Thursday, July 30, 2015

An Interview with Henry Darrow on The High Chaparral, Harry O, and Nosotros

Best remembered as the fun-loving Manolito on the classic Western TV series The High Chaparral, Henry Darrow has appeared in over 100 films and television series. He co-starred with David Janssen in the detective series Harry O, played Zorro's father in the 1990-93 Zorro TV series, and appeared as A Martinez's father in the daytime drama Santa Barbara (which earned him an Emmy). His other credits include guest star appearances in dozens of classic TV shows, such as Mission: Impossible, The Outer Limits, and Dallas. He has also worked with Ricardo Montalban and others to increase acting opportunities for young Latino actors and actresses. In 2012, he wrote his autobiography (with Jan Pippins) Henry Darrow: Lightning in a Bottle. I interviewed Mr. Darrow recently at the Western Film Fair and Nostalgia Convention in Winston-Salem, NC.

Café:  How did you come to be cast on The High Chaparral?

Harry Darrow at the Western Film Fair
and Nostalgia Convention.
Henry Darrow:  It was a big interview with David Dortort, who was executive producer of Bonanza back in the 1960s. He saw me in a play, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, written by Ray Bradbury. I played sort of a Romeo-esque kind of character, who had a love scene in a balcony with a girl. She kept saying: "Oh my gosh, your smile is so big." And then, it turns out that she had vision problems and she was actually referring to my many teeth. The audience included people from the network, the head casting director William Mayberry, and the producer, Buck Houghton. I talked with them about the part of Manolito and described how I saw him. I said I'd like to speak in Spanish and that I would learn Indian sign language. I said: "I'm ready to read for the part." And David Dortort replied: "You don't have to. You've got it. You talked us into it." By the way, in the lobby, waiting to go in was Linda Cristal (who played Victoria Cannon on The High Chaparral). They wanted to compare us side by side to see if we could play brother and sister. 

Café:  There's a great sense of family on The High Chaparral. The relationships between the Cannon and Montoya families seem very real. Was the cast as close off screen?

The High Chaparral cast.
HD:  We got along wonderfully. It was a good cast, particularly Leif Erickson as the head of the ranch. He helped me invest some money in a concern he was involved in and I made money from that. The guy that was most fun-loving was Cameron Mitchell as Uncle Buck. He was wonderful to be around. Sometimes, he didn't learn all his dialogue in a scene so he ad-libbed. That made him fun to work with because you had to listen and stay alert. Linda Cristal was just a pleasure to work with, as were Mark Slade, Don Collier, who played Sam--who was in charge of the bunkhouse--and his brother Joe, played by Robert Hoy. I also have great memories of all the different guests that appeared on the show: Gilbert Roland, Ricardo Montalban, Fernando Lamas, Bob Lansing, Jack after the other. It was a real college degree learning process for me, working with actors and actresses that had been established for years.

Café:  Do you have a favorite episode?

HD:  "A Time to Laugh, a Time to Cry" with Donna Baccala*. We shot that episode in the 1960s and then, about 30 years later, I was doing a series in Spain about Zorro and she appeared as a guest star. We were able to use scenes from the old High Chaparral episode. It worked out beautifully.

Café:  I've heard that after The High Chaparral was cancelled, you performed a live act in Sweden. Can you tell us about that?

HD:  That was wonderful. I had talked with Michael Landon, who had gone over to Sweden with a stunt man and played a little bit of guitar and sang a few songs. I prepared a 30-minute show, singing songs and doing comedy stuff like shooting balloons with a gun and...drum roll...there'd be a pop! It was all comedic. One night, we had 15,000 people in the audience, an incredible turnout.

Darrow as Lieutenant Manny Quinlan
on Harry O.
Café:  You and David Janssen had a nice chemistry on the quirky detective TV series Harry O. Why did your character not appear in the second season?

HD:  I loved that show. They moved the show from San Diego to Malibu. My character was a detective in the San Diego police department, so he stayed in San Diego, and Harry moved up to Malibu and lived on a beach. Anthony Zerbe replaced me and that worked out well for him. He won an Emmy.

Café:  How did you get along with David Janssen?

HD:  Wonderfully. He had a marvelous, dry sense of humor. We pulled jokes on each other here and there. When I was being replaced, he waited for me when he finished shooting earlier in the afternoon. We had a few goodbye drinks at the hotel bar. I never saw him again, though.

Café:  What was it like being a Latino actor in Hollywood in the 1960s and 1970s?

A painting of Darrow as Manolito
by artist JoAnn Peralta.
HD:  The High Chaparral was the first time in a series that a Latino family was on an equal level with an Anglo family, with the Cannons who owned Chaparral, and the Montoya household, which was in Mexico. That worked out well--and that was because of David Dortort, the producer of Bonzana, who added the Latino flavor to Chaparral. He brought in guest stars like Fernando Lamas, Ricardo Montalban, Alejandro Rey, and Alex Montoya. He included as many Hispanic actors as he could.

Café:  Were there challenges, though, to being a Latino actor at that time?

HD:  There were Westerns being made at the time. I had a lot of Mexican actor friends and they said I should pass myself off as a Mexican. I said: "Why?" They said: "Because there aren't too many New York Puerto Ricans doing Westerns!" I said OK. But then I did the Ray Bradbury play and got hired for The High Chaparral. It worked out beautifully for me.

Café:  You've done a lot to help other Latino actors in film and television. Can you describe your work with the Screen Actors Guild and other organizations?

HD:  There was an organization called Nosotros, which means "us" in Spanish. It was started in 1970 with Ricardo Montalban as president. I was the first vice president. We helped young Latino actors and actresses. At that time, there were only a few Latino casting people and agents. There was a guy called Carlos Alvarado. I lucked out when he hired me. His nephew was coming down the steps from his office and said: "You going to see my uncle? Because I have to go into the army. I think he'll hire you." Carlos did hire me, right then and there. There weren't too many problems that I can recall. There just weren't too many avenues for Latino actors at the time. A number of series happened over the next few years and it eventually worked out fine.

As Rafael on Santa Barbara.
Café:  You won an Emmy for playing Rafael Castillo, A Martinez's father in Santa Barbara. How did working on a daytime drama compare to prime time television?

HD:  It was much, much harder because you had to do an hour script every day and usually you'd have three scenes handed to you the night before. That left little time to rehearse with your fellow actors. I had worked with A Martinez before and he gave me a lot of his time and the producer was a fan of mine. It worked out well and I had a good time doing it. It was hard work, though.

Café:  You've written an autobiography, Henry Darrow: Lightning in a Bottle, with Jan Pippins. Do you have any upcoming projects you want to share with the Cafe's readers?

HD:  I've got a meeting with a young filmmaker next week. So, we will see where that goes.

Café:  Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

HD: My pleasure.

You can learn more about Henry Darrow at his website: You can follow him on Twitter @HenryDarrow1, Facebook, and Pinterest.

* In the season 3 episode "A Time to Laugh, a Time to Cry," Manolito's childhood sweetheart Mercedes Vega De Granada (Donna Baccala) steals his heart. He proposes marriage and she accepts--but their wedding plans go astray when she is kidnapped by Comancheros.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Greatest Stars of the 1950s Poll Revealed! (Part 2)

James Stewart made the Top 5.
Last week, we counted down from #25 to #11, so today we will reveal the Top 10. I wasn't surprised to see any of these actors chosen by classic movie fans as the decade's "greatest." As always, polls like this are--to a certain extent-- a popularity contest. But I don't think that makes them any less interesting.

Plus, it's hard to argue against including most of these stars. Marilyn Monroe went from a supporting actress to a mega-star in the 1950s. Audrey Hepburn only had a few starring roles during the decade, but her performances included some of her most beloved ones (e.g., Roman Holiday, Sabrina).

Of the male stars, James Stewart had one of the best decades ever by an actor. He appeared in two of Hitchcock's finest (Vertigo and Rear Window) and helped redefine the Western genre with his collaborations with director Anthony Mann.

As for the star at No. 1, well, he was already pretty big. In fact, he was the top choice in our Greatest Stars of the 1940s poll. Without further delay, here's the Top 10, starting from the bottom and working our way to the top:

10. Gregory Peck
9.   William Holden
8.   Humphrey Bogart
7.   Doris Day
6.   Gene Kelly
5.   Marlon Brando
4.   James Stewart
3.   Audrey Hepburn
2.   Marilyn Monroe

And the Greatest Star of the 1950s:  Cary Grant at No. 1!

Do you agree? As always, feedback is appreciated.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Greatest Stars of the 1950s Poll Revealed! (Part 1)

Grace Kelly came in at No. 12.
We had such fun with our Greatest Stars of the 1940s Poll in 2014 that a sequel was inevitable. This time around, over 100 classic movie fans participated in our online poll to determine the greatest movie stars of the 1950s.

The ballot included 107 actors and actresses who were active during that decade, ranging from Fred Astaire to Orson Welles. To reflect the growing popularity of international cinema, we included foreign-language stars such as Toshiro Mifune and Marcello Mastroianni. And, because we listen to constructive feedback, we expanded the number of British stars. Still, we made a major blunder right out of the gate--by forgetting to put Elizabeth Taylor on our ballot. She still received six write-in votes, but I suspect she would have cracked the Top 25 had she been a nominee.

Some of the stars that just missed cracking the Top 25 include:  Tony Curtis, Vincent Price, Errol Flynn, Fred Astaire, and Barbara Stanwyck. The only one that truly surprised me was Astaire, who had a strong decade with The Band Wagon, Funny Face, and Silk Stockings. He didn't make a lot of films during the 1950s, so that may have impacted the voting.

Today, we will reveal the stars that placed from #25 to #11. Next week, we will unveil the Top 10!

25.   Robert Mitchum
24.   Ava Gardner       
23.   Gary Cooper       
22.   Rock Hudson     
21.   Deborah Kerr  
20.   Katharine Hepburn   
19.   Paul Newman     
18.   Bette Davis          
17.   Jack Lemmon      
16.   Montgomery Clift
15.   Kirk Douglas    
14.   Charlton Heston
13.   James Dean    
12.   Grace Kelly 
11.   John Wayne       

Monday, July 20, 2015

An Interview with Ron Harper on Garrison's Gorillas, Planet of the Apes, and George Burns

When Ron Harper was performing in plays for fun at Princeton University, Professor Albert Einstein made an impromptu backstage visit. The famous physicist asked Harper about his future career plans. The young man said he planned to be an attorney. Einstein replied: "You'll have a good life if you decide to do what you love." Inspired by Einstein, Harper changed his career aspirations to acting and the rest is history. Ron Harper was one of the busiest actors in television in the 1960s and 1970s. He starred with Connie Stevens and George Burns in the sitcom Wendy and Me. He headlined the first-rate World War II action series Garrison's Gorillas and co-starred with Roddy McDowall in the Planet of the Apes TV series. He was also a regular in 87th Precinct, The Jean Arthur Show, and Land of the Lost. At age 79, he is still acting (and looks great). I had the pleasure of interviewing him recently at the Western Film Fair and Nostalgia Convention in Winston-Salem, NC.

Café:  I always watched Garrison's Gorillas as a kid. It's often described as "inspired" by The Dirty Dozen--but it debuted within months of the movie and the characters are different. So, was the similar premise just coincidental?

Ron Harper at the Western Film Fair
and Nostalgia Convention.
Ron Harper:  I would have thought The Dirty Dozen came out well before Garrison's Gorillas. The Dirty Dozen was a very successful movie, of course. I knew that we were "suggested" by it, although it was never written and never talked about. The characters were different.

Café:  Garrison's Gorilla's World War II sets looked very impressive. Was it shot on a backlot?

RH:  It was filmed on the backlot at MGM, which was very large and spacious. We did one or two episodes at the beach, but, for the most part, the backlot was big enough for us to do all the work we needed to do. Of course, most scenes were shot so that we could talk and interact, so there wasn't a need for many long shots of people shooting cannons.

Café:  It was a great ensemble cast. How did you get along with your fellow cast members?

Ron Harper (kneeling) and
the "Gorillas."
RH:  My four guys! Brendon Boone, Christopher Cary, Rudy Solari, Cesare Danova, and I got along very well. I would hate to think of doing a series with somebody if you didn't get along with them. Cesare (who played "Actor") was a little upset, though, that he wasn't such a major second star. But it was a great group.

Café:  Despite good acting and tight plots, Garrison's Gorillas only lasted one season. Why do you think it was cancelled?

RH:  It was a well-done series and we had good stories. We had very nice ratings. I think there was a mood prevalent in our country at that time about too much violence on TV. There was criticism about too much shooting and people killing each other on television. We were starting to get affected by that. When you do a war series, there's going to be violence and crime and shooting. It's not just a situation comedy where you tell a joke. The producers were very aware of this criticism about violence and we had to be very careful about it. I remember that once or twice, the director had one of my comrades departing somewhere and turning around and shooting somebody. After we shot the scene, I said: "We don't want to show that. That's exactly what some of the critics are talking about--unnecessary violence. We have to cut down the violence to what's required for the plot. We can't haphazardly shoot somebody."

Café:  I find it interesting that Garrison's Gorillas was one of the first U.S. television series shown in China, where it was very popular.

RH:  I remember that. In fact, I was invited to China and went there to promote it.

Café:  The Planet of the Apes series showed some promise initially, but quickly faltered in the ratings. What do you think led to its downfall?

Roddy McDowall, James Naughton,
and Ron Harper.
RH:  It became very repetitious. Each week, either Roddy McDowall, Jim Naughton, or I would get captured and the other two would rescue him. I had several talks with the producers, stressing this is not reality--apes really do not talk, wear clothes, and shoot guns. We have infinite room to explore more stories than taking turns being rescued from the apes. I knew it would be harmful to the longevity of the series if we didn't start using more imagination. I did a series called Land of the Lost and we did much more interesting stories each week. There was more science fiction--strange things would happen in the plots. Planet of the Apes didn't take advantage of its premise. It was the same routine each week and the audience quickly became aware of that.

Café:  I assume it was a challenging series to film.

RH:  Yes and a lot of hard work, particularly for Roddy McDowall. He had to get there three hours before the rest of us, who arrived a little after dawn. Poor Roddy had to have two hours to put on his make-up. I was so impressed with his ability to stay alert for the rest of the 10-12 hour days. I remember that, after we had done five or six shows, that his make-up had made his skin very sore and red. He had to take off about twelve days before his face returned to normal.

Café:  Was it hard to act opposite the apes given their limited facial expressions?

RH:  No, you use your imagination as an actor. Our actors were very good, so what they missed facially, they did vocally.

Café:  You once told a great story about a gift that Roddy McDowall gave you. Can you recount that for our readers?

RH:  I enjoyed working with Roddy. He had a nice sense of humor. Around Christmas time, he gave me a gift of a director's chair with my name on it--misspelled. (laughs). It read "Rin Hooper." I said: "Oh, that's very nice." And he said: "I do hope I spelled your name correctly, Ron." I said: "Almost, you just missed it by one or two letters." He said: "Oh, good, I'm so glad you like it." So, Rin Hooper became my trademark.

Café:  What was it like starring with George Burns and Connie Stevens on Wendy and Me?

Harper, Connie Stevens, George Burns,
and James T. Callahan.
RH:  It was delightful to a certain extent because Connie and I were very fond of each other. I think we worked well together. George was a whole different story. We were a half-hour sitcom and the stories were about the domestic life of the characters played by Connie and me. George introduced the stories and provided commentary between the scenes. His routine would take up about five minutes of the show, but it kept growing longer and longer as the season progressed. In a half-hour sitcom, you need 18-20 minutes of story and George was writing about ten minutes of funny dialogue for his own scenes. He was a producer, so I remember talking with the associate producers about George using up too much of the time--we were down to twelve minutes to tell our 20-minute story. I don't know if one of the other producers or the network discussed it with him. But someone told him that he needed to cut down his part, that the show wasn't just a monologue for him.

Café:  In addition to the aforementioned series, you also starred in Land of the Lost, 87th Precinct, and The Jean Arthur Show. Of all your TV series, which one was your favorite and why?

RH:  Garrison's Gorillas. The cast was strong and the actors were very good to work with. It had a lot of action and interesting stories. We also had very good writers.

A young Ron Harper.
Café:  You were Paul Newman's understudy in the original 1959 stage version of Sweet Bird of Youth. Did you ever get to play the lead opposite Geraldine Page?

RH:  Yes, I did, for about four performances one week when Paul wasn't feeling too well. In my last performance of it, I saw Paul in the audience. If he was not feeling too well, he was feeling a little bit better. He was a wonderful, sweet guy. I think he probably felt generous enough to say: "Let Ron do one or two of the performances."

Café:  That's a juicy role.

RH:  It's a wonderful role. I was the understudy, so I was doing it every week in rehearsal, but never before an audience. I was a little bit nervous the first time because it was with a live audience and I was doing this Tennessee Williams play. It turned out to be OK. I had some nice comments about my performance and it may have lead to one or two other jobs.

Café:  Do you have any other upcoming projects that you want to share with your fans?

RH:  I just completed a movie for TV about two months ago called Kidnapped: The Hannah Anderson Story (which was shown on Lifetime). It's a true story about a teenage girl that gets kidnapped by this older family friend. I play her grandfather and I mobilize some people to go and rescue her. It was on the air within two weeks of when I did my last scene. Modern technology is amazing.

Café:  Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Mr. Harper.

RH: It was great talking with you, Rick. You're a very good interviewer.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Savage Season: I'll Have a Little Salt of Platinum to Spice Things Up

The handsome and affable Ron Harper was one of the busiest actors in 1960s television, starring in four television series. Yet, like many of his peers, his big screen career was sadly limited to a few films. He had a rare leading role in 1971's Savage Season (aka The Wild Season), playing a cynical south-of-the-border adventurer involved with shady folks, a pretty metallurgist, and stolen platinum.

The film gets off to a fine start when Steve Blane (Harper) finds the aforementioned metallurgist (Diane McBain) wearing nothing but sunglasses and a towel on his hotel room floor. Instead of taking advantage of the situation, the weary Blane quips: "If I cut myself shaving, I'd be too tired to bleed." After some lively banter between the two, it turns out that Steve is less tired than he thought--after all, that's a blonde-haired Diane McBain in that towel!

Diane McBain as a blonde.
She wants to recover a ton of stolen platinum from the nefarious criminal that murdered Steve's little brother. Steve agrees to help, of course, and goes to see big-time smuggler Jason Fatt ("That's Fatt with two T's," he tells Steve). Fatt (Victor Buono...channeling Sydney Greenstreet) tells Steve that his brother's killer is dead and buried.

With his dubious partner Tony, Steve keeps poking around and finds the stolen platinum--which has been dissolved into powder called "salt of platinum." The plan is to transport it and reconstitute it into valuable metal. (Yes, platinum can be dissolved with chemicals, but I have no idea whether it can be reconstituted into its original state--still, it's an interesting premise). There are the expected shootouts, double-crosses, and plot twists before the poorly-titled Savage Season reaches its conclusion. Heck, even Slim Pickens pops up unexpectedly in a cameo.

Ron Harper.
Ron Harper holds it all together with just the right amount of toughness, cynicism, and humor. Charles Bronson revived his career in the 1970s, playing similar roles in European films like Red Sun and You Can't Win 'Em All. Harper certainly had the potential to replicate that kind of success. Indeed, he had already proven as much on the small screen in the underrated 1967-68 TV series Garrison's Gorillas (which was inspired by The Dirty Dozen). He teams up nicely with Diane McBain,who brings a welcome light touch to the typical tough girl role.

It's pretty hard to see Savage Season these days. I think there's a DVD with Spanish dialogue, though it's hard to find. I was fortunate enough to see the original version (with the American actors speaking English!) in 16mm at the Western Film Fair and Nostalgia Convention. Ron Harper, who still looks good at 79, sat in the chair next to me.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Movie-TV Connection Game (July 2015)

What do Ryan and John have in common?
Welcome to our latest installment! As always, you will be given a pair or trio of films or performers. Your task is to find the common connection. It could be anything--two stars who acted in the same movie, two movies that share a common theme, etc. As always, don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is a single best answer for each question.

1. Basil Rathbone and Laurence Olivier.

2. John Garfield and Ryan O'Neal.

3. Joanne Woodward and Sally Field.

4. Lon Chaney, Sr. and Bela Lugosi (in addition to the Dracula connection).

5. Michael Caine and Basil Rathbone (and Without a Clue is not part of the answer).

6. The TV series Falcon Crest and The Waltons.

7. Born Free and From Russia With Love (there are 2 connections!).

8. Marathon Man and Little Shop of Horrors.

9. The TV series The Colbys and the movie Dracula A.D. 1972.

10. The TV series The Bob Newhart Show and Hitchcock's The Birds.

11. Tommy Kirk and Simone Simon.

12. The TV series The Danny Thomas Show and the movie Muscle Beach Party.

13. Jack Lemmon and Dwayne Hickman.

14. Leslie Nielsen and George Hamilton.

15. The first season of the TV series Bracken's World and Charlie's Angels.

Monday, July 13, 2015

An Interview with Kathy Garver on Family Affair, Her Voice Work, and Her New Autobiography

Actress Kathy Garver first achieved fame as Cissy in the classic TV sitcom Family Affair. Although it's her best known role, she has remained active in show business for an incredible 60 years (although she doesn't look it!).  She had recurring roles on Dr. Kildare and The Patty Duke Show prior to this classic sitcom. After Family Affair, she carved out a second career as a voice artist, recording dozens of audio books and providing the voices for characters such as Firestar in the animated TV series Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. She still remains in demand as an actress and her autobiography, Surviving Cissy: My Family Affair of Life in Hollywood, was just released. She graciously agreed to be interviewed in between signing autographs for adoring fans at the Western Film Fair and Nostalgia Convention last week.

Café: You made your film debut in 1955's The Night of the Hunter at age 10. Do you have any memories of working on that classic?

Kathy Garver:  Yes. I was only 8. Don't make me older than I am, Rick (laughs). But it was fabulous. I discuss it in my book Surviving Cissy: My Family Affair of Life in Hollywood. Night of the Hunter was my debut in Hollywood. It was quite a debut with Charles Laughton directing his first and last picture, along with the stars Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, and Lillian Gish. Peter Graves was in it and so was Billy Chapin, the brother of Lauren Chapin who was in Father Knows Best. It was really a wonderful entrée into Hollywood and exciting. I was on the set for the whole film.

Café:  You appeared in four episodes of Dr. Kildare as Tracey Richards. Who was Tracey on the show and did you enjoy working with Richard Chamberlain?

Kathy Garver at the 2015 Western Film
Fair and Nostalgia Convention.
KG:  Tracey was a nurses' assistant. When I did that show, I had just started UCLA. My mother was a registered nurse so I had a special affinity for the character. Richard Chamberlain was very interesting. I saw him at an autograph show about a year ago. I kind of followed in his footsteps, in that after Dr. Kildare, he went to London, England, and attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. I thought: "Hmm, if Mr. Chamberlain can do it, so can I." After I graduated from UCLA, I went to London and went to the Royal Academy. It was really fabulous. It was another approach to acting and gave balance to it. I enjoyed that a lot. Fred Astaire was also in that four-episode storyline on Dr. Kildare--it was almost like a miniseries. You didn't have miniseries at that time. He was really delightful to work with.

Café:  On The Patty Duke Show, you played Patty's rival Monica Robinson in several episodes.

KG:  I probably did about five episodes--whenever they wanted Patty's friend to occur. Patty became a good friend. She wrote the foreward to my new book Surviving Cissy.

Café:  How did you come to be cast as Cissy on Family Affair?

KG:  I was going to UCLA. My agent called and said they're looking for a a blonde girl with blue eyes for this show in which they've already sold the pilot. Everyone is cast except the teenage sister and they are shooting the pilot next week. I say, OK, that's great but I have dark hair and dark eyes. So, I called my Mom and said: "Mom, what are we going to do?" She sped over to the sorority house with a a can of streaks and tips, and dyed my hair with the spray. It was like a solid helmet, but it was gold or yellow. It wasn't brown. When I talked with the producer, he said: "What's the matter with your hair? It's turning green." I laughed and tried to make a big joke out of it. But we got along great after that. I did the screen test and the rest is history.

Café:  How well did the Family Affair cast get along off screen?

The cast of Family Affair.
KG:  I was over 18 and I was there all day. The kids could only work eight hours and three hours were spent in school. Brian Keith had a special deal in which all his scenes had to be done in 29 days. Sebastian was not in that great of health. I was the workhorse from 6:30 in the morning to 6:30 or 7:00 at night. When you're with people that long, you like to go home to your own family. I really only spent time with Anissa (Anissa Jones played Buffy). I went to Sabby's (Sebastian Cabot) house for dinner a couple of times. We got along great when we were together.

Café:  Family Affair ran for five years (1966-71) and remains popular today. In fact, I know a blog that reviews a new episode every week. What do you think was the secret to its success?

KG:  That blog is Embarrassing Treasures? I love that blog. She's very good and gets these great pictures and puts them on her blog. I don't know how she gets such great renditions. Family Affair was popular and it stays popular for three or four different reasons mentioned in my book Surviving Cissy. We had fabulous writers that were primarily from film that did Abbott and Costello and Bob Hope pictures. Actually, our director for four years, Charles Barton, directed the Abbott and Costello shows as well as The Shaggy Dog. So, you get all of these fabulous talents to the small screen. We had classic stories that fare well today. You don't see that a lot on television. Family Affair was all about love. Oh, what a concept! You mean, people aren't putting people down, insulting them, or killing them? No, people were kind to each other. That was exemplified in the relationships among the characters. And it provided a space where people watching it could go into that cloud of love and stay there and soak it up. Sometimes, that cloud had tears. That was fine, too. A little water came down. The stories also had very classic development. They started out with a problem, reached a conclusion, and had an ending that was consistent. The audience would go there knowing what to expect. That's why people can watch it today and go: "Boy, I really can relate."

Café:  I'm sure you're asked this frequently, but what is your favorite episode of Family Affair?

The proposal in "Waltz from Vienna."
KG:  "Waltz from Vienna." First of all, I'm a quarter Austrian, as well as French, Irish, and Swiss. This episode was when we go to Vienna and a prince asked me to marry him and stupid Cissy said no. What's wrong with that girl, I sometimes wonder! I'm a romantic at heart. We got to wear beautiful gowns. That's my favorite episode.

Café:  I read where you once starred in an Israeli musical stage version of Family Affair. Can you tell us about that?

KG:  (sings a verse of a song in Hebrew) I learned how to speak Hebrew phonetically for this stage presentation that we did in Israel. It was all about faux Family Affair and they cast actors that looked like the characters. So, there was a Hebrew Mr. French, a handsome Uncle Bill, and two cute kids. And there I was playing my own part. It was a very big success in Israel.

Kathy Garver was the voice of Firestar.
Café:  When I mentioned I was interviewing you, a friend that works at the MovieFanfare blog said that half his co-workers recognized you first as the voice of Starfire on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. How did you get involved with doing voice work?

KG:  My agent was doing commercials and he sent me out on this first voiceover commercial. I think it was for tuna fish and my line was something like: "I like tuna fish." They told me to do it in a different voice and I said: "I like tuna fish." They said: "No, no, no. Different voice." So I said: "I like tuna fish." So, I didn't get the part, but it was a big lesson. I took voiceover lessons and I've had a big voiceover career. I've voiced over 60 audio books and I can say (using a very different voice) "I like tuna fish" in many different ways now.

Café:  You mentioned your autobiography Surviving Cissy: My Family Affair of Life in Hollywood, which has just been published. What inspired you to tell your story at this point in your career?

KG:  Well, I've been working on this book for ten years (laughs). I finally got to a point where I said: "Oh, I should really get this book out." I had previously composed The Family Affair Cookbook, which is already out and on Amazon. I took a class in writing, which further spurred me. Then, I got a book deal and an advance and (laughs) that spurred me to get it done.

Café:  Are there any upcoming projects that you want to tell our readers about?

KG:  Yes, I'll be doing two new series. One is The Comeback Kids and that is kind of a sitcom. And the other series is called Big Sky. It's an inspirational series, a Western set in the 1800s. I'm also doing a movie called Heaven With a Gun, set in that same time period. This is my year for Westerns. Besides that, next week I'm starting a movie called Unleashed with Sean Astin, which is about a girl's quest for romance. My character runs a rescue pet house. And I'm in another one called Helen's Last Chance next month, where I play a therapist. So, I have a lot coming out. My book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Café:  Thank you so much, Ms. Garver.

KG:  Thank you, Rick.

You can learn more about Kathy Garver at her website:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Moonstruck: Hearts will play tippy-tippy-tay, tippy-tippy-tay!

Cher in her best role.
Loretta Castorini (Cher) has almost become too practical for love. Even a beautiful bouquet of roses cannot inspire a glimmer of romance: "The guy that spends money on those spends a lot of money on something that will end up in the garbage."

The 37-year-old Brooklyn bookkeeper had "bad luck" with her marriage when her husband died in a car accident seven years earlier. Having lost her soulmate, Loretta is willing to settle for something less than love and accepts a proposal from Johnny (Danny Aiello). She doesn't love him, but, as she tells her mother, she likes him and he's a good man.

Prior to the nuptials, Danny tells Loretta that he must go to Sicily for a final visit with his dying mother. During his absence, he asks that Loretta personally invite his estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to the wedding. Ronny, who works in the bowels of a brick oven bakery, blames his brother for ruining his life. Apparently, Danny distracted Ronny, who accidentally cut off his left hand and subsequently lost the woman he loved.

Cage almost wasn't cast.
Five years later, Ronny is still filled with bitterness and tells that to Loretta when she visits him at the bakery. But, as he and Loretta share a drink in his apartment, his rage turns into passion and--to Loretta's surprise--she and Ronny end up in bed together.

Moonstruck, one of the best romantic comedies of the 1980s, seems as fresh today as it was almost 30 years ago. It's the kind of film where everything comes together almost magically--from the opening song to the superb cast, the script's gentle whimsical qualities, and even the title. It could have easily been a disaster, though.

Olympia Dukakis was an unknown to
most movie-goers.
Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley wrote the script with Sally Field in mind as Loretta. Although Field proved herself adept at romantic comedy with Murphy's Romance (1985), Cher brings a wonderful earthy quality to Loretta. It's easily her best film performance and rightly earned her a Best Actress Oscar. Olympia Dukakis, who plays Loretta's mother, also won an Oscar for Supporting Actress and Vincent Gardenia was nominated for Supporting Actor as her father. Dukakis, who was known mostly for her stage work, got the part only after Maureen Stapleton and Anne Bancroft were deemed too expensive. In a film filled with delightful performances, Dukakis and Gardenia bring nuance and heart to a subplot about a married couple that has temporarily misplaced the passion in their relationship.

Nicolas Cage almost didn't play Ronny. Indeed, according to some sources, his screen test went badly and Cher convinced the producers to keep him. Inexplicably, he failed to garner the same stellar reviews as his co-stars. He holds his own quite nicely. Granted, his performance is more broad than the others, but then that's how it should be. Part of Loretta's attraction to Ronny is that he is madly passionate and yet still sensitive.

Originally, Moonstruck was to be called The Bride and the Wolf (yikes!) and the music behind the opening credits was La bohème. While that made sense from a plot standpoint (it's Ronny's favorite opera), preview audiences thought they were watching an art film. So Puccini's classic opera music was replaced with Dean Martin crooning "That's Amore." It turned out to be the perfect marriage of music and movie.

Director Norman Jewison said the final scene--with eight people crammed
into the small kitchen--was one of the hardest he ever filmed.

Shanley's script provides an ideal canvas for the cast, with its twin tales of new and old love. Loretta's grandfather (Feodor Chaliapin) acts as a Greek chorus, muttering comments here and there with his pack of dogs nearby. And, like many fine romances, there's a touch of magic on the screen--in this case, it's provided by a big romantic moon that "hits your eye like a big pizza pie." Sadly, Shanley, who also won an Oscar, failed to replicate his success (although there is some quirky charm in The January Man and Joe vs. the Volcano).

That just shows to go that that every once in awhile all the pieces come together for a movie. That's the case with Moonstruck. And that, my friends, results in cinematic amore.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Book Review: The Making of "The Magnificent Seven"

In his new book The Making of The Magnificent Seven: Behind the Scenes of the Pivotal Western, author Brian Hannan provides a fascinating look into how the 1959 Western classic reached the silver screen. He also makes a compelling argument that John Sturges' remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai should take its place alongside the more critically-acclaimed Westerns made by John Ford and Howard Hawks.

Hannan divides The Making of The Magnificent Seven into three parts: (1) the "movie's long genesis"; (2) the actual production and an analysis of the film; and (3) a brief discussion of its release and enduring appeal. The most engrossing chapters are those that deal with its production history.

"It was Anthony Quinn's idea," writes Hannan in his book's first chapter. That alone is likely a revelation to most of the film's fans. Quinn saw Seven Samurai in 1956 and came up with the idea to remake it as a Western. He mentioned it to Yul Brynner as a possible starring vehicle for the two of them. Over the next three years, The Magnificent Seven's journey to the screen would take many unexpected twists along the way.

Hannan meticulously charts Brynner's rise to stardom and his desire to direct. Originally, the actor was set to direct and star in The Buccaneer (1958). In fact, according to a Variety article (quoted by Hannan), Brynner wanted to pull out of the film as its star and only direct, "but DeMille wouldn't have it." Ironically, Anthony Quinn, who was DeMille's son-in-law at the time, was credited as director (although how much he directed vs. DeMille has been debated).

The Spanish poster emphasizes
the numeral "7."
Brynner's and Quinn's plans for The Magnificent Seven hit a major snag when the two discovered that screenwriter Lou Morheim had already bought the remake rights for $2,500 in 1957. Brynner's production company eventually negotiated a deal with Morheim for the rights (the latter is listed as an associate producer in the credits of The Magnificent Seven). Quinn was still interested in starring in the Western, but his salary and billing demands were too great. He eventually dropped out of the production.

Hannan goes to on to explain how John Sturges became attached as director, how the script was penned by six (or seven!) screenwriters, and how one of cinema's greatest casts was assembled. The author notes that the "final piece of 'casting'...was the recruitment of Elmer Bernstein to write the score." Amazingly, Bernstein was not the first choice as the film's composer. He joined the project after Dimitri Tiomkin, Aaron Copeland, and Alex North were considered and rejected.

Hannan's analysis of The Magnificent Seven focuses largely on Sturges' directorial style and a discussion of the film's themes ("Men in professions which cannot change are forced into inevitable collision with an altered world--that, in a nutshell, is the proposition of The Magnificent Seven").

Hannan says McQueen removes his
hat 9 times--to draw attention.
I don't agree with the author's assessment that The Magnificent Seven marked the end of the Ford/Hawks Western era and "sowed the seeds for the films of Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, and Clint Eastwood." The 1950s Westerns of Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, and Delmer Daves had already paved that road. And while it's a stretch to state that "The Magnificent Seven can certainly lay claim to being the most loved Western," there is no doubt that it remains one of the most popular (as evidenced by its frequent TV broadcasts).

The Making of The Magnificent Seven (McFarland & Company, 277 pages) contains numerous photos, extensive footnotes, a bibliography, and an index. Its strongest virtue is the detailed history of the production. For that reason, we strongly recommend it for fans of The Magnificent Seven. It will also be an engrossing read for any film buff interested in the convoluted processes that go into the making of a movie.

McFarland & Company, Inc. provided a review copy of this book.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Stairs (yes, stairs!) in Movies

Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, was also the master of memorable staircase sequences. James Stewart’s inability to climb the stairs of a Spanish mission proved integral to the plot of Vertigo (1958). Cary Grant carried a glowing glass of milk up the stairs in Suspicion (1941), then carried an ailing Ingrid Bergman down the stairs in the tense climax to Notorious (1946). Martin Balsam encountered a knife-wielding killer at the top of the stairs in the Bates house in Psycho (1960). Ironically, Hitchcock’s film version of The 39 Steps (1935) omitted the elaborate stairs to the beach described in John Buchan’s spy novel.

Despite Hitchcock’s impressive use of stairs, none of his sequences has achieved the fame of Sergei Einsenstein’s “Odessa Steps” scene in the classic Russian silent film Potemkin (1925). Considered by many critics as one of the famous sequences ever put on film, it starts with Czarist soldiers marching down a long flight of steps and firing on fleeing citizens. In the midst of this massive carnage, a mother is killed and the baby carriage containing her child tumbles down the many steps. Brian De Palma paid homage to the Odessa Steps sequence in the exciting train station shootout in The Untouchables (1987)—a scene that was spoofed seven years later in Naked Gun 33 1/3:  The Final Insult.
The baby carriage rolling down the stairs in Eisenstein's classic.
While the Odessa Steps may be more famous, the most visually stunning staircase was the moving one that transported souls from the Earthly world to the celestial one in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger's classic 1946 fantasy A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven).

Powell and Pressberger's stairway to heaven.

Boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) trained for his heavyweight championship bout in Rocky (1976) by running up and down the steep stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In a greater athletic endeavor, the tiny hero of The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) tried to climb the stairs out of his basement using a thread and a straight pin as a rope and grappling hook.

Several musical numbers have taken place on stairs, though few can compare to the classic routine performed by Shirley Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in The Little Colonel (1935).

On the darker side, stairs have also been used for homicidal purposes. In Kiss of Death (1947), Richard Widmark’s psychotic killer gleefully pushed a wheelchair-bound woman down a flight of stairs. Nasty cop Edmond O’Brien murdered a blind man in a similar manner in Shield for Murder (1954). Neither of those cold-blooded killers can compare with Gene Tierney’s obsessive wife portrayal in Leave Her to Heaven (1946). Unwilling to share husband Cornel Wilde with anyone, she hurled herself down the stairs upon learning of her pregnancy. People have fallen or been pushed down staircases in many other films such as Before Dawn (1931), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), and Deadly Friend (1986). A homicidal psychopath met his fate when Ethel Barrymore, Dorothy McGuire, and George Brent converged on the title structure in the climax of The Spiral Staircase (1946). Chow Yun Fat proved adept at sliding down stairs with both revolvers blazing in both A Better Tomorrow II (1988) and Hard-Boiled (1992). Al Pacino used an escalator for his shootout in Carlito’s Way (1993).

Finally, in the fact-based 1998 TV-movie The Staircase, William Petersen played a carpenter who built a one-of-a-kind church staircase for nun Barbara Hershey. The following is a list of films in which stairs play an important part:

Potemkin (aka Battleship Potemkin) (1925)
Before Dawn (1931)
The Little Colonel (1935)
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (1939)
Suspicion (1941)
Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
The Spiral Staircase (1946)
Notorious (1946)
A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven) (1946)
Kiss of Death (1947)
Shield for Murder (1954)
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
Vertigo (1958)
Psycho (1960)
Barefoot in the Park (1967)
Staircase (1969)
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973 TVM)
The Spiral Staircase (1975)
Rocky (1976)
High Anxiety (1977)
Deadly Friend (1986)
The Untouchables (1987)
A Better Tomorrow II (1988)
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Hard-Boiled (1992)
Carlito’s Way (1993)
Naked Gun 33 1/3:  The Final Insult (1994)
The Staircase (1998 TVM)

Reprinted with the authors' permission from the Encyclopedia of Film Themes, Settings and Series.