Wednesday, March 27, 2013

In the Mood for a Little Dick?

Those who plumb the depths of The Underworld have seen me reference today's featured actor in posts about open shirts and, in particular, games shows before. As one of my childhood crushes, he alternately enticed me and almost scared me with his overtly expressive face and manner. He seemed to me like a recipe of 1 cup George Maharis, 1 cup Burt Reynolds, a pinch of Dick Shawn and 3 tablespoons of Paul Lynde! Though my tastes have changed as I've grown up (I lean towards hairy chests versus smooth, for example), I still have a soft spot for the exuberant, grinning comic actor Dick Gautier.

Mr. Gautier was born, appropriate for his later life spent mostly in costume, on Halloween of 1931 in Culver City, California. His last name came courtesy of a French-Canadian father who had left behind a career as a lumberjack and railroad worker to work in the movies as a grip at MGM. His mother worked as a seamstress. An early interest in sports came to nil, with injury keeping him on the sidelines, so he began to use his fertile, offbeat sense of humor in school plays.

As he transitioned from his teens into young adulthood, he began to hone his comedic writing and performing skills and also sang locally, backed by a band. He entered the U.S. Navy (looking dazzlingly handsome if you ask me!) and served his peace-time stint by producing and performing in shows for the Special Services department. After his honorable discharge, he continued to perform his brand of zany comedy at San Francisco clubs, eventually heading to New York City where he continued this path.

While giving it his all in in 1960 at a Big Apple club called The Blue Angel, he was spotted by the accomplished dancer-choreographer-director Gower Champion, who was preparing a new musical. The musical, all about the hubbub that occurs when a rock 'n roll teen idol is drafted into the Army and stops to give one last kiss to a young, small town female fan, was called Bye Bye Birdie.

Gautier auditioned for and won the part of the singer, Conrad Birdie, over 750 other hopefuls. Clad in a shiny gold jumpsuit, he swiveled and swaggered his way into the hearts of audiences. His work also drew the attention of the Tony Award nominators who put him in the running for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Unfortunately, Dick Van Dyke, the LEAD of the show, had also been idiotically placed in that same category in order to avoid competition with Richard Burton of Camelot and he won (as did Burton.)

The role of Conrad Birdie was modeled after Elvis Presley (and, to a lesser degree, Conway Twitty) and Gautier adopted the unkempt hair and open-collared mode of dress that Presley had made famous in the 1950s. Gautier, though, was already pushing thirty by this time and had earlier married a woman who would give him three children before their unfortunate divorce.
He played the part on Broadway until 1961, whereupon he continued briefly to enact the role on tour, then did a show in Las Vegas for several months. Eventually returning to California, he began working on TV pilots and landed a small role in the 1964 movie Ensign Pulver. This sequel to Mister Roberts (1955) had him putting his Navy background (and ship-shape physique!) to good use, only this time in a comedic way in support of stars Robert Walker Jr, Burl Ives, Walter Matthau and Tommy Sands. (Also on board were Larry Hagman, future game show icon Peter Marshall and future multiple Oscar-winning actor Jack Nicholson.)

Sadly, when the feature film adaptation of Bye Bye Birdie was made in 1963, the Tony-nominated title role he'd originated went instead to the similar, but decidedly less alluring, fit and charismatic, Jesse Pearson. Pearson had done the part on a national tour. Tellingly, his acting career was all but over after just six or seven years beyond this.

Now, in between club engagements, Gautier began to appear on a variety of popular TV series of the time including Gidget, The Patty Duke Show (as shown here), Bewitched and the Pete Duel/Judy Carne sitcom Love on a Rooftop, among others.

In 1966, he began a recurring role on the spoofy hit spy series Get Smart, which starred Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. He portrayed a handsome robot named Hymie who was on hand to help the lead spies on several occasions.

In the episode shown below, Hymie had a love interest in fellow robot Octavia (played by Gayle Hunnicut), though she was built by the other side.
Gautier only made six appearances as Hymie during the course of Get Smart's run, but it's a testament to him that he is fondly remembered by fans of the show now and has been for many years.

He also worked on another feature film, Divorce, American Style (1967), which starred his old Birdie castmate Dick Van Dyke along with Debbie Reynolds and a host of others such as Jason Robards, Jean Simmons, Van Johnson and Lee Grant.

Additionally in 1967, Gautier costarred in his own TV series. The show, called Mr. Terrific, concerned a gas station attendant played by Stephen Strimpell who occasionally works for a top-secret government bureau by taking a pill that gives him one hour (and just one!) of courage, strength and the ability to fly. Gautier was his womanizing, in-the-dark co-attendant.

The series (similar to that same year's Captain Nice and in a way a forefather to The Greatest American Hero) only made it seventeen episodes before being cancelled. Notably, actress Barbara Stuart guest-starred in one episode and before the year was out, she and Gautier married. (They're seen at left a bit later in their marriage.) During the course of their union, she served as stepmother to his three children Chrissie, Randy and Denise.

As the '60s drew to a close, Gautier helped (along with Peter Marshall!) to write the screenplay for the hooty marijuana-themed flick Maryjane (1968), which starred Fabian, Diane McBain and Patty McCormack (of The Bad Seed fame.) He also popped up as a guest on series such as The Flying Nun (seen here with Ruta Lee), The Debbie Reynolds Show, The Doris Day Show and several installments of Love, American Style.
He also, starting with Hollywood Squares in 1967, began to do TV games shows, something that would become a prominent aspect of his career, especially during the '70s. As a lover of crossword puzzles and other mentally-challenging hobbies, Gautier found it gratifying, personally and financially, to take part in many quiz shows.

In 1973, Gautier was reunited with his Ensign Pulver costar Larry Hagman for another go at a series. This one was a sitcom called Here We Go Again and had Hagman marrying Diane Baker, but living only a stone's throw away from his ex-wife Nita Talbot and her ex-husband Gautier. Thus, “comic hilarity” ensued with regularity as the scrambled up former couples with common children (including Kim Richards!) between them kept getting involved in various exploits. The show was canned after thirteen episodes. (It's a shame because he was looking fantastic at that stage, too!)
Plenty of TV work followed, though, from The Mary Tyler Moore Show as one of Mary's dates (seen here at left) to Banacek to The Rockford Files. Then in 1975, he tried once again to get a TV series of his own to stick. This time it was a send up of Robin Hood called When Things Were Rotten, co-created by Mel Brooks.
Gautier played Robin Hood opposite Maid Marian as embodied by Hee Haw's Misty Rowe! Dick Van Patten and Bernie Kopell, among others, were on hand as part of the Merry Men. Chock full of Brooks' patented type of zany comedy, I can recall absolutely loving this show (and it's fun opening credits) as a kid, but it was up against Little House on the Prairie and Tony Orlando and Dawn, so it was trounced in the ratings.

Of course, I already, even at the tender age of eight, had a crush on Dick Gautier. I just thought he was the most handsome, suave, amusing guy with an ever-present twinkle in his eye. I haven't seen this show since it aired (and was yanked off the airwaves after thirteen episodes!), so it may be positively wretched, but I can tell you that Brooks thought enough of the idea to give it a go again many years later with Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), not that that turned out particularly well either.

It's hilarious to me now to think that in 1975, my eight year-old brain just hated Misty Rowe out of sheer jealousy! She got to romance my man. I also thought she was trashy and cheap from having seen her in her busty, leg-baring duties on Hee Haw. I'm going to have to see if I can find clips of this long-forgotten show and find out what my reaction is now.

He was seemingly everywhere in the '70s: doing stage work in which he was Luther Billis to Ruta Lee's Nellie Forbush in South Pacific (later playing Emile in another production, an entirely different sort of role acting-wise and musically), guest-starring on multiple TV series and hobnobbing with gossip maven Rona Barrett (with whom he's pictured below.)
An occasional feature film came along such as the original Fun with Dick and Jane (1977), which starred George Segal and Jane Fonda or the less-than-stellar Billy Jack Goes to Washington (also 1977.) TV movies like Sex and the Married Woman (1977, as seen here with Joanna Pettet) and plenty of guest spots kept him busy. He did The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, Man from Atlantis and, of course, The Love Boat.
Most often on these shows, he was a smarmy, macho, overconfident type who seemed to forget to close the majority of the buttons on his shirts! He embodied and epitomized that open-necked, gold-chain-wearing, tan, polyester persona that people often associate with the 1970s. Sure, it's corny now – might even have been then, but to my young mind he was smokin'! Ha!
Get a load of the running get-up he is wearing in this 1980 TV-movie Marathon, with Herb Edelman (best known as Dorothy's ex-husband Stan on The Golden Girls) and Bob Newhart.

This was also his fertile period on games shows, be it appearing on Liar's Club, Break the Bank, Celebrity Sweepstakes, Match Game, Password Plus, Super Password, Body Language, Tattletales (with then-wife Barbara Stuart) or, later, celebrity editions of Family Feud.

Gautier was always very artistic as well. An accomplished painter, he also perfected the art of the caricature and created countless renditions of famous people as well as original cartoon creations.
He also enjoyed making miniature furniture for use in dollhouses, which he constructed. (Okay, how jealous was I that this kid got to make dollhouse furniture with papa Dick Gautier while my own father sat on the sofa drinking Miller Lite, speaking to me only when I stepped in front of the football game on TV with a loudly-barked, “Ya make a better door than a window!”)

Though he continued to work on TV (in shows like Charlie's Angels, Happy Days, Too Close for Comfort – I can only imagine him and JM J Bullock in the same episode!, Trapper John, M.D. and Quincy M.E.), he soon began to turn his attentions toward his skill with illustration. In 1985, he published a book on drawing and it was followed over the years by close to a dozen more like it.
Plenty more TV appearances continued, such as on Zorro and Son (as seen here), Fantasy Island, Knight Rider and Alice, but by the time of the mid-'80s, Gautier started to find steady work that didn't use his famous, smirking, rubber face. He started to become heavily involved in voice-acting for animated programs.

Some of the programs he worked on included the 1980s version of Jonny Quest, G.I. Joe (as Serpentor, shown here), The Transformers, The Pirates of Dark Water, Captain Planet and the Planeteers and Cow and Chicken. He still popped up from time to time on various live-action shows such as Charles in Charge, The Munsters Today (with John Schuck and Lee Meriwether, as shown below), The Golden Palace and even Nip/Tuck.
Blessed with an impossibly voluminous head of hair, Gautier kept it thick and dark (and unintentionally amusing) through the '80s and '90s.
Some welcome flecks of silver began to appear after the millenium.
But how's he holding up today, you might ask? Well, first of all Dick Gautier is EIGHTY-ONE at present, which is quite hard to believe. Even harder to believe is that he looks THIS GOOD. It's just not fair... Married since 2003 for the third time to a psychiatrist named Tess (see below), he is a grandfather and even a great-grandfather (of three) and enjoys a quiet life in Studio City, California, about a half hour away from where he was born!
In The Underworld, we love goofy, grinning, offbeat, charming, animated Dick Gautier and often let out a (gentle) scream of glee when he shows up on our television screen. We thank him for all those years of fun times, whether hamming it up on game shows or giving television programs a bit of zest and zing (with not a little bit of beefcake in the process!)

10 comments:

NotFelixUnger said...

Oh, dear. So much to say on this one.

I think I recently offered to arm wrestle someone [no names be mentioned] for this guy. He is so not my regular type, but I think he is amazingly delicious. Those eyes, lips, chin, and body, too.

I did not know his name but do remember seeing him on many TV shows I watched back in the day. I vaguely recall the Robin Hood show and I do think I watched it during its run. [Almost 40 years ago! Can you believe it?]

My favorite picture of him in the piece is of him lighting a fag [err, "cigarette"] and staring at the camera. That is a wonderful picture that captures the personality and the moment.

That 70s look of open-to-the-waist shirts and gold chains still does it for me. It reminds me of Harry Reems who just passed away. My parents had quite the collection and someone [again, no names be mentioned] dipped into the VHS cassettes on a regular basis!

My favorite paragraph in the piece includes, "He also enjoyed making miniature furniture for use in dollhouses, which he constructed."

As a child I was fascinated by super-heroes who could make themselves quite small: Shrinking Violet, The Atom, Yellow Jacket and The Wasp. My dream was to have a doll house [and recreational yacht!] that would fit within my room [and adjacent bathroom, as well.]

Hate me now moment: my "first" looked very much like Dick. Only difference was he was covered in hair from stem to stern and at 6' 8", probably a lot taller. [Good times.] Of course, I dropped him for the captain of the football team in high school. [Yes, he still writes me. :-) ]

Finally, I'm about to turn 46 in a couple of days. I want you guys to know it's a nice feeling knowing I'm not the only Mo in that age range that still has the stars of the 60s, 70s and 80s making an impression on his life.

Which calls for a toast. Here's to another 46!
xxxooo

Ken Anderson said...

Very nice post about a first man-crush for many gays of a certain age. I go back further than you, Poseidon, and I first developed a crush on Gautier when he co-starred on this rather goofy TV sitcom, "Mr. Terrific." he reminded me of James Farentino (another early heartthrob for me), only Gautier was this great physical comedian who was hunky and yet didn't shy away from looking silly.
Sorry for oversharing, but I got one of my earliest clueless hardons (clueless in that I didn't know why I responded so... instinctively) watching Gautier play Hymie the Robot on "Get Smart." As a robot who didn't know the difference between appropriate or inappropriate behavior, they frequently had scenes of him hugging, kissing, or behaving like a doting wife to Smart. I got excited!
Anyhow, I loved that you paid tribute to this very handsome 70s stalwart. Weel done, Poseidon!

And to NotFelixUnger, whom I don't know but whose comments I've enjoyed for some time...Happy birthday!

Narciso Duran said...

You're right Ken. Dick Gautier's great comedic skill was to remain hunky and masculine in the middle of silly situations. Cary Grant was also like that...

And I too remember those instinctive, clueless hard-ons when I was a kid. Isn't it funny that at age ten or eleven, I got excited whenever I watched Rock Hudson and Susan St. James as McMillan and Wife, cuddling and joking in bedroom scenes. How do wee little gay boys know these things? And James Farentino -- what a doll; mad crush at age twelve.


And NotFelix, I had a "small house" fixation too, thanks to the cabin in the Beverly Hillbillies opening credits. I spent most of my childhood making cardboard cabins in my backyard and imagining Max Baer Junior playing you know what with my you know what in our own little love nest. He was my childhood fixation.

Even today, whenever I take drives into California's hinterland and see a little mountain cabin, I still get that romantic feeling. I've gone through plenty of Jethro's in my life, but I'm still looking.

BTW NotFelix, I just turned fifty last Halloween. After five months of experience, it's not so bad. Happy Birthday, and I am certain we are all thankful and feel blessed that we're here. And look at Dick Gautier at 80-something. Growwwll.



Poseidon3 said...

God, I love hearing all of your own recollections and reactions to the subjects here. Fascinating stuff!

NotFelix, through the cigarette smoke of that picture you mention, don't forget to notice his hairy thighs jutting out from that short swimsuit! ;-) Oh, and may I say that your life sounds like it is and always has been SO colorful!! Happy birthday to you!

Like a couple of you, I also had a fascination with small dwellings. I think it was because, as a four year-old child of divorce, I had a lack of security for my environment and felt like a small, cramped place would be comforting to live in. To this day, I'll be driving along with a friend and see some teensy, but cute, cottage and say "I want to live there!" In actuality I don't, but I at least want to GO in there. I've also always loved those curved corner rooms on old houses with the turret things for a roof. LOL

Ken, I need to see these Get Smart episodes!! I have a general aversion to Don Adams, but I'll suffer through for Hymie. Ha!

Narciso, I wanted to mention, too, that I've been reading and enjoying your remarks on some of the older posts here, too. Thank you for your contributions!

It looks like the three of you really WERE in the mood for a little Dick (Gautier)! Awesome.

NotFelixUnger said...

Thanks all for the well wishes!

Ken, I had the same thing happen for the first time at about 8 or 9 years old while watching Lyle Waggoner shirtless on Wonder Woman. I had no idea what was happening but I did know it was being caused by Lyle.

It's interesting so many of us fixated on small houses/ doll houses and dealt with it in so many different ways. I would be curious to know the psychological mechanisms behind it. It is more
than just coincidence.

Big hugs all around.

Darby DiPietro said...

Hello! I'm actually a granddaughter of Dick Gautier and I just want to say thank you for all of the information (& pictures I've never seen) on his career as he doesn't talk about it much now. I know he'd love this, he gets a kick out of knowing he was a first crush to many gays (he has "When I Knew" on his coffee table because he's featured). It's so nice to know his work is still being appreciated.
Much love!!(:

Poseidon3 said...

Darby, how utterly wonderful that you found this, enjoyed it and took the time to comment! Thank you so much for your kind words and the (most welcome) information about Mr. Gautier and his relationship - so to speak - with his gay fans! I would love it if you showed him this post and got his reaction to it. I certainly went out of my way to find as many flattering photos of him as I could, so he might get a kick out of it on that score alone. I really appreciate your comment here. Best wishes!

Vins Nan said...

Oh my God I just seen him this morning on a 1970's game show call Tattle Tales
he was so good looking I had to look him up!! Thanks for the info on that hunk of a man:)

Unknown said...

So sad to learn that Dick Gautier has passed at the age of 85. What a crush my ten year old self had on this humpy, handsome guy!

Poseidon3 said...

You're not alone! I've been enjoying him on the Buzzr TV network over the last several months. It's also been neat to see hundreds of people coming to this post over the last few days to see and learn a little more about him. Suddenly his tribute is the 3rd most popular page, which is gratifying. Thanks for commenting!