One night during my college years, I was pulling an all-nighter studying for finals when I caught an old movie on TV; a flick called Willa that concerned a divorced mother who becomes a truck driver.
I saw a lot of myself in Willa, the shy, smiling blonde with the heart and will of a lion. And seeing this movie got me to thinking, “What can I do?”
Deborah Raffin, the actress who played Willa, passed away Wednesday, November 21st, 2012 after a battle with leukemia. In her all too brief existence this woman accrued a vast list of accomplishments that reflected her boundless talents.
As an actress her regal demeanor and angelic beauty served her well in glittery romances like 40 Carats and Jacqueline Susann’s Once is Not Enough. Yet she also played heroines whose strength, intellect and resourcefulness were of far more importance than her grace and fashion sense. In Touched By Love she portrayed a determined nurse who reaches out to a girl afflicted by cerebral palsy. And in Sparkling Cyanide, one of my favorite adaptions of an Agatha Christie mystery, she plays a heiress turned detective who cracks the case—and gets the gorgeous Anthony Andrews in the bargain! And she didn’t shy away from appearing in gritty indie and pulp movies like God Told Me To and Death Wish 3.
Moreover, Raffin’s real life accomplishments more than equaled those of her celluloid heroines. She did mission work in Calcutta alongside Mother Teresa, and represented the film world as an ambassador to China, where her film Nightmare in Badham County was a major hit. She directed two films and produced six. She also bucked the Hollywood system by refusing to do nude scenes, at any point in her career.
Later in life Raffin also contributed to the literary world, co-founding the revolutionary media company Dove Books on Tape (named after her 1974 movie The Dove) with then-husband Michael Viner.
Although I never met Ms. Raffin, I must admit that the news of her passing cast a definite shadow over my Thanksgiving holiday; overall, though, her long slate of artistic contributions cast a definite light on my life and aspirations.