Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Guest Who: "Island" Girls

Lately, we've been indulging in a guilty pleasure that is even more guilty than we ever realized when we first saw it decades ago. I refer to the endlessly cheesy, but deliciously bizarre, star-filled series Fantasy Island (1977-1984), companion piece to the relatively similar The Love Boat (1977-1987), which aired one hour before it each week. A while back, I highlighted the very first TV appearance of one Michelle Pfeiffer, who showed up alongside MGM star Cyd Charisse. This time out, I'm focusing on one episode that came my way not long ago and which contained a considerable array of actresses old and new (and I'm also tossing in some always-welcome beefcake to the proceedings.)

Island nearly always began with "de plane!" landing in the lagoon, followed by Ricardo Montalban greeting that week's guests, who were there to fulfill a cherished fantasy. The first of two stories I'm highlighting in this post concerns Joan Prather (remember her as Grant Goodeve's wife on Eight is Enough, 1977-1981?)

Prather (who I dearly loved when I was a child, but who was so reviled by a later roommate of mine that I began to question my judgement!) has come to meet up with a man who she fell hard for four years prior in a brief meeting, but hasn't seen since. Montalban arranges for her to enjoy another date with the good-looking stranger, but warns her about his reputation and implores her not to leave the island.

The date she's been hankering for is none other than James Darren, the smoothly handsome, tan teen idol of the 1960s. Our first glimpse of Darren (and you have to look fast because it's fleeting) has him garbed in a hilariously clingy tennis ensemble complete with moose knuckle! He's a slick operator for sure and has soon charmed Prather just the way she believed he would.

They share an elegant, romantic evening together (do take note of his ruffled tuxedo shirt cuffs) and share an intimate slow dance back in her bungalow. However, that ring on his finger isn't just for glitz's sake. He has a drug contained in it, which he slips into her drink when she isn't looking! When Prather wakes up, she is on his own private island, surrounded by painted-up prisoners who are there for the purposes of white slavery/prostitution!

The very first face Prather sees upon awakening from her drug-induced nap is this one.  Recognize her?
This statuesque, blue-eyed, blonde Canadian is a young starlet making her television debut. A Playboy Playmate with acting ambitions that were being realized at this time (1979), her most heralded work would wind up being released after her sad demise. This is Dorothy Stratten.
Another face Prather sees when coming to belongs to this gal, a daytime TV actress making her prime-time debut.
Jane Badler had been on One Life to Live for two years, but would really make a mark in the sci-fi miniseries V (1983) and its resultant sequel and short-lived series. Her commanding character was, underneath the beautiful exterior, a reptilian, mouse-eating alien! (Badler reappeared in the 2011 re-imagining of the franchise, still called V.) In the first shot above, she reminds me of Ralna (as in Guy & Ralna from The Lawrence Welk Show!)

There are other assorted hussies in the room, but the big surprise comes when their appointed madame Yvonne De Carlo barrels in! Outfitted with a large, hysterical fall reaching down her back, she has come quite a fer piece from costarring in The Ten Commandments (1958) or even The Munsters (1964-1966)!  She runs a tough ship and any of the gals who disobeys Darren or her is subject to anything from confinement to starvation to a severe beating.

Prather, unwilling to submit to the type of action Darren has in mind for her, tosses a glass of wine in his face, leading De Carlo to order her taken to a dirty, cobwebbed dungeon. There, Prather is instructed to place her hands inside a pair of hanging rings so that she can be soundly whipped by De Carlo's handy stick. (How much did Prather pay for this fantasy?!?!)

De Carlo looks better without that huge mass of hair hanging down her back and in close up gives us a wee taste of the striking glamor and beauty she possessed in her earlier years. She was fifty-seven at the time of this episode.

Goofy as this whole thing is, and it is pretty ridiculous, this does afford everyone to glimpse the undeniably beauty of Stratten (the victim of a vicious 1980 murder-suicide, which was depicted in both the TV-movie Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story, 1981, and more famously in Star 80, 1983.)

She does a fair amount of posing, rather than acting, but by the time of her third and final film (counting only those in which she had a "role"), she was on her way to a promising career in the business. The final film was They All Laughed (1981), which starred Audrey Hepburn and Ben Gazzara. She was only twenty years of age when she was killed.

The second story thread in this episode features John Saxon and Miss America 1959 Mary Ann Mobley. Saxon plays a marine biologist in search of a new aquatic discovery while Mobley plays his wife who has been steadily growing distant as his interest in the sea has grown and grown.

We adore Mobley, always have, and find the compactly handsome Mr. Saxon to be appealing, too. This was a reunion for the actors for in 1968 they had costarred not only in the swinging romp For Singles Only, but also in the TV-movie Istanbul Express, which was released as a feature film overseas.

Saxon, forty-four and stripped down to a trim, blue swimsuit heads out into the ocean to explore the sea life. Before long, he becomes tangled in seaweed or kelp (the only little batch of it that happens to be around! He swims directly into it...) He manages to free himself, aided by the encouraging words of a woman he doesn't see around.

Washing ashore, he discovers that embedded in a large mound of seaweed is a mermaid (!), all dried out and close to death. He scampers around to get a blanket, then picks her up and runs back towards his Fantasy Island bungalow. (Hysterically, it is quite obviously a mannequin with a long wig on during his jog along the beach!)

The topless mermaid (Michelle Phillips) is placed in his bathtub in what looks to be bubble bath, but we're informed that it's foam from salt and minerals that Saxon has somehow added to the tub water to bring her back into fighting shape. Remarkably enough, this episode aired five years before the hit Tom Hanks movie Splash (1984), so it isn't a rip-off of that. However, it is a direct cribbing of the 1948 William Powell hit Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. (Phillips made two subsequent appearances on the series as this apparently popular character.)

Saxon and Phillips spend idyllic hours swimming and loving one another, to the horror and despair of his wife Mobley, who tearfully expresses her feelings to Montalban. Montalban encourages her to fight for her husband, so she does just that, though it takes some doing to break the spell Saxon is under.
Saxon, in an even flimsier suit than the first one he wore, is about to enter the water and join Phillips for good when Mobley comes running onto the beach to stop him. Ultimately, she has to get in the water herself and save him from the siren's clutches.
Here's where I was totally blown away... This show ran on network TV in 1979 and was a proud product of the Aaron Spelling era of "jiggle TV." He found a way to put plenty of perky and pert, yet rarely if ever vulgar, female bodies on display, many times braless. Few people thought a thing about it other than to enjoy the gently risque notion of Farrah Fawcett's nipples being outlined through her tops during Charlie's Angels or various extras strutting around in bikinis (with pantyhose on under them!) aboard The Love Boat. Yet today, in 2016, the channel that was broadcasting this episode of Fantasy Island felt the need to digitally BLUR the wet chest of Mary Ann Mobley.... Really???!  Come on... The former Miss America never did a nude scene in her life and was about a wholesome as they come. All this did was draw obvious attention to what may not have otherwise made any impact at all (and smacks of censorship, which I am practically always against.) It slays me that with all the in-your-face filth that shows up on television - especially reality TV - that someone felt clenched enough to obscure a wet blouse.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little peek at some notable women (and a noticeable man!) who popped up on this episode.

6 comments:

joel65913 said...

This was a fun little recap Poseidon and how lovely that the male you were able to spotlight was one of my favs, the always hunky John Saxon.

Armando Kotch said...

Dorothy Stratten, Star80 herself. Eric Roberts creeped me out in that movie.

A said...

Wow, John Saxon and James Darren in the same episode. Talk about Fantasy Island!

Gingerguy said...

Thanks for the time travel moment Poseidon. I remember this and "Love Boat" being the highlight of the week. I don't remember this particular episode for some reason (didn't it always seem like Carol Lynley was a guest?). Just watched James Darren in "Diamond Head" and he is still pretty cute here. I didn't realize Dorothy Stratten had done any television, that Bob Fosse movie with Eric Roberts left me so enraged. Shout out to Ralna LOL. I love John Saxon and he is one hot Daddy here,even in the nerd outfit. I definitely see the Mr Peabody-though that mermaid was none other than Miss Veda Pierce. Finally-those red shiny flowers that were all over the place are called Anthuriums. I studied floral design and the teacher was English. Apparently in England they are nicknamed "Willies on a plate"-smiles everyone indeed!

Poseidon3 said...

Joel, I don't know when, but someday I will probably get around to a proper tribute to John Saxon. He doesn't exactly fit with my own personal obsessions who tend to be taller and blue-eyed, but I still like him a lot and find him worthy of a post here (an honor right behind a Kennedy Center or knighthood, I'm sure! LOL)

Gingerguy, there's a post here all about "Diamond Head" that you might want to revisit since you just saw it. Stratten also popped up on a "Buck Rogers" episode (that I'm sure I have because I own the entire series on DVD!) I never realized just how young she was when she was killed. So awful. And I'm dead serious about Jane Badler resembling Ralna English here! ("III caaan't stop loooovvin' you.. I' made up mah minnd.") For me, the most prolific FI guest star seemed to be Barbi Benton. She was forever showing up! One that I recall cackling at had her and Audrey Landers in severe old lady makeup so that they could go back in time to become showgirls again. And thanks for the flower info. How amusing that the Willies on a Plate are framing James Darren while his willie is crammed into those tight workout pants.

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

Joan Prather! I thought I was the only one who even knew about her. I thought she was terrific in Smile (actually the whole movie I recall fondly), and I always thought more would happen to her career. Hope she's happy though!

Count me in as a John Saxon fan too. I often mix him up with John Gavin in my mind, and it's a sweet mix-up.