Friday, March 10

Odd Careers

There are some actors and actresses that I have the hardest time understanding how they made it in Hollywood.  They are usually not very talented and not good-looking, two prerequisites to carving out a successful career.  And there are others who are quite handsome or beautiful and may or may not have talent and they don't make it.  Some fell by the wayside because they just could never relate to the crazy business of movie-making.  Some had behavior issues or got a case of Mr. Bighead.  Some it's just plain perplexing.  Let's look at some odd movie careers.

Richard Allan never made it past the briefest of roles, a number of which didn't even earn him screen credit, despite his handsome looks and both musical and dramatic talents. You didn't notice him doubling for Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun (1951) because you're not supposed to. Betty Grable spotted him dancing in the chorus of her film Wabash Avenue (1951) and wangled a 20th Century Fox contract for him. 

He had great exposure singing and dancing with Susan Hayward during the sweeping title number in With a Song in My Heart (1952). His best screen moments came when Marilyn Monroe requested him for the brief role as her illicit lover in Niagara (1953). You may remember Jean Peters catching them rubbing up against one another under the falls.  The film catapulted MM to fame but did little for him although Photoplay Magazine voted him most promising newcomer.

After a few more films, he quit acting and had a brief career as a cabaret singer and then a masseur.  He later returned to his native Kentucky and passed away there in 1999 at age 76.

Keefe Brasselle's flicker of fame came with his title role in the mawkish The Eddie Cantor Story (1953), a film that didn't live up to its expectations due chiefly to Brasselle's embarrassingly hammy performance. His career was never to recover and along the way he shot his mouth off too many times to the wrong people.  He claimed he had mob connections and often worked that in during one of his harangues.

He had started off decently enough in the 1949 Ida Lupino-directed Not Wanted and was Clift's cousin in A Place in the Sun. The Cantor movie was sandwiched in between his only other two notable films, Esther Williams' Skirts Ahoy (1952) and Mitzi Gaynor's Three Young Texans (1954)... if you consider those notable.

Prior to acting he was a young CBS executive and he should have stuck with that.  Leaving movies for television roles kept him eating and boozing for awhile but Hollywood eventually simply said no thanks. He passed away in Downey, California, in 1981 of cirrhosis of the liver at age 58.

Maxwell Caulfield probably had the same high hopes for himself that everyone else seemed to have as he and Michelle Pfeiffer were filming Grease2.  But when the film was released in 1982, it was deemed a disaster and his career seemed to go in the toilet.  In terms of a movie career, it never really recovered.  Funny it didn't have the same effect on Pfeiffer's career.

So what's the skinny?  What happened? Was he impossible to deal with?  Burned some bridges?  He seemed a good enough actor to me and unquestionably caught the eye of the gay community back in those early days. He made a bit of a showing in the crime drama, The Boys Next Door (1985) and the romance-comedy-drama, The Real Blonde (1997), but most of his films are simply dreadful and largely unseen with a fair share going directly to video.

He started his career as a go-go dancer and wound up doing stage work, a great deal of it with his 18-year older wife, Juliet Mills.

John Dall had the most prestigious movie career of any of those listed here if for no other reason than he had the most recognition due to an Oscar nomination and appeared in a few good films.  On the other hand, he only made a total of eight films.

His Oscar nomination came in 1945 for his first film, The Corn Is Green, as the student in whom teacher Bette Davis takes a special interest. He was superb three years later as the gay killer in Hitchcock's Rope and as another cold-blooded killer in Gun Crazy (1950).  His last film of any note was 10 years later in a small but important role in Spartacus.

Dall was gay, very out, sometimes too supercilious for his own good and surely made a few enemies along the way.  He turned to the stage where he fared better. He was an alcoholic at the time of his death in 1971 at age 52.

Karen Lynn Gorney claimed that she was ahead of her time and that producers didn't know what to do with her.  Perhaps so but one would think that someone who is an actress, singer, dancer and composer would be able to find success in one or more of those fields.

She appeared in All My Children on and off for years and those who remember her would be viewers of that TV soap.  More would recall her as John Travolta's romantic interest and dance partner in the wildly successful Saturday Night Fever (1977).  I thought the only thing wrong with that movie was Karen Lynn Gorney.

She still works to this day but in films no one has ever heard of and in parts that are listed as woman in subway or even uncredited. Perhaps those producers did know what to do with her.

Juanita Hall made only four films.  Two of them were simply as a singer in specialty numbers and the other two are world-famous musicals, both from Rodgers and Hammerstein.

She had been classically trained at Juilliard when R&H personally chose her to play Bloody Mary in their Broadway production of South Pacific.  The character was Tonkinese despite the fact that Hall was black.  She later played a Chinese auntie in their Broadway musical, Flower Drum Song

When those Broadway productions became films, South Pacific in 1958 and Flower Drum Song in 1961, Hall reprised her roles. Interestingly in the former, her voice was dubbed despite the fact that she did her own singing on stage.  She certainly had the right look for the part, but imagine when you got goosebumps listening to Bali Ha'i, it was not her voice.  Hall passed away in 1968 at age 66.

Susan Harrison has appeared in two films. If you didn't see her in her most famous film, then you have no idea who she is.  I did see her in that film and I still have no idea who she is.

She attended the famed High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan and appeared shortly thereafter on Broadway.  She seemed poised to reach the big time.  Burt Lancaster hired her to play his put-upon sister in the exquisite noir, Sweet Smell of Success (1957), but the film was barely noticed at the time (that has since more than changed) and Harrison's mousy role was noticed even less. 

Three years later she had a small role in the Jeffrey Hunter crime opus, Key Witness, and then she said buh-bye to the movies.  She did some television for three years and then disappeared forever. Apparently she was one who determined to be devoted to family instead of Hollywood.  Good choice.

Will Hutchins made a name for himself in the late 1950s as the lanky, likable and kinda cute Sugarfoot, a Warner Brothers' shoot-'em-up TV series that was on the air for four years.  He owes what career he had to that studio who guest-starred him in every bloody show they had on the air at the time and it was a considerable output.

He managed two more series of his own (Hey, Landlord and Blondie) while his movie career really never went anywhere.  I liked him in the tawdry little Diane McBain flick, Claudelle Inglish (1961) and he attracted some attention in Jeff Chandler's last film, Merrill's Marauders (1962).  It was never a feather in any actor's cap to appear in a Elvis Presley movie, much less two of them (1966s Spinout and the following year's Clambake).

When Carol Burnett was at her greatest popularity, Hutchins' name was bandied about from time to time because he was her brother-in-law.  Ultimately, I expect that lanky, likable and kinda cute ended up meaning a little dull and his career never truly built up any steam. 

Lee Kinsolving is unknown to most everyone so you may very well be saying who?!?!  He fascinated me no end back in the early 60s due to his good looks, smoldering sexuality, vulnerability and general state of unease... and that would be on the screen and off. He apparently annoyed the Hollywood bigwigs with his frustrated outbursts and they quietly destroyed his fledgling career.

He was brought up in New York in a minister's family, which may have bumped up against his acting ambitions.  He appeared in some Broadway productions and drifted into television.  I saw and enjoyed him in his only three films but none more so than The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960), heart-breakingly playing a troubled, Jewish mama's boy.  It's so sad to think that role echoed tragedies in Kinsolving's personal life.  The same year he was a soldier in the Alan Ladd-Sidney Poitier-starrer, All the Young Men.  He enjoyed more screen time in his final film, The Explosive Generation (1961), but it was a bit cheesy.

Moving to Florida he bought a bar and worked in television when he could.  He was an avid seaman.  In 1974 at the age of 36, Kinsolving developed some mysterious respiratory ailment and died.

Gardner McKay!  Gardner McKay.  Hold on, I have to compose myself for a moment. Composing... composing.  Let's begin with the notion that I will never understand why this gorgeous, usually shirtless man, never became a huge star.  He was fairly wooden at his craft, ok, but it didn't stop Fred MacMurray and David Janssen from becoming stars.  And they had zero sex appeal.  Well, the truth is he and Hollywood were only fair-weather friends.  There was never any way it would last.

Under contract to 20th Century Fox, he only made two films, both of which were fairly dreadful... The Pleasure Seekers (1964) and I Sailed to Tahiti with an All-Girl Crew (1968). His true fame came from the television series Adventures in Paradise (1959-62) in which he sailed around the South Pacific as captain of his own schooner.  He was the great-grandson of a shipbuilder and sailing came second nature to McKay.

He attended Cornell University and from those days had a life-long love of sculpting. Life as a Hollywood heartthrob held no special allure for him and by 1970 he decided to devote most of his time to writing and photography.  A bachelor for most of his life, he was living the dream in Hawaii with his wife and two children when he died in 2001at age 69 from prostate cancer.

Miles O'Keeffe played Tarzan and I suppose one could say no actor ever really made it in the movie business having played that role (and yes, Alexander Skarsgard, I'm afraid for you). On the other hand, with only one or two exceptions, I always like the hot specimens chosen to play the role. 

Actor-turned-director John Derek hired him to play Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981).  It was his first film and he had very few lines which most hardly noticed.  It was poorly titled... I'm thinking Jane Undulates All Over Africa would have been more suitable.  He looked sensational cavorting with Mrs. Derek, the number 10 Bo, in a film that was trying so hard to be soft-core porn.  I'm not complaining, mind you, just noting.

The film has always been regarded as super loser but I confess I had a good time.  Did I mention it had lions?  I love lions.  O'Keefe has made 34 theatrical films since Tarzan and while it's true that I have not seen any of them, I haven't even heard of them.

Tommy Sands has always been a singer.  I suppose one can still knock back a few mai tais while listening to his pipes at one of the lounges in Waikiki.  I always liked his singing although I didn't buy his records or even much follow his career.  For whatever reason, I did see all of his eight films without saying that he was necessarily the draw.  It isn't even those films or his acting or popularity, but rather how or why his film career ended that captures some attention.

He came from a musical family and it was only keeping in step that saw him become a kid singer and a pretty popular one.  He easily went from pop recording star to TV actor in a film that brought him the fame he was seeking, The Singing Idol (1958).  When it became a theatrical film and retitled Sing Boy Sing, he did that, too.  He starred in the melodramatic teen drama, Love in a Goldfish Bowl (1961) and was one of many in The Longest Day (1962).   He was just as silly as he knew how to be in Babes in Toyland in 1961 with Annette Funicello and suffered from diminished billing in Ensign Pulver (1964). 

By 1965 he had been married to Nancy Sinatra for five years and starred that year opposite her father in a well-made war film, None but the Brave.  But by the time of its release, the marriage had unraveled. Though the Sinatra clan and Sands himself have denied it, it was alleged that Frank's muscle squeezed the life out of Sands' movie career.  Hard to believe.  Aloha.

Michael Schoeffling was an accomplished young man by being on a competitive wrestling team, majoring in liberal arts at Temple University, attending the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theater Institute and working as a model for GQ.

His head-to-toe dark good looks attracted the attention of casting directors and there can be no doubt that his career started with a bang as one of Molly Ringwald's ardent admirers in the super popular 16 Candles (1984).  He only made nine films and his last three were my favorites... the AIDS drama, Longtime Companion (1989), as Winona Ryder's boyfriend in Mermaids (1990) and as the son of a fair owner who helps Gabrielle Anwar ride horses off high dives in Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (1991).

Then he elected to pack it all in.  He said that he left the business because of the lack of roles (say what?) and a burgeoning family (I'll go for that) but the story has always been there that Schoeffling was simply the type who needed to work for himself.  He felt he had no control in Hollywood.  The burgeoning family moved to Pennsylvania where he opened a furniture-making business.

Klinton Spilsbury made just one movie. Wanna guess what it is? He captures some continued fame because he is the answer to a famous movie trivia question: who played The Lone Ranger and never made another film?  The reason why that is should be worth some bonus points.

Born in Mexico and descended from Mormon settlers and later raised in Arizona, he took off for Hollywood the moment that he realized his stunning good looks would open some doors for him. It may be that he thought he would need to do little more than show up.  It took eight months to cast the two leads but ultimately The Legend of the Lone Ranger would go for two unknowns in 1981.

It's been said that Spilsbury was probably feeling very insecure but it came out as arrogance and petulance.  Constant media reports alleged of drinking, brawling, arguing and general uncooperativeness.  He demanded that the film be shot in sequence so he could better understand his character's arc.  He apparently had trouble remembering his lines, all of which were ultimately dubbed by actor James Keach because the brass was displeased with Spilsbury's line readings.  The crew was known to say when he left the set... who was that masked asshole?

Next posting:
The directors


  1. Glad I stumbled across your blog on the Internet we have a lot in common with your knowledge of the ins and outs of so many actors in movies is inspiring and impressive to me I find myself almost every classic movie I watch googling the actors in the movie as I'm watching to read about the history how old they were at the time how long they lived where they lived who they were married to had affairs with if they had affairs with the actresses in the particular movies it's just intriguing and fascinating and enjoyable to me thanks again for your blog and I'll be in touch :-)

  2. I am glad for your stumbling. It is thrilling to me to meet such a diehard movie fan. Absolutely love your enthusiasm, Parrish.

  3. Lovely post, very me. Tommy Sands (a poor man's Pat Boone? only I don't now anyone that poor) always seemed as dull as Richard Beymer - give me Fabian any time (please - I love HOUND DOG MAN and NORTH TO ALASKA). Then there was Barry Coe - cute in mini toga in THE 300 SPARTANS, but 20th Century Fox had a lot of good lookers on contract, with Wagner and Jeff Hunter leading the pack. Gardner McKay - yes, I still have THE PLEASURE SEEKERS dvd, a riot now with Ann Margret, Carol Lynley & delicious Pamela Tiffin ramping up the glamour. Troy Donahue had his moment too .... over at Warners. John Kerr always seemed terribly dull - how did he ever get some major movies ... I always say most good looking actors get 10 good years if they are lucky, and can then keep going in character parts, like Michael York, John Philip Law and others ....

  4. Tommy Sands and Frankie Avalon were contemporaries both musically and cinematically.