Tuesday, January 6

Would Somebody Pass the Muffins?

As in stud muffins...!  Oh, you suspected that, didn't you?  Here are three examples of male beauty in the 60s... and as luck would have it, we just happen to be discussing the 60s.  By the way, some serious male beauty.  Those faces could, in fact, have something to do with their not making it to the top of the acting ladder.  Their successes at their craft varies among the three just as the handsomeness does.  They were all actors I liked and whose careers I was pretty much on top of.  Let's visit... 

I don't think Hollywood ever gave James Darren much of a chance.  He hung out in some pretty lame movies, mainly geared to the undiscerning teen crowd.  When he managed to be a part of a quality picture, it was usually teeming with bigger stars and he got rather lost in the shuffle.  I thought he was a good actor but arguably he had more success as a singer.  And if this man wasn't gorgeous, then no one was. 

He was part of a crowd that came from Philadelphia and became singers.  Fabian and Frankie Avalon were two others and all drifted into films and none were wildly successful as actors.  Darren was the best singer and actor and arguably had a longer career if one allows television into the mix.  His grandmother had encouraged his earliest acting ambitions and by age 18 he was in Manhattan and studying with acting guru Stella Adler.  That led to an introduction to agent Joyce Selznick who was impressed enough to secure him a seven-year contract with Columbia Pictures.  He was on his way.

He debuted in a 1957 flick called Rumble on the Docks, heading a cast of unknowns, and the teenage heartthrobitis had begun.  He  went into three films with fellow Columbia contractee Kathryn Grant (soon Bing Crosby's wife) in the comedy Operation Madball, the gangster opus The Brothers Rico and the western Gunman's Walk.  None were great successes.

Then came Gidget (1959).  When that handsome face purred, surfed and sang to Sandra Dee, the teens went goofy with adoration.  His role as Moondoggie endeared him so much to the younger set that he repeated the role in two more Gidget flicks, which probably had the long-range effect of putting his acting career in the toilet.  He and Dee were so identified as being a couple that when she later married singer Bobby Darin, a lot of twinkies thought she and James Darren were together.

He supported Sal Mineo in The Gene Krupa Story (1959) and it, too, became a popular film.  The kids could take their parents to this one.  He was third-billed after Alan Ladd and Sidney Poitier in a decent war film All the Young Men.  In 1960 Darren was the focus of the mean streets of New York in Let No Man Write My Epitaph with Jean Seberg, Burl Ives and, as his drug-addicted mother, Shelley Winters .  I think it was his best role.  Next up was the best film he ever did, The Guns of Navarone, but an example of being lost in a large cast of superior actors.

In 1963 he was Yvette Mimieux's boyfriend in Diamond Head and if you want to see Darren at his most alluring, this is the film for you.  He played a Hawaiian and the object of Charlton Heston's racial scorn.  Too bad he was killed off early in the proceedings.  Then it was two more ludicrous teen-oriented films, For Those Who Think Young and The Lively Set, both with the equally gorgeous, Pamela Tiffin, whose career would wind up a lot like Darren's.

For all intents and purposes his film career was ending but television was his new endeavor, along with singing gigs in clubs.  He became a fixture on the tube and a whole new generation would discover him there.  Think T. J. Hooker.  And think a lot more.

An early marriage produced a son who grew up to be the broadcaster Jim Moret.  Unless it's changed, he and his father are not on speaking terms.  For nearly 55 years Darren has been married to the beautiful Evy Norlund, a former Miss Denmark and a one-time actress.

There was a time I thought John Gavin was the most handsome man in the movies.  I couldn't seem to get enough of him.  Universal tried like hell to make him into another Rock Hudson but to no avail.   He was given some nice opportunities to shine in some top films but he rarely came off as anything beyond pretty and wooden.  I wanted to slap him and send him to Lee Strasberg and the Actors Studio. 

His lineage is impressive.  He comes from two families that helped settle early Spanish California.  His father, from good Irish stock, hailed from Spain and his mother from a powerful family in Sonora, Mexico.  He would attend socially-prominent Catholic schools in Los Angeles and graduate from Stanford University.  This paragraph certainly takes on the hue of wealth, but Gavin always insisted that wasn't the case.

He was a naval officer during the Korean War and after being discharged he offered his services as a technical advisor to a family friend and producer at Universal for a naval flick they were making.  Instead, those looks made others talk him into becoming an actor.  He says acting had never occurred to him.  And without having that fire in the belly, it may further some thinking on why he never made much of his movie career.  That is not to infer the classy gentleman wouldn't find his true calling.

I first found him in small roles in 1957 in the Fred MacMurray-Dorothy Malone western Quantez and the inside-Hollywood confection, 4 Girls in Town.  I thought he was dazzling and was determined to learn I all could about him and follow his career, which I was certain would be equally dazzling.  The following year he had the lead as a German soldier in A Time to Love and a Time to Die and I noticed for the first time how hard he seemed to try but how leaden and lifeless his acting was.

Nonetheless, he snagged the leading male role opposite Lana Turner and Sandra Dee in a remake of the great weepie, Imitation of Love.  No one paid much attention to him although the film was a mega-hit.  The next year, 1960, was his watershed year.  It started with a silly romantic comedy, A Breath of Scandal, but appearing opposite Sophia Loren was a coup. 

Then came Psycho. and thanks to it, Gavin's movie career will  remain a subject of some merit.  True, he was again least noticed of the four leads (Tony Perkins, Janet Leigh and Vera Miles being the others... oh you knew that) and Hitchcock publicly said he was sorry the moment Gavin signed the contract.  The rotund one said he should have stuck to his first choice, Rod Taylor.  And as if one classic wasn't enough, next up was Spartacus in which Gavin played one of the sexiest Julius Caesars ever.  Next up was a part as Doris Day's helpful friend (in one of her rare dramatic roles) in Midnight Lace.  Most people would probably say... oh was he in that?

In 1961 he appeared in three movies, two of which were true clunkers and the third was also a clunker with critics but enormously popular with the public.  He joined up with Sandra Dee for Romanoff and Juliet and (gulp!) Tammy Tell Me True.   I shiver to think how dreadful they were.  But Back Street, the third telling of a woman's affair with a married man, is my favorite Gavin performance.  It didn't hurt that he reteamed with Vera Miles and they were joined by Susan Hayward.  Mmmm, maybe I'll watch it again in the next day or two.

He had a small role in the popular 1967 film, Thoroughly Modern Millie, but he had moved into TV fare and then said goodbye to acting to pursue work in public service.  He also served on the board of the Screen Actors Guild and in 1986 his pal Ronald Reagan appointed him as ambassador to Mexico.  He has been married to singer-actress Constance Towers for many years.

John Saxon was the best actor of this trio and had the longest career.  It didn't hurt that he was serious eye candy.  When he came to films, I saw every one of them.  His earliest ones paired him with Sandra Dee.  There came a time when he trotted off to Italy and I lost track of him.  We can catch up now.

Born Carmine Orrico in Brooklyn in 1935, he got the acting bug early.  He crossed over the bridge into Manhattan and like James Darren, he studied acting with Stella Adler.  Also like Darren, he broke into films in teenage roles.  Unlike Darren, he didn't get stuck in them.  He was taken under the wing of notorious Hollywood agent Henry Willson who renamed other handsome hunks Rock, Tab and Troy but for Carmine Orrico, Willson chose John Saxon.

Universal signed him up and immediately cast him in The Unguarded Moment, where he stalked Esther Williams in her first dry role.  I saw it and must say the lad got my attention.  His teen-themed flicks of the time included such titles as Running Wild, Rock Pretty Baby and Summer Love.  He romanced Sandra Dee in The Restless Years and The Reluctant Debutante.  The latter was a very funny A-picture in which he had a less-than-stellar role and that unfortunately was how much of his career went.  His part in John Huston's 1960 western The Unforgiven must have ended up on the cutting room floor it was so small.  That same year he was Dee's boyfriend for the last time in the murder drama, Portrait in Black.  He had the (rare) lead in Cry Tough as a Puerto Rican ex-con, but it was not a great success.

He also had the lead in a decent war film, War Hunt (1962) but it is more famous for introducing Robert Redford to the movies. Around this time his career had already begun slipping.  Why he hadn't been noticed more and considered for top roles is beyond me because he was a good actor.  But from here on out he began doing action roles, horror movies, European films and a slew of television, none of which is a good sign for an ambitious American movie actor.

His one shining moment in the mid-late 60s came in the western The Appaloosa, costarring Marlon Brando.  Playing Brando's nemesis and being able to write some of his own scenes and lines was a thrill for Saxon.  I found it to be a good film. 

The 1970s found Saxon doing a great deal of series television and TV movies.  One of his brightest moments in 70s films came with Joe Kidd (1972) in which Clint Eastwood and Robert Duvall were out to track down Saxon who was playing a Mexican killer.   The following year yielded the film for which Saxon is most remembered, Enter the Dragon, costarring his buddy Bruce Lee in his final film. I enjoyed him in the horror film Black Christmas (1974), as a cop trying to solve sorority murders.

A year or so before her death, Sandra Dee began re-emerging from her self-imposed seclusion.  She wanted to do Love Letters, a two-person play done by countless actors over the years.  I know Saxon stepped up and did it with her.  Don't know about the other two mentioned here, but I always found it wonderful of Saxon to help his former costar out like that.

John Saxon is still making movies to this day and they're still ones that never seem to garner much attention.  Pity.  I don't get it.  His career has gone on for decade after decade and it would certainly seem he has seen and done a great deal.  I think it'd be wonderful if he would write his autobiography.

Barbara Hershey

1 comment:

  1. Triple scoop of gorgeous! With the divinely chiseled John Gavin on top, of course...