At one time Zohra Lampert was one of the most sought-after young actresses in New York; even having a play being expressly written for her. Lampert’s “presence,” the quality that saw her through a number of star-crossed and mediocre plays was that of the quietly inept creature who believed in some great secret love: the first aspect hilarious, the second engaging. Whether talking about Picasso and Kafka at breakfast or doing the twist with a puppy in her pocket as she did in one of her films, Lampert could be entrancing and jarringly comic simultaneously. Indeed, if a clown wears both the tragic and comic masks at the same time, and evokes both tears and laughter with a single pratfall, then Zohra Lampert was an exceedingly rare creature at the time: a female clown.
Lampert was not, in any conventional sense, a glamorous young woman. Yet, she did manage to construct a sort of glamour, a warmth that might be described as radiance, but that stemmed from unlikely attributes: awkward movement, tense and tight-lipped speech, gestures from the joints in her elbows rather like a marionette, and the impression that she looks cross-eyed. That, an air of absence of intelligence gave an overall impression of charm. Some of early ill-fated vehicles never succeeded in jinxing her, in fact they served most often to highlight an extraordinary ability to turn mediocre and bad characterizations into engrossing, even brilliant performances.
The premise of her ability to engage in the substantive was early seen in Elia Kazan’s Splendor In The Grass. Here, she portrayed a waitress in a new haven pizza joint where she meet Yale-man Warren Beatty.Shortly after they meet, the two find themselves married and living on a farm, with one child on the kitchen floor and another child on the way. Beatty’s former love, attractively played by Natalie Wood, visits the farm. She enter the kitchen where Zohra Lampert is leaning, perspiring over a greasy stove, pats the baby on the head and leaves.
When Beatty escorts the girl out of the room, the sole tender moment in the film occurs: Lampert looks down at her singularly unattractive pregnancy, her dirty blue dress and shrugs. A foolish uncoordinated shrug, one of simple acceptance. And in that gesture is all the glamour the character never had, all the hours on the squalid kitchen on the squalid farm., all the humdrum of the past twenty and next forty years of her life, and all her compassion and love for her husband and children. If the film script was not an inspired piece of writing, Zohra Lampert, at least for a few moments while she is on the screen, makes it seem inspired. First and foremost, at leat superficially, a comic, but underlying the comic quality is a sense of pathos and tenderness indicating genuine talent, the added dimension of uniqueness.