Thursday, October 29, 2009

Oh, the Horror!

Due to the impending holiday, I will be submerged in preparations for my annual Halloween Party and, thus, will not be able to post any entries for several days.

In the meantime, please enjoy a few images from some of my favorite classic scary movies and I’ll be back before long with more ruminations and reflections from The Underworld!

Molten Lavi

Go to any mall, ask passersby if they can tell you who the current Secretary of Defense is and you will likely get blank stares in return. Thus, it’s pretty damn unlikely that anyone will have ever heard of Daliah Lavi either! However, it is their loss if they haven’t.

Despite being born in Israel and frequently being referred to as an “Israeli actress,” Miss Lavi is actually the child of a German mother and a Russian father and, as master of six or eight languages, is truly the epitome of an international performer.

Originally intending to become a dancer, she attended the Royal Opera House in Stockholm as a young girl before a medical condition (and the health of her father) led her to abandon that dream and return to Israel. There, she became a model, which led into film work.

Apart from one role in a Swedish film while at school, her earliest movies were either French, German or Italian productions. In 1962, she appeared in Vincente Minneli’s Two Weeks in Another Town. A year later, she was Christopher Lee’s leading lady in the then-controversial, sadomasochistic-tinged Whip and the Body (a role that earned her a cult of devoted fans.)

Her distinctively dark features allowed her to play any variety of roles from an Apache maiden in Shatterhand (with Lex Barker) to a Eurasian girl in the epic Lord Jim, based on a Joseph Conrad novel and starring Peter O’Toole. Her work here is considered her most impressive acting-wise.

A lean, exotic beauty, she came along at a time when hairstyles and fashions were becoming increasingly over-the-top, but she could pull off practically any look. She was put into incredibly glamorous outfits and coiffed with ornate and striking hairdos, some of which almost looked ridiculous and would have buried a lesser woman, but she made them work. In Ten Little Indians (1965) with Hugh O’Brian, she had an impenetrable helmet hairstyle that could have caused its own ozone layer hole and was at one point placed in an outfit that featured hilarious white “cotton balls” on it. I’m gaga over her big, beaded necklace that looks like something Joan Crawford might have worn as a bracelet in the 60s to compliment her own necklace (which would be, of course, 6 times bigger than this one!)

She’s probably best remembered for her work in several spy spoofs of the mid-60s. Dean Martin made four Matt Helm flicks and she appeared in one of the better ones, The Silencers, as a slinky, dangerous beauty. There was also The Spy with a Cold Nose with Laurence Harvey and Casino Royale (1967) with Woody Allen.

In 1968, she did The High Commissioner with Rod Taylor, Christopher Plummer and Lilli Palmer (the latter two pictured here), playing a politically attuned socialite and her appearance is so glamorous it would make any drag queen roll over and play dead. This era is my all-time favorite for hair and make-up and many actresses and singers, including Inger Stevens and Nancy Ames, wore hair piled so high it seemed downright dangerous! Hilariously, the stylists for Commissioner tried to suggest that all of that hair was the character’s own, so when it’s not up, it’s shown incredibly long and thick. Love it, though!

By 1971, however, times had begun to change and her sort of magnificently put-together beauty was not as much in style. She worked with Yul Brynner and Leonard Nimoy in the western Catlow and then, for all intents and purposes was through acting in films.

Always a stunning presence physically, her acting talent was often in question, though she never really embarrassed herself. She seemed to be used a bit too often as showy window dressing in flashy films.

However, she discovered an entirely new career for herself when, on the advice of musical theatre star Topol, she began to record music. She enjoyed tremendous success at this in Germany and won an Otto award, an important distinction there. She adopted a slightly more natural look, with lighter, softer hair and less dark makeup.

Her grasp of various languages afforded her the ability to record songs in each one, ensuring her exposure across Europe. Though her greatest success at singing came in the early 70s, she continued to perform music regularly in concerts.

Daliah Lavi, a raven-haired, sultry siren aged in a way that is simultaneously unexpected and yet refreshingly right. She, for a time, wore long, full, mostly grey hair, completely at odds with her prior appearance, but then shifted to a chic, short ‘do that gives her the look of a cosmopolitan beauty of the world, which is what she is.

Of all places, she currently resides in Asheville, North Carolina and who knows whether she rubs elbows with the locals at Target and, if so, whether they even realize that the strikingly lovely woman in the next aisle over was, for about a decade, one of the most glorious, statuesque, sensual ladies to accessorize the cinema.

A surprising number of her films are available on DVD to those interested. They include, but are not limited to: Whip and the Body, Lord Jim, Ten Little Indians (1965), The Silencers, Casino Royale (1967), The High Commissioner and Catlow.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Now LOOK, Buster!

This may be one of the few times that Poseidon mostly clams up and allows the subject at hand to rise to the surface merely through pictures. Today’s featured hunk is so good-looking that it’s probably better to just give the basic facts and then let his gorgeous mug and fit body do the rest of the talking!

Born Clarence Linden Crabbe II in 1908, Buster Crabbe (as he later came to be known) was mostly raised in Hawaii where he became an exceptional swimmer. At age 20, he won a bronze medal in the 1928 Olympics, following up with a gold in the 1932 games. He soon married his college sweetheart and they remained together until his death 50 years later.

He had done some dabbling in films, as a stunt double for watery sequences and such, before working in a Tarzan rip-off called King of the Jungle. Oddly enough, he next appeared properly as Tarzan in Tarzan the Fearless. Originally filmed as a 12-part serial, it was later edited into a feature length film. It’s notable for the amazingly abbreviated loincloth he wore in which the bottom half of his ass was exposed! (Now who among you would not want to be ravaged as this young thing is in this shot?)

Within three years, he would portray the comic strip hero Flash Gordon, his most famous part. Although he would also play Buck Rogers in between turns as Flash, it was as Flash Gordon that he is best remembered. In at least one edition, his hair was lightened to a shocking pale blonde for the role.

Crabbe worked steadily in low-budget westerns, notably as Billy the Kid and then as Billy Carson in a long series of films. He was on an acting treadmill, often starting a film on a Monday that would be finished that Thursday!! In 1947, he found himself playing the villainous Magua in Last of the Redmen, a version of James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans!

By the early 50s, his career was mainly in television, working in the anthology series that were so popular then, but can’t ever seem to gain a foothold anymore. He did play the leading role for 41 episodes of an adventure series called Captain Gallant of The Foreign Legion, the show being notable for filming on location in Morocco for the better part of its run.

Eventually, though he continued to act sporadically, he turned to the swimming pool business and made quite a success of it! In fact, the company Cascade Pools still exists today. He made many, many personal appearances through this venture. Occasionally, he would turn up at Tarzan reunions for a photo op (there are pics out there of him and others, including Johnny Weissmuller, in his 60s wearing a loincloth and it’s not what you’d call pretty!) Here he, Johnny and Esther Williams (who successfully marketed swimsuits) make a personal appearance.

His startling good looks couldn’t last forever and he eventually evolved into a rather weathered character actor in films with little distinction. Arizona Raiders is a tremendously bad western in which a horrible narrator describes everything that’s happening onscreen. Still, Crabbe worked practically up to his death in 1983. In a nice tribute to his serial days, he showed up (looking rather gaunt, I’m afraid) in a cameo on the 1979 series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

His fame and success allowed him to extend his love of swimming to young people and he set up a swimming camp, which he would typically visit once a year. There are worse things than being taught to swim by Buster Crabbe!

When they remade Flash Gordon in 1980, another very handsome and fit actor was chosen, Sam J. Jones, but he never caught on and wound up with his own lackluster career. He is almost as well known for a Playgirl spread he did prior to the film!

In any case, we’re left with many beautiful images of Buster Crabbe who, with the right support, could have been a much bigger star. However, a cult following for the three iconic characters he portrayed keeps his memory going.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

70s TV Exposure, Volume 2: Hair Supply

In Volume 1, the subject of super-tight or otherwise revealing pants on the men of 70s television was examined. In Volume 2, we take a look at that other fascinating aspect of 1970s male dress: the preposterously unbuttoned shirt!

At some point in the decade, men seemed to make a conscious decision to stop buttoning their shirts about halfway up. I’m not complaining, however, because it was a great time for those who like glimpsing the (then often hirsute) male physique.

Ricky Nelson, who figured in Volume 1 for his impossibly revealing jeans, kept his top half visible as well. What’s fun about this picture, apart from his open shirt and gold chain, 70s staples if there ever were any, is the huge fur coat he dons with it all.

Anyone who watched 70s TV, particularly game shows, will recognize Dick Gautier. He played Robin Hood in a short-lived Mel Brooks produced TV comedy called When Things Were Rotten. The original Conrad in Bye, Bye Birdie on Broadway and later appearing on Get Smart, he epitomized the pseudo-suave, disco-era look that dominated the times. Though his chest wasn’t hairy, it was often on display, framed by gold necklaces and garish polyester shirts. He also had the disarming habit of crinkling up his forehead in order to make it look as if his hair was coming foreward! Once seen, this cannot be forgotten.

One of my early crushes was the burly, hairy, hunky Martin Kove. Martin kicked around in low-budget movies and guest-starred on many series before finally getting a regular gig on Cagney & Lacey. In the opening credits for that show, he was depicted changing in the precinct house locker room, sending many a teenage boy to bed happy! In the 70s, when he wasn’t playing a thug or henchman, he could often be scene working his stuff in half-open shirts. These caps are from The Nancy Drew Mysteries.

Starsky & Hutch was a wildly popular TV cop show (later reworked into a movie by Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.) Paul Michael Glaser seemed to miss no opportunity to show his very furry chest. Many people fondly remember the shot of the pair dressed only in shoulder holsters and little towels! It was said that the show hinged on a sense of platonic love between the guys, who were always leaning on each other as their girlfriends came and went, though this was typical of shows of that time. The Cartwrights of Bonanza and The Barkleys of The Big Valley went through love interests like water!

One of the many sci-fi programs that rode the coattails of Star Wars’ success was Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, an update of an old newspaper strip and 1930s movie serial. This time out, Buck was played by Gil Gerard, who wore a skintight, white bodysuit. Most of the clothing he wore when out of uniform was open-chested. Publicity shots for the show also featured him in gloriously tacky gold lame. In season two, his costume was radically altered in an attempt to mask his weight gain. A few years ago, Gil was the subject of a reality show based on his, by then, massive gain and subsequent loss.

Robert Urich played Dan Tanna on Vegas (after first portraying the love interest of Tabitha, a little-known Bewitched spin-off!) He was yet another actor who rode the gold chain and open shirt wave until it became a laughable cliché. Any tackiness he displayed on the series was handily outdone by recurring costar Tony Curtis, however. After starring in a long list of TV series of various success, Urich was felled by cancer at too young an age.

When people think of 1970s open shirts (and tight jeans as well) Gary Sandy of WKRP in Cincinnati is a name that often comes to mind. It was just the way things were! True, not too many really old guys went in for it (thankfully), but some did.

Open shirts were even present on children’s Saturday morning TV programs! Sid & Marty Krofft’s Land of the Lost ran for a couple of seasons and featured Wesley Eure. (Actually, he was billed as just ‘Wesley’ on the show upon the advice of his agent.) This iconic series was recently fiddled with by Will Ferrell on the big screen, minus the unforgettable blonde braids of female costar Kathy Coleman. Eure, who had worked on Days of Our Lives for many years, later became a frequent Password Plus celebrity guest.

In the Underworld, one 70s TV actor reigns supreme in the exposed hairy chest category (with Robert Conrad right in there as well for his unzippable flight suit on Baa Baa Black Sheep) and that is Mr. Lee Majors. As The Six Million Dollar Man, he was placed in a variety of get-ups emblematic of the era. Married at the time to Farrah Fawcett, the couple delighted in showing off their matching exercise wear and projecting the image of “the perfect couple.” However, that would soon be over once he left to film a movie and she left him for his “friend” Ryan O’Neal!

Somewhere along the line (thanks to either conservative government or the AIDS crisis or a shift towards more elegant looks?) we left behind this era of letting it all hang out. And many folks cheered when it was no longer fashionable to quit buttoning up midway. Some of these men wouldn't even be considered handsome in these spray-tan, six-pack, baby-smooth times, but they personified the "macho" sensibility that was prevalent then. It certainly made this little fruit's heart go pitter-patter to see his favorite men this way! Oh, and fans of Mr. Conrad, please don’t despair. He figures into Volume 3 of the 70s TV Exposure, which will be posted some time in the near future!