Friday, July 30, 2010

Booking 'em Again!

One of my earliest posts here had to do with books and my love of almost all showbiz related ones. (If you click on Suzanne Somers’ name in the column to the right, it will take you to that blurb.) I can’t resist picking up rare or strange hard or paperbacks that have some sort of Hollywood information or tie-in, even though I have no room for all of them! For intance, did you know that the infamous 9 1/2 Weeks was based on a 1978 novel? I thought I was bad until a friend of mine introduced me to one of his friends who has turned his entire basement into a wall-to-wall, stacked to the ceiling pop culture library with copies of practically every TV and movie related book ever published! I was strangely awed, somewhat appalled and yet jealous of this eye-popping collection. Sometimes when I’m out and see something odd, I’ll say, “I need to by this so that X can’t get it first!” LOL

I always have several books going at once. My pool book, as I mentioned a few posts back is “From Here to Eternity.” It may last until summer 2012 at the rate I’m going. Despite a whole subplot about homosexuals that was cut from the movie for obvious reasons, I just cannot seem to apply myself to reading it the way I’ve devoured other novels. Then I have a treadmill book. I try to do hardbacks for that because it’s far easier. I read a bio on James Mason, written by Robert Morley’s son and now am reading the novel version of “The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.”

In the car, I keep a book on hand to read at restaurants or in the park or what have you. For this, I always like something with short chapters that I don’t have to stay too invested in. Right now that book is “Life is a Banquet,” Rosalind Russell’s unsentimental, but amusing and affecting, auto-bio. Then I have books in the family room, usually coffee table style or other picture-filled books to read during commercials or whatever. You’d think I’d be a little bit smarter after all this, but unfortunately the subject matter isn’t really all that widening, mentally! Still, I used to amaze my Aunt Sharon during Jeopardy when I could answer obscure questions. She’d look at me as if I was a genius and I’d reply, “Oh, that was in a movie called 55 Days at Peking” or some other title!

One of my recent reads was one I was really not looking all that forward to, but I’ll usually give anything a chance. I needn’t have worried. The book was funny, informative, charming and, quite surprisingly, very touching! “Don’t Shoot, It’s Only Me” was an account by Bob Hope of all his many, many shows to entertain the troops from WWII on up to The Gulf War.

I have found some of Bob’s stuff to be amusing at times, but couldn’t really count myself as a significant fan. To me, probably because of my age, he was sort of an older, rather stiff, man who told jokes in front of a blue curtain with little animation or enthusiasm. I also had seen some of his fairly ruinous 1960s films (and, of course, there’s his appearance on The Golden Girls as the imaginery “father” of Rose Nylund!)
Hope kept a massive catalogue of all the jokes he’d ever been given (and he freely admits to having writers concoct practically all of them), recounting them here as they were delivered to each of the many different occasions, shows, makeshift camps, hospitals and every other place imaginable. But there’s more. As Hope describes the shifting tides of world peace and disharmony, the reader gets an unexpected lesson in history, with disarmingly concise appraisals of what was causing the (seemingly never-ending) conflicts that the U.S. has been involved in during his lifetime.

I’m always a sucker for self-deprecating people who display humility and, though I know Bob Hope did have confidence deep down, he isn’t afraid to poke fun at his lack of courage and his general persona. What’s really surprising is that the book contains several anecdotes and/or situations that were so touching, poignant or other wise heart tugging that I had tears welling up in my eyes at least half a dozen times! (Now, I will admit that, despite wanting to believe that I’m an acid-ridden cynic, I am really a hopeless, sentimental slob. Just the other day, I had to watch the A&E Biography of Betty White through a river of tears because I admire and adore the woman so much that I could hardly stand being confronted by all her stunning accomplishments and endless personal warmth in the show! How humiliating is that?!)
Hope worked closely with a person I really knew almost nothing about. (Less than nothing, actually!) Singer-actress Frances Langford was along for a large number of his tours and she comes across in the book as a deeply caring and seriously committed person. It was she for whom the song I’m in the Mood for Love was written in 1935 for one of her movies. As late as 2002, she (who had enjoyed a successful and well-appointed life) counted entertaining the troops as the highlight of her existence. Her life was endangered on several occasions during these tours, but she never faltered. In fact, her final public appearance in concert was in Vietnam in front of the troops she adored.

It’s just a charming, interesting book, far a field from the typical, glitzy type of auto-bio I am drawn to. I felt, all at once, educated, entertained and enriched after having read it and plan to give a copy of it to a high school friend of mine who’s son is in Afghanistan right now. One thing that cannot be deined is that, whatever he thought of the conflict at hand, Bob Hope loved his servicemen and women.

Now, to get back to the dirt! Ha! I stumbled upon a paperback at a thrift store. (I love to make a beeline to the book departments at such places because often there are items there that no one else but me could possibly care about! This is where I found an old copy of the little-known sequel “Around the World with Auntie Mame” by Patrick Dennis and the British novelization of The Thomas Crown Affair.) This tome cost me, literally, pennies, because it was 50% off books day and the book was already $0.50! "Not This Time, Cary Grant" was written by Shirley Eder, a gossip columnist I had never heard of, though she was apparently quite prominent during the late 50s and the 60s.

There was a point (primarily in the 1970s) in which leading (or once-leading) columnists would publish collections of their most memorable interviews or otherwise relate their experiences from their days amongst the stars of Tinseltown. Adela Rogers St. John, Rex Reed, Earl Wilson and Rona Barrett were among the names of folks who did this. And, thus, so did Shirley Eder. Shirley was a very close friend of Barbara Stanwyck and was also quite close to Kathryn Grayson, though she hobnobbed to some extent with practically anybody who was anybody at one time or another.

One of the more amusing stories had to do with her inviting Miss Carol Channing (along with her husband Charles) over for dinner. Beforehand, Charles called up and had an unbelievable litany of questions and qualifications. For example, he wanted to know what type of carpet she had because Carol was allergic to wool. Then he asked about her water, stating that Carol was only permitted to drink bottled water and only that sold by a company called Mountain Valley. (He added that Carol drinks two gallons of the stuff in the period between dinner and bedtime, and according to Eder, she did just that.)

He then said that Carol couldn’t eat anything cooked from a gas stove and that they would be having no cocktails, only cranberry juice! Shirley ran down the menu to him, fearful of whatever allergies Carol might have only to be told that Carol was allergic to every single item listed, but that there was no concern because she’d be bringing her own dinner anyway!! He had only asked about the stove in case something of hers needed to be reheated!

The night of the dinner, Carol brought a picnic basket and pulled out two large Mason jars. One was filled with some sort of boiled, dried meat and the other one had half a dozen specially baked, organically grown potatoes inside. Eder claims that Carol ate every single bite of all that she brought (and maintained that friendship with Miss Channing was worth any amount of inconvenience or unusualness), but when she finally could resist no more, she asked Channing what in the world that meat was that she had been scooping onto her plate. Channing reportedly replied, in a tone that seemed as if it was as natural as anything, that it was “Moose meat!”

Eder really had nothing bad to say about (almost) anyone, though most of the stories were somewhat amusing and, occasionally, reflected a little on the person’s character (such as when Lana Turner announced that she could have Eder’s husband if she wanted him!) She also recounted a situation in which Joan Crawford ordered calves liver for her and Stanwyck’s lunch one time without asking if they’d even like it and Stanwyck eating it anyway despite loathing the stuff. Later, however, the stars’ friendship was tested when Joan wanted Barbara to meet her for dinner in L.A. at 5:00 because her stomach was on “New York City time!” Stanwyck refused to go at that hour and that was that.

But the one person Eder profoundly disliked, and spelled out that fact very clearly in her book, was Raquel Welch. In 1968, Eder met Welch for the first time and they got off on the wrong foot. At a press junket for The Biggest Bundle of Them All, Eder remarked, “How does it feel to be appearing in a movie with two great actors, Edward G. Robinson and Vittorio De Sica?” to which Welch allegedly replied, “You mean, how does it feel to have them appearing in my picture? I am the star.” Eder, after having Welch walk away right then, later discovered that Welch was indeed billed above the title (and her astounding body was the key component to the advertising.)

Had she read her press kit beforehand as any seasoned reporter should have and worded her question differently, she might have gotten a different response. (And in her book, she states that De Sica got top billing over Welch, but that is not the case.) Still, Welch obviously was not the world’s most humble person! Eder snarkily wrote about Bundle that it, “seemed forever waiting to be released. And when, at last, it played some theatres (not too many), it bombed!” She added, “Every once in a while, if you have insomnia and are willing to stay up to watch just about anything on TV including test patterns, you might see (it) on the ‘late-late-late show.’” God, I love catty remarks like that!

About a year later, after an Academy Awards ceremony at which Welch was a presenter (prompting Eder to remark in her book, “God, you and I know she was not a nominee!’), Eder made another faux pas. She somehow talked herself in to believing that Welch had won the much-ballyhooed role of Jennifer in the upcoming Valley of the Dolls and congratulated her on it! Welch allegedly responded, “Obviously, you don’t know your business. I was offered over two hundred thousand dollars to do the role, but I turned it down.”

The two just weren’t meant to hit it off. There was another incident in which a mutual friend tried to heal the damage, but it didn’t work out. Finally, Eder recounted a story in which Welch reportedly showed up an hour and a half late to a manicurist’s appointment at The Beverly Hills Hotel, expecting to be taken in within moments. The manicurist asked her to wait fifteen minutes, but after five she pressed the woman to take her immediately. When she was informed that it would be at least ten minutes further, she allegedly stormed out, but not before flinging a magazine back into the salon, hitting the receptionist in the face with it!

Is Welch this haughty and impossible? Her reputation is not the hottest. I want to like her (and find her 1960s looks to be absolutely unbelievable!), but there have been many folks who have tangled with her over the years.

Earl Wilson’s book “Hollywood Laid Bare” had a story in it about Carol Lynley and her loathing of her The Poseidon Adventure costar Red Buttons. For whatever reason, in 1972, Lynley was not endeavoring to endear herself to much of anyone, really! She had remarked to Roger Ebert that two-time Oscar-winning actress Shelley Winters had “always been that fat” in response to Winters’ talk-show assertion that she had deliberately gained thirty pounds in order to play Belle Rosen.

Then she started in on Oscar-winning actor Buttons, claiming he had been unprofessional, a scene-stealer, a person who hogs the camera and, best of all, called him “a cunt!” She referred to him this way time and again during their chat. Wilson, unaccustomed to this sort of thing, asked her to repeat herself  because he was so taken aback. He asked if he could quote her on it and she took no issue. He didn’t quote her in the story, but only in the book, which came out later.

Afterwards, at the premiere of the movie, he questioned how two people who despised each other so much could enact scenes with so much convincing tenderness and intimacy (they were paired up very closely throughout the film.) He was befuddled by the dichotomy of this gentle, affectionate work on screen in relation to the violent reaction of Lynley towards Buttons in the interview. Finally, he asked Buttons up front about it and felt he had to use the same word that Lynley had given him when describing her attitude. Buttons offered no comment, but according to other reports, Lynley had developed something of a crush on him during the arduous filming, in which his character protected and coddled her character always, but that he (a married father of two) had spurned her affection, thus leading to a feeling of rejection and anger in her.
In any case, this seems like only a blip on the radar screen now. The costars have since buried the hatchet and have appeared at functions over the years (including the premiere of that dire remake, Poseidon) looking happy and chummy. Membership within the cast of Adventure is like a fraternity. The rabid fans of the film hold annual screenings of it aboard The Queen Mary and it just doesn’t do for people associated with it not to just embrace it and get along, though Gene Hackman won’t even so much as discuss or mention the picture.

I mentioned Kathryn Grayson above. She figures into one of my favorite tales contained in the book “Hollywood Talks Turkey” by Douglas McClelland. This gem of a book contains lengthy quotes of stars dissecting those motion pictures that went terribly wrong.

The mid-50s were a tough time in the movie business and Grayson, who’d headlined many colorful musicals in her day, was let go from MGM. Paramount believed there was still some life left in her, so they hired her to play in the classic operetta The Vagabond King. Featuring Rudolf Friml music, it would seem right up the soprano’s alley. However, they costarred her with a Maltese tenor named Oreste Kirkop (who, for the film went simply by Oreste.)

Grayson, who’d had no tremendous love for her prior operatic costar Mario Lanza, nonetheless would surely have had him back rather than contend with Oreste, who spoke no English and had to have his lines dubbed. He was also rumored to have urinated whenever and wherever he felt like it! (It must be said that Miss G. didn't perptuate that part of the story, anyway.) Already, experiencing the major difference between filming a musical at MGM and now filming a musical at Paramount, the star was really regretting having taken the project on. Used to working alongside the stellar MGM orchestra, at Paramount she had to sing along with prerecorded music, the way Bing Crosby (one of their top stars) preferred to do it.

This is the hilarious part to me. Having decided that it was going to be a turkey, the top-billed songstress claims that she decided to turn her face away from the camera as much as possible during filming and to show her back as much as she could in makeshift effort to disguise the fact that she was even IN IT! I find that riotously funny. Fortunately, I had read this book long ago and so, when I found myself in a really shitty play once, I opted to utilize this technique, though I don’t think I was any more successful at obscuring my participation in it than she was in this film! She later got to know Oreste through mutual friends and grew to like him much more. It was to be, however, her final feature film.

I just love to read biographies and autobiographies of famous Hollywood actors and actresses. Sometimes I’ll even read one on a performer I have no particular affinity for maybe because they worked with so many people I like and I can find out more about them from it! You can never know what you’ll find in an account of one’s life. Gloria Swanson’s 1980 auto-bio “Swanson on Swanson” was positively gargantuan and somewhere, nestled deep in the pages and not easy to find if you didn’t mark it, is her story of suffering from all sorts of serious and painful female problems following the birth of her daughter. Nothing was working until she asked one of her doctors about “the healing power of the sun.” Thereafter, she took off to a secluded country estate with one of her female staff in tow and proceeded to sit in the lawn with her naked legs spread to the skies, dribbling sterile saline into her private parts in order to mend herself!!!!!!! (I am not making this up.) She did this for a considerable amount of time until she was back to (almost) new. (Incidentally, this is the book she was writing when she appeared as herself in Airport 1975 - in 1974! It took her that long to get the lengthy thing finished.)




Then there’s “Gary Cooper, An Intimate Biography” by Hector Arce. Not only does the book reveal that one of Gary’s earliest movies, 1929's Wolf Song, originally contained a nude bathing scene with him showing some amount of his body (the scene was removed when censorship cracked down soon after and is now not shown in all of the remaining prints of the film), but there are still photos around that shows a fragment of it, one of which is in the book. 


The photos here are the one from the book and another one taken on set during the filming. (Still another shot, not represented here, depicts him covering himself with an Indian blanket between takes.) They prove that the scene existed, but wouldn't it have been great to see a star such as Gary Cooper frolicking nude in a lake?!

Better yet, the same book casually drops the bomb that Gary Cooper, at least prior to daughter Maria being born (and I know nothing about any changes that were or were not made from then on!) was a practicing nudist at home. The minute he hit the door, he was fond of taking it all off until time to go back out the next morning!

If you are very familiar with Cooper, you know that he was known for being rather significantly endowed. His one-time live-in lover, Mexican spitfire Lupe Velez was famously (and hilariously) quoted as saying: “Gary Cooper has the biggest dick in Hollywood, but no ass to push it with!” The mere idea of Coop wandering around au naturel when in his prime is scintillating. In his early years, he was one VERY handsome man.

I’m sure I’ll be unearthing more thoughts on books I’ve enjoyed as time goes by. Lord knows I have heaps of them. Somehow, knowing that most out of print books are unlikely to be replaced, I feel an odd sense of obligation to rescue them before they are lost, burnt, tossed away or otherwise destroyed. I’m an avowed declutterer, so I often worry that I’m gathering up too many and will become a hoarder, so it’s a constant struggle to know when and when not to bring one home!


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For those interested, I present part of the chapter on Carol Lynley from Earl Wilson's Show Business Laid Bare, Signet Books 1974:


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Give You Gavin

You can come out from under your chair now. Not Gavin McLeod… John Gavin, that most handsome and gentlemanly of 1950s leading men! Born John Anthony Golenor in Los Angeles in 1931, it is a lesser-known fact among many of his fans that he was half-Mexican. His father was an Irishman whose ancestors had been landowners in California and his mother was a member of the prominent Pablos family who had lived in Sonora, Mexico. Later, his mother would remarry a Ray Gavin and John eventually took the name as well.

Gavin was schooled in a military academy, followed by enrollment at Stanford University where he studied Latin American economics and received a B.A. degree. Having participated in naval ROTC at Stanford, he was commissioned in the U.S. Navy during The Korean War where his language skills (both Spanish and Portuguese) allowed him to serve our country most ably. Following the war, he offered himself as a technical advisor to a film about the U.S. Navy, but after one look at the dashing, 6’4” hunk in his uniform, he was offered a screen test instead by Universal-International execs. Looking at the early publicity photo above, I do believe he was eventually given a leaner nose (and perhaps even had his ears worked on!)

Immediately offered a contract (and whether he knew it or not, was retained as a threat to U-I’s rising star Rock Hudson), he was put to work in a small role in the western Raw Edge (under the temporary screen name of John Gilmore.) Next, he played a prison escapee in Behind the High Wall, which starred Tom Tully and Sylvia Sidney. Gavin’s love interest was portrayed by Betty Lynn, who would later be known best for playing Don Knotts’ gal Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show. Gavin showed much promise in this early role as a small time crook who wants to go straight.
After appearing in the Hollywood filmmaking drama Four Girls in Town with many of his fellow contract players (and Gia Scala, with whom he shared most of his scenes), he was cast in the western Quantez. Here, in support of Fred MacMurray and Dorothy Malone, he is acting in the type of role that would very soon seem completely out of character for him. He played an unshaven(!), tough, bad guy. One of his scenes involved a down and dirty fight sequence that ended up in a mud bath. That he would practically never do anything like this again is demonstrative of the kind of smothering, cookie-cutter typecasting that was standard for the time and would very soon envelope him.
By now having shown that he was not only impossibly handsome on screen, but also adept at delivering lines, he was granted a huge buildup in a film all his own. A Time to Love and a Time to Die was a Douglas Sirk-directed romance/war drama based on a novel by Erich Maria Remarque (who wrote the classic All Quiet on the Western Front.) Gavin played a German Soldier returning from the punishing Russian front to find his home destroyed and his parents missing. He meets a young lady (Lisolette Pulver) who offers him comfort during his struggle. The grim story could not have been any more out of step with the fun, free and frothy year of 1958, but under Sirk’s direction, it is beautiful and Gavin, with his hair trimmed short in the back, is divinely easy on the eyes. He even has a very brief shirtless scene, but the demure John was never, ever one to capitalize on his exquisite body, certainly not at this stage of his career especially.
Among the supporting cast were Jock Mahoney, Don DeFore, Keenan Wynn and even the author himself, Remarque, as Pulver’s professor father, who is shuttled off to a concentration camp for political reasons. Though it remains only a middlingly familiar title among Sirk’s catalogue, Jean-Luc Godard considered it his favorite of the director’s films. Though Gavin would go on to many other successes, this was one of the few times he would be the primary focus of a film. He’d most often play leading man to a series of very famous and, often, very beautiful actresses.

In 1959, he was a key part of one of the most supreme cinematic soap operas ever, the richly appointed, high strung Imitation of Life, also directed by Douglas Sirk (his last American film, in fact.) A remake of a 1934 Claudette Colbert film, this plush, eye-popping movie concerned a burgeoning actress (Lana Turner) and mother of a young girl who takes in a black mother and daughter creating a foursome with all energies aimed at making the actress a success. Then with success comes much unhappiness as the black daughter wishes to pass as white and the actress’s daughter is emotionally disconnected from her mother. Gavin played the earnest and suave boyfriend of Turner who can’t compete with her drive to succeed and who eventually becomes the object of affection of the daughter, played by Sandra Dee. The tear-jerking sudser became Universal’s top moneymaker of that year (and for a while, of all time!), though there was the fact that Gavin’s own participation in it was not among the more standout features remembered by most audiences.

1960 proved to be quite a year for Gavin. First up was the film A Breath of Scandal, starring Sophia Loren. Gavin played a good-looking American gentleman who runs into Loren and winds up falling for her, not knowing at first that she’s a princess! Also on board were Maurice Chevalier as Loren’s father and Angela Lansbury as a gossipy troublemaker. Gavin enjoyed canoodling with Sophia during the shoot, but later joked about having to pick her and her attributes up! You can see him admiring her best features in the shot attached here. Sadly, for him, he was beginning to demonstrate a level of understatedness in his performing (and speaking) that many described as wooden.

That same year, he was cast in Psycho as Janet Leigh’s lover, a man who later must trail after her when she makes off with a large sum of money. Publicity photos for the now-legendary film featured Gavin, Leigh and Vera Miles (as Leigh’s sister) in a variety of mysterious and spooky poses, though they are never actually all three together at any point in the film! Hitchcock wanted there to be mystery as to who the psycho of the title even was. (By the way, Miles was forced to wear a wig for the film because she had completely clipped all the hair off her head for her previous movie, 5 Branded Women, about five ladies who are tormented and shunned for having consorted with the enemy during the war.)

The film opened with Leigh and Gavin in a scantily clad (for that time) bedroom scene with him shirtless and her in a bra and slip. Gavin had always adamantly avoided beefcake shots or exploitive sequences, though his body was in stunning shape. For Hitchcock, he did what he was instructed to do (though Hitch also found him to be less than animated, referring to him later as “The Stiff!”) In the abysmal remake by Gus Van Sant in 1998, Viggo Mortensen went one step further than Gavin and showed rear nudity.
The casting of Gavin, though surely mandated by the studio, made for an interesting contrast in the film, for he was a confident, strong, sexually assured male in deep contrast to Anthony Perkins who played a meek, insecure, jittery, inhibited person with exceedingly similar coloring and hairstyle. They are frequently shown facing each other, like some sort of opposite sides of a coin. Once again, Gavin was part of an immensely successful film, but one in which his contributions to it are not among the most remembered aspects.

That trend continued when he played (the unlikely role of) Julius Caesar in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. Kirk Douglas had the title role with Tony Curtis as his right hand man. It’s hard to imagine how in the world the debonair and contemporary looking Gavin wound up in such a part, but there he is. His ordinarily razor-sharp side part was done away with as he wore his hair cropped forward. Certainly, it was no surprise that he looked chiseled and handsome in his toga finery and gladiatoresque garb. He was also hobnobbing with some major league actors including Peter Ustinov, Laurence Olivier and Charles Laughton.
If he looked great in his cloaks and breastplates, he looked even better in the Roman bathhouse scenes in which his dead-sexy physique was covered up only by a white towel. Laughton was an amazing actor, but anyone could look great next to him in these scenes, however! The film was yet another rousing success, one that is still well thought of today, but he is not the first person in it that people recalling the cast would name. It was a trifecta of smash hits and a trifecta of only moderate artistic and/or critical personal success.
Amazingly, he still had one more film come out in 1960 and that was the ultra-glossy suspense flick Midnight Lace. Doris Day played the pretty wife of a British Diplomat (Rex Harrison) in London who is tormented repeatedly by harassing and disturbing phone calls. The name brand cast also included Roddy MacDowall, Herbert Marshall and Myrna Loy.

Gavin, like most of the rest of the performers played someone who may or may not be behind the phone calls. Just as it was in so many other films, his dark good looks contrasted beautifully with his light blonde leading lady. Publicity stills from Gavin’s career seem to disproportionately feature him in profile, often snuggling against or looking down upon an attractive, usually blonde, leading lady. The result is that it is surprisingly hard to find photos of him that feature his eyes or his whole face! His strong profile tended to be favored in the bulk of the photos.
In 1961, he was costarred with Sandra Dee twice in a row. First up was Romanoff and Juliet. Based on a successful Broadway play, it was a sort of updating of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the Cold War era. Peter Ustinov adapted the play, directed it and starred in it, ensuring that he would be given ample spotlight and enjoyable dialogue, thus Gavin and Dee leaned more toward the area of window dressing, despite the title.

Things went even further south (at least where he and his career were concerned) when he and Dee did the comedy Tammy Tell Me True, a sequel to Debbie Reynolds’ Tammy, with Dee taking over the title role of a country bumpkin. He played a college speech professor who wins Dee’s heart. Frankly, if any of my professors had looked like John Gavin, I might still be in school myself!

1961 also brought one of his more enduringly popular films, at least amongst aficionados of the women’s picture set. Back Street was a luxurious soap opera (based on an old Fannie Hearst novel, which had already been filmed twice before.) This version bore precious little resemblance to the source novel, but offered up many treats of its own, especially to fans of those glossy tearjerkers that could only come from the 50s and 60s.

He played a wealthy department store chain owner who falls in love with a young lady (Susan Hayward) who dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Circumstances prevent them from staying together upon first meeting, but later they run into each other again once she is successful. They meet over the fallen down body of his drunken wife (and recent Psycho costar) Vera Miles! He has been married to Miles and has two children by her, thus complicating the resultant reunion between him and Hayward.

Miles couldn’t possibly be more deliciously nasty as his hateful, vindictive shrew of a wife. Hayward does a lot of suffering. Gavin tries to maintain some semblance of nobility despite knowing that his choices are painting him as an unfit father to his snot-nosed, amazingly unappealing son. It was not an important film, but it pleased many a fan. (Even now, VHS copies of the out-of-print movie sell for $42 to $69 new at Amazon.com! Mine is in a fur-lined, diamond encrusted lock box with a Rotweiller guarding it.)

Following Back Street, Gavin entered a whole new realm. He broke into the world of public service as a special advisor to the secretary general of The Organization of American States. He held the position until 1973. It was only the first of many civic and governmental positions he would assume over the rest of the course of his life. In 1965, he joined the board of the Screen Actors Guild, a very important show business union of which he would eventually be president for several years.

His acting career continued. He was in two short-lived television series, Destry and Convoy, both produced by Universal (by then Universal/MCA.) He also worked in episodic TV (including an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.) He divorced his wife (and the mother of his two children) in 1965 with whom he’d been married since 1957. (Incidentally, this wife – Cicely Evans – had been cast in Imitation of Life as one of his lady friends.) In 1967, he returned to the big screen after a six-year absence in a surprising film. He played the love struck suitor of Mary Tyler Moore in Julie Andrews’ musical Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Next, he starred in the French-Italian made James Bond rip-off OSS 117 – Double Agent. Duded out in a tuxedo for part of the time, he made the most of this one of many take-offs on the other successful franchise starring Sean Connery. Rarely seen now, what really takes the cake for Gavin fans is a scene in which he is awoken from slumber and has to fight for his life while wearing nothing but a bed sheet! Eventually, even that is disposed of and he is left with only a newspaper to cover himself up. At age 40, he was still showing off a jaw-dropping body at a time when exercise was not at the top of everyone’s list of favorite (or necessary) things to do.

By now determined to stretch himself and not fall back into the generic romantic leading roles he had previously been pigeonholed into, he found himself among the varied supporting cast members of Katharine Hepburn’s The Madwoman of Chaillot. His work in this project placed him alongside Yul Brynner, Oskar Homolka, Paul Henreid and Donald Pleasance. Playing a reverend, he might have been able to get even me into a pew.

In 1970, Gavin was cast in a sequel to What’s New Pussycat? that was disowned by everyone associated with the original. Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You had Ian McShane recounting his sexual exploits to a psychiatrist. Gavin played a Hollywood star named Grant Granite, which was a nod to his infamously rigid style (even his own sister reportedly once referred to him as “Mr. Park Bench!”)

By now, Gavin was not only losing his footing amidst the sweeping (and permissive) changes in the cinema, but he was becoming more and more interested in pursuing business interests as well as positions within organizations he admired. He still appeared in the odd movie and increasingly turned to guest spots on TV (in series like The Doris Day Show, Mannix, Medical Center and even The Love Boat.)

In 1974, he married the statuesque Constance Towers, an actress and singer he had first met back in the 50s when they were married to other people. Rekindling their interest in each other, they formed a family with their two kids apiece and started over together. Gavin also appeared on stage in The Fantastiks and worked on Broadway in Seesaw opposite Michele Lee, showing off a previously unheard baritone voice. He toured with that show as well with Lucie Arnaz. When Dennis Weaver won the presidency of SAG over him in 1973, he flew from New York City where he was in Seesaw to shake Weaver’s hand. It was an act that endeared him to his former rival.

As the 70s drew to a close, Gavin had appeared in the TV miniseries Doctor’s Private Lives and in the Carrie knock-off Jennifer, in which he played a senator whose troubled daughter has the power to summon snakes to carry out revenge on her tormentors! This gem (unseen by me as of yet!) has Nina Foch, Jeff Corey, Wesley Eure and Bert Convy among its cast!) In 1980, Sophia Loren starred as her mother and as herself in Sophia Loren: Her Own Story and cast Gavin as her old costar and defeated suitor Cary Grant!

Within a year, Gavin would exit show business completely and become fully ensconced in the world of diplomacy. President Reagan appointed him Ambassador to Mexico and he and Constance lived there for five years as he negotiated various deals and policies on behalf of the Mexican people. (She, starring on the daytime soap Capitol, made 3000-mile commutes to L.A. during this time!) Rankled at first by the idea of an ex-actor as their representative for the U.S., his deep commitment to his post (and his long held ability to speak Spanish fluently) eventually won over most of his critics. His ebullient Mexican mother also filled in occasionally for Towers, further hushing his detractors. He’s shown here surveying the damage from the 1985 Mexico City earthquake with Miss Nancy Reagan. He continues to participate in many charitable causes, companies and events.

It’s hard to believe that someone with hair as thick and dark as Gavin’s was would face losing it, but that’s exactly what happened as he entered his 50s. Having given up his acting career forever after 1981, he no longer needed to be concerned with so shallow a concern, though he still, at almost 80 (!), cuts a dashing figure with his stylish wife when they attend various public events. (She has been playing Helena Cassadine on General Hospital for about a decade now.)

Gavin had a film career that included some bona fide classics, but he never won tremendous praise for his acting. Perhaps it is because, from the very start, acting was a detour from the type of work he really longed to do. He was too smart and too dignified to really dive off the cliff into the sort of roles that get attention. And with his looks and in the time he was carving out a career, he was hamstrung from being much of anything beyond a supportive dreamboat. A meticulous and detailed man (he has been known to straighten skewed silverware at place settings), he maintained his dignity and his health over the long haul while allowing us to revel in his carved beauty for a period of time.