Friday, November 20, 2009

Hanging Chad

Gay men of a certain age fondly recall watching Dr. Joe Gannon (played by Chad Everett) of TV’s Medical Center prowl the halls of the hospital in his scrubs, which, according to legend, showed off the finer points of his physique. (Sadly, no readily available photos allow us to see this for ourselves!) I remember the series, vaguely, but we must not have watched it in my house because my admiration for Chad comes from mostly other sources.

Everett, one of the last significant clients of notorious Hollywood agent Henry Willson, was born Raymon Cramton in Indiana and raised in Michigan by parents with the names of Virleen and Harry Clyde! Thus, it’s not impossible to believe his claims that he merely “suspected” that Willson might be gay rather than recognizing him instantly as the predatory and overly interested sort of man that he actually was.

In any case, Willson secured Everett a contract at Warner Brothers and then one with MGM (in fact, he has the distinction of having being the sole actor left under contract to the studio as that legendary era of indentured actors came to an end.) At first, Everett got the standard WB treatment, which included featured roles in films of varying quality like Claudelle Inglish and Rome Adventure (in which his teeny part was all but invisible) as well as treadmill-like guest appearances on their series such as Bronco, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside 6, Cheyenne and Hawaiian Eye. His All-American, handsome, but also somehow bland, good looks kept him at a certain stage of anonymity.

In 1963, he accepted a regular role as a youthful deputy in the western series The Dakotas, which also featured distinctive character actor Jack Elam and nominal star Larry Ward, and it is noted for having been a great example from the genre. Unfortunately, conservative viewer protest over a shootout inside a church (in which two outlaws and one pastor were killed) led to the premature demise of the show.

Eventually, Everett wound up as the young male lead in a series of color films, some of them lightweight (to say the least!) like Get Yourself a College Girl (just look at the ski hat he was pressed into wearing!) and Made in Paris, an entendre-titled romp featuring Ann-Margret as a fashion buyer in the city of love. Others, such as First to Fight, attempted to present him in a more serious vein, though it must be said that some of his still-new emoting talents showed strain when it came to the really difficult sequences.

He also played second fiddle to various other stars who were more famous than he, including Debbie Reynolds in The Singing Nun, Robert Taylor in Johnny Tiger (despite the fact that Chad was portraying the title character) and Return of the Gunfighter, Glenn Ford in The Last Challenge (a film that also included Angie Dickinson as a comely saloon owner) and David Niven in The Impossible Years.

The trend of placing Everett against an older gentleman continued when he took on the role he is best known for, Dr. Joe Gannon of Medical Center. He played the hotshot young surgeon who works under the guidance of Dr. Paul Lochner, played by James Daly. Daly, by the way, was the father of both Timothy and Tyne Daly and when he died in 1978, there was a now-forgotten scandal in which a man came forward claiming to be Daly’s lover and demanding remuneration from his estate!

Medical Center was a significant success, the ER of its day, and had the caring Everett interacting each week with all sorts of guest stars suffering from various maladies. Dr. Gannon's off hours were spent wearing amusingly hip clothing that frequently involved leather, corduroy, wild patterns and paisley. It’s high-octane theme music with day-glo colors got the series off to a rousing start each week. One immortal two-part episode featured The Brady Bunch’s Robert Reed as a male-to-female transsexual, something that opened quite a few eyes (and jaws) when it aired in 1975.

Running for 150 episodes, it made Everett into a household name and he was featured on the cover of TV guide multiple times. Even when it was cancelled in 1976, the series was earning moderate ratings, but perhaps after seven seasons there was a lack of diseases left to cure.

During this period, Everett attempted a singing career (not a very pretty one if the truth be known!) and put out several albums. Also, in what could have been the result of his conservative upbringing, he managed to infuriate Lily Tomlin during their appearance together on The Dick Cavett Show in 1972. As was (and is, in some cases) the way at the time, TV chat fests would involve celebrities from vastly different fields and fan bases (and let the fur fly, if need be!) Everett made a remark about his wife (who is still with him to this date) being his “property” and Tomlin left the set, never to return! Oliver Reed and Shelley Winters also got into a tiff on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson one time.

In the late 70s, Everett worked in made for TV movies and miniseries, from the excellent Centennial, in which he gave a sensitive and committed performance, to the ludicrous The French Atlantic Affair, a bloated, star-studded piece of idiocy about a luxury liner hijacked by terrorists, to the glossy Malibu, all about the bed-hoppings of the wealthy coastal residents.

At least he tried to expand his horizons a bit, spoofing his leading man image in the middling Airplane II, a rehashed, cash-in sequel to the first (and far superior) movie. Though he kept busy in many TV guest roles and minor film projects, he couldn’t gain another regular series foothold with Hagen, The Rousters and McKenna all dying premature deaths.

Chad was handsome as a youth and he’s handsome today, but he did go through a few awkward permutations, especially in the 80s. For a while, he sported an almost Groucho Marx-esque moustache and then he turned up on an episode of Murder, She Wrote with a “tail” in the back of his hair! He did endure a bout with alcoholism during this period, which I hope is responsible for some of the choices.

As the millennium drew near and thereafter, Everett was selected for supporting parts in films directed by men as outré as Gus Van Sant (Psycho) and David Lynch (Mulholland Drive.) He also pushed his personal envelope a bit by portraying a repressed homosexual cop in a memorable episode of Cold Case. This alone almost makes up for one of his other gigs around the same time.

Mr. Everett instantly lost points in the Underworld for appearing on the Trinity Broadcasting Network as the host of one of their programs. I haven’t watched this, naturally, and prefer seeing him in his old movies and TV shows or walking the red carpet these days where he has evolved into a tan, silver-haired, in-shape daddy, at 73, putting most other men in his age range to shame!


Michael O'Sullivan said...

Chad is also eye-catching in Cukor's 1962 opus THE CHAPMAN REPORT as the water delivery boy (in those tight trousers) whom vampire-like nmphyo Claire Bloom is drawn to ... its just one scene but very effective. Claire is terrific in this as is Glynis Johns as the arty housewife being distracted by Ty Hardin in those spray-on briefs, then there is Shelley Winters having an affair with sleazy Ray Danton (well she does have a very dull husband) but young Jane Fonda is all at sea as the frigid widow.

Poseidon3 said...

Welcome, Michael!

I have yet to see The Chapman Report. Such injustices keep me awake at night. Thanks for the info!!

MaleCeleb said...

A handsome, sexy actor, a hunk to be sure and talented. I remember him appearing on Battle of The Network Stars in a sexy speedo. Wish those were on DVD. Anyway was sad to hear of his passing at still what I think to be a young age just yesterday July 24, 2012. Enjoyed him over the many years. May he RIP.

TheMst7883 said...

That sex-daddy turn with Naomi Watts in "Mulholland Drive" is one of the best bits of film ever captured on Mr. Everett. Thank you, David Lynch!

Joe Bearnickel said...

I remember him well in Medical Center. Another person I had a crush on was Gil Gerard(sp?).

autolycos said...

I've been visiting now and then for a while, and just wanted to say how much I enjoy the posts. And, as mentioned above, Chad is indeed stellar in "Mulholland Drive." I plan on looking for that "Cold Case" episode!

Poseidon3 said...

autolycos, thank you so much for taking time to comment! I'm glad you've enjoyed the blatherings put forth here. Please feel free to leave your reactions any time. I always see new comments on old posts.