Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I'm Feeling a Little Dewey Today...

If, as I mused in a recent posting, that in Ride the Wild Surf, Fabian was a ribeye, Peter Brown was sirloin strip and Tab Hunter was porterhouse, then comparatively speaking, today's featured actor would have to be classified as bacon (and not Kevin!) His physique was leanest of the lean. (Sizzlean?) I don't even usually go in for the really slim ones but, for his brief while in the sun, he was a real cutie. He also got to work with some great directors and stars, even if he would up in semi-obscurity in the end. I'm yammering about 1950s actor Dewey Martin.

Martin was born in September 8th, 1923 in Katemcy, Texas. An interest in theatre while in his early twenties eventually led to his being cast in his very first feature film, 1949's Knock on Any Door. The Nicholas Ray-directed film was produced by Humphrey Bogart and starred him as well, along with John Derek. Bogart was a defense attorney representing young delinquent Derek, accused of killing a police officer in an escape attempt. Martin played a neighborhood tough.

This led to another (uncredited) role for him in the well-mounted WWII epic Battleground, directed by the talented veteran William Wellman. Some of the stars of this one included Van Johnson, John Hodiak and Ricardo Montalban.

1950 brought The Golden Gloves Story, Oscar-winner James Dunn was the ostensible star, playing a boxing referee whose daughter is pursued by two contrasting boxers. Martin played one of them, a tough and aggressive Chicagoan. His face, an unusual combination of chiseled, yet baby-like, features with a rounded off nose, gave him the ability to play both good and bad types of characters. This was the first time Martin was really featured in a movie (appearing frequently in only some shorts, too) and it led him to winning further roles.

This same year, he played one of the infamous Younger Brothers in Kansas Raiders, a western about Jesse James (not that it bore much relation to actual facts!) starring Audie Murphy. Murphy, who parlayed his status as the most decorated soldier of WWII into a successful acting career, played James while a selection of other up and coming actors such as Scott Brady, Richard Long, James Best, Richard Egan and one Tony Curtis filled out the other roles. At 5'8”, Martin was no threat to the diminutive Murphy, who stood at only 5'5”. (That's Tony at the bottom left, Richard next to him, Audie in the middle and Dewey far right. James Best, standing, would later be known as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard.)

Though film editor Christian Nyby is credited with his directing debut for 1951's The Thing from Another World, it is widely speculated (and debated) that producer Howard Hawks actually had a large hand in its direction. (And, no, it is not the life story of Victoria Wyndham!) Here, Martin was given a featured role (as a nice guy for once!) in the part of Crew Chief Bob, one of several military officers and scientists at an arctic outpost who come upon a strange being that feeds on blood! Needless to say, the entire outpost soon finds itself fighting for life. James Arness, in an early role that put his 6'6” frame to good use, played the creature. A remake in 1982, starring Kurt Russell and more simply titled The Thing, was more faithful to the source novel (and also ten times more graphic, being directed as it was by action/horror maestro John Carpenter.)

Still languishing in supporting roles, Martin next appeared in colorful sword and sandal flick called Flame of Araby. The stars were Maureen O'Hara and Jeff Chandler, with Maxwell Reed (Joan Collin's infamous first husband), Richard Egan and Lon Chaney Jr. in other roles. Martin's character name here was the ever-appealing “Yak!”

Howard Hawks, having approved of Martin's work in The Thing from Another World, gave him a major break in 1952 by pairing him with Kirk Douglas in the frontier epic, The Big Sky. Fur trappers Douglas and Martin played antagonists who then become friends as they journey up the Missouri River through hostile Indian territory. The Indian shown with Dewey here is unusual character actor Hank Worden, who typically played bald, simple-minded types (often downright crazy!) This was an atypical appearance by him.
Despite its epic scope and the fact that Hawks directed it, the film is strangely overlooked by most cinephiles. Perhaps due to it being in black and white versus color, or perhaps because some cutting after its initial release somehow weakened it, it has never been able to get the attention that many feel it is due. Allegedly, Hawks wanted either Gary Cooper or John Wayne instead of Douglas and so he didn't feel the same affection for the project that he might have if one of his picks had been used. He obviously still thought a lot of Martin because he would later use him a third time.

First, though, came a little color B-movie that remains an entertaining diversion, especially for fans of his. Tennessee Champ starred Shelley Winters and Keenan Wynn as a flashy woman and her fight-manager husband. They take on a new boxing prospect, which is Martin naturally, who is the naïve son of a church deacon.
A real treat for film buffs occurs when Martin heads into the ring and his opponent is none other than Charles Bronson (billed in this early role as Charles Buchinsky.) A treat for fans of lean, handsome Martin is seeing him work his thing in some too-big boxing shorts that occasionally creep down enough to show off a tinge of his tan line. His earnest character is endearing and helps to make this an entertaining film. Also on board is Earl Holliman as a harmonica-playing palooka.

His second film of 1954 was a bleak P.O.W. film called, aptly enough, Prisoner of War. He was third-billed after Ronald Reagan and Steve Forrest in this tale of a man who willingly goes undercover (being captured on purpose) in a Korean P.O.W. camp in order to investigate the abuses that are allegedly happening. And are they ever. Men are deprived and tormented in variety of ways in order to extract information from them. Finally, that year, he appeared in another war film, this one reuniting him with Van Johnson, who'd starred in Battleground, though here Martin had a far more key role. Men of the Fighting Lady involved bomber planes on a U.S. Naval tanker during The Korean War. Martin played a fighter pilot who is injured during a mission and has to attempt to fly (and land!) his plane despite being blinded. It's up to Johnson to talk him through it from on board the carrier.
Veteran actors Walter Pidgeon and Louis Calhern were also on board as was Keenan Wynn. Incidentally, there's a whole story about Martin's occasional costars, pals Wynn and Johnson, and how MGM wanted Van Johnson to be married and when the only woman he would agree to wed was Wynn's wife Evie, Wynn divorced her (in exchange for a hefty pay raise!) and Johnson married her instead! Johnson married Wynn's ex-wife the day after their divorce was final. This despite the fact that the Wynns had two children. Johnson and his new bride then had a child of their own one year later, but were eventually divorced (quite bitterly) in 1961.

Speaking of wives, in a press release for The Big Sky in 1953, Martin is described as living with his wife Margie in a modest Westwood apartment. There is no record of this marriage at imdb.com or at Wikipedia! I did dig up a mention of her on nndb.com (notable names database) as Margaret Ann Havelhurst, but with no dates of their marriage. One can assume that it was over by 1956 because that's when he married his more notable wife, but more on that in a bit.

Howard Hawks, the esteemed director who had offered Martin a couple of chances at stardom, came calling again in 1955 for a part in his Egyptian epic Land of the Pharaohs. The colorful, expensive film starred Jack Hawkins as the reigning Pharaoh with Joan Collins as a scheming princess who manages to become his queen. Martin played a slave, the son of a master builder (James Robertson Justice) who has been enlisted to create the ultimate burial site/tribute to Hawkins. (The lady in these particular shots, by the way, is not La Collins!)

While the film is now enjoyed as a cult camp classic, mainly for the slinky villainy of Collins, Martin's abbreviated costumes and cutie pie features are not to be overlooked! He is most often seen in a little skirt and a vest with no shirt underneath. In the construction/building sequences, he loses the vest and goes topless altogether. Here, he helps an injured Hawkins avoid one of the various boobytraps found in the labrynthine structure.

The film was a colossal failure at the box office and sent its director into a bit of a tailspin. He had never experienced a flop before and took four years off before coming back to the field with Rio Bravo. Now, of course, it can be enjoyed for the sort of “they don't make 'em like that anymore” spectacle it is as well as for a terrifically ironic finale. At the time, though, it was a crusher to many of the cast.

Martin's other film that year was vastly different. He was working again with the star of his first feature, Humphrey Bogart, and for another very well-regarded director, William Wyler. The film The Desperate Hours first began as an allegedly true 1952 incident about a family held captive by some criminals on the lam. This inspired a 1953 novel and that in turn inspired a 1955 Broadway play. Then the play became this movie!

The play had starred Karl Malden and Paul Newman (with George Grizzard in Martin's role of the youngest bad guy) as the homeowner and the chief criminal. Fredric March inherited Malden's role and Bogart (clearly a tad old) took Newman's. There was a twenty-four year age difference between “siblings” Bogart and Martin! Nevertheless, the movie was a hit and even inspired a positively horrendous remake in 1990 (just called Desperate Hours, the word “The” apparently having become uncool in the four decades or so since the original) with Anthony Hopkins as the homeowner and Mickey Rourke and Elias Koteas as the crooks.

At this point, though he still worked in feature films, Martin began appearing on television for the first time. He did the usual anthology shows (that everyone profiled in The Underworld seems to have done as they were very popular in the '50s and early '60s) including Climax!, Studio One Hollywood, Front Row Center and Lux Video Theatre. He also did a movie length TV pilot called Cavalry Patrol that didn't get picked up as a series.

His sole feature film in 1956 was The Proud and the Profane, a romantic drama about a war widow (Deborah Kerr) who volunteers with the Red Cross in the South Pacific only to fall for a charismatic Lieutenant (William Holden) who woos her, but has a secret. Kerr's superior is the dynamic Thelma Ritter who has all but raised a young man (Martin) who feels a sense of protection towards Kerr. Directed by George Seaton, it is noted for its overly melodramatic approach to the soapy material.

The big event in Martin's life during 1956 was his wedding to famous jazz and blues singer Peggy Lee. They had been seeing each other for a little while and tied the knot. It was (presumably) his second (and last marriage), but her third of four in all. Unfortunately, happy as it looked in the many press photos of the time, the marriage only lasted until 1958.

If Martin thought that Land of the Pharoahs was a flop, he hadn't seen anything yet. When successful comedy team Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis ended their association together, Dean Martin (no relation to Dewey) branched out on his own and somehow ended up in the film Ten Thousand Bedrooms. It's about a hotel owner, not a sex maniac. Anyway, in order for him to marry the Italian woman he loves, he has to get her other three sisters to wed first and that's where Dewey comes in. He's one of the other suitors. The film's dismal failure came very close to ending Dean Martin's career and only his role in The Young Lions the following year saved it.

In the wake of this, Dewey Martin would not be seen again on the big screen for six years. He did a fair amount of television, doing The Loretta Young Show, Zane Grey Theater and an episode of the immortal series The Twilight Zone. In it, he played one of four astronauts who crash land after a perilous flight and find themselves in a deserted wasteland. One dies on impact and two of the others perish as well, leaving only Martin behind until, just as it always was on that show, a twist ending demonstrates the futility of their struggle.

He also was granted the part of Daniel Boone in a series of appearances on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. This being 1960 to 1961, there weren't really too many color sets out there to view him with. Note that he is not in the coonskin cap that Fess Parker later made famous when he played the role in a regular series. Daniel Boone didn't ever wear a coonskin cap. Parker only wore one as a way of attracting children to the show who had previously been addicted to the by-then-cancelled Davy Crockett!

Martin did take part in the gargantuan WWII epic The Longest Day, but his scenes were eliminated from the final cut of the picture, so he was not seen in it. In 1963, he had a role in the Disney sequel to Old Yeller called Savage Sam. The movie, not completely jibing with the continuity of the first film, was only modestly successful.

In 1964, he was the chief star of a low-budget film called Flight to Fury, all about a group of fortune hunters whose plane crashes in the Philippines. What draws viewers to the film nowadays is the fact that one of the supporting players (and also one of the writers!) was a young Jack Nicholson. The short (seventy-three minute long), cheap film was not going to make any impact on his standing in the movie community.

There was only one feature film left for Martin and it would come in 1974. In the meantime, he continued to appear frequently on television in such shows as Burke's Law, The Outer Limits, I Spy, Lassie and Hawaii 5-O. In the latter, he was a shifty lawyer who may or may not be responsible for the death of a man whose wife he is interested in. (He's pictured here with Linda Marsh, an actress who worked on many, many '70's TV shows, often looking quite different from role to role, but who is practically unknown today.)

He also had a role on an episode of Mission: Impossible as a ruthless crime lord in the syndicate, set up against Robert Goulet. Now fifty years old, but remaining in good shape, he was getting close to exiting the business and fulfilling his lifelong dream of living on a ranch (perhaps in Texas, where he was born.) Early press info described Martin as a gym nut who didn't drink or smoke but, by 1972 anyway, he looks as if he knew his way around a Tiparillo cigar! The close-up nature of TV sometimes brought out those still pretty baby blue eyes. Indicentally, retaining his interest in fitness, Martin did eventually work at a California gym in the late '70s/early '80s.
That final movie came in 1974 when he played the ill-fated father in the low-budget family western drama Seven Alone. Loosely based on a true story of a pioneer family in which both parents die suddenly and tragically, the children decide to push onward and fulfill their dream of a new life. Aldo Ray was on board as an occasional helper to them. After this, there were just three more guest appearances on television (the last being an episode of Police Story) until Martin gave up acting and exited the business.
Now eighty-seven (!), Mr. Martin is still with us. Occasionally, he would make an appearance at fan events such as western film conventions and the like. Mostly, though, he has been out of the limelight now for over thirty years, about the same amount of time his career lasted. He isn't a tremendously well-known figure, but those who have seen him at his best can revel in the qualities he brought to the screen.

4 comments:

Michael O'Sullivan said...

Fascinating as usual on a very neglected talent. I too enjoyed Land of the Pharoahs again recently but totally overlooked Dewey! People go on about the Hawksian women but he also often had a pretty young guy in the mix - Ricky Nelson, young James Caan, the guys in Hatari (Hardy Kruger! - now there's someone to appreciate) and certainly Dewey !

Jean Cole said...

I think Dewey is a stunner. Saw him first in thing from another world, a wonderful, classic film. Made me want to see more Dewey. Wonder how he is these days? Thanks for writing about him.

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

Wow, what a handsome, handsome guy and I've never even heard of him! I will definitely have to look out for Land of the Pharaohs.

Poseidon3 said...

Dave, LOTP has many marvels in it apart even from Dewey! It's deliciously campy and garish with a great villainous turn by Joan Collins. You won't be disappointed! And "Tennessee Champ" is another one of Dewey's films to keep an eye peeled for. Thanks for commenting!!