Friday, February 4, 2011

The Adams Family

Today is a two-fer. Together the subjects fulfill some of my favorite attributes in a performer. On the female side: elegance, glamour and the potential for bitchery. On the male side: cool, manly looks and hunkitude. They were once married and the parents of two sons, though it didn’t wind up lasting in the end (not many marriages do in Hollywood!)

Let’s begin with the lady, Miss Julie Adams. She was born Betty May Adams in Waterloo, Iowa on October 17th, 1926. Soon after, the family moved to Arkansas where she was raised. Even as a tyke in the third grade, the acting bug had bitten and she worked in the school production of Hansel and Gretel. Upon graduation, close to the age of nineteen, she made a movie to Los Angeles where she could live and work as a secretary to an aunt while pursuing a career in the movie business.

It took a couple of years, but finally Betty Adams broke into the movies, first as an uncredited beauty in Red, Hot and Blue and then as feminine decoration in low-budget westerns with titles like The Dalton Gang, Hostile Country, Crooked River, Colorado Ranger and West of the Brazos. Nearly all of these (and more) starred a western dude named Jimmy “Shamrock” Ellison, a cowboy whose legacy is now forgotten except by diehard western buffs.

Somehow, in 1950, she wound up appearing in a screen test opposite Notre Dame football player (and Heisman Trophy winner) Leon Hart, who was under consideration for a movie contract at Universal-International. That's him on the left. He ended up not landing a contract (and wound up playing eight seasons of pro football with the Detroit Lions), but the execs watching the test decided they really liked HER! She was given a contract and her name was changed to Julia Adams.

She began appearing as second leads or (more often) leading ladies in many of the studio’s raft of films. In a lot of cases, she was still making westerns, but these were in color, with larger budgets, and opposite far more important costars. One of the more enduring ones was 1952’s Bend of the River with James Stewart (as well as Arthur Kennedy and Rock Hudson.) She would play a further part in Stewart’s career later on, if a minor one.

In 1951, she had married comedy writer Leonard Stern, who worked on some Abbott and Costello and Ma and Pa Kettle movies and would later work on Get Smart as well as many other TV shows. Unfortunately, their marriage didn’t contain the same degree of laughs as his writing projects did and they were divorced by 1953.
Adams was kept very busy, appearing in movie after movie during the early ‘50s opposite Williams Powell (The Treasure of Lost Canyon), Robert Ryan (that's him above. You know I try never to miss a chance to include shirtless men. Ha!) and Rock Hudson (Horizons West - love Rock's touseled hair in this shot to the right, a break from the usual cremed and combed look.), Tyrone Power (The Mississippi Gambler), Glenn Ford (The Man from the Alamo) and Van Heflin (Wings of the Hawk.)
In Wings of the Hawk, she had a highly unusual role, playing a Mexican lady named Racquel Noriega. Dressed in trousers and with straps of bullets criss-crossing her chest, she was allowed to portray a tough cookie, a departure from her bonnets, corsets and frills, the hallmarks of her parts in most of the western films. The Technicolor film played up her lovely blue eyes.
In 1954, she was assigned to what probably felt like a comedown or a punishment of sorts, though it would wind up, far and away, as her best-known film. A black and white, 3-D monster movie was being planned called Creature from the Black Lagoon. In it, she played a pretty member of a scientific team cruising the Amazon River. Wearing a white swimsuit, she takes a memorable underwater swim (in the Amazon? Really??) where she is accosted by the horrifying gill man. Viewers watching this film with their 3-D glasses would never forget seeing her floating in their midst while the creature lurked behind underwater terrain, waiting to leap out.
Adams had some of Hollywood’s most enviable legs, considered among the most symmetrical and lovely around. The studio had them insured with Lloyd’s of London for $125,000 (one assumes for both, not each!) Her pinup and publicity photos of the time either played up her legs, often depicting her in stylish swimsuits, or accented her glamorous persona with lots of luxurious clothing and plenty of flashy jewelry.

The movie would spawn two sequels, though she was not part of either one.

In 1955, yearning for a new direction in her career and feeling that the name Julia too heavily suggested gentility and other demure qualities, she changed her name to Julie Adams and stuck with that for the rest of her career. Her first film with this moniker was Six Bridges to Cross with Tony Curtis and George Nader. She played the wife of a cop (Nader) who shoots and accidentally sterilizes a young gang member (Curtis) and their lives are intertwined for years after. (What? He shot him in the balls? In 1955??)

Also in 1955, she made a film called The Looters, about a plane crash in which the rescue team not only finds the survivors, but also $250,000 in cash! Costarring were Rory Calhoun and a handsome actor named Ray Danton. Though she had met Danton briefly back in 1953, this time they hit it off and were swiftly married.
In one more of the four films she made in 1955, she was a viciously conniving bitch-goddess in One Desire. Playing a banker’s daughter, she decides that she wants Anne Baxter’s man Rock Hudson and will do just about anything to get him. This deliciously devious sort of part suited her well and was a welcome break from all the good girl roles she’d been playing most often. (One contemporary reviewer at imdb.com refers to her as "Darth Vader" in this role!) This film also featured a teenaged Natalie Wood as a young girl raised by Baxter.

Her final film of that year was the comedy The Private War of Major Benson, which saw her playing second fiddle to boys school taskmaster Charlton Heston and a passel of students. In 1956, she filmed Away All Boats. When I look at the cast, I have to scratch my head as to why I’ve never seen it. Jeff Chandler, George Nader, Lex Barker, Keith Andes and William Reynolds?? What in the hell am I waiting for? She played George’s wife in scenes away from the action.

She also began to appear in television anthology productions for the first time (in shows such as The Colgate Comedy Hour, Lux Video Theatre and Studio One in Hollywood), while maintaining a film career as well. She developed a sophisticated and distinctive voice, one that would serve her well for the rest of her career.

1957 brought Four Girls in Town, the story of four actresses from different countries vying for a role in a big, Biblical epic. Their romantic entanglements took center stage along with the showcasing of the ladies’ lovely looks in gowns and swimsuits (and her costar George Nader showed off his body in a pair of trunks as well. Were his legs insured for anything?!)

Adams continued to balance TV (as in Climax! and Playhouse 90) and movies (including Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Slim Carter and Tarawa Beachhead, which also starred her real life husband Danton, as her onscreen husband's killer.) As the end of the ‘50s neared, Adams, like many other ladies, found herself appearing in more and more television and in fewer movies.

There was still an occasional feature (like 1959’s The Gunfight at Dodge City opposite Joel McCrea), but she was becoming a very familiar presence on the tube, guest starring on The Loretta Young Show, Cheyenne, Maverick, The Rifleman and other programs. As the early ‘60s dawned, she worked three times on Alfred Hitchcock presents and did several episodes of the cookie-cutter detective series Hawaiian Eye, 77 Sunset Strip and Surfside 6. In 1965, by now almost forty, she played opposite Elvis Presley in Tickle Me as the trim owner of a western spa retreat.

My first real exposure to Julie Adams was unforgettable. The Big Valley was rerun on a local channel at 4:00pm when I was a preteen and I got into the habit of watching it every day. In one of two episodes of the series that she appeared in, she played Janet Masters, the wealthy, attractive wife of a rice distributor and a friend of Barbara “Victoria Barkley” Stanwyck’s. When Stanwyck makes a decision that will benefit most everyone else, but which threatens the financial security of Adams, Adams has her kidnapped and placed in a cellar where she is tormented and tortured into signing a certain document.

She tied Stanwyck up and forced her to look into a rotating colored light, devised to drive a person crazy. She also slashed at her repeatedly with a whip. My innocent little eyes and ears had hardly ever witnessed anyone (especially a beautiful female) being as callous, vicious and determined as Adams was in this episode. She turned out to be just plain evil and after seeing the rerun several times I loved her!
Adams started to become a familiar guest star on practically every popular television show from Ironside to Mannix to The Mod Squad. The late '60s style of false eyelashes, vivid lipstick and creatively swooped hair suited her beautifully and gave her many neat looks while appearing on these programs. Then, in 1971, James Stewart decided to give series television a shot and did The Jimmy Stewart Show, a folksy comedy-drama about the life of a small town professor with a ten year-old son who is younger than his own grandson by first his son. (Confused yet? Ha!) Though Stewart was almost two decades older than her (this is la-La Land, after all), he selected Julie Adams to play his wife. She had enjoyed working with him years before in Bend of the River and was delighted to be cast in the show.

It was not a successful program and only lasted a season, but Adams still considered him her favorite costar and always recalled working on the show with him as complete joy. This series, by the way, marked the only time in his career that James Stewart was billed as “Jimmy.”
In 1974, Adams appeared with John Wayne in McQ and then the following year played Forrest Tucker’s wife in The Wild McCullochs. Her husband Danton had begun directing by then and cast her as a doctor in his horror thriller Psychic Killer. Danton peppered the cast with veteran actors and friends such as Jim Hutton, Aldo Ray, Della Reese and others.

In 1981, Adams played a wife and mother in another series, this time Code Red, about a family of firemen. Her husband was Lorne Greene in this one and somehow they had procreated two very different, but equally adorable sons, Andrew Stevens and Sam J. Jones (both of whom have been profiled here!) That series proved to be short-lived as well, though I would like to know how any show with Jones' beautiful mug in it could not be a ripsnorting success.
It’s not at all clear when the Adams-Danton marriage ended. Different sources list 1967 (which I doubt), 1978 and 1981. I think it’s safe to assume that the marriage was indeed over by 1981. In 1983, she joined the cast of the daytime soap opera Capitol for several years, copping a Soap Opera Digest nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Supporting Role in 1986. (She's third from the left in the front row of this celebratory cast shot.)

In 1987, Adams began making sporadic appearances (ten in all) on Murder, She Wrote as Eve Simpson, an amusingly aggravating resident of Cabot Cove (a place with more than its fair share of homicides over the years!) She was teamed, on a couple of occasions during her time on the show, with other studio-era actresses Ruth Roman, Gloria DeHaven and Kathryn Grayson.

Adams had long been embraced by fans of Creature from the Black Lagoon and eventually began taking part in various screenings, fan events and so forth. Film buffs love it when their leading men and leading ladies last! She was a celebrated guest at many events concerning the film and garners new fans every day. She remains a sharp and captivating interview subject.
And she has indeed lasted. As of this writing she is eighty-four and yet she still appears on episodic television in shows no less popular than Lost, Cold Case and CSI: NY. She even had a small role in the Oliver Stone film World Trade Center. A veteran of close to fifty films and nearly a hundred TV shows, Adams has seemingly played it all.

And now to turn our attention to part two of this post, we will examine the body… er, I mean, the body of work of Adam’s husband, Mr. Ray Danton. I have never been tremendously familiar with Danton, though I have seen him in a few things, but let me tell you, if you don’t know who he was, you will probably want to know after getting a good look at him. One of my devoted divers here in The Underworld, Ima June Pullet, expressed her affection for Danton a while back, so Ima June, this one’s for you!
Danton was born Raymond Kaplan in The Big Apple, September 19th, 1931. While still a preteen, he began acting on radio in a show called Let’s Pretend. Continuing to pursue his love of acting and the theatre, he did many stage roles in school and in college (as a student of University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Technical School.) In 1950, he had the rare opportunity to perform in London with Tyrone Power in the popular play Mister Roberts.
All dreams of a career on the stage or in the movies were shunted aside when Danton served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He was in the service as an infantryman from 1951 to 1954. Upon his discharge, he appeared in a couple of New York based television productions, quickly being snatched up for his tall, dark, chiseled looks by Universal-International Studios in order to portray Little Big Man opposite Victor Mature as Chief Crazy Horse.

His next film, The Looters, is the one during which he fell for Julie Adams and soon married her. His next film was a remake (the fourth remake, actually!) of The Spoilers. He had a supporting role against stars Jeff Chandler and Anne Baxter in the famous western tale involving mining. He then played Susan Hayward’s true, but ill fated, love in I’ll Cry Tomorrow.

He was given the lead in The Night Runner, all about a recently released mental patient with a violent past who tries to start life anew, but has significant trouble in store. Danton’s severe good looks, complete with hooded, dangerously sexy bedroom eyes, made him perfect to play either slick, slimy bad guys or men who look as if they may not be trusted.

In that vein, he played one of Dorothy Malone’s husbands in Too Much, Too Soon, a film (loosely!) based on the life of actress Diana Barrymore, the daughter of the legendary John Barrymore. Here, Danton was basically a nasty tennis bum-cum-gigolo who immediately seduces Malone and convinces her to leave her husband for him.

All along, just like his wife Adams, Danton was being put to work in many TV shows in between movie roles. He appeared in Matinee Theatre, Schlitz Playhouse, Playhouse 90, Studio One in Hollywood and Climax! He and Adams, as stated above, appeared in the film Tarawa Beachhead. In it, he played a marine who kills one of his own men to cover up his own incompetence and then has the audacity to insinuate himself into the life of the man’s widow (Adams.)

1959 brought about one of Danton’s campiest films, The Beat Generation, in which he played a serial rapist called “The Aspirin Kid.” His character, who frequently hung out with beatniks, would go to a house when the husband was absent, claiming to be there to repay a debt, feign a headache and then as the wife was distracted getting the aspirin and water, would force himself on her! Other stars in the film included Steve Cochran, Mamie Van Doren, Fay Spain, Jackie Coogan and Louis Armstrong as himself!

That same year, he was back in Indian drag for a role in Clint Walker’s Yellowstone Kelly. This was followed up by a turn as a part-Eskimo man in the all-star extravaganza Ice Palace, a multi-generational Edna Ferber tale about the settling and industrialization of Alaska. (He's seen here with love interest Diane McBain.)

His most notable role, the one that would stick when film critics and buffs bring his name up, was as the title figure in The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond. He played the cold, calculating gangster involved in jewel theft, gambling, booze running and prostitution (all handled as carefully as possible under the 1960 guidelines for movie standards.) He would later play the same real life part again in the less popular and lesser-known Portrait of a Mobster in 1961.

He had a regular role in the TV series The Alaskans, broadcast at a time when Alaska was the newest addition to The United States. The stars of the show were Roger Moore, Jeff York and Dorothy Provine and the foursome was given “clever” names like Silky, Rocky, Reno and Nifty… The series lasted one season. He was kept quite busy (now as a Warner Brothers contract player) on Hawaiian Eye, Lawman, Surfside 6, Bronco, The Roraring 20’s and other shows.

He played famous actor George Raft (who he really did not resemble) in The George Raft Story, chronicling the star’s early days as a dancer who becomes entangled with members of organized crime and winds up in Hollywood, where he becomes a major star. Raft had been, in real life, involved with Betty Grable, but her name and likeness were not allowed to be used by the filmmakers, so the character was called Lisa Lang and the role was played by none other than Jayne Mansfield! What an interesting cast and I do love this poster.
He was then utilized in (bespectacled!) support of Alec Guinness and Rosalind Russell in their collaboration A Majority of One. The seriocomic story concerned a Japanese widower (Guinness!) and a Brooklyn widow who fall in love and have to face a variety of cultural and social issues as a result.

He was one of many, many actors to appear in the epic war film The Longest Day. Then he was placed in the revealing role of a playboy carrying on an affair with Shelley Winters in The Chapman Report, a movie I have to see soon or perhaps I will simply expire on the spot. The now-tame film explored the sexual exploits and hurdles of four women (Winters, Claire Bloom, Glynis Johns and Jane Fonda) and their men (Danton, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Ty Hardin and Corey Allen, among others.)

After his contract with Warner Brothers ended, Danton began to accept work in European films. This was a common practice for a lot of the second and third tier stars of his era. Recognizable faces who had proven their acting ability, but who were perhaps not at the highest level of demand, could earn terrific money headlining adventure films, spaghetti westerns and (later) spy movies.

He made back-to-back films as the fictional hero Sandokan in Sandokan Fights Back and Sandokan Against the Leopard of Sarawak, looking quite fetching in his turban and other ornate regalia. His costar in both of these movies was Guy Madison. (Those who read my tribute to Steve Reeves will remember that he had played this character as well, one year earlier.)
He then appeared in a couple of spy flicks, the ‘60s being a major period for this genre. There was Code Name: Jaguar and Secret Agent Superdragon. The latter film showed off his still impressive figure in poolside scenes that had him clad only in a pair of navy blue swim trunks. All during his time in Europe, he continued to fly back to the U.S. on occasion to accept roles in current television series like Honey West and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. He, like Adams, appeared on The Big Valley as well, as a slick, handsome troublemaker, naturally.
As the ‘60s came to a close, he returned to America fulltime and started working as a guest star on The Name of the Game, Ironside, It Takes a Thief and even Love, American Style. Still good looking (and impossibly tan), he continued in this vein for a few years, making appearances on Police Story, McCloud, Hawaii 5-O, Cannon and many other series. His first appearance on 5-O had him playing a Hawaiian lounge singer and rabid environmentalist and afforded several glimpses of his still impressive physique (he was thirty-nine at the time.)
Growing weary of the business and the limits it seemed to offer him, he decided to turn his attention to directing. His first film in 1972 was something called Deathmaster, about a vampire who falls in with a band of hippies, with more than a little of the Charles Manson aura about it (though it is reportedly not a very bloody or violent affair.) The inexpensive production has amassed a cult following and can count among its leading ladies none other than The Young and the Restless star and viral youtube wacko Brenda Dickson. Though he didn't appeat on camera, he is shown here instructing a cast member for a scene.

Then, after making the aforementioned Psychic Killer, he started working as a director in episodic television. He worked frequently on Quincy, M.E. and Cagney and Lacey, but also directed single episodes of Dallas and Dynasty. Cagney star Sharon Gless had met Danton when she was on Switch and fell for his infectious personality. Later, when he became seriously ill, she saw that he had some sort of job on set to keep his health insurance going. Danton was known all through his career for possessing an infectiously fun-loving spirit and he often made dull TV and film sets more enjoyable.

Things came full circle for him in 1975 when he played an Indian named Yellow Shirt in the low-budget revenge flick Apache Blood. It had been thirty years since his film debut as an Indian in Chief Crazy Horse. His last appearance as an actor was in 1977 in an episode of Barnaby Jones, but his directing career lasted until 1989. Long divorced from Julie Adams, he was the father of their two sons Steve and Mitchell. Both Danton men are successful in the television business with Steve a busy assistant director and Mitchell an Emmy-winning editor.

Passing away in 1992 from a severe kidney ailment at the far too early age of sixty-two, Danton left behind a wealth of TV and film acting endeavors as well as a substantial amount of directorial work. A couple of years ago, readers of Robert Wagner’s “autobiography” had their eyebrows raised when Wagner relayed that while filming The Longest Day in 1962, Ray Danton had a room at a local hotel in which he kept, and simultaneously serviced, two ladies while the proprietor charged people to watch him in action through a two-way mirror without his knowledge! While we in The Underworld may be a little disappointed to learn that his tastes ran to such heterosexual extremes, we heartily applaud his confidence, agility and endurance. As my mama often said, “If you’ve got it, use it!”

9 comments:

Rob said...

Never knew much about Julie Adams, but I always liked her, plus who doesn't love a girl with such rocking eyebrows?
And Danton...! That last picture makes me feel,er-funny...
Thanks!

Topaz said...

So according to Robert Wagner, in 1962 Danton was boffing two women while others paid to watch, and during that time he was still married to Julie Adams and the father of two sons. What a class act!

normadesmond said...

loved the "jimmy" trivia!

as for ray, don'tcha just love that final photo of him on the boat? something tells me his hand has been there before.

Michael O'Sullivan said...

Great post on Julia and Ray whom one knew so little about ...

you really must get to see The Chapman Report - you will simply love it!

Poseidon3 said...

Yeah, Topaz, I grappled with that, too, but a) we never really know what in the world goes on in those movie star marriages - they seem to set their own ground rules and there always seems to be a lot we aren't privy to, despite all the gossip and b) you'll notice I put "quotes" around RJ's autobiography, which I found to be incredibly disputable in more than one instance. That story is what HE says happened... but I hear ya!

Topaz said...

Oh, I think it was definitely an interesting anecdote and you were right to include it. Looking like he did and with his level of fame I'll guess that was pretty tame compared to some of his escapades.

And I would bet that Robert Wagner took full advantage of that secret viewing room to see Danton in action. Strictly for research purposes, of course. He knew some day far in the future he'd be writing a book about his brilliant career.

Poseidon3 said...

I should also add that when I was writing this article (or whatever it is!), I recalled that story (how could anyone forget it?! lol) and wrote about it, but I thought it was later, like in 1970s L.A. I researched it to be sure I knew the scoop and that's when I rediscovered that it was 1962. I didn't change my wording about it much, if at all, for whatever reason. So I do want it to be clear that I applaud the things I said, but I do NOT applaud adultery (especially that which is kept secret from a devoted partner!) Thanks everyone, as always, for reading!

Topaz said...

I see you mention Robert Wagner three times elsewhere in your "lair" but he's not the central character in any of the entries. I remember thinking he was incredibly good-looking at one point but somewhat of a lightweight, so I'm not sure his body of work merits your full attention, but I'd love to hear about your objections to some of the items in his book. I would bet his chapter on Barbara Stanwyck is one such sore point.

Poseidon3 said...

:-) I am in a state of conflict over RJ. Now, you know by now that a person could have HALF the career that he has and still be profiled in The Underworld. A part of me loves him because he was in The Towering Inferno, Hart to Hart and other projects I like, but another part of me rejects him for things that I feel he isn't being forthright about or in some cases is being downright dishonest about (yes... Miss B.S.) Apart from all that, I thought it was distasteful that he felt the need to go through his "life story" and constantly point out, whether it was relevant or not, whether a person was gay or not. And usually the "gay" ones were dead... Annoying. I'm not saying he won't one day merit (ooooh, it's such an honor! LOL) a tribute. He is caught in the shifting tides of The Underworld right now.