Thursday, March 31, 2016

Interview with Jacqueline Scott: The Classic TV Actress Discusses Raymond Burr, Walter Matthau, and Curly Hair

Jacqueline Scott and David Janssen in The Fugitive..
With over 100 credits, actress Jacqueline Scott has forged a remarkable career in film and television. She has worked with legendary directors such as Steven Spielberg, Don Siegel (multiple times), and William Castle. She made her biggest impact, though, with her guest appearances in many of the finest television series of the 1960s and 1970s. Here's a small sample, to include the number of episodes per series if more than one: Perry Mason (3 episodes), Have Gun--Will Travel (5), The Outer Limits (2), Bonanza (3), Gunsmoke (8), The F.B.I. (4); The Untouchables, Twilight Zone, Mission: Impossible, Route 66, The Virginian, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Her most famous role may be as Donna Kimble Taft, the sister of Richard Kimble, on five episodes of The Fugitive.We spoke with the delightful Jacqueline Scott recently at the Williamsburg Film Festival.

Jacqueline Scott in 2016.
Café:  What was it like playing Richard Kimble's sister in five episodes of The Fugitive?

Jacqueline Scott:  It was fabulous. It was wonderful. I finally had a brother!

Café:  Didn't you star with David Janssen earlier as a guest star on Richard Diamond?

JS: Yes, but he didn't remember me and I didn't remind him. I don't why I didn't. David Janssen was very sweet and friendly. He probably would have been happy to know that.

In "The Case of the Daring
Decoy" on Perry Mason.
Café:  You guest-starred on Perry Mason--another terrific series--three times. Between scenes, did you spend much time with series regulars Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, or William Hopper?

JS:  Primarily Raymond. I also worked with Raymond on Ironside. He was a very special man. We shot court scenes on Perry Mason for two days. And on those days, he would have someone there to cue him the day before or else they worked at night. When he shot his scenes, he never used a script or a teleprompter. He knew his lines like the back of his hand...every single episode.

Café:  One of your first film roles was in William Castle's Macabre.

JS:  I was brought to California from New York for that role. It was my first part in film. The producers had seen me on live television. I had lived in New York for about six years. I'm originally from Missouri.

Café:  What were some of the live television series you did?

JS:  Armstrong Circle Theatre, Omnibus with Geraldine Page, and several others.

Café:  When I interviewed Piper Laurie, she said she loved live television because there was no margin for error. She thought it was exciting.

JS:  It was exciting. You had about three or four days for rehearsal. On filmed television, you rarely have any rehearsal at all. When you do the script all the way through for the first time, it's the last shot of the show. On television, they generally shoot for the weather, not the script. Anything that has to be done outside is done quickly before it rains (laughs). So, it's shot out of sequence and you have to put your scenes in context as you go along. It's a challenge. I loved the rehearsals for the live shows.

Looking concerned in Castle's Macabre.
Café:  Back to Macabre, didn't you meet your husband Gene Lesser on the set?

JS:  Yes, we met on that film and we have been married for 58 years.

Café:  Did you think he was good-looking?

JS:  Oh, yes! He has naturally curly hair and they had pumped water and mud onto the Macabre set. The water made his hair curl even more and I thought I was going to have a heart attack! (laughs) Fortunately, I lived through it. He thought I was cute, too.

Café:  You've appeared in some movies which have become very famous over the years, such as Charley Varrick and Duel. What is your favorite film role?

JS:  I've enjoyed them all, but I loved working with Walter Matthau on Charley Varrick. I had admired his work for years. Don Siegel was the director. Charley Varrick was the first time I worked for him. I think I did about three or four movies with him and then he retired. He was a wonderful director and a funny and kind man. One day, he told me: "I don't know what your husband thinks about you working with these two crazy, old men"--referring to Walter Matthau and himself. They were both just nuts (laughs), but a wonderful actor and a wonderful director.

With a disguised Walter Matthau in Charley Varrick.
Café:  You're introducing one of your films at a screening tonight: Empire of the Ants with Joan Collins and Robert Lansing. Any special memories of that film?

JS:  It was filmed in Florida, so when I was offered the role, my first response was: "I'm not getting in the water with any alligators!" The director (Bert I. Gordon) was odd. He would get us up at 5 a.m. for a casting call and then not start filming until 4 p.m. It rained during some scenes, so they had to spray us with hoses in later shots so everything would match. Of course, the real star of the movie were the giant mechanical ants.

Café:  You appeared in some of the truly great TV series of the 1960s. How would you compare television today with what it was like in the 1960s?

With Brad Dexter on Have Gun--
Will Travel
JS:  I just think that too many people are getting their fingers into the soup these days. You see these credits with six producers and I don't think it's good for the scripts. I don't think the writers are any less good than they used to be. I think all the producers have the option of changing a couple of lines and that's not good for the script. I can remember when scripts, like for Gunsmoke, were "white." Everybody didn't get their own opinion in the script.*

Café:  Did you ever turn down a role you wished you'd taken?

JS:  No. I wanted to do The Waltons. I tested for the mother. Other than that, I never wanted to be a regular on a TV series and I don't think that was too smart.

Café:  Were you offered a series?

Cliff Robertson and Scott in "The Galaxy
Being" on The Outer Limits.
JS:  Yes, but not necessarily anything great. I wanted to play all different characters. And I got to do that. Once I'd be the good girl and once I'd be the bad girl. You wouldn't want to hear: "While she's a good actress, she isn't able to do this kind of role." One director, Leo Penn--who is Sean Penn's father--would call me for anything. We had worked together when we were kids in New York and he was fabulous. Sometimes, there would be a part that people didn't think I could do. And Leo would say: "Well, it's the last minute and I don't have time to mess around meeting actors I don't know. I want Jacqueline." He'd push me for the part--and the producers would be happy he did.

Café:  What did you think of the young Steven Spielberg when he was directing Duel?

JS:  He was a youngster. He looked like he weighed about 150 pounds dripping wet. (laughs) But he sure knew what he was doing.

Café:  Thanks so much for taking time to do this interview.

JS:  It was terrific talking with you, Rick.

* It's a common practice in film production to use color pages to indicate new pages added to scripts. Hence, a "white script" is one with no changes.

Monday, March 28, 2016

DVD Spotlight: Death Valley Days (Season 1)

With 453 episodes spanning 18 seasons, Death Valley Days ranks as the most successful anthology series in the history of television. Amazingly, it has never been released on DVD--but that will change when Timeless Media Group releases the first season on March 29th. For a series that debuted in 1952, the quality of this 18-episode DVD set is stunning. The prints are pristine and the sound strong and clear. Watching this classic black & white series is like stepping into a time capsule and traveling back to an era when a half-hour TV series was almost a half-hour long (without commercials, current shows might last 20 minutes!).

Jock Mahoney in "Swamp Ike,"
looking very Tarzan-like.
While many future stars appeared on Death Valley Days (e.g., Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley), the first season spotlights veteran supporting players like Denver Pyle, Lyle Talbot, Robert Hutton (Barbara's son), Hank Patterson (Mr. Ziffel on Green Acres), and Sheila Ryan (from Anthony Mann's film noir Railroaded). The biggest star may be Jock Mahoney, who would gain fame later as TV's Yancy Derringer (1958-59) and as one of the better big screen Tarzans (e.g., Tarzan's Three Challenges). (For the record, Mahoney also starred in one of my favorite "B" Westerns, the mystery-tinged Joe Dakota).

Supposedly, many of the Death Valley Days episodes were based on actual events. The plots range from serious ("How Death Valley Got Its Name") to comedy ("The Little Bullfrog Nugget," which concerns a woman with an affinity for eggs). An enduring theme, however, is the harshness of frontier life, in which finding food, water, and shelter was the difference between survival and death.

Donna Martell as Rosie.
One of the best first season episodes is "She Burns Green," in which Rosie (Donna Martell), a young refined woman, marries a prospector and moves to the edge of the desert. Though Rosie believes she's strong, she quickly finds herself ill-equipped to live without family, friends, and luxuries like scented water. Rosie loves her husband, but his failure to find gold leads to her having second thoughts about her marriage. Yet, she perseveres and, while her husband never find golds, he discovers a lode of borax...that will make them rich. (If you've forgotten the many uses of borax, check the Wikipedia like I did.) The episodes's title is a reference to how one confirms the discovery of borax: If you burn it, the flame turns green.

One of the many Borax products.
If you remember the original broadcasts of Death Valley Days, you will notice the irony with this episode. The syndicated TV series was created and sponsored by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, which sold borax under its 20 Mule Team Borax brand (which was later sold to the Dial Corporation). Death Valley Days  began as a radio series in 1930 when Pacific Coast Borax hired Ruth Woodman, a British-born Vassar graduate, to be head writer. The company specified that the radio scripts be steeped in the history of Death Valley, so Woodman made numerous trips to the region for many years. In 1944, the radio series title was changed to Death Valley Sheriff and later simply The Sheriff until it ended in 1951.

The following year, Pacific Coast Borax launched the Death Valley Days TV series. For its first five years, Woodman wrote all the scripts before graduating to script editor. She earned numerous honors from governors and historical societies during her Death Valley Days career. The University of Oregon is now the repository for the Ruth Cornwall Woodman Collection, which consists of letters and scripts.

Stanley Andrews as the Old Ranger.
From 1952 until 1963, Stanley Andrews introduced each episode as the "Old Ranger." He began the episodes by telling viewers: "Many's the tale of adventure I'm going to tell you about the Death Valley country. True stories, mind you. I can vouch for that." Andrews was succeeded by Ronald Reagan for the 1964-65 season (with Rosemary DeCamp filling in after Reagan announced his candidacy for governor of California). Robert Taylor took over hosting duties from 1966-69 until poor health caused him to step down. Dale Robertson hosted the final year. During their tenures as hosts, Reagan, Taylor, and Robertson also starred in some of the episodes.

Sheila Ryan in "The Bandits
of Panamin."
The first season of Death Valley Days is a great introduction to this classic TV series. It's an effective reminder that the anthology series format deserves a major comeback. Without the confines of regular characters or a continuing story, an anthology series can explore any storyline within its scope or setting. And Death Valley Days offers a unique setting with its scorching sands, jagged peaks, and, yes, beds of borax.

Timeless Media Group's "Collector's Edition" of the Death Valley Days' first season comes on three discs. As mentioned earlier, the visual quality is exceptional. There are no extras.

Timeless Media provided a copy of the DVD set for this review.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Interview with Don Collier: "The High Chaparral" Star Talks About John Wayne and His Classic TV Westerns

One of the most recognizable TV cowboys of the 1960s, Don Collier carved out a highly-successful career playing ranch foremen, lawmen, and bad guys. In addition to starring in his own TV series Outlaws (1960-62), he guest starred on Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, Branded, Wagon Train, Death Valley Days, and Hondo. He achieved his greatest fame as Sam Butler, the foreman on The High Chaparral (1967-71). In addition to his many TV appearances, he also starred in big-screen Westerns such as The War Wagon (1967), 5 Card Stud (1968), and The Undefeated (1969). We talked with this fine storyteller recently at the Williamsburg Film Festival.

Café:  You've appeared in Westerns directed by two of the genre's most famous directors: John Ford and Howard Hawks.

Don Collier:  I was just an extra in Fort Apache and had no dialogue. I met John Ford, but didn't get a chance to know him. I did get to work with Victor McLaglen and what a treat that was. Victor was dear to my heart. I watched him as a kid in the 1930s and I still remember him in that movie where he grabs the machine gun (The Lost Patrol). I loved him in The Quiet Man, too.

Don Collier at the 2016
Williamsburg Film Festival.
Café:  How about working with Howard Hawks?

DC:  It was quick. I did one little scene with John Wayne in El Dorado. My part was shot in the Paramount studios, while John Wayne was in Tucson. Jimmy Caan climbed up on a ladder in the studio and delivered the Duke's lines to me. Duke filmed his lines down in Arizona. We were 500 miles apart. That was my experience with Howard Hawks.

Café:  What was it like working with John Wayne on The Undefeated, and The War Wagon?

Collier in The War Wagon.
DC:  It was great working with him. In The War Wagon, I worked the whole 13 weeks. In one scene, I get out of the war wagon with two of the stunt guys. Duke's character has an argument with us and he decks the two stunt guys. He slams the coach door in my face. Before we shot the scene, he says: "Don, do you want us to get a stunt guy to do your part?" I said: "Oh, hell no, go ahead and slam the door and I'll catch it with one arm." He said: "Are you sure about that? I don't want to hit you in the face." I was still calling him "Mr. Wayne" then and he tells me to call him Duke. I said: "Duke, you slam the door and I'll make it look like you knocked me out." So, we did the scene and he slams the door on me and I catch it with my arm. No big deal...but he remembered that. About two-and-a-half years later, we're filming The High Chaparral at Paramount studios and he was working on the sound stage next door. So, I went over to see him. He says: "Collier, good to see you. Are you going with us to Mexico on The Undefeated?" I said I hadn't even heard about it. He said: "Get your butt over to Fox and talk to Andy McLaglen. I'll call him and tell him you're coming over." I talked with Andy and he hired me for the job. See, Duke liked the fact I took that stagecoach door in the face. I'd like to think that the John Wayne "school of acting" consists of three things: (1) Be on time for your call. (2) Know your dialogue; and (3) Don't leave the camera, even if you're not in the shot. So many times, especially if you're working with younger actors, the director says "cut" and, boom, they scatter like quail. They've got to go make a phone call or leave for a date. Duke usually ends up directing a picture about halfway into it and he wants his actors on the set. He doesn't want to have to look around for them at the honey wagon or in their trailer. He wants them there around the camera. If you remember those three things, you could work with John Wayne. He'd like you. Working with him was almost like going to school and learning the finer points working in the film business.

Café:  What was the premise of your 1960-62 Western TV series Outlaws?

DC:  The stories were supposed to be from the outlaws' point of view. It was a good show. The second season, the producers brought in Slim Pickens and he made it a lot better. The first year has Barton MacLane. I remember when he was a lead heavy at Warner Bros. in the 1930s and 1940s. It was a pleasure just to meet the guy. He played the marshal and there were two deputies. Jock Gaynor was one of them. He couldn't do the job and they fired him. He wore his hat rolled up on one side, like Australians sometimes do. They hired another guy and he never worked out. So, the second year, they brought in Slim Pickens and Bruce Yarnell, who was about 6' 7". He was a singer NBC had hired, hoping to put him on a variety show. They had no place for him, so they gave him to us because we needed a deputy. I tell some stories about Bruce in my one-man show. We did Outlaws for two years. NBC "owed" producer Ralph Edwards (This Is Your Life) an hour of prime time. So, in 1963, he wanted NBC to show his TV series The Wide Country (about rodeo competitors). NBC only owned two series: Bonanza and Outlaws. Bonanza was pretty well rated, so NBC decided to cancel our show for the Ralph Edwards one. The Wide Country was bad. I think it lasted one year. After Outlaws, I did several other TV Westerns like Wagon Train, The Virginian, and Gunsmoke. I did The War Wagon and then I joined The High Chaparral in 1967.

Leif Erickson, Collier, and Cameron
Mitchell in The High Chaparral.
Café:  Speaking of The High Chaparral, when I interviewed Henry Darrow last year, he noted it was a challenge acting with Cameron Mitchell because he rarely knew his lines.

DC:  That is absolutely true. I never cared for Cam too much. He was good at what he did and he could improvise, but he was always trying to steal scenes from you. I never thought that was right. You don't tread on somebody else's feet. He was kind of a loud mouth and a slob. Of course, a lot of us were slobs. He accused me of wanting his part (Buck Cannon). Physically, I would have made a better brother to Leif Erickson than Cam did. But I was tickled to death with the part I had (ranch foreman Sam Butler). I didn't have too much dialogue and could spend more time in the bar. We had good times on that show.

Café:  I've read where it was a pretty hard shoot because of the Arizona temperatures.

DC:  There's a remedy for that heat. It happens every Friday and it's called payday. If the heat wasn't tolerable, you could quit. So, even if it was 120 degrees, we smiled and kept going.

Café:  The High Chaparral was a different Western in that it featured a multi-ethnic family.

Pernell Roberts and Collier on Bonanza.
DC:  It was one of the first shows that explored that thoroughly. We had a lot of fine Hispanic actors. The show did well dealing with the problems within the family and with the Indians. It was a good show and I can't think of another like it on TV at that time. Gunsmoke had its good points and bad points. Bonanza was ridiculous sometimes. I might be a little prejudiced, but I thought ours was the best ranch show.

Café:  How did you come to join the cast of The High Chaparral?

DC:  I had done Outlaws and several Bonanza episodes on NBC. I knew all the guys there. A lot of the crew from Outlaws went with Bonanza after we folded, including our production manager Kent McCray. So, when they got around to casting The High Chaparral, Kent suggested me for Sam Butler. They asked me if I wanted to do the part and I said: "You bet."

Café:  Other than The High Chaparral, what were some of your favorite roles?

DC:  The ones I did with John Wayne on The Undefeated and The War Wagon. That was the top of the heap right there. Once you climbed that mountain, you knew you were as high as you could go. He was a real icon in the business.

Café:  You starred with Robert Mitchum in a couple of movies like Five Card Stud. What was he like?

DC:  Robert Mitchum was a great actor. I have a lot of respect for that man. He was one of those guys who had a photographic memory. He could look at the script and then throw it away. He knew it. He seldom had to do two takes. He was kind of a loner. He'd socialize with his driver--they'd go out and drink. But he wouldn't join the groups.

Café:  Can you tell us about your one-man show?

DC:  The one-man show that Penny McQueen convinced me to do is a lot of these stories about all these shows and how I got into the picture business. I'm not going to tell you much about it--because you've got to come and see the show. It's a pretty good hour-and-a-half and audiences get a lot of laughs out of it. There's some serious stuff, too. It's a lot of fun doing it.

Café:  What are some of your upcoming appearances?

DC:  The High Chaparral reunion is March 17-20. I've got several more shows this years, which are listed on my website (

Café:  Thanks so much for doing this interview.

DC:  It was a pleasure, Rick.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

An Interview with Audrey Dalton on Olivia & Joan, Bob Hope, and William Castle

Born in Dublin in 1934, the beautiful and talented Audrey Dalton fashioned a film and television career that spanned three decades. In the 1950s, she acted alongside screen legends such as Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton (My Cousin Rachel), Bob Hope (Casanova's Big Night), Barbara Stanwyck (Titanic), and Alan Ladd (Drum Beat). She also starred in cult film favorites The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) and Mr. Sardonicus (1961). In the 1960s, she was a frequent guest star in classic television series such as Wagon Train, Thriller, Perry Mason, and Gunsmoke. Ms. Dalton recently appeared at the Williamsburg Film Festival in Williamsburg, Virginia, and graciously agreed to an interview.

Café:  How did you get into acting?

Audrey Dalton at the 2016
Williamsburg Film Festival.
Audrey Dalton:  I had always wanted to ever since I was very little. I was fortunate enough that my family moved to London when I was 16. I later auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and was admitted. I was trained there and, while still at the Academy, a scout from Paramount Pictures saw me in a theater production. That led to an audition for a film in Hollywood. I came over for six months...and here I am. I'm not going to tell you how many years later (laughs).

Café:  So you had a contract with Paramount?

AD:  I was on contract to them for two years. I did loan-outs to Fox and then I became a free agent--not under contract anymore.

Café:  One of your first film roles was My Cousin Rachel. What was it like starring opposite Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton?

Audrey Dalton and Richard Burton.
AD:  Olivia de Havilland--I was awestruck. It was Richard Burton's first movie in Hollywood. He was a character, such a raconteur. He'd talk and talk. I think he was a little intimidated by Olivia de Havilland, too. She was always so gracious for a major star. It was Richard Burton's first film and he had trouble shooting, as we do, in segments. He wanted to do the whole scene. He didn't like to do it again for different shots and different cuts. But he learned to do it. I saw My Cousin Rachel for the first time in about 30 years just the other night on television. I sat and watched it when I should have been packing to come here. It was a good movie and Richard Burton's performance was wonderful--all that fire and energy and with that wonderful speaking voice.

Café:  His character should have stuck with you instead of Rachel.

AD:  Well, who knows what might happened later after Rachel died? It was all shot on Twentieth Century-Fox's backlot except for the ocean scenes, on what is now Century City. If you have been in Beverly Hills, that's a huge shopping center. So, the place where I shot Titanic and My Cousin Rachel is now all buildings and hotels.

Café:  You starred with Olivia's sister, Joan Fontaine, in Casanova's Big Night. Did you get a feel for the relationship between the sisters? I have read where it was very cool.

AD:  I have heard that, too. But the subject never came up. Those were the kinds of things you didn't talk about. They were so different, in looks and personalities. Joan was very effervescent and a great match for Bob Hope. They just traded barbs all the time and laughed and joked.

Café:  What was it like playing in a Bob Hope comedy?

AD:  It was fun. On the set, he always had the same group of small-part players with him. He knew all these people and would make sure that they were included somewhere in his movie so they always had a job. He took care of people. He was very, very sweet. In fact, when I first came here, I was 18 and on my own. He had a son and a daughter, who were a little younger than me by a couple of years. On Sunday evenings, he would sometime take me to dinner with his wife. They would come pick me and take me to dinner because they figured I needed a little looking after. He and Dolores were kindness itself.

Café:  Did Bob Hope stick with the script when filming?

AD:  Oh, no! He drove the writers and the director crazy. He kept twisting lines to try to make them funnier. He would say "gon-dole-la" instead of "gondola," which the writers wanted him to say. It goes back and forth a bit in the movie.

Café:  How well did you get along with Alan Ladd on Drum Beat?

With Alan Ladd in Drum Beat (1954).
AD:  Alan Ladd was wonderful to work with--very professional. He was very quiet off the set, very much a gentleman. I knew his family in Los Angeles. My father had known Alan because they were both into race horses. When I came here, Alan was asked to keep an eye on me. He took me into his family. He had a daughter who was a student at UCLA and she and I became good friends. We're still friends.

Café:  Delmer Daves is one of my favorite 1950s film directors. How would you describe his working style as a director on Drum Beat?

AD:  He was very tall and gregarious. He had a wonderful background of stories. He knew every day what he was going to shoot and he coaxed and pulled to get people to do what he wanted. He was very upbeat, never down, and always smiling. The world was wonderful. I was so sad when I heard that he had passed away.

Café:  The Monster That Challenged the World has become a well-regarded science fiction film of the 1950s. What was your initial impression when you read the script?

That's not Audrey on the poster!
AD:  I was puzzled by it. I was a working actor. I believed that was my job and you did your job. In those days, I was not picking and choosing. I never really did, unless it was offensive or something I didn't want to do. I thought it was a very interesting experience--as all my movies were in different ways. The director, Arnold Laven, had formed a production company with Jules Levy and Arthur Gardner. The monster stuff was fun, crouching behind a desk with a monster breaking down the wall. But you had to play it very straight. Once you start seeing the funny side of it, it doesn't work. Tim Holt had come out of retirement to do this movie. He was a quiet, very nice man--the most "unactor" actor that I ever worked with. The film's poster features a woman in a bathing suit. People think it's me, but it was the actress whose character was drowned in the opening sequence. She's pulled into the water by the monster. We shot down on the beach for that. I think the rest of it was filmed along the California Aqueduct.

Café:  You and Jacqueline Scott both worked with William Castle on different films. What was it like working with William Castle on Mr. Sardonicus?

Dalton in Mr. Sardonicus.
AD:  William Castle loved those kinds of movies. He got such a kick out of enticing the audience. He would literally giggle and laugh. I even have shots at home of him in the torture chamber of Baron Sardonicus. One of the devices was called an iron maiden, which was like a sarcophagus tomb standing on end. But when you opened it, it had all these nails sticking out. I have a picture of William Castle going into it. Oscar Homolka was the butler and had this face that he could pull in five different directions and he'd threaten young maidens. The clothes, especially the gowns, were beautiful. I had a very good time making that movie.

Café:  You've appeared in a number of fine films and classic TV series. What are some of your favorite roles?

AD:  Usually, I loved the one I was in at the time...which is not giving you an answer. I loved going back to Wagon Train, because I knew everybody. I think I did eight episodes of Wagon Train. There was one where I had to sing an aria from La Traviata. I am one of those people who has been blessed with not having a voice to sing all. I can't carry two notes. I needed to be singing this aria. So, the studio gave me a recording of it and I had to learn it by rote so you could see the throat muscles work during the scene. Later on, of course, they substituted a singing voice for mine. But the poor crew had to listen to me sing it on the set. They deserved some extra money for having to put up with the awful screeching.

Café:  I recently saw one of your Wagon Train episodes. It was one where you fell in love with a man who may have been John Wilkes Booth. We never know for sure.

AD:  I also remember "The Liam Fitzmorgan Story" episode, which had an Irish feel to it.

Café:  Can you still do an Irish accent?

Audrey Dalton and her daughter Tara.
AD:  Well, it's not too hard (spoken in an Irish accent). In fact, if I'm talking on the phone to people at home, it comes without even trying.

Café:  When people come up to you at conventions like this, are there one or two roles that they ask you about the most?

AD:  Titanic (1953) is a big one. People are interested in it and, of course, the Westerns. One of my favorites was a Bonanza episode with Mercedes McCambridge (1962's "The Lady from Baltimore"). I was trying to marry Little Joe and big brother knew what I was up to.

Café:  Were you bad?

AD:  Oh, I was bad! And with a scheming mother.

Café:  Do you have any upcoming projects you'd like to share with our readers?

AD:  I enjoy events like this and do them every once in awhile. We have great grandchildren now and I love to take care of them. My life is more domestic now.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Movie-TV Connection Game (March 2016)

What do Myrna Loy and Jo Ann Pflug
have in common?
Welcome to our March '16 edition! For those who have never played this game, 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. Tom Poston and Boris Karloff.

2. West Side Story and Bunny Lake Is Missing.

3. Tom Tryon and Christopher Reeve.

4. Holly Hunter and Rosalind Russell.

5. Richard Dreyfus and Bo Derek.

6. Ava Gardner and Vanna White.

7. David Janssen and Jaclyn Smith.

8. Audrey Hepburn and Deborah Kerr (there are at least two connections--one of which is related to #12 below).

9. Jo Ann Pflug and Myrna Loy.

10. Ralph Waite and Henry Fonda.

11. Robert Cummings and George C. Scott (this one might be hard!)

12. The King and I and West Side Story (the films, not the plays...and a connection other than both are musicals).

13. George C. Scott and Rex Harrison.

14. Sandra Dee and Debbie Reynolds.

15. Detour (1945) and The Naked Kiss.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Peyton Place: "Everything in this town happens behind brown wrappers"

In a 1956 interview with journalist Hal Boyle, Peyton Place author Grace Metalious said: "To a tourist, these towns look as peaceful as a picture postcard. But if you go underneath that picture, it's like turning over a rock with your foot--all kinds of strange things crawl out. Everybody that lives in town knows what's going on--there are no secrets--but they don't want outsiders to know."

A fictional exposé about a New England town called Peyton Place, her debut novel enthralled readers with its dark small town secrets. It stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year and attracted the attention of Hollywood. Producer Jerry Wald convinced 20th Century-Fox to pay $100,000 for the film rights to Peyton Place. Wald was known for making films with strong female characters, such as Mildred PierceFlamingo RoadJohnny Belinda, and Caged. From the outset, he wanted 37-year-old Lana Turner for the lead role of Constance Mackenzie, a single mother who keeps her distance from men. The studio, however, envisioned Jane Wyman or Olivia de Havilland as Constance. In the end, Wald got his way.

Lee Phillips as Mike Rossi and Lana.
The film adaptation, as did the novel, also centers on Constance's bright teenage daughter Allison (Diane Varsi) and her friend, Selena (Hope Lange), who lives in one of the shanties outside of town. Allison develops a fondness for Norman (Russ Tamblyn), a shy young man who lives with his possessive mother. Selena has to cope with her drunken, leering stepfather (Arthur Kennedy), who beats her mother and drives away her older brother. Other characters include: Michael Rossi, the high school's handsome new principal; Allison's wealthy classmate Rodney Harrington and his provocative girlfriend Betty; and the town's physician--and conscience--Dr. Swain.

Reliable Lloyd Nolan as Dr. Swain.
It's easy to label Peyton Place as a big screen soap due to its interwoven dramatic elements. Perhaps, it is, but who says that's a criticism anyway? Even in her novel, Metalious amped up the turmoil by incorporating incidents from three real-life New Hampshire towns. Critics were kind to Peyton Place, with many considering it an improvement on the novel (though I wonder how many of them actually read the book).

The film received nine Academy Award nominations, including: Best Picture, Best Director (Mark Robson); Best Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Actress (Lana Turner); and four supporting performances (Diane Varsi, Hope Lange, Russ Tamblyn, and Arthur Kennedy). Amazingly, Franz Waxman's lovely, bittersweet score was totally ignored. He likely fared better from a commercial standpoint, especially after his title theme was heard two to three times weekly when the Peyton Place TV series aired from 1964 to 1969.

Hope Lange as Selena.
The standouts in the Peyton Place cast are young stars Diane Varsi and Hope Lange. Varsi's poignant narration provides the nostalgic transitions as the plot progresses from 1941 into the World War II years. She also effectively captures Allison's passion for life and later her disillusionment when she learns the truth about her deceased father. Lange has a smaller role, but evolves nicely from an innocent young woman to one harboring dark secrets that weigh heavily.

Diane Varsi as Allison.
Lange went on to a long career in film (The Young Lions) and television (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir). Diane Varsi was not as fortunate. She had hitchhiked to San Franciso in the late 1950s after seeing Rebel Without a Cause. Her first film role was Peyton Place, with 20th Century-Fox signing her to a contract. After high profile parts in Ten North Frederick (as Gary Cooper's daughter), From Hell to Texas, and Compulsion, she had a nervous breakdown. She retired from acting and moved back to Vermont. Her contract with Fox ended in 1964 and she later began acting occasionally in films like Wild in the Streets (1968) and Bloody Mama (1970) with Shelley Winters. She died from respiratory failure in 1992 at age 54; she had suffered from Lyme Disease for several years.

Allison shows her "secret place" to Norman.
Of course, the unsung star in Peyton Place is the town itself. Scenic and quaint from the outside, its secrets have attracted the interests of millions of readers and viewers. Carol Lynley played Allison in the 1961 sequel Return to Peyton Place, also based on a Grace Metalious novel. A popular prime-time TVs series followed in 1964 (click here to read our review of it). There was also a short-lived 1972-74 daytime drama and two made-for-TV movies: Murder in Peyton Place (1977) and Peyton Place: The Next Generation (1985).

Why all the interest in this small New England town? Perhaps, Constance sums it up best when talking to Mike Rossi in the first film: "In Peyton Place, two people talking is a conspiracy. A meeting is an assignation. And getting to know one another is a scandal."

Monday, March 7, 2016

TV Sidekick Blogathon: The Corvette in "Route 66"

The very first Route 66 Corvette.
You could make an argument that the Corvette was one of the stars of Route 66. After all, there wouldn't have been a show without it. Though it never received a credit, it appeared in every episode. Plus, the entire concept of Route 66  was built around the Corvette convertible. Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) inherited it from his father--and pretty much nothing else (his father's bankruptcy being an unexpected surprise). The iconic car plays a major part in Tod and Buz's decision to wander the highways of 1960s America.

Surprisingly, though, the Corvette rarely had a prominent role in the plots. It did so in the series' debut 1960 episode "Black November," in which car troubles strand Tod and Buz in a very unfriendly Mississippi town. In another season one episode, "Eleven, the Hard Way," Tod sells his hubcaps to bankroll two gamblers (Walter Matthau and Edward Andrews) trying to save a small town. And, in the second season episode "Bird Cage on My Foot," a desperate drug addict (Robert Duvall) tries to steal the 'Vette in the opening scene.

Tod's car looked pretty different by season 3.
There were several models used throughout the four-year run of Route 66. The first episode introduced a 1960 light-blue Corvette (which looked gray since the show was filmed in black-and-white). Subsequent first-season episodes featured a beige 1960 model. Starting in season 2, Chevrolet, which sponsored Route 66, introduced a new model every year. The famed Corvette Stingray made its debut in the third season.

The color of the Corvettes has become the source of much discussion over the years. On the cover of a 1962 board game, the Corvette is cherry red and white.The DVD set covers opt for the light blue 'Vette.  However, most sources state that, with the exception of the first episode, the cars were Fawn Beige or Saddle Tan because they reflected less light and thus photographed better.

I'm not a sport cars enthusiast, but have read where the luggage rack on the back of Tod's car was not an option offered by Chevrolet at the time. For me, one of the great mysteries of Route 66 was how Tod and Buz packed up all their belongings into the less-than-spacious Corvette. In at least one episode, Buz takes all his belongings off the luggage rack, implying perhaps that Tod kept his in the little trunk?

Whatever the model or color, there's no doubt that the Route 66 Corvette helped inspire a generation of sport cars enthusiasts. Even today, there are Corvette clubs, web sites, and Facebook pages named in honor of Route 66. Yet, despite its fame, the Corvette never held out for more money, never demanded more screen time, nor lobbied for its name in the credits. It was content to remain a snazzy supporting player--and, in that sense, it became the ultimate TV sidekick.

This post is part of the TV Sidekick Blogathon. Click here to read all the great posts about television's most beloved sidekicks!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The TV Sidekick Blogathon Is Here!

Welcome to the blogathon that pays tribute to the individuals that made the stars look good!

Please join us in celebrating many of the best sidekicks to grace the screens of classic television. Over the next three days, the outstanding bloggers below will write about sidekicks that include superheroes, martial artists, animals, detectives, elves, sportscasters, and even a car.

As you visit these wonderful posts, we encourage you to share your thoughts on classic TV sidekicks by leaving a comment. Here's the publication schedule:

Sunday, March 6

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Pretty in Pink Revisited

It's hard to believe it's been three decades since screenwriter John Hughes' tale of teen love first graced the silver screen. Incredibly, until recently, it had been that long since I watched Pretty in Pink from start to finish. The final installment in the unofficial John Hughes-Molly Ringwald teen trilogy--which includes Sixteen Candles (1984) and The Breakfast Club (1985)--builds on the dramatic elements in the latter film. That makes Pretty in Pink somewhat serious for a Hughes picture, although there are still enough kooky characters to give it some much-needed humor.

Ringwald stars as Andie Walsh, a high school social outcast with her own pink-heavy sense of fashion. Her father (Harry Dean Stanton) can't hold a job and still pines for Andie's mother, who walked out on the family three years earlier. Still, he obviously cares deeply for his daughter, even though she plays the role of parent more than him. Andie's best friend is the outrageous Duckie (Jon Cryer), who harbors a very obvious secret: he's in love with Andie--and not in a brotherly way.

Andrew McCarthy also co-starred with
Molly Ringwald in Fresh Horses (1988).
Our heroine's life turns upside down when she catches the eye of a good-looking, popular, and wealthy classmate named Blane (Andrew McCarthy). Their instant mutual attraction ignores the fact that they're different in almost every way. But really, who can explain love? En route to a potential happy ending, Andie and Blane must cope with hateful people, jealous friends, and their own self-doubts. Heck, that's what teen angst is all about.

Pretty in Pink was the first of the "trilogy" to be directed by someone other than John Hughes (Howard Deutch made his directorial debut). Still, Hughes' fingerprints are all over the film. Despite a couple of awkward scenes (e.g., Ringwald yelling at McCarthy), the dialogue sounds mostly natural. Screenwriter Hughes is at his best when capturing the back-and-forth exchanges between two people--whether it's Andie and her father, Andie and Duckie, or Andie and her friend/surrogate mother Iona (a very effective Annie Potts).

Jon Cryer as Duckie.
Jon Cryer has the most difficult part and often struggles with it. I'm sure I have now incurred the wrath of millions of Duckie fans, but I grew weary of the character's shtick as the movie progressed. Granted, Cryer has one of the most memorable scenes (lip-syncing to "Try a Little Tenderness") and he mines the requisite poignancy when Duckie feels betrayed by Andie.

(Spoiler alert! You may want to stop reading here if you've never seen Pretty in Pink).

Downey, Jr. might have been Duckie.
The casting of Cryer has generated much discussion among Pretty in Pink fans because of its impact on the film's closing scene. In the original cut, Andie chose Duckie over Blane at her high school prom. Test audiences overwhelmingly preferred that Andie end up with Blane, noting her sibling attitude toward Duckie. As a result, the studio recalled the cast and a new ending was shot with Andie picking Blane. Numerous other actors were considered for the role of Duckie, including Robert Downey, Jr. At a 2008 screening of Pretty in Pink, Cryer said: "Molly Ringwald felt that if Robert Downey, Jr., the guy that she liked, had been cast, she would have been okay with the original ending." (For the record, Ringwald and Downey, Jr. teamed up the next year for James Toback's The Pick-up Artist.)

I think Pretty in Pink is the least effective of the three Hughes-Ringwald collaborations. It lacks the sweetness of Sixteen Candles and the wit of The Breakfast Club. Still, one can't underestimate its influence on later teen pictures like She's All That (1999) and 10 Things I Hate About You (1999).

Stolz in Some Kind of Wonderful.
John Hughes essentially remade Pretty in Pink the following year as Some Kind of Wonderful, which I think is a better film. It stars Eric Stoltz as the working-class protagonist, Lea Thompson as the school's most popular girl, and Mary Stuart Masterson as Stoltz's tomboy friend (who secretly loves him). Hughes wanted Molly Ringwald to play the tomboy part, but she rejected it. She and Hughes never worked together again.