Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Broken Promise

You may think I have swum off and left you all alone in The Underworld as it has been a while since my last posting. Never! I have just been experiencing another one of those perfect storms in which everything converges at once and leaves me with little or no time to work on my blatherings. Work continues to consume the better part of my work day (imagine that!) and I have another theatre newsletter due this week. Also, I was away for four days at a conference concerning community theatre, of which I am a part. (I was thrilled to be recognized with awards, along with many, many others, for my acting in two roles: Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Captain Keller in The Miracle Worker.) I’ve returned now and I promise to be back with more posts very soon.

Speaking of promises, to tide you over for a few moments until I can free myself, I will toss you this morsel. The Promise is a 1979 romantic drama that landed in theaters to howls of derision due to its far-fetched, hoary, clichéd and sappy storyline. Needless to say, this qualifies it as a favorite in The Underworld! I was taken to see this gem as a 12 year-old burgeoning gay boy and was as choked up by it as if it were one of Barbara Stanwyck’s or Bette Davis’ old weepies. How could I know that the screenwriters had borrowed from every conceivable well-worn plot device up to that time in order to push audiences’ buttons (audiences who didn’t leave midway through it, that is!)?

Starring Stephen Collins and Kathleen Quinlan, the story concerns a couple of college students who come from different backgrounds. Collins is a rich kid with a dragon-lady mother he refers to by her first name, Marion. Quinlan is a lower middle class girl who wins his favor despite being somewhat homely (and, thanks to the ludicrous makeup she’s been applied with, vaguely Asian!) As the opening credits appear, accompanied by a gooey, but effective love theme, they go through all the 1970s gum-commercial moments to show us that they are "in love."

Arm in arm and having fun to the nth degree, their mutual affection is culminated in the burial of a cheap carnival necklace to signify their love while spouting some of the most ludicrous dialogue ever written. The necklace is placed under a large rock where it will stay as a permanent record of their love. Critics of the day would love to have placed the canisters of film from this movie under a rock if they could have as well!

This romance is played with utter sincerity although Quinlan is decked out in all sorts of face-altering make-up so that she'll look different (and hopefully better) in the last 2/3rds of the film. Smeared with tan pancake make-up, wearing a wig that Marlo Thomas vetoed on That Girl, donned with eye and nose prosthetics that give her a plain appearance and speaking in a whiny, annoying voice, she is anything but what one would imagine as a dream lover. But that's not all! They also outfitted her with false buck-teeth which leave her unable to fully close her lips, so many of her words come out jangled and unintelligible. For example, when confronted by Collins with the prospect of marriage, she replies, "I don't need a feece of fafer..."

So she can barely open her eyes and can't close her mouth when she and Collins and his best friend (a total buffoon who rinses toothpaste out of his mouth with BEER!!) are smashed up in a horrific car collision with a truck. Quinlan is disfigured, Collins is comatose and the friend is (sadly) only moderately injured. Quinlan is shown wearing those unintentionally hysterical full-face bandages in which only a slit for the mouth and two cavernous eyeholes poke through. From this point on, not one logical thing happens and the story takes on such an orchestra of contrivances that it becomes science fiction.

Collins' gorgon of a mother, Beatrice Straight (who viewers know is evil because she smokes cigarettes constantly through a long plastic holder), pays to have Quinlan's face put back on, but only if she'll promise to stay away from Collins. (This scenario, of course, is lifted with only minor alterations, from Madame X.) The mother doesn't want her son to have a love affair with :::gasp::: an orphan because it may mess with her plans for Collins' career. So she tells Collins, once he’s awake, that Quinlan is dead. He apparently takes her word for it without ever once looking into it or even trying to see if there's a grave, a death notice or even a funeral bill!

Quinlan undergoes a long series of excruciating procedures overseen by surgeon Laurence Luckinbill. Among her enhancements are thinner, lighter eyebrows and even, remarkably, a change in eye color! I had no idea that they could do this in 1979 (or even now!) She also loses her tan and her teeth are shortened a bit. Her thick, wig-like hair is now fluffy, free and light and she has developed a sense of style. She has a new name, a new city to live in (San Francisco, home of Vertigo, another film about loving someone who looks like your allegedly dead mate) and a new career as a photographer. This shot of Luckinbill with his patient cracks me up. She looks practically on the ground and he isn’t with her or paying attention to her, as if she could go rolling down a street the way bedridden patients in old comedies do at any moment!
A complete set of wild contrivances finally reunites the long lost couple. Collins has now become an architect and comes upon one of Quinlan’s photographs, one that speaks to him and, eventually, haunts him. He, with the help of his friend from the accident, manages to track down its creator, goes to visit her......and he doesn't even recognize that it is his soul mate Quinlan! (Thank you, Tomorrow is Forever) You see, she is now the "normal" Quinlan, replete with trendy new duds and full-on glamour make-up, so he has no clue she's the chipmunk who was in the car crash with him. (And she is quite lovely. She is showcased in the latter part of the film in a wide variety of hairstyles and outfits.)

She gets miffed because he doesn’t recognize her (!), won't work with him on his project and he can’t put his finger on why he’s drawn to her. Straight briefly comes back into the picture and has a face-to-face showdown with the all-new Quinlan and has apparently begun to see the error of her ways. However, the newly confident and bitter Quinlan will have none of it. Eventually, in a bit lifted from An Affair to Remember that involves a painting, he puts it all together, but it’s too late. She’s already fled San Francisco.

It all keeps spiraling until they wind up back at the carnival necklace......at almost precisely the same time, despite her leaving hours before him.....and have a "poignant" reunion. Astonishingly, this film, crazy and as bad as it is, still can manage to draw tears from me during that final scene! Collins gives a very heartfelt performance in it (however Quinlan remains strangely stoic and the direction is oddly muted, which hurts the final clinch.)

This movie is clearly inspired by all the classic tear-jerkers but by 1979 that type of storytelling had lost all sense of reality....today even more so! If anything, it should have been a period piece. At least it gave hope to less attractive girls everywhere that they might come out of a fiery car crash looking better in every way.

Amazingly, the director Cates had previously given audiences the stark and grim I Never Sang For My Father before offering up this hoot. Fans of soapy dramas who don't require much reality will love it. Fans of campy, unintentional humor will also eat it up. The only person who will likely hate it is any straight man. He will probably be off the couch and out the door before Melissa Manchester finishes howling the title theme song!

The song, I’ll Never Say Goodbye (unless my mom tells me you’re dead!), was penned by Alan & Marilyn Bergman. Those of a certain age will recall seeing their names attached to many cinematic love songs of the 60s, 70s and 80s. They were Oscar magnets, nominated many times and winning for their tunes from The Thomas Crown Affair, The Way We Were and Yentl. This time out, they were nominated, but the award went to Norma Rae’s It Goes Like It Goes.

Collins was close to the start of his career, having headlined the miniseries The Rhinemann Exchange and enjoyed a few supporting film roles. This same year, he played Commander Will Decker in the much-anticipated Star Trek: The Motion Picture, though the project disappointed more fans than it pleased (it was a major hit nonetheless, thanks to curiosity.) His middling, but steady, career would include another tearjerker, Bette Midler's Stella, based on Stanwyck’s classic Stella Dallas and he’d later star in the very successful series 7th Heaven.

Quinlan was emerging into adult roles after having played youths in American Graffiti and Lifeguard. The Promise marked one of those “Eureka!” moments for me as a kid because I was in the car with my mom after seeing it and suddenly realized that she was the same girl who had appeared in Airport ’77. I can be forgiven for not grasping it right away since in The Promise, she looked like a slightly uglier version of herself as well as a slightly more beautiful version of herself while in Airport ’77, she basically looked like herself, but wet for part of the time. Several very dramatic parts in films like I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and The Runner Stumbles failed to yield a significant career for her and she drifted along without much fanfare until she scored a surprising, but welcome, Oscar nomination for her sensitive, yet restrained, work in Apollo 13. Like Collins, she’s remained busy, but not enjoyed stellar success.

Straight, who copped an Oscar for her tiny role in 1976’s Network, seemed hell bent on tarnishing it thereafter with parts in such winners as this, Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline, Endless Love and the John Travolta/Olivia Newton John quagmire Two of a Kind, with only Poltergeist as a standout. She appeared in a 1982 Family Feud Heroes vs Villains special as a villain, but didn’t dare single out The Promise for evidence, so they idiotically referred to her role in Network (in which she was a neglected, cheated on wife!) Her role in her final project, Goldie Hawn’s Deceived, was removed entirely except for a shot of her at a birthday party!

The story is often misguidedly credited to having been based on a Danielle Steel novel. Though she did write the tie-in novel, it was based on the screenplay from the start, much the way the far more successful book for Love Story was released prior to the film as a marketing tool and was also taken from the finished screenplay long before the film itself was actually released.

This was stupidly released to DVD in a pan and scan version (part of a Danielle Steel collection, perhaps they wanted to keep the same aspect ratio as her other made-for-TV adaptations?) Inane as it is, fans of it would surely prefer to see the Frisco scenery, Collins’ blonde good looks, Straight’s cigarette holder and Quinlan’s transformation in all of their widescreen glory! We should make Universal promise to create another edition if anyone there can recall the movie in the first place.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Flicking Some Ashley

While I was away last weekend on a whirlwind trip to our nation’s capital, I attended a play (Mrs. Warren’s Profession) at Washington, DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company starring today’s featured actress, Miss Elizabeth Ashley. Intending to meet the raspy-voiced stage legend in person, I was thwarted by a staff member who said that such a thing would be “unlikely.” This was hard news to someone who had driven almost nine hours and who will almost crawl through broken glass to meet even the least impressive celebrities! More about this show later.

Born Elizabeth Ann Cole in 1939, she started out in Ocala, Florida, but the family soon relocated to Louisiana where she developed a throaty drawl of a voice. Within a few years of completing school, Elizabeth headed to New York City to pursue a career in acting. Her first job was in an off-Broadway play called Dirty Hands. By the next year, though, she was on Broadway in a play called The Highest Tree (as Elizabeth Cole.)

When she appeared in Take Her, She’s Mine as the daughter of Art Carney (and now using her stage name of Elizabeth Ashley), her career received a major boost when she was nominated for and won both The Theatre World Award and The Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Play. (A film version the following year starred James Stewart and the surprising choice of Sandra Dee in Ashley’s role!) During this period, Ashley did occasional TV work on the then-popular anthology series as well as The Defenders and Ben Casey.

Neil Simon was so enamored of her that he wrote his play Barefoot in the Park with her in mind. Soon, she was starring in that show on Broadway, opposite Robert Redford as the stuffy newlywed husband to her idealistic, but trying, wife. (In ’67, a film version of this play was done with Redford, but not Ashley. Her role was given to Jane Fonda, though she says there was talk of using her amongst some of the powers that be. An all-black sitcom of the story aired briefly in 1970 with Scooey Mitchell and Tracy Reed and it was remade for television in 1981 with Richard Thomas and Bess Armstrong!)

Ashley would have to wait until 1964 to make her big screen debut, which was the colorful, expensive, but trashy and tacky The Carpetbaggers, based on a novel by Harold Robbins. A roman a clef that drew inspiration from the lives of Howard Hughes, Tom Mix, Jean Harlow and others, it was considered very racy in its day, though now it is incredibly tame.

George Peppard plays a driven, troubled man who begins his career in aviation, but eventually winds up in the movie business. His wife is played by Ashley and she begins the film as a flighty flapper, but swiftly starts to crumble under the weight of Peppard’s drive to succeed and his inability to remain faithful to her. She attempts to settle him down and hang on to him, but he is maniacally attracted to success in every field other than marriage.

The presence of a sexily dressed and sultry acting Carroll Baker along with an all-star cast including Alan Ladd, Martha Hyer, Martin Balsam, Lew Ayres and Leif Erickson helped make this Paramount’s number one money earner that year and Ashley came out of it with considerable popularity. Her build-up consisted of shots of (the then very slim actress) done up in a very Audrey Hepburn-esque way, though they shared very little personality-wise.
Next up was another all-star drama, this time with some major heavyweights on board. Ship of Fools concerned a pre-WWII era passenger liner filled with disparate types who seem to be falling apart at the seams due to fear, alcohol or depression. Vivien Leigh, Lee Marvin, Jose Ferrer, Simone Signoret, Oskar Werner and George Segal (as Ashley’s husband) made up some of the names involved. Nominated for eight Oscars, she was in auspicious company this time.
She was reunited with Peppard for her next movie, The Third Day. The suspense drama had little impact at the box office despite a cast that also had Roddy McDowall, Herbert Marshall, Robert Webber, Sally Kellerman and Mona Washburne in it. She and Peppard played spouses (with him battling suspicion of murder) and the couple, who had been seeing each other for some time, married in real life as well.

Though they were clearly very drawn to one another, there were problems practically from the start. Ashley gave up her burgeoning film career to become a Hollywood wife (and eventual mother to their son Christian) and Peppard’s drinking began to become a serious issue. (Frankly, for much of the 60s and 70s, Peppard was considered, especially by a lot of his female costars, to be a first class JERK!) Elizabeth Ashley’s face would not be seen in another big screen feature film until 1971 when she took on a supporting role in The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker.
Though movie acting is highest on the pecking order to many executives (and actors) in the profession (and this was especially so then), it was almost always a secondary consideration to Ashley who really wanted to be a leading stage performer and concentrate on the craft of character research and discovery. Still, a gal’s gotta eat! So it was TV guest roles on everything from Love American Style, Medical Center, The Virginian and a little police show called Hawk, which starred Burt Reynolds. Ashley had known Burt from their days in NYC (when he, Rip Torn and Bruce Dern all shared a tiny apartment.) Her association with him, as it did for many a pal of his, would eventually lead to good things.

In 1971, she made the memorable TV movie Harpy, all about a handsome architect (Hugh O’Brian) who is terrorized by his obsessive ex-wife Ashley. His collection of birds plays into the story and the plot shares some similarities with Play Misty For Me, which came out that same year.

By now, Elizabeth had mastered a sort of cool, detached, yet driven, sort of quality, an intensity, that lent itself well to portraying neurotic or troubled characters. When she made The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker following a hiatus from films, she played the sexy, but devious, sister of Joanna Shimkus, whose marital union with Richard Benjamin is on the rocks.

Benjamin has a predilection for peeping at girls, either though windows or in other situations. Ashley condemns him while simultaneously wishing he’d take a peek at her! It’s a savvy, arresting, somewhat audacious performance. Her own henpecked husband in the film is a surprisingly attractive Adam West, himself trying desperately to break away from the Batman mold he was stuck in after that successful series was canceled.

She continued to find work in the television movie arena at a time when that format was experiencing its zenith. In The Face of Fear, she played a terminally ill woman who hires a mob hit man to do her in only to find out that she isn’t sick! In When Michael Calls, costarring Ben Gazzara and a young Michael Douglas, she’s getting phone calls from a nephew that died fifteen years prior. So it continued for several years (and it’s such a shame that most of these films are unavailable for viewing these days, though Michael has appeared on the Fox Movie Channel recently.)
She guest-starred twice on Mission: Impossible, one of the eps being particularly grueling emotionally as she played a deeply troubled alcoholic (and also portrayed another character disguised as her.) In 1973, she worked on the racy Canadian-made film Paperback Hero. Kier Dullea portrayed a hockey player who daydreams about a life in the old west and his wife in the film, Ashley, appears in the dreams as a saloon girl. She and Dullea also appear in a revealing shower love scene in which Miss Ashley left practically nothing to the imagination!

This pair would have even greater impact the following year when they costarred in a Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as Brick and Maggie. This rendition had revised dialogue that brought out the plot details that had previously been handled a little more obscurely. Williams was involved in the revisions himself and allowed Ashley to have input as well. The result was provocative and landed Ashley another Tony nomination. Ashley remained on the stage throughout the 70s, even playing Cleopatra to Rex Harrison’s Caesar in 1977.

She appeared in a martial arts action comedy called Golden Needles, all about an idol pricked with many needles that, when the arrangement is duplicated on a man, gives him incredible sexual power! This being 1974, star Joe Don Baker could still lie on top of a female costar without crushing her into dust, as shown here. Veterans Burgess Meredith and Ann Sothern also had roles in this now-obscure film.
Ashley had played a cowgirl in Needles and next took a role with that same aspect, Rancho Deluxe. She played the neglected wife of a wealthy cattle rancher who shares an encounter with rustlers Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston (who plays an Indian!) The low-key, quirky comedy also featured cult stars Harry Dean Stanton, Clifton James, Slim Pickens and Patti D’Arbanville.

Now juggling TV movies and feature films, she made One of My Wives is Missing, a twisty thriller with Jack Klugman as the sleuth when James Franciscus’ new wife goes missing and Ashley shows up claiming to be her! She also made 92 in the Shade and then the awkwardly titled The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday, which reunited her with Lee Marvin from Ship of Fools. She played a madam who got to do something I’ve longed to do for years, which is yank Kay Lenz by the hair.

In ’78, she had a small supporting role in one of my favorite films, her contribution to it accounting for no small amount of my enjoyment! Coma (see the individual posting here on the film for more info) concerned an idealistic doctor (Genevieve Bujold) who is noticing that some patients at her hospital with minor procedures being done never wake up from surgery. She digs and digs, against much opposition from the sexist male administrators, and finally finds herself at a creepy institute run by the icy, severe Elizabeth Ashley.

If Ashley blinks five times in this movie, it’s a miracle. She is so stern and dry and taciturn. (Come to think of it, Liz would have made a good Stepford Wife.) Her manner and method of speaking is so amusing to me! She isn’t in the movie very long, but once seen, she’s pretty unforgettable.

Now came one of Ashley’s most horrifying personal traumas. Having returned to the US from an extended sailing trip, she was trying to figure out a self-service pump at a nearly deserted gas station when she was taken by some thugs and brutally beaten and raped. The horrendous incident was shattering to her, but she never reported it or discussed it until many years after the fact in order to support a woman who’d undergone a similar crime. Ashley suffered a nervous breakdown in this decade as well, but survived both imposing challenges to reclaim her life and career.

It’s strange, considering what she’d just gone through, that she would make her return to films in a role like the one she took in Windows. Famed cinematographer Gordon Willis directed the moody (and, as it turned out, heavily reviled!) thriller about a reserved, demure woman (Talia Shire) who is terrorized by a demented lesbian portrayed by Ashley. Shire suffers an agonizing rape near the beginning of the film.

Notorious as an exercise in bad taste that was condemned by various groups and yanked from theaters rather swiftly, it signaled the last time Willis would direct a movie. Ashley provided an audacious and intense, knife-wielding performance that many described as over-the-top. (It's likely she was working off a lot of pent-up anxiety.) For obvious reasons, this film has rarely been shown on television and is pretty difficult to find these days. (Interestingly, Cruising was also released in 1980 to much hubbub, making it a controversial year for the gays!)

Next, on a lighter note, Ashley went to work with Burt Reynolds again in his comedy Paternity, about a single man in his 40s wishing to have a child by surrogate (at the time, a fairly outlandish idea!) She got some nice reviews for her smallish role as one of his sexy lady friends, but the bigger role went to Beverly D’Angelo as the baby maker.

She and Brian Dennehy played Michael O’Keefe’s parents in Split Image about a boy who is lured into a religious cult run by Peter Fonda and she got to work with Peter O’Toole in the TV film Svengali (which also starred Jodie Foster.) She worked in projects both beneath her (a TV remake of Stagecoach, starring several country music stars) and in ones with a degree of elegance (The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, featuring long-retired Claudette Colbert.)

In 1985, another damaging incident occurred when she was injured in a sailing accident and had to have her shattered jaw re-set. This was an excruciatingly painful experience, one that her friend Reynolds endured at a similar time when he was injured while filming City Heat. It took a long while for her to fully recover from the accident.

She played quite a glamorous police commissioner in Dan Ackroyd’s Dragnet redux. Later, she portrayed a psychiatrist in the Nicholas Cage gross-out Vampire’s Kiss. Her association with Burt Reynolds continued with a guest appearance on his private eye series B.L. Stryker.

In 1990, she made the somewhat surprising choice to work on the daytime soap opera Another World, playing matriarch Emma Frame. Shortly thereafter, she was handpicked by Burt to play in his new sitcom Evening Shade, a program that included many of his long-term pals, most of whom had extremely respected careers on stage and in films. Charles Durning, Ossie Davis and Hal Holbrook enjoyed working together and Ashley was twice nominated for an Emmy for her work on the show, staying with it until 1994.

She relocated to New York in 1999 to make herself more accessible to Broadway, but was met with disaster almost from the start when she let a partially lit cigarette fall into a trashcan. The fire that grew from this burnt her apartment and destroyed a trove of mementos and materials from her long career.

Before that and since then, Miss Ashley has continued to do small roles in feature films, such as Shoot the Moon and Happiness, and guest shots on Caroline in the City and Law & Order: SVU among others. She had a role in Labor Pains, a Kyra Sedgwick-Rob Morrow pregnancy comedy that had the unfortunate distinction of putting Liz in dark raccoon eye-makeup and featuring a bewigged Mary Tyler Moore (as Kyra's mom) reciving oral sex from her husband Robert Klein! However, she’s also done quite a bit of stage, some on Broadway, like Enchanted April and (as a replacement) August: Osage County, and some in other cities. She has become associated with Tennessee Williams’ work, having later played Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, once she was old enough (and big enough?), as well as Mrs. Venable in Suddenly, Last Summer and Alexandra in Sweet Bird of Youth.

I saw her June 18th in Mrs. Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw at Harmon Hall in Washington, DC. She took the title role when the wife of her old Evening Shade co-star Hal Holbrook (Dixie Carter) withdrew early on due to illness. Carter passed away not too long after. Now a heavier presence on and off the stage, she still dazzles with spunk and effective movement and that ever-present growl of a voice, now lower than the bottom of The Potomac River!

Her brash character had raised from afar a daughter with all the best manners and opportunities, never letting her know that the money came from her career as a brothel owner. Some theatrical sparks came to life during a couple of significant scenes between the characters along with Mrs. Warren’s dealings with other characters in the story. It was a play that had once been banned due to its subject matter, but is now, of course, acceptable for nearly everyone.

I really wanted to meet Miss A., and was dejected when they told us that she was most likely not going to exit the stage door. However, I’m going to chalk it up to the fact that she is somewhat wary of strangers (even strangers who pay to see her!) and has admitted that extraneous activities related to the business, apart from the work itself, are quite difficult for her (politics, schmoozing, etc….) But I’ll always have Coma and her series of Slim-Fast commercials (a relationship that has long since ceased) in which she would beguilingly and raspily announce, “You know what they say… a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips? Well not these hips. Not any more ‘cause I’m on the new Ultra Slim-Fast plan!”

Here’s hoping we’re in for more dynamic work from Miss Ashley. I don’t think it takes a clairvoyant to predict that we are.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rollin' on Rivero

Today’s hunk is one that not so many people know about. I usually keep him to myself, but I’m in a generous enough mood today to share! Jorge Rivero (first name pronounced “whore, hey!”) is a physically impressive Mexican actor who had a stab at Hollywood film stardom during the 1970s. At varying times in his career, he has also gone by Jorge Rivé, Jorge Pous Ribe, George Rivero and George Rivers, but by any name he smells as sweet!

Born in Mexico City in 1938, he proved a very athletic youth, excelling at both track and jai alai. This was no dumb jock, though. He also graduated from The College of Mexico with a degree in chemical engineering! Always a strikingly handsome, dark-haired, dark-eyed guy with a chiseled physique, he was eventually lured into acting, where he enjoyed considerable success.

Unbelievably, his gorgeous face was obscured at all times in his first film, 1965’s The Invisible Assassin, except for a fleeting moment at the end. A film about wrestling, he played a character called The Golden Mask. It was not the only time he would work in a film with a wrestling element (for a time, at least, a popular genre in Mexico.) This one employed the fantasy device of having a character who could turn invisible. Rivero's considerable muscles were featured in bodybuilder publications as well.


The director of Assassin, Rene Cardona, gave Jorge several opportunities for a jump-start in films. El Mexicano in 1966 was a western that hit very big in his home country and made him an almost overnight star. He worked with other directors, but made five features for Cardona along with one TV miniseries. Cardona, who also acted in films with and without Rivero, had a son and a grandson who also became Mexican film directors (with the same name only marked by Jr and III.)

Rivero began playing a character called Jorge Rubio in Operation 67. A James Bond-like character who also was a proficient wrestler, he would resurface a couple more times in other follow up films. Operation 67 is notable for the unbelievable bachelor pad Rivero resides in, which has a beach room complete with sand! Like Bond, there are plenty of girls, gadgetry and unusual sets, while on a far lower budget, naturally. Best of all, Rivero frequently shows off his terrific body, sometimes in abbreviated trunks and, as shown in a blurry underwater shot, sometimes revealing his tantalizing tan line. He also lifts weights in a skimpy pair of blue briefs. (These shots, and others from some of his early work, are blurry because they’re captured from video. He looks so much better in the actual films.)
Those chomping at the bit to see more than just a slim tan line on Rivero would have their prayers answered for all time when he filmed 1969’s The Sin of Adam and Eve. An almost surreal approach to the famous Biblical story, this film’s Eden looks more like Alice’s Wonderland sometimes, with vibrant oversized flowers and decidedly fake looking landscapes.

Who even can pay attention to the landscaping, though, when there’s manscaping to deal with?! While there is no frontal nudity on view here (and the poor guy has to contort like a circus act to avoid it!), Jorge is naked throughout the opening scenes of the film. His perfect body is shown in (almost) all its glory as he strolls around Eden, sometimes using a baby lamb as camouflage, sometimes standing behind a large plant. In a few awkward moments, he arises from either slumber or sitting to have a small leaf or two adhered to his bare, lightly furry behind. This never happened to Johnny Weismuller.

He does have several rear nude scenes, notably when he decides to dive into the impossibly blue water for a swim. Eventually, Eve shows up and things head south. The terrain turns rocky and gray. As per the story, he winds up in a covering of fig leaves, which is inexplicably high-waisted. After all, this wasn’t shot in 1952. All of Rivero’s nude scenes in this film should be shown on a continuous loop on a 24-hour high-definition cable channel. (Hey, it beats watching Melissa Gilbert hawk hair products or that squatty red-haired lady demonstrating various cooking devices!)
Rivero kept busy in the Mexican film industry and became a hot commodity for the gossip rags there. Thankfully for them, and for us, pictures of him in skimpy swimsuits were available for use on their covers and to go with their endless stories about him and his exploits. Few people in America knew who he was, but he was a big fish in a little pond in Mexico. Check the hilariously groovy hairdo in this shot at the right!
Finally, in 1970, Rivero was enlisted to take part in the violent and highly controversial western Soldier Blue. Based on a short novel called Arrow in the Sun, the revisionist project sought to draw parallels between the treatment of the Native Americans and the Vietnam War in which many innocents were killed. Starring Candice Bergen and Peter Strauss, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of screen time given to Rivero as the Indian chief Spotted Wolf, but his physical power lent some impact.

One of the most graphically bloody films of its time, the director Ralph Nelson hired orphans and others with amputated limbs, then attached prosthetic ones that could then be hacked off when the cameras were rolling, providing a level of violence scarcely seen to that date. Perhaps it explains how warped I am that I was taken to see this when I was about 5 (!) and was scarred by it for a long time. Still, if I was going to be captured by an Indian, as Candice Bergan was here, this is the one I want it to be! (And she didn't seem to mind all that much, either!)

No less than John Wayne called upon Rivero for his next Hollywood film, Rio Lobo. Playing a character called Pierre Cardona (a nod to his director mentor Rene Cardona or a fluke?) and nicknamed Frenchy, he was one of Wayne’s sidekicks in hunting down a traitor who caused a friend’s death.

Rio Lobo was not particularly well received, then or now, partly due to the female cast that included a horribly inept and misplaced Jennifer O’Neill and an unseasoned starlet named Sherry Lansing (who later became a monumentally successful film exec!) It wasn’t a flop, but wasn’t one of The Duke’s better vehicles either. Rivero’s role was sizeable, and he looked nice in his fitted buckskin shirt (not the shirt shown here), but the film would have benefited greatly from a swimming hole scene or something!

After this less than stellar experience, it was back to Mexico for many more films. He was really sporting the 70s vibe with a thick mustache and satin running jackets with nada underneath! Still a significant star there, he continued to churn out a variety of movies and didn’t do any English language projects until 1976 when the TV series Columbo decided to do an episode on location in Mexico, featuring Ricardo Montalban as an ex-bullfighter and Rivero as his employee.

Then, perhaps inspired by this to give American projects another shot, he was utilized in the Charlton Heston-James Coburn film The Last Hard Men. Yet another film that was noted for its tendency towards violence, Rivero played a convict, scarred in the face, who helps Coburn kidnap lawman Heston’s daughter Barbara Hershey in an act of revenge.

Apart from the blood, there was a rape scene in the film that caused a bit of a stir. Still just a supporting player or a sidekick in U.S. movies, Jorge was soon back in Mexico where he continued to star in many films there, often with an erotic or horror (or both) aspect. There is a nude photo of Jorge floating around out there that looks authentic, but could also be a fake. An unusual situation, it has him sitting naked on a moving boat while a boy is sitting behind him with his back to him and another man is to the left. What on Earth was going on?

In 1978, he was part of the absolutely mammoth miniseries Centennial, an epic account of the settling of Colorado. Starring Robert Conrad, Richard Chamberlain, Chad Everett, Gregory Harrison and practically anyone who was anyone on TV at that time, Rivero played another Indian Chief, this one named Broken Thumb. Again, his physical stature aided him in portraying strength and presence, but the role was tiny and he was underutilized. Jorge always performed, however, with commitment to his part.

The following year, still busily churning out Mexican flicks (he was in six films the same year as Centennial and appeared in TWELVE in 1979!), he starred in Erotica, about an escaped convict hiding out on a deserted beach with a woman. Their burgeoning relationship is affected when one of his fellow prisoners winds up joining them. At 41 years of age, he still possessed a body to make mouths fall agape. Deborah Kerr had it pretty good on the beach with Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity, but this chick could have done much worse, as well! (I had a friend once who used to say about cute guys, "
Day of the Assassin was a cheapjack production that somehow drew Chuck Conners, Richard Roundtree, Henry Silva and a faltering Glenn Ford together with Rivero. Ford really should have allowed the well-made Superman to be his cinematic swansong. Anyway, this action film was nothing but a tacky, unintentionally funny mess.

1981 brought a role in Priest of Love, a biopic of D. H. Lawrence that starred Ian McKellan as the author and Janet Suzman as his ill wife. Their stay in New Mexico with art patroness Ava Gardner is what made a role for Rivero possible.

The bulk of Rivero’s remaining work falls into the straight-to-video category. This being the 80s, trashy action flicks and cheap sci-fi provided employment opportunities for those not at the peak of their career. Relocating to Southern California made him readily available to film these projects. He played a Conan-like mentor to a young warrior in Conquest. There was also a guest shot on the then-popular TV show Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

He joined up with Andrew Stevens (who became a successful straight-to-video actor and producer/director) in the action flick Counterforce. Other “names” in the cast included Robert Forster, George Kennedy, Louis Jourdan and Isaac Hayes. Albeit, the film is cheap garbage, but he was still looking good and giving it all he could. His wife at the time, Betty Moran, played a newscaster. (His second wife, Irene, has given Rivero two children.)
He made another revenge flick called Fist Fighter, which costarred several other folks who, by 1989, were past their “best when sold by” date like Mike Conners and Edward Albert. This one spawned a sequel in ’93. Still, even now at 51, Rivero’s body was in incredible shape. He never became bulky or hulking in his bodybuilding like so many do. He remained proportionate and just really fit.

Up for almost anything, apparently, one of his latter day films called upon this most masculine of men to go undercover in drag! No this is not a still from some long lost Kaye Ballard sitcom, this is Mr. Rivero all decked out as a woman!

Considering the rate he was spinning out films in Mexico, quality was not the keyword for most of Rivero’s career. Attention mostly went to his body, which was either glorified on film or utilized as part of countless action scenes. Despite this, Rivero developed into a charismatic screen performer. It seemed in 2001 that he might be attempting a new avenue with the film The Pearl, based on a John Steinbeck novel and featuring Lukas Haas and Richard Harris, but it is his last screen credit to date. (He was only 62 then and surely could have continued working had he wanted to.)

Now 72, he remains in shape and very handsome. We hope he is happy and content in his retirement, though we wouldn’t be averse to having him pop up in another film or television project. (Oddly enough, there are now so many more opportunities for a Latin American actor who wants to play more than Indians or other types.) If you want to see Jorge in his prime, there are several youtube.com clips from his 60s films. Just search for “Jorge Rivero.”

On an unrelated note, I must alert you, my loyal readers, that I am heading out of town tonight, returning late Sunday, and so there will be another gap in my already diminishing series of posts at The Underworld. I’m going away next weekend, too, and June is insane in general, so please be patient if you don’t see any updates for a while. I still have plenty to yammer about, just not the time I would like! Thank you so much for visiting this site.