Friday, March 17

The Bottoms Boys

Once upon a time there were four acting brothers and their last name was not Baldwin.  It was Bottoms and don't think we didn't have some fun with that back in the 70s.  Their first names are Timothy, Joseph, Sam and Ben. They have had varying degrees of success-- Timothy, by far, the most successful-- and today he is the most remembered of the four although the youngins today probably haven't heard of any of them.

The brothers were all born in Santa Barbara, California.  Timothy was born in 1951, Joseph in 1954, Sam in 1955 and Ben in 1960. Dad was a sculptor and an art teacher. He must have passed his creative genes to his sons.  The parents' divorce in the early 70s rocked the family's foundation, apparently.  Before the sad event, the brothers appear to remember happy times with music filling the house, fishing and horseplay.

What I noticed about all the brothers was a rather obvious shyness and introversion. From my perspective and gleaned, of course, only through their work, it seemed as if Timothy and Sam had it the worst but all were pretty low-key.  I cannot help but wonder whether this decided lack of fire may have kept them all from attaining the heights in their business.


Indisputably the star of the family, it began when a teacher noticed the shy youngster had trouble reading and had him sign up for drama.  It seemed to work because he would eventually perform in a number of stage productions and toured Europe in a choir, all while still a teenager.

His first chance at big bucks came when he was offered a job on the High Chaparral television series and turned it down because he decided he'd rather do movies.  The decision grossed out some and he's probably lucky his time before the cameras didn't end before it began.

He auditioned for the role of the quadruple amputee unable to speak or hear in the anti-war drama, Johnny Got His Gun (1971) and won the part.  My crowd loved it but I found it profoundly disturbing and knew I stood out as a bit of a disloyal dissenter.  I felt much the same with his next movie, The Last Picture Show (1971) and I may be the only person on the planet who didn't care for it... and I've tried to like it by seeing it three times.  Peter Boganovich directed Larry McMurtry's story of teens beginning adulthood after high school graduation in a dusty, dreary, little Texas town.  It had a wonderful sense of time and place and good acting but the characters were losers and I never cared about them or the film.  Bottoms and Bogdanovich didn't get along at all and the news of their clashes made it around town, putting the actor in a bad light.

He was off the big screen for two years (odd for a newcomer with two starring roles under his belt) but he came back in a charming role as Maggie Smith's traveling companion and ultimate boytoy in the gorgeously-photographed Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973), but unfortunately nobody saw it. He may have had his finest role in The Paper Chase as a Harvard law student facing down a fearsome professor. Bottoms and the haughty John Houseman were treasures to behold. 

And then what happened?  Were there just too many problems, too many displays of temperament?  Had he thumbed his nose at the establishment one too many times?  He left a high-powered agent when the agent became a manager which didn't go well for Bottoms. Could some of his woes been because of  his screen personality? His characters always seemed lost or at least not fully engaged and uncomfortable somehow.  Or was that just Bottoms? Did Hollywood, after seeing the same performances over and over just quit thinking of him for the coveted roles?  Did he just make bad career decisions?

I think he was the best ever in the television miniseries, East of Eden (1981).  He's acted a lot since 1981 and a great deal of it is television.  As for his films (and he's still working), you'd be hard pressed to have ever found most of them in a theater near you. When I last heard of him, he was living in the Big Sur area in Northern California on a horse ranch.


The Bottoms brothers have had successful careers that match their birth order.  Joe has had about half the output of Timothy and has carried far less baggage.  He's also been seen on the screen far more than his younger brothers. I don't think I'm alone when I say he is the best-looking of the brothers.  There's even some beefcake photos of him to be ogled.

He knew he wanted to be an actor before Timothy ever became one.  He began appearing in community stage productions and made his Broadway debut in The 5th of July when he was 27. Unlike his older brother, he decided television was an acceptable job.  He made a bit of a splash in the movies with The Dove (1974), a true story of a 16-year old who sailed around the world on a 23-foot sloop.  

I think his best-ever role was in the Emmy-winning TV miniseries, Holocaust (1978), playing a German Jew who joins the Jewish partisans.  The role of his wife, a smaller role than Bottoms', was played by a relative newcomer named Meryl Streep.

It seems unthinkable that nothing much worked out for him after Holocaust.  Like his older brother and others in the 70s (John Savage and Karen Black come to mind), he continued working for a number of years but in films no one has ever heard of.  Maybe it was a Bottoms brothers' curse.

He appears devoted to his home town (he even appeared in a number of episodes of the soap, Santa Barbara) and he lives there today with his two daughters and runs Bottoms Art Galleries.


It's been said that Sam held everything in. Perhaps he took his parents divorce the hardest.  But in a way, the ruckus of his parents' parting led to Sam's movie debut. He needed to get away from the chaos at home one day and decided to visit Tim on the set of The Last Picture Show.  Director Bogdanovich, still looking for a young actor to play the mentally-challenged kid who sweeps the streets, hired Sam.  He had no lines as Billy but was integral to a part of the story.

Probably best-known as the surfer-turned-Vietnam-patrol-boat- gunner in Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979), Bottoms acquired hookworm during the Philippines production and said it wrecked his liver.  He worked for Coppola again in Gardens of Stone (1987). He did two for Clint Eastwood, The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and Bronco Billy (1980). He played an assistant trainer in 1980's Seabiscuit.  The last film I saw him in was also the last time I saw Joe and Ben. The three played brothers, sons of John Saxon, in a touching little indie called Joseph's Gift (1998).  A look at his resumé reveals indie films were his calling.

I was having lunch one day with my son in Santa Barbara, sitting outdoors, and Sam and a friend were sitting next to us.  I didn't recognize him but there was enough conversation to tell me who he was.  Once I knew, I looked for those self-important movie star traits usually seen in abundance with so many, but not Sam.  He seemed like a regular guy.

Unfortunately the regular guy died in 2008 at age 53 from brain cancer.  I was sad when I heard it.


The youngest and least-known of the quartet, Ben has said that he wants to divide his time between acting and being a visual artist.  If so, he's not trying too hard to be an actor because he's only made three theatrical films and none since Joseph's Gift in 1998.  His big screen debut was in a small role in More American Graffiti in 1979 and then appeared with big brother Timothy in 1998's Ava's Magical Adventure about a young girl who runs away from home with an elephant in tow.

It's his visual artistry where Ben excels.  He's an award-winning artist for the Santa Barbara Public Arts Commission.  He is the recipient of grants for his work as a director, designer and artist at Santa Barbara High School, the brothers' alma mater.

He and his brothers have given public readings at the Salinas Steinbeck Festival which I would have dearly loved to have seen.

I'd love to read a bio on this family one day.

Next posting:
A good 70s film

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