on Rosemary can be seen as a feminine counterpart to Kubrick's photos of the boxer Walter Cartier, and their relationship to Killer's Kiss.

Going through Kubrick's LOOK photos, he had his stroke of genius here and there but most, one has to admit, are pure bread-and-butter this-journalistic-banality-is-killing-me fare. Which is not the case with the photos of Rosemary Williams. The camera loved her and she worked it. Kubrick photographed her with an intimate cinematic story style we don't see in the majority of his LOOK photos.

Killer's Kiss

From the Online Museum of the City of New York collection of Kubrick photos
Showgirl Rosemary Williams, 1949

Killer's Kiss

From the Online Museum of the City of New York collection of Kubrick photos
Showgirl Rosemary Williams, 1949

If one examines Kubrick's photos of Rosemary, which didn't make it to the pages of LOOK, one will see a certain resemblance to his photos of the boxing Cartier brothers in plot outline, and that spare resemblance is enough to suggest that we may have more here than a formula and that Kubrick was thinking in terms of links between Rosemary's occupation and the world of boxing. She was to be Walter Cartier's counterpart.

We know that Kubrick fictionalized parts of the Cartier story when he took it to film in Day of the Fight. For instance, he gave Walter Cartier a dog, knowing people would connect with that. We don't know what parts were fictionalized, if any, with Rosemary when he was photographing her, but building empathy/sympathy he photographed her in various other activities apart from career, as he had done Cartier. Rosemary had a child, a boy, living in Texas. We don't know what the story angle for it would have been but he photographed her doting over a little girl. She was more than a glamorous showgirl.

He photographed both Rosemary and Walter Cartier at church. Walter was supposedly preparing for his fight and this was the spiritual part of his preparation. In the film he was also shown taking communion.

Killer's Kiss

From the Online Museum of the City of New York collection of Kubrick photos, Boxer Walter Cartier, 1948

We don't know what was the angle with Rosemary going to church. Again, Roman Catholic. Who were the two men to either side of her? We don't know.

Killer's Kiss

From the Online Museum of the City of New York collection of Kubrick photos
Showgirl Rosemary Williams, 1949

Kubrick was 20 when he photographed Rosemary. From what I can tell, she was supposedly 20 as well–but I wonder about that, if she didn't have a few years shaved off, as many people did and do. Her face and body build suggest to me she may have been a few years older than 20, but she may have been 20. Regardless, she was a woman with history, having been already married and divorced. Her son lived, I think, with grandparents, while Rosemary was in New York trying her hand at becoming something more than a showgirl. No doubt she longed to be a star. No judgment there. Had Rosemary made it then her choices and travails would have been viewed as worth it. When one doesn't make it then one's choices are viewed through a critical lens as vain and contemptuous of certain future failure.

No matter how much he had already seen, for 20 year old Kubrick, Rosemary was probably (at least psychologically, emotionally) the older woman with a past. A mysterious entity.

Kubrick photographed her in March of 1949, and from one of the published news stories on Rosemary and the notoriety she gained receiving tens and tens of thousands worth of gifts from Sid Levy, it seems that she first met Sid in spring of 1949. Was she already with Sid when Kubrick began photographing her?

There is no way of knowing from the photographs or from the movie Killer's Kiss, how Kubrick may have actually viewed Rosemary, apart from his having visualized her as Walter Cartier's female counterpart. We can't speculate based on the character of Gloria in Killer's Kiss because Gloria's fairly complex character is certainly different from Rosemary in very important respects. How Gloria does compare to Rosemary is that Gloria is the feminine counterpart of Davey in Killer's Kiss and one can tell that Kubrick had conceived of Rosemary as being the feminine counterpart of Walter Cartier for his photojournalism piece.

And, yes, I know that Howard Sackler wrote Killer's Kiss but the story certainly had its roots in Kubrick's LOOK photojournalism and Day of the Fight.

Gloria, in Killer's Kiss, was a taxi-dancer living a low rent lifestyle. Whereas Rosemary was a showgirl with big aspirations, Gloria had none. But we can see a little of Gloria in certain photos of Rosemary.

In the below photo, Rosemary dances with an anonymous man at a club. This image and the several others like it are very interesting in the way Kubrick communicates Rosemary as being on stage before the “audience” of individuals at tables, predominately male in this photo, with Kubrick the recorder taking it all in. The camera eye here seems peculiarly more chilly than the screengrab below it of Gloria dancing at Pleasure Land.

Killer's Kiss

From the Online Museum of the City of New York collection of Kubrick photos
Showgirl Rosemary Williams, 1949

Killer's Kiss

Screengrab from Killer's Kiss

In the below LOOK photo we have Rosemary in Times Square, the Criterion theater in the background. Kubrick's view of Times Square in Killer's Kiss, as he leads us toward Pleasure Land where Gloria works, opens with a shot of the Bond clothing store window beside the Criterion theater. With that shot in Killer's Kiss we are viewing the Bond window before which Rosemary was standing in the window shopping shot for LOOK. She wears a modest cloth coat in contrast to the later Rosemary who was the recipient of thousands of dollars worth of furs.

Killer's Kiss

From the Online Museum of the City of New York collection of Kubrick photos
Showgirl Rosemary Williams, 1949

Killer's Kiss

Screengrab from Killer's Kiss

What is most interesting to me is that Kubrick has her positioned in the LOOK photo so we see the movie Set-up was playing at the Criterion. What was Set-up about? A boxer who was such a loser that his manager takes money for him to take a “dive”, not even bothering to tell him, because he's confident the boxer will lose anyway. But the boxer does learn of the the fix during the fight, becomes determined to win despite the fact it will put him in trouble with the mob, and does win. What, I think, we can most interpret from Kubrick having her stand before this theater is that he was certainly painting her, in the Look story, as a counterpart of the boxer, Walter Cartier. We already know that Gloria, in Killer's Kiss, is counterpart of Davey.

Below is a photo from the prospective LOOK article of Gloria getting ready to go on stage. Below that is Iris' dance from Killer's Kiss, which seems to draw some inspiration from the LOOK photo. One may also think back to this with Kubrick's depiction of cynical, used and abused Lolita as she prepares to go on stage, Quilty and Vivian Darkbloom watching from the wings. Quilty even has his camera. This scene wasn't in the book or the screenplay. In Nabokov's screenplay, Lolita never even made it on stage, she and Humbert took off from Bearsley before the play was staged.

Killer's Kiss

From the Online Museum of the City of New York collection of Kubrick photos
Showgirl Rosemary Williams, 1949

Killer's Kiss

Screengrab from Killer's Kiss

Screengrab from Lolita

Screengrab from Lolita

From the Online Museum of the City of New York collection of Kubrick photos
Showgirl Rosemary Williams, 1949

Killer's Kiss

Screengrab from Killer's Kiss

The play, Fogg's Ferry, concerns Chip, daughter of a lowly ferryman, who turns out to be a child of veritable American nobility (a wealthy Judge). She and another baby had been mixed up at birth it seems. Eventually, the haughty false daughter of the judge is ejected and humble Chip takes her rightful place.

Kubrick already interested in doubles, I have to wonder if the playbills on Rosemary's wall were her own idea or instead Kubrick's.

Speaking of doubles, Vincent, by the way, was also the name of Walter Cartier's brother.

I notice that The Stanley Kubrick Meet-up Tumblr has done a post mentioning how an artist by the name of Rosemary Williams is doing a short film on the showgirl Rosemary Williams. It will be interesting to see what her take on Rosemary will be, but it already seems that she has found in Rosemary someone whose private life greatly contradicted her glamorous public profile.


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