Monday, January 31, 2011

Buffed Out...

As ruler of The Underworld, I typically try to make it a place of fun and frolic or a domain from which to highlight some of those folks who (in my opinion) may not have received their full due. I endeavor to stay away from the negative (except where my own inherent cattiness is concerned, of course!) because the surface world is already filled to the brim with bad news. That said, today’s story is a tragic one without a happy ending, but I can at least hope (actually, know) that the body of work left behind by our subject still brings happiness to myself and others.

Our story begins in March of 1958 in West Lafayette, Indiana where a faculty member, Dr. John Paul Jones, and his master’s student wife, Paula, gave birth to a little daughter named Mary Anissa Jones. Paula was of Lebanese descent and the child’s middle name (pronounced Ah-NEE-Sah) meant “little friend” in that language. A little over a year later, a baby brother, Paul, arrived.

The family having moved to California while the children were still toddlers, young Jones was enrolled in dance class at the age of four. Her troupe was asked to perform on The Linkletter Show, hosted, of course, by Art Linkletter, a very famous figure in reality television throughout the ‘50s and beyond. Linkletter was renowned for his ability to interact with children and hosted several shows featuring them.

Called upon to do a cartwheel, she failed the first time and picked herself up to try again, this time nailing it. Already a determined and dedicated little trooper to whatever task she was assigned, she was mortified by her (initial) failure and cried all the way home, though the studio audience was captivated by the adorable doll of a girl.

Soon after, through a friend of her mother’s who had a child in commercials, Jones began auditioning for and landing jobs in advertising. She appeared in close to two-dozen commercials before the age of eight.

Television producer Don Fedderson was putting together a new series called Family Affair, all about the misadventures of a New York City bachelor used to living in his Manhattan high rise with only a valet/butler, but who is forced to take on the task of raising his two nieces and a nephew. The script called for a fifteen year-old girl, a ten year-old boy and another girl, aged six. Anissa Jones auditioned for the part (though she was actually eight) and won it thanks to her extra youthful looks and her utterly charming personality and acting talent.

When none of the boys seemed to be lighting a fire with the casting directors, the series star Brian Keith suggested a little boy he’d recently worked on in the film The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming who had the ability to cry on cue. Young redhead Johnnie Whitaker was cast in the role, but his tender age of six required a shift in the concept. He and Jones were written as fraternal twins, Buffy and Jody, while Cathy Garver was cast as their older sister, Cissy. (In another example of the age tweaking that goes on in Hollywood, Garver was almost twenty-one at the time!) Ironically, the children were depicted as being from Terre Haute, Indiana, a city not far from Jones’ own birthplace.

This was in 1966 and the year before, Anissa Jones’ parents had divorced. It was not an amicable split and so her home life was surely no picnic. In the series, portraying an orphan shuttled here and there, she didn’t have to reach far to obtain the forlorn, dejected qualities that her character initially displayed. The first couple of episodes of Family Affair highlighted the adjustments that had to be made for this newly formed unit and the misunderstandings that were brought about when a single man takes on three youngsters.

Soon, however, the quintet solidified into a warm gaggle, falling victim only to the regular sort of issues that would befall any family (or, since this was television, let’s say almost any family!) Rotund Sebastian Cabot portrayed the fastidious, efficient, British butler whose household and lifestyle are upended even more than his employer’s by the arrival of the children. His exasperation eventually melted into affection, of course, and the vision of this large man with a tiny twin on each side became an iconic one.

Shortly into the run of the show, Cabot was stricken with bleeding ulcers in real life and had to exit the program for a while. In his absence (the character was called upon to return to England for a spell by no less than Her Majesty the Queen), John Williams stepped in as his brother and took over the combination of butler/nanny duties until Cabot could return, forty or so pounds lighter than when he’d left!

Initially, Jones referred to Cabot as Mr. Cabot, but as their interpersonal relationship as fellow actors developed, she took to calling him “Sabby” as all his friends did. When her cat Tiger (a gift from Brian Keith) had kittens, she named one of them Sabby in his honor.

Keith had in real life suffered the loss of a child when his eight year-old son Michael died from a sudden case of pneumonia. This potentially devastating event did continue to chip at his heart, but he and his wife adopted three children to go with their surviving daughter, so he knew a little something about raising an unorthodox family.

The series was saccharine, occasionally immensely so, but it was also pleasant, charming, tender, amusing and, probably most of all, cute. The “hook” of an unconventional family at the center of a sitcom was still a rather new thing (something Nanny and the Professor and The Brady Bunch would expand on. In fact, Susan Olsen, Cindy on The Brady Bunch, won her role on the series with the same curly ponytails that Jones sported on Family Affair and would, like Jones, be forced into wearing them until long after they were age appropriate.)

Anissa Jones had a precious, but still quite natural, manner that was so appealing. She somehow had a distant, thoughtful type of visage and a sweet little voice that sometimes had a plaintive quality to it, especially when she was asking questions that she didn’t know the know the answer to. For me, some of the cutest moments of Family Affair are simply watching the excitement in the children when “Uncle Bill” comes home after a long trip. I find these ecstatic bits to be even more endearing than the scripted “special” scenes supplied by the writers. Nevertheless, Both children were cuter than cute though Jones, perhaps, holds a special place in my heart because my little sister (thirteen years my junior) was almost a carbon copy of her. I would never post pictures of my sister here, but the resemblance is startling. It continued to be there as she grew into her teens (although my sister was a hopeless brat while Jones was always visible only in an idealized way.)

One thing that was admirably forward about the often cutesy and cloying program was its use of children from varied walks of life as friends of the twins. The casting of the children’s friends was frequently multiracial.

Buffy carried an unusual doll around called Mrs. Beasley. It was a big, blonde thing with glasses and a blue, polka-dotted dress. (And it underwent quite a makeover from the pilot to the series, becoming far cleaner and more attractive overall!) The character treated it as if it could talk to her and related to it as close friend (almost an imaginary friend, though at least the physical object of the doll was on hand.) This doll became immensely popular and was eventually marketed to little girls in stores all across the nation.
Family Affair was, like Fedderson’s previous series My Three Sons with Fred MacMurray, almost completely geared to fit its leading man. MacMurray had a special arrangement in which he would have all of his scenes filmed together in a certain block of time, then the rest of the cast would do their own scenes later, thus freeing him from being around for too long. Likewise, Keith’s scenes were all done in a row and in a certain time frame, leaving the rest of the cast to work around that after the fact.

Considering this, it’s even more amazing that young Jones and Whitaker could give the type of performances they did since they were filming scenes and episodes completely out of sequence, many times without Keith even being present, to have them patched together later in editing! Keep in mind that there were THIRTY episodes a year filmed of this show the first two years, far more than are ever done of a sitcom nowadays. Naturally, though they got on well with Keith (and Whitaker, in particular, adored him), they in time gravitated more towards Cabot.
In 1967, Jones helped present the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy Award to The Monkees. The following year, she, along with Whitaker and Cabot, were assigned to present the award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role – Drama. The threesome walked onto the stage, with Jones carrying the ever-present Mrs. Beasley, and the children stepped onto two small risers that had been placed there for them.

After reading the nominees’ names clearly and sweetly, the winner was announced to be Gunsmoke’s Milburn Stone, a man who had been playing Doc Adams on the series for thirteen seasons and was in the middle of the fourteenth (and it would run for twenty!) He came up to the stage and, finding that there seemed to be no good place to go amidst the risers, the children and the sizeable Sebastian Cabot, knelt down onto Anissa’s riser and spoke into the microphone that had been placed low for her! (And I'm sorry, but I don't know who the blonde is who was helping to hand out the statuettes that year.)

She asked if he wanted her to leave and he exclaimed no, choosing to embrace her with his right arm as he gave his acceptance speech. She looked on bemusedly as he continued to thank his cast and crew, occasionally smiling to herself at the occasion. (Incidentally, both Keith and Cabot were nominees in the Leading Actor in a Comedy category that year, perhaps canceling each other out, though Keith was nominated alone two other times and never won an Emmy for his work on Family Affair.)

When the category was over, she went to exit with Mrs. Beasley when Cabot instructed her to pick up her riser as Whitaker had done. She placed the doll on the riser and picked both up, with not a little bit of effort (!) and padded off with Cabot. Having me relay this whole scenario to you, even with pictures, does not do justice to the unbelievable sweetness of the moment. Jones had a particularly adorable walk, made even more so by the then-fashionable patent leather shoes, tights and short dresses she was placed in.

One year, Jones broke her leg and the event was written into the series so that there would be no loss of production time (to speak of) over it. She was put in a cast and the scripts were revised, whenever necessary, to reflect her injury.

Jones attended school, like many other acting children, right on the lot of the series, except for those periods when she wasn’t filming. However, a significant amount of her free time was spent promoting the show. She posed for still photos, went on promotional trips, appeared on other series including Laugh-In and an episode of To Rome with Love as Buffy Davis, and was generally pressed into service like a workhorse.
Her image was marketed in every conceivable way. There were Buffy dolls (that came with their own miniature Mrs. Beasleys!) There were comic books and storybooks about the show. Any type of girl toy imaginable seemed privy to having her image associated with it, even this bizarre, scary-ass makeup and hairstyling head that has nothing whatsoever to do with Jones or Buffy! Check out that scary face and ask yourself if your daughter wouldn’t come screaming into your room at night if she awoke to have this decapitated noggin sitting on her dresser! There was even a Buffy cookbook with recipes galore for those burgeoning chefs still in frilly panties and pinafores.
There were countless paper dolls, too. Some were just of Buffy, some of Jody and some of the whole family. We can all thank Jesus that the Sebastian “Mr. French” Cabot paper doll came fully clothed already and wasn’t depicted with him in his underwear and sock garters!
Her face was on everything and I am seriously doubting that she was ever properly compensated for the use of her image. That was not the way in those days. The series ran from 1966 to 1971 and I know that members of The Partridge Family got nothing from all the use of their images for their show, which ran from 1970-1974. This advertisement, meant for toy distributors, even contains the phrase “Put Buffy to work for you” in its text! Yes, she was put to work constantly, and for every photo and every personal appearance, her hair was tugged and pulled into those ponytails and then curled meticulously into place.

In 1969, while Family Affair was still in production, Jones was cast in the Elvis Presley movie The Trouble With Girls (and how to get into it.), one of his last films as an actor. Based on a period novel set in the 1920s, this was a departure for The King in that he wasn’t the absolute focus of the storyline. In fact, for the first and only time, he appears in less than fifty percent of the footage! Jones appeared as the child of Sheree North and got to work with not only Presley, but also cinema legend Vincent Price. For once, she was seen in hairstyles differing from her Buffy ponytails. Continuing in the spirit of racial harmony found on Family Affair, she shared many of her scenes with a young black actor named Pepe Brown. Also appearing without credit as an auditioning child singer is Miss Susan Olsen, who would soon become an even bigger iconic child star than Jones on The Brady Bunch.

When Family Affair was cancelled in 1971, it was still a moderately successful show (it was a top five program in its second, third and fourth seasons), though ratings had tapered off. CBS was changing its image to more adult-oriented fare (as well as eighty-six-ing anything considered rural in tone.) It was still popular enough to warrant plans to switch it from CBS to ABC, but in the end ABC decided that having The Brady Bunch was enough of that series type.

Incidentally, a now-forgotten remake was put forth in 2002 with Gary Cole and Tim Curry, holding to the basic premise. The sweetness was mostly replaced by the now-typical brattiness and sarcasm found in TV children. The stale, unsuccessful show only lasted for fifteen episodes before being mercifully yanked. The children of the series have since continued to work in television (and, in some cases, movies), but the chemistry of the original series could not be duplicated in this rehash.

With Family Affair in reruns during the day, Buffy was still in the public’s consciousness. Initially, Jones went to school and attempted a normal life (making many friends), though the idea of an acting career had not left her. She strenuously sought the role of satanically possessed Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist, which was a complete and total departure from her work in the sitcom, but ultimately Linda Blair was cast.

Keith, having thoroughly enjoyed working with her on Affair, asked her to work with him again in The Brian Keith Show, in which he played a Hawaiian pediatrician. Jones would have portrayed a local teen of the surrounding neighborhood. Having already survived the grind of a punishing TV show schedule, she declined the part (which was taken on by another girl and in short time written out altogether during a restyling of the show.)

In what might have been a career-building role, she was offered the Jodie Foster part in Taxi Driver. She didn’t accept the part for reasons unknown, though it was the edgy, alternative sort of work she was eager to do in the wake of Mrs. Beasley and the ponytails. She continued to busy herself with school, friends and a job at a local donut shop.

Her personal life had continued to be messy with some back-and-forth living between her parents until her father won custody of her and her brother. This was followed, though, by her father’s premature death. Then she was branded a runaway when she decided not to go back and live with her mother, but chose instead to live with friends. She wound up in state custody for a time before moving back to her mother’s. On her eighteenth birthday, she was allowed access to the earnings she had accrued during her time as a young TV star.

$180,000 is a nice chunk of change now, but in 1976, it was the equivalent of almost three quarters of a million dollars. She had no need or reason to work at all again. She still wished to be an actress, however. She purchased a car, a Pinto, and continued to seek acting opportunities while working at the donut shop. She and her brother rented an apartment together not far from her mother.

Things seemed to really be on the verge of happening finally when she was offered a shot at the role of a child prostitute in the film Pretty Baby. Director Louis Malle was planning the film set in the brothels of New Orleans and a key role was that of a twelve year-old girl. Every young actress in Hollywood either auditioned for the controversial role or turned down offers to play it for whatever reason. Tatum O’Neal, Jodie Foster, Linda Blair, Kristy MacNichol and Dana Plato all allegedly turned the part down. Others who sought it were Diane Lane, Michelle Pfeiffer, Melanie Griffith, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Laura Dern, Helen Hunt and on and on and on.

Sadly, Anissa Jones would be dead before the official auditions came about. The role in Pretty Baby would ultimately (and controversially) be played by Brooke Shields.

1976 was a time when the drug culture in America was close to full swing, especially in California and other “happening” areas. Jones fell in with a group of kids who were partying heavily and began a relationship with a boyfriend who was a drug user. A wealthy eighteen year-old girl with her own car and little to no parental control placed into this environment was a recipe for disaster. Disaster struck on August 28th, 1976 when Anissa was found dead in the bedroom of a friend’s house after a night of partying.

The coroner who examined her body had never witnessed a drug overdose this severe. Her body was filled with no less than four different types of drugs including cocaine, PCP, Quaaludes and Seconal. Having only been on her own a short while, she had all but $17,000 of her earnings still left in the bank. There were no official services held for her and she was cremated, her ashes spread into the Pacific Ocean. Eight years later, her little brother Paul would also die of a drug overdose.

Child stars in Hollywood have long been the victims of everything from driving or larcenous parents to uncaring executives to lack of proper education to exposure to all sorts of behavior they should have been shielded from as well as many other dangers. Every year that passes brings just a little more insight, awareness, legislature and understanding of the pressures and temptations that these children face, but there always seems to be one constant: some kids simply cannot adjust to life as they enter young adulthood. So many turn to drugs in order to (temporarily) soothe the pain. It’s ironic and sad that these kids who bring such pleasure to millions of people are sometimes living in excruciating torment.

Anissa Jones did make a difference to some people. There are many young men and women who saw her death (seemingly impossible to grasp from the outside looking in) as a wake up call to give up toying with drugs. There are those who risked death, but somehow came out on the right side of it (like Brady kid Maureen McCormick, who shoveled enough coke up her nose to fill a thousand snow globes!) Even Johnnie Whitaker, who saw his treasured friend die from drugs, went through a period of addiction himself. He, and other survivors – notably Paul Peterson – have striven to raise awareness and offer support to kids in their situation. Then there are those for whom nothing can cause them to avoid that trap.

Today, Jones is still entertaining a whole new generation of children when their parents, many of who grew up watching her, show them the DVDs of Family Affair. All five seasons have been released and they are a delightful piece of entertainment for young people (and maybe even some not so young!) The story of Anissa Jones is a sad one, but her legacy of Buffy Davis still puts a smile on many faces even now.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mystery Solved!

Those who dive into The Underworld on a regular basis are familiar with my post not too long ago about a mystery woman, a film and television extra who seemed to be in every other film or Hollywood TV show from the late '50s to the '80s! She seemed always to be positioned near the stars of the film and/or dressed in attention-getting colors even though she rarely, if ever, spoke or had a character name.

I could not figure out this woman's name or learn a thing about her despite seeing her continually! I posted several photos of her and asked for help in identifying her. When I watched The Poseidon Adventure on New Years Day this January for the first time on my new 55" HDTV, I was utterly stunned to realize that she was in that film, too! She was (very rare for her) in a wig, a disheveled brown one, and played a capsizement survivor with an injured wrist, being attended to by priest Arthur O'Connell as he discusses posssible methods of survival with Gene Hackman.
When I was watching The Mod Squad on DVD and saw a scene in which Peggy Lipton went undercover at a computer dating service, there she was, sitting in the reception area filling out a form so that she, too, could get a date!! It seemed like I could hardly watch any movie or old TV series without her familiar face reflecting back at me, taunting me.

I did a post about the movie Airport recently, examing the costumes of the film. Naturally, as I watched parts of the movie again, there she was, sitting on the dais of a charity banquet, looking on as Dana Wynter delivered a speech during one of the flashbacks concerning that character! The mystery remained and I continued to see her all over the place. Not to mention the jealousy factor! She appeared in Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Airplane II and who knows what else!

Just yesterday, I visited another blog (the wonderful site called Stirred, Straight Up, with a Twist) and there was a clip from the Shirley MacLaine extravaganza What a Way to Go. Watching the clip, I was stunned and flummoxed to see this woman YET AGAIN standing between Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine in a party scene and later greeting them in the middle of an elaborate ballroom, a male companion at her side. It seemed like I was in danger of going out of my mind with what had, by now, become an obsession.

Finally, I caught a break. A visitor to The Underworld named Panalex has solved the mystery for me and for my friends here who had also had their curiosity piqued. I will paste the information as it was relayed via Panalex:

"I was particularly taken with your ‘extra’ obsession and set out on a quest that may have proved fruitful. I humbly believe your haunting lady is Mrs. Leoda (aka Leota) Richards, possibly the world champion of uncredited film and TV appearances, born on March 15, 1907, who died of natural causes in California on February 07, 1998."

Indeed this is the woman! A quick trip to confirmed that Leoda Richards is this mystery woman. I still know very little about her, but she certainly led a busy life as an extra and met virtually any and every Hollywood star of the big and small screens.

What a relief to have an answer. Panalex, my minions are busy at this very hour, forging a statue out of bronze that will forever be on display in a place of honor in The Underworld, located not far from one of me! I am in your debt and sincerely appreciate your help and your thoughtfulness. Thank you!!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hungry? How about a little Sam-wich?

A whole slew of kids watched Buster Crabbe enact the role of Flash Gordon in several movie serials back in the 1930s. To a later generation, one who attended movies in the early 1980s, there was another actor who embodied the role, albeit just once and in a film that wound up only being marginally successful in the U.S. The actor was Mr. Sam Jones.

He was born Samuel Gerald Jones in Chicago, Illinois on August 12th, 1954, but was raised in West Palm Beach. Florida. His youth was spent swimming, surfing, scuba diving and playing sports in the sand along the Atlantic Ocean. While still in his teens, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, serving for two years, something that would come in handy later in his life when called upon to portray soldiers of fortune.

Afterwards, he worked at odd jobs (even selling shoes at one point. I doubt that anyone really looked at his or her feet when Sam was down there slipping the footwear on!) He played a little semi-professional football and also did some local modeling. (He was, after all, 6’ 3” and drop dead gorgeous.) Finally, he decided to give Los Angeles a try and moved there in the mid-70s.

Unable to secure acting roles of any significance, he continued to pursue modeling and, with nothing to be ashamed of physically, he even posed for Playgirl Magazine under the assumed name Andrew Cooper III in 1975. Like many performers before and since, these photos would later be dug up in order to cash in on his newfound fame.

Despite his staggering handsomeness, his winning smile and beguiling charisma before the camera, it took until 1979 for him to land a part in films. Blake Edwards selected him to portray the husband of Bo Derek in the movie 10. The Dudley Moore/Julie Andrews comedy turned Derek into an international sensation as she was featured running along the beach in a flimsy swimsuit while her hair was done in beaded cornrows. (Many a less attractive hag came back from vacationing in the islands with this look, which seemed to suit no one else on Earth except Miss Derek!)

He and Derek made one super beautiful couple, though his participation in the film wasn’t nearly as considerable (nor as attention-getting) as hers. Nonetheless, he was featured in a hit movie amongst famous costars and directed by a well-known filmmaker. He swiftly appeared in a TV-movie pilot (that went nowhere) called Stunts Unlimited. The series would have had a team of former stuntmen-turned-espionage agents doing battle each week, but it didn’t sell.

This hardly kept him from achieving success. In fact, freedom from being on a TV series probably aided him in securing his next part, that of a classic, iconic comic strip and serial hero: Flash Gordon.

Producer Dino de Laurentiis was putting together an elaborate, lavishly decorated update of the famous character and was casting the title role from a pool of hopefuls. Kurt Russell was under consideration for a while, but he felt that the character lacked personality and called off negotiations. Jones had appeared on an episode of that eternally tacky game show The Dating Game and caught the eye of de Laurentiis’ mother. One thing lead to another and Jones was cast as the title character in Flash Gordon!

Brown-haired Sam had his locks bleached blonde to match the famous space traveler, but he wasn’t able to endure the blue contact lenses intended for him, so he kept his own light brown eyes. Ironically, his female costar Melody Anderson had always been blonde, but had to go brunette for her character of Dale Arden. The updated version of the story had Flash as an American football player, something Jones (now billed as Sam J. Jones.) was able to convey without concerns.

Expertly cast as the exotic villains were Max Von Sydow as Ming the Merciless and Ornella Muti as his daughter, Princess Aura. Much the way Buck Rogers had been sexually toyed with by Princess Ardala in the late-70s TV show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Muti was simultaneously pitted against and yet attracted to Jones. For part of the film, Jones was clothed in nothing but a small pair of black pleather briefs. (This was my favorite look on him for obvious reasons!)
Meanwhile, Anderson, was gussied up in some ornate headgear and costuming as part of Von Sydow’s plans for her. They made a beautiful couple, though superstardom was not in the cards for them, such as it had been for the main trio from Star Wars. Incidentally, George Lucas wanted to make a film version of Flash Gordon and when the rights were not available, he went off and wrote Star Wars in the same action-filled, serialized fashion, complete with an all-powerful villain and heroes worth rooting for.

Filming of the expensive and garish movie was torturesome and complicated, with director Mike Hodges and producer de Laurentiis at loggerheads for much of the time. Hodges later referred to it as “the only improvised $27-million movie ever made.” Jones eventually departed the production after some sort of dispute and, as a result, wasn’t on hand to re-record many of his lines. An unnamed actor did the voice-overs for a significant part of his dialogue.

As anticipation for the movie grew, Sam found himself being profiled and promoted in the entertainment magazines and newspapers. This clipping to the right from Rona Barrett’s Hollywood magazine is typical of the types of little blurbs and mentions he was getting in the press. (Click to enlarge, natch!)

Playgirl, recognizing this new leading man as one of their old centerfold models, reprinted his photos along with other previously unpublished ones, and created a whole new spread with shots of him from Flash Gordon interspersed. Thus, an unintentionally naughty perception of him was created before the public when he had been cast in the role because of his extremely wholesome and earnest looks!

Upon release, the picture was a considerable flop in America, perhaps containing too British a sensibility or maybe just not coming at the right time. Though it was popular in the U.K. and in Europe, and featured some interesting music by Queen, Flash crashed in the U.S. Any thoughts of a sequel, at least one with Jones in it, were dashed, especially once the falling out had occurred. It did, however, pick up a cult following that remains strong even today.

With no other feature film prospects on the horizon, Jones took a role in an Irwin Allen produced TV series called Code Red. Starring Lorne Greene as a fire chief with two fireman sons, Jones and Andrew Stevens, it was an adventure show along the lines of Emergency!, only with more emphasis on family. Julie Adams played Greene’s proud wife and Adam Rich, fresh off the cancellation of the series Eight is Enough, played their younger adopted son.

While working on Code Red, Jones found himself on the ABC team at the 1981 Battle of the Network Stars. Across the nation, girls (and some boys, surely) licked their TV screens as he competed in events wearing a little green Speedo with white piping detail. He swam the last leg of the relay, losing to the very athletic Mark Harmon, and was anchor on his team in the kayak race, but his lead was overtaken by Dallas’s Jared Martin in a photo finish. Jones could barely believe it when he realized he’d lost by such a narrow margin. Even an amazing turn by him in the running relay, in which he made up for time lost by another teammate, didn’t result in a win. At least he did it wearing only a white cap and white shorts. No shirt. Ha ha!

Unfortunately, Code Red only ran for part of one season (less than twenty episodes) before the grim reaper of cancellation appeared. In the wake of this, Jones appeared as a guest star on several of the popular action series of the day including The A-Team, Hunter, Riptide and Hardcastle and McCormick.

By 1986, he got another shot at a feature film, this time as the male lead in support of a female star. The mid-80s was a time of romantic pairings that bucked convention, be it Class, which had a student getting it on with his classmate’s mother, or My Tutor, which featured a young man getting help with his grades (and other things!) from an older woman assigned to him. Thus, My Chauffeur was born, in which Deborah Foreman (the female star of several mid-80s films before virtually disappearing) played a female chauffeur, rare now, but very rare then.
She comes upon a lot of opposition from her peers and challenges from her clients, but eventually works for a wealthy and handsome man who falls for her. Naturally, Jones played this part, a character named Battle Witherspoon(!) Never meant to be a sensational blockbuster, it found an audience on cable and home video. E. G Marshall and Penn and Teller had supporting roles in it. Foreman certainly made one VERY happy bride, judging from her expression here, though one can hardly blame her. Her groom is fall-down-on-the-floor gorgeous.
Next up was a limited run on the HBO original series 1st & Ten, a comedy (mixed with dramatic storylines) about the shenanigans of a pro football team that featured sex, brief nudity and all sorts of tacky jokes and situations. Jones played a cocaine-addicted quarterback and a major asshole named Johnny Valentine.

Though many of the scenes for this series took place in the locker room (or the bedroom!), Jones, sadly, never even took off his shirt during his tenure on the series. He was most often seen in the now-amusing sportswear of the day, a sort of Miami Vice meets Izod Lacoste type of look. The most kin he ever showed was a very brief glimpse of some leg in one scene. Otherwise, he was covered up. Nonetheless, he looked fantastic and was quite effective playing a jerk.

He primarily worked alongside series star Delta Burke and also Jason Beghe and Patrick’s little brother Don Swayze, who excelled (perhaps a bit too well!) at playing unappealing slime balls and rednecks. The two would work together later on a straight-to-video movie called Driving Force. Unfortunately, his story arc only lasted four episodes and so it was on to the next job before long.

His next role obscured part of his face, but he was playing another old time comic hero, this time The Spirit, in a made-for-TV movie. Concerning the exploits of a police detective believed dead, but now solving crimes in his own way while under the disguise of a mask, it was meant as a pilot for another series. Campy on purpose, it seemed to please fans of the original strip, but couldn’t secure a large audience. At least the makers had the good sense to show off his beautiful mug whenever possible. He even had his shirt ripped apart in one scene. Unfortunately, this too was not picked up and is rarely seen today. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Nana Visitor, blonde in this part, played his leading lady.

His next attempt at a series was picked up. Premiering first as a TV-movie, The Highwayman was a 1987-88 show about a U.S. marshal in a souped-up, eighteen-wheel truck who went where ordinary laws do not reach in order to bring criminals to justice. Not only did he carry one serious gun, but his vehicle was capable of turning invisible on command, had a car that could shoot out from the bottom of it and a helicopter that could fly out from the top! This series, however, didn’t last either and was gone by the tenth episode.
In yet another attempt at essaying a comic strip character, he took part in the film Jane and the Lost City, a spoofy, British-made film about the title character (a British comic strip heroine) and Jones going to Africa to retrieve some jewels before the Nazis can get their hands on them. The whole exercise seemed to be an excuse to get the lead actress (Kirsten Hughes) undressed at every possible opportunity. Fortunately, there was one extended scene that had Sammy tied down, shirtless, while spears fell from the roof all around him! Here, he showed off a still very impressive physique.

The next year, Jones made Under the Gun, an action drama that costarred Vanessa Williams (recently profiled here at the Underworld.) Now, by the late ‘80s, the market of straight-to-video films was discovered to be immensely popular. There was little or no prestige in making these movies that never saw the light of day in a movie theater, but there was significant profitability because they were placed in rental stores all across the nation and generated income that way.
Jones became a mainstay of these types of cheaply made, explosive action flicks. Celebs whose cinematic shelf life had expired could often find work in these projects. Titles like Silent Assassins (with Linda Blair), Driving Force (with the aforementioned Don Swayze - shown to the right in his eternal loveliness...), One Man Force (with John Matuszak and Ronny Cox) and In Gold We Trust (with Jan-Michael Vincent) dotted his resume during this time and kept him able to continue to make money as an actor.
Occasionally, some change of pace might come along like the cheap kiddie flick Earth Minus Zero (directed by Joey Travolta!) Pat Morita starred as a diminutive alien come to Earth to collect a human specimen while Sam played a good-looking father trying to protect his children and the world from him. In one sequence, he is shrunken and inhlaed into his pet dog's nose! At least it gave him a break from all the muscleman/gunman characters.
Things would continue in this vein throughout the ‘90s with occasional guest appearances on TV shows like Baywatch, Thunder in Paradise, Diagnosis Murder, Renegade, Walker, Texas Ranger and Silk Stalkings. In 1998, he had one more go ‘round with a series called Hollywood Safari, playing a park ranger married to a veterinarian who take care of training animals for the movie business, but it was short-lived.

With more than twenty-five years in front of the camera in countless TV shows and made for video movies, Jones was always busy, but eventually he went into business for himself as the founder of a security company that protects clients from crime and other danger. He has almost given up on performing as an actor, but he did make a rare appearance in 2007 as a guest on the youth-oriented Sci-Fi Channel revamp series Flash Gordon! This bit of stunt-casting is the last thing he’s done on film, though he occasionally appears at comic book and sci-fi conventions, sometimes with his old costar Melody Anderson, both of them having reverted to their usual (if perhaps not natural) hair colors.

Twice-married and the father of five, he is by virtually all accounts a kind, fun, pleasant person, one who has been given several honors over the years by the State of California and organizations associated with show business. In The Underworld, he is a favorite for his chiseled, manly looks and his easy charm before the camera. If life was fair, he’d have had a more significant acting career. (But “nobody ever said that life was fair, Tina!”)