Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I'll Give You Two Good Reasons...

Good grief, we've been busy in The Underworld! Lots of last minute preparations for the upcoming holidays. Everything is rush, rush, rush! And I'm working a seasonal job for additional Christmas cash, so my nights have been full, too. But I know you don't want to hear me continue to grouse about all that.

Today, in the spirit of holiday shopping, we're having a “2-for-1 Sale” in The Underworld. I'm going to take a look at two actors, very often mistaken as twins, who enjoyed a spurt of popularity in the 1950s and '60s. I'm also going to do my very best to always tell them apart, something I'm getting better at, but have always had trouble with previously, so if I accidentally misidentify one, it's unintentional of course!

On November 30, 1928, an American couple staying in Berlin, Germany on business, gave birth to a son. Little Rex George Reason Jr. (shown here) was named after his father. The family soon returned to their home in Glendale, California and on April 19, 1930, a little brother, Rhodes Reason, was born. Both boys would grow up to be 6'2”, virile, manly men with warm, resonant voices (in Rex's case, it was also extremely deep!)

Centered as they were in the movie capital of the world, their mother recognized their potential as handsome actors from an early age and encouraged them to pursue the craft. Rex (I'll be using their first names in this post for obvious reasons!) played the lead in his high school production of "Seventh Heaven," but when he turned seventeen, he enlisted in the army to take part in WWII. The war soon over, he came back home and began to take further interest in acting. He worked at the Pasadena Playhouse, where his good looks won him leading man roles and, in time, gained the attention of movie producers.

He began to land some bit roles with various studios in films such as Scaramouche (1952) and Salome (1953.) Already in 1952, he had the lead in the minor movie Storm Over Tibet, playing a supply plane pilot whose friend takes his place on one trip only to wind up missing and presumed dead. He and the man's widow Diana Douglas (Kirk's ex-wife and the mother of Michael Douglas) return to the scene of the disappearance and delve into what happened to him. The next year, he had a supporting part in Mission Over Korea, which starred John Hodiak and John Derek. Rex married in 1952 for the first time, a union that would last until 1960 and produce two children.
Rhodes (shown here, of course), though he started acting professionally a tad later at age eighteen when he worked on Charles Laughton's production of "Romeo and Juliet," actually broke into screen acting first, albeit the small screen of televison. In 1951, he worked in an episode of the series Stars Over Hollywood with Raymond Burr, Cameron Mitchell and the glorious Steve Reeves. After this, though, it would be 1955 before he appeared before the cameras again. Pretty much from the outset, Rex was a movie actor while Rhodes was seen more on TV. They would both straddle the two mediums, but Rex won a contract with Universal and got something of a build-up there while Rhodes worked mostly for the independent, and usually low-budget, Bel-Air Productions.

When Universal signed Rex in 1954, he was cast in the Douglas Sirk-directed curiosity Taza, Son of Cochise. Starring Rock Hudson as the title character and Barbara Rush as his love interest, the story centered on Hudson wanting to retain peace while his fiery half-brother (Rex) wanted to exact revenge on the white man. All of the principles were covered in dark make-up. Rex was done up in Apache drag, his piercing blue eyes at odds with the dark skin and wig he was given (though it must be said that this was a standard practice of the day. That same year, light-eyed Burt Lancaster and Jean Peters starred in Apache.)

Though they don't really look alike, it is sometimes hard to tell Rock and Rex apart at first glance, they're both shaved down, bewigged and slathered in body make-up! Despite the fact that Rex was a healthy, fit, well-built young man, he didn't seem to do very much beefcake. (Similarly, with a few exceptions, Rhodes didn't either!) The Technicolor film was released in 3-D, then enjoying a blast of popularity at the movies. He was billed here (and described in the movie's trailer) as Bart Roberts. It's hard to understand what the powers that be at Universal found unacceptable about the name Rex Reason, which sounds like a movie star name, that would lead them to re-dub him. Rex hated the fake moniker and bristled at its use.

Rex possessed the most wonderful deep, rich voice that was put to use as a narrator on a few films including Saskatchewan and Sign of the Pagan (both 1954.) For his second Universal film, he was again billed as Bart Roberts. The film was Yankee Pasha and he played a Moroccan who takes the flame-haired Rhonda Fleming into his band of slaves, much to the dismay of her beloved mountaineer boyfriend Jeff Chandler. Chandler leaves Massachusetts to rescue her from Rex's clutches. Playing a villain, Rex was outfitted with a flattering goatee and a variety of bejewelled turbans and other headgear.

By 1955 and Smoke Signal, he had demanded the right to use his own name and Bart Roberts slid away into the annals of film history, to be generally forgotten. (He had appeared in one episode of Lux Video Theatre under the name as well in 1954.) Smoke Signal was a cavalry versus Indians tale that had him battling star Dana Andrews for the attentions of Piper Laurie while trying to navigate a dangerous river that is under threat of attack by some Ute Indians.

Two brotherly career paths collided briefly in 1955 when Rhodes made his (uncredited) film debut in Lady Godiva of Coventry in which Rex had a supporting role (with his hair lightened in color.) It would mark the only time the Reason brothers worked in the same film or TV show. Maureen O'Hara essayed the title role while George Nader played her husband. They enacted a "Taming of the Shrew"-like battle of the sexes until political circumstances led to her legendary semi-nude ride through town (which, as you can imagine in 1955, was not terribly revealing.)

Rex's most famous film by far came out in 1955 as well. This Island Earth was heralded at the time of its release for the quality of its special effects and for the overall way its science-fiction elements were presented (at a time when virtually all sci-fi was cheap and aimed at the kiddies. The benchmark Forbidden Planet was still one year away.) Fifty years later, however, the movie was pared down and mocked on Mystery Science Theater 3000, proving that state of the art only lasts as long as it takes for the next and (presumably) better thing to come out.

Rex played a scientist enlisted to help a race of dying aliens, being helped by fellow scientist Faith Domergue, only to discover that the “endangered” aliens are actually plotting to conquer the Earth! Top-billed Jeff Morrow portrayed one of the less threatening members of the alien race. Domergue reported later that her pants were so tight that underwear underneath them was impossible. A female dresser had to help her into them! Unfortunately, we couldn't get that lucky with Sexy Rexy. Good or bad, the movie has endured as a cult favorite among fans of classic sci-fi and Rex Reason is best remembered for having costarred in it.

Now consistently playing third-billed leads, he joined Jack Palance and Barbara Rush in Kiss of Fire, the story of a Spanish duke (Reason) enlisting the aid of a roguish outlaw (Palance) in bringing a princess (Rush) from New Mexico back to Spain in order to claim her title as the king lies dying. As the necessary conflict, there are Mexican officials who do not want her to reach her destination as they favor a different heir to the throne. Next was Raw Edge, a western set in Oregon in which a decree mandates that any single woman can be taken by the first man to claim her! (I'm thinking this was not a favorite late show flick of either Bella Abzug or Gloria Steinem...) The stars of this one were Rory Calhoun and Yvonne De Carlo.

In 1955, Rhodes was starting to work quite regularly in television, with roles on The Adventures of Champion, Tales of the Texas Rangers, Sky King and Highway Patrol. He also did a TV version of "The Old Maid" on Matinee Theatre, with Sarah Churchill and Katharine Bard taking on the roles that Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins had portrayed in the 1939 film. In 1956, he had bit parts in Tension at Table Rock (with Richard Egan and Dorothy Malone), Flight to Hong Kong (with Rex's Raw Edge costar Rory Calhoun and Rex's Kiss of Fire costar Barbara Rush) and Emergency Hospital. Occasionally, a more substantial part might come along, albeit in a low-budget programmer. He worked with Boris Karloff in 1957's Voodoo Island, which concerned natives with mysterious powers and a clatch of man-eating plants!

At the same time (shot back-to-back in Hawaii), he made Jungle Heat, an espionage drama set just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The movie's stars were Lex Barker and Mari Blachard. Of slight interest is the fact that his character's name was Major Richard “Dick” Grey and one hopes that no on in the picture called him “Major Dick!”

Rex Reason was appearing frequently on TV himself, with guest roles on Matinee Theatre, The Millionaire, The Ford Television Theatre and Conflict. In 1956, he took part in another sci-fi film that has found its way into the hearts of many fans of the genre. The Creature Walks Among Us was a second sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon (the middle film being Revenge of the Creature.) In this final installment, Rex and costar Jeff Morrow (who'd also starred in This Island Earth) play scientists who draw the gill man out of his Amazonian hiding place in order to capture him. Unfortunately, he is burned severely and undergoes surgery to transform him into more of a man than a creature, causing him to breath air instead of process oxygen through his gills.
The real draws here are the extended scenes of Rex in a painted-on white swimsuit, his now-grown-back chest hair (which had been removed for Taza, Son of Cochise) firmly back where it belongs. His hunky face with thick lips and beautiful eyes, teamed with his manly chest, velvety speaking voice and soothing manner, make him the creature I wish would walk among me! Not only does he twice don the little pair of swim trunks, but he even has a scene in which he dives into the water in his pajama bottoms, not that anything much can be seen.

His next film was a minor western called Badlands of Montana that also starred Beverly Garland, Margia Dean and Keith Larsen (regular readers will recall him as the third husband of recently profiled Vera Miles.) 1957 also had Rex appearing in Band of Angels with Clark Gable and Yvonne De Carlo and Under Fire, a military courtroom drama in which he had top-billing.

Rhodes, after appearing as a guest on Maverick, Sugarfoot and The Millionaire, won the lead in his own series, a British project called White Hunter, in which he faced adventure in the wilds of Africa. 39 episodes of the show were made and it was broadcast over the course of a few years from 1957 to 1959. He also married in 1957, a union that produced three children and lasted until 1972. Then, in 1959, Rhodes was cast in a supporting part in the Disney-produced, quasi-Biblical epic The Big Fisherman, starring Howard Keel (as Simon Peter), Susan Kohner (who had Imitation of Life that same year) and John Saxon.

Rhodes was then enlisted as a Warner Brothers contractee, so he did time on most of that studio's television programs, shows like Bourbon Street Beat, Cheyenne, Bronco and Surfside 6. He also was given a part in Clint Walker's Yellowstone Kelly, a color western that also included Edd Byrnes, Ray Danton and John Russell.
Meanwhile, Rex had been given his own TV series as well. Man Without a Gun ran from 1957 to 1959 and concerned an old west Yellowstone, Wyoming newspaper editor. It's aim was to demonstrate a less violent type of TV western with a “pen is mightier than the sword” approach to its storytelling. Rex portrayed this upstanding townsperson with a healthy serving of idealism. During the run of the series, he still worked as a lead in minor films such as 1958's Rawhide Trail, about marauding Comanches after him and others (costar Nancy Gates had the good fortune to not only have a scene with him shirtless on a bed, but also another that had him face down on a bunk bed, shackled to a post!), Thundering Jets (also 1958), with him as a rigid air force commander (and with a cast that's peppered by cuties Barry Coe and Robert Conrad!) and Audrey Dalton as his wife, and 1959's The Sad Horse, a film that starred David Ladd and Chill Wills along with Rex, whose wife was played by Patrice Wymore. Wymore was Errol Flynn's last wife (though they were separated when he died in 1959.) For a while during this period, Rex escorted Wymore to various Tinseltown functions.
1959's The Miracle of the Hills had Rex starring as a small town minister who helps rescue some children (and a dog!) trapped by a flood in the aftermath of an earthquake. One of the tykes was played by Jay "Dennis the Menace" North. Next, he, like brother Rhodes, became a Warner Brothers contract player as well. Thus, he could occasionally be found on 77 Sunset Strip, Bronco, Bourbon Street Beat, Sugarfoot and The Alaskans. Viewers must have been scratching their heads from time to time at the similarity of these two men playing different roles on all these shows.

In 1960, he starred in another series of his own, this one called The Roaring 20's (this mispunctuation is exactly the way the show was titled!) He was playing another newspaperman, this time a Chicagoan in the midst of all the Prohibition era crime and mayhem. He and costar Donald May also competed for the attentions of the series' primary star Dorothy Provine, a flapper-type of singer who figured into most of the storylines.

Brother Rhodes was in another show of his own, too. Bus Stop was an extension of the William Inge play and the movie that had starred Marilyn Monroe and Don Murray. Here, Rhodes played a sheriff not in found in the previous renditions while Marilyn Maxwell costarred in a part that Betty Field had done in the 1956 movie. The series only ran for 8 episodes, but not because it wasn't popular. It was cancelled because of an outcry over the extreme violence found in a particular airing that starred Fabian as a cruel psychopath! Next, it was on to many guest shots on shows including Perry Mason, Daniel Boone, Death Valley Days and The Rifleman.

Rex, having finished with The Roaring 20's, was growing increasingly disenchanted with the acting business. He worked on episodes of Perry Mason and Wagon Train, but decided that he would rather exit the field of motion pictures and television and investigate the world of real estate instead. Ironically, just as he was walking out on his Warner Brothers contract (never to return!), he was being sought for a role in a significant movie!

Frank Sinatra, who had done his famous From Here to Eternity screen test with Rex Reason playing opposite him (the role ultimately winning Sinatra an Oscar and reviving his career) was eager to thank him by offering him a prime part in an upcoming film. Reason, however, had declared himself through with acting and couldn't be reached for the offer. The potentially career-lifting part was eventually played by Laurence Harvey. The film was The Manchurian Candidate. Rex went into real estate and was never again seen on TV or in the movies (beyond reruns, of course.) His last acting role was broadcast in 1963 when he was in his mid-thirties. He had remarried in 1962 to curvaceous Sanita Pelkey, but they were divorced in a year's time. In 1968, remarried for the last time, having three more children and enjoying a lasting marriage.

Rhodes was still plugging along. He made two appearances on The Time Tunnel, an Irwin Allen adventure show that flung stars Robert Colbert and James Darren into a new bit of historical turmoil every week. One instance had him playing Joshua, the heralded Biblical figure who brought down the walls of Jericho. He also showed up as Colonel William Barrett Travis, one of the men who faced General Santa Ana at the legendary Alamo.



He went to Japan to work on the sci-fi howler King Kong Escapes, a color continuation of the creature first seen back in 1933. Kong is unearthed by a scientist and put to work as a thief! The cheapjack, camp-filled movie is nevertheless beloved by many genre followers because of its very badness. It is regarded simply as good old-fashioned matinee-era fun by many viewers. His participation in this picture has led to an enduring fan base of monster-movie aficionados.

What helped him to enter the realm of sci-fi fans even further was the fact that he guest-starred on Star Trek in 1968. He played Flavius in the episode called Bread and Circuses, about a starship commander who turned his entire crew over to a bloodthirsty ruler who has fashioned his society around ancient Rome. Gladitorial battles to the death are commonplace and now the ruler wants the crew of The Enterprise for use as participants! Rhodes, in a rare display of beefcake, was the star gladiator who in time begins to question the ways of his planet.
In 1970, he was part of the now-forgotten The Delta Factor, a low-budget spy movie based on a Mickey Spillane novel that starred Christopher George and Yvette Mimieux along with Diane McBain and Yvonne De Carlo. Unintentionally amusing now is his 1972 guest role on Mission: Impossible in which he was (by necessity of the plot and the fact that star Peter Graves was going to impersonate him) bewigged with a white head-topper! He was still handsome nonetheless.

Both Star Trek and Mission: Impossible were Desilu productions, the company formed by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, which Lucy continued to oversee after their divorce. She must have been quite fond of Rhodes Reason because she used him five different times on Here's Lucy, her comedy series that ran from 1968 to 1973. Here, Rhodes is shown in an episode that costarred Lucy's pal Carol Burnett in the early, but already successful, stages of her career.

As the '70s trudged on, Rhodes found less and less decent work. He did pop up on the fondly-remembered sitcoms The Bob Newhart Show and Phyllis, but also played a hard-nosed detective in the hideously-titled teen gang flick Cat Murkill and the Silks. In 1977, he played one of David Janssen's friends in the made-for-TV, descent-into-alcoholism horror story A Sensitive, Passionate Man. He barely got any screen time as the focus was primarily on Janssen and his suffering wife played by Angie Dickinson. He had obviously aged, but when he turned on that smile, it certainly helped melt away some time. Following this, the fifty-seven year-old actor retired from the screen. He wasn't completely finished acting, though. In the early '80s, he shocked most fans of his by appearing on Broadway as a replacement for Daddy Warbucks in the smash musical “Annie!” He went on to headline the national tour, playing the role for three years and displaying a singing voice that few folks ever knew he had.

As they aged (and both gentlemen are still alive today! Rex is eighty-three and Rhodes is eighty-one), Rex went the Tony Curtis route and opted for a fluffy hairpiece. Rhodes made the decision to trim off his thinning hair and go bald. In 2010, Rhodes remarried for the second time. Both men are still wed at present (Rex since 1968 to Shirley and Rhodes to Jerrlyn – aka Jeri.) Rex continued to supplement his successful real estate ventures with voiceover work, utilizing that awesome instrument he was born with. He still resides in California. Rhodes lives in Oregon now, where he stages yearly charity events for those less fortunate than others. Both of them make the occasional trip to a convention or autograph show where they are enthusiastically received by fans.
It is generally acknowledged that Rex was perhaps slightly better looking than Rhodes (Rhodes' looks were a bit harder, making them more attractive than Rex's to some) and that Rhodes was able to act with more skill (and, as a result, enjoyed a slightly longer and busier career.) They both were amiable, appealing men, in any case, who I'm always happy to stumble upon in a movie or on TV. In researching this tribute, I learned a little more about them and their differences, though by combining their careers and lives into one post, I probably just muddied the waters further! Either one of them is good enough reason for me to watch something, though.

1 comment:

NotFelixUnger said...

I recognize all the options open to an actor/dancer/artist who wishes to hold back the hands of time but George Chakiris looks mighty fine for someone so far removed from his prime time debut...mighty fine, if I do say so.