Monday, June 20, 2011

Be Our Guest: Volume One

Sometimes here in The Underworld, I come off a bit like they used to in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s in that I treat actors’ careers as if appearing in feature films is king and television is a come down. It’s not really intentional. I guess I sometimes seem to absorb that attitude from looking into people’s career paths and seeing that it was, in most cases (and is perhaps still now!) most desirable to be a movie star versus one from TV. But I LOVE vintage television and one of the chief reasons I do is the opportunity to see the work of guest stars. It’s fun to see favorite acting personalities in unusual roles (and surely one of the benefits of being the star of a regular series was that one could meet a parade of other famous names over the course of the run.)

I’ve been occupied for several months with watching a lot of older shows on DVD. I’ve mentioned before here my lifelong obsession with the opening credits of television shows and how my favorite ones involve the faces of the guest stars along with his or her name either being displayed or spoken. (See my beloved Dack Rambo, shown here from an episode of Cannon.) I love seeing these personalities pop up on screen (and what a disappointment if the episode contains a bunch of nobodies!) Conversely, when I’m watching an old show that doesn’t immediately identify the guests, I don’t like to know who they will be in advance. I like to sit back and wait for the stars to appear, surprising me with their arrival.

Today, I’m going to share a few guest shots with you. There’s nothing amazing about any of it, really. I just thought it would be neat for people to see some of these folks in their various guises as they worked on these shows. (At right is Geoffrey Scott in the credits of Barnaby Jones, a few years before he grew a much-welcome mustache and became one of the handsome men of Dynasty.) Half the fun of vintage television, especially ones that took place in the present, is the chance to see some of the hair and clothing choices. Due to the overwhelming amount of options for this, I will likely return to this subject in the future, thus the “Volume One.”

One of the shows I’ve been seeing a fair amount of lately is the long-running (twenty seasons!) Gunsmoke. I’ve never been as fond of Gunsmoke as a lot of western fans are (to me, the color episodes are always blurry and blah looking), but over time I’ve become a tad more interested in it. One episode, from 1965, gave viewers the chance to see one actor who killed his own fledgling career through his actions and one who almost did as well, but who eventually made it after a pretty long and tumultuous journey. First is John Barrymore Jr, the son of the legendary stage and film actor of the same name. After about eight years in the business, he began going by John Drew Barrymore. What talent he had as an actor (and there was some) was eventually decimated by his personal demons and extensive drug use. By the late-60s, his career was virtually over, though he lived almost as a hermit until 2004. In 1975, his daughter Drew Barrymore was born and, though she had an awfully rough time with drugs herself, she went on to a highly successful career and what seems to be a far more grounded life in general. In 1980, he and his son unearthed the corpse of his father in order to follow his wishes of cremation. The gruesome story can be found on John Drew Barrymore’s bio page.

In that same episode was Dennis Hopper. As a youth, Hopper appeared in now-legendary films like Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. However, after the crushing loss of his friend/idol James Dean, he began to experience a reliance on alcohol and suffer from depression. This, paired with his aspirations to do things that were, perhaps, a bit beyond his means led to a set-to with Louis B. Mayer. Then there was the major league clash with director Henry Hathaway during 1958’s From Hell to Texas. Before all was said and done, he was lucky to get any sort of work and turned to TV for income. Absent from films of any distinction for a while, it was John Wayne, a friend of his late mother-in-law Margaret Sullavan, who gave him work in The Sons of Katie Elder in 1965. Still, there would be many ups and downs in the coming decade or so. It wasn’t until 1986’s Blue Velvet that he began to emerge as a significant screen actor, allowing him to work regularly (and memorably in Speed and other movies.)

A less depressing story was that of Leonard Nimoy who, of course, parlayed his role of Mr. Spock on Star Trek into a nearly lifelong source of employment. He at first resented the famousness of the role and the typecasting it created, penning a book called “I Am Not Spock,” but many years later wrote one called “I Am Spock.” In 1966, he played an Indian in a Gunsmoke episode. Though it might have seemed light years away from the science-fiction of Trek, it was nevertheless another stoic, introspective characterization.

Later in 1966, Gunsmoke turned to color filming. One of the guests that year was a biggie. Miss Bette Davis came on board as the vengeful matriarch of a passel of bad boys (Bruce Dern being among them.) She kidnaps Miss Kitty in order to draw the object of her ire, Marshal Dillon, to her ranch where she has a special revenge in the works.

One of the most startling aspects of the episode is how unbelievably stained and disgusting Miss D’s teeth are! The camera zooms in for a close-up on a set of yellowed, weathered, nicotine-tinged choppers that are equal in their scariness to anything her character does on the screen. Co-star Dern (who’d been given a small role in her Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte two years prior) later commented on how devastating to him it was to see an actress of Davis’ stature reduced to working as a guest on a western TV series. Despite a couple of middling recent successes, Davis was about to enter a pretty rough dry spell that lasted close to a decade.

Back to Star Trek for a second, one of the original series’ best-remembered guest stars was Ricardo Montalban as the super-strong, maniacal Khan. In fact, when the second (and far, far better received) feature film was made starring the original cast, Montalban was pegged to return as the character, now an older, but no less furious man. In 1970, he guested on Gunsmoke as an Indian, just as Nimoy had. He showed off a physique that was impressive for a man of fifty (especially for that time.) Twelve years later, during Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he still was impressively fit (now sixty-two!) to show off his chest in his character’s revealing costume, but naysayers had trouble believing that it was all really him. Unfounded and inaccurate rumors began to surface that he’d worn a prosthetic chest plate during filming! Perhaps the ever-present necklace he wore helped lend credibility to this legend. While there was some body makeup involved (as there would be for anyone ever showing their skin in a movie), it was indeed all him.A 1971 episode of Gunsmoke, one that centered on a passel of orphans at Christmastime, featured a variety of little ragamuffins who would eventually go on to much higher heights. Trapped under a blonde wig was young Erin Moran. Several years after this, she would be cast as the young sister (Joanie) of Ron Howard on the mega-hit sitcom Happy Days. Viewers watched her grow up on that long-running program. Auburn-haired Eric Scott was also soon utilized as Ben in The Waltons, a series that also ran for many years and returned periodically with movie reunions. Willie Aames would make another appearance later on Gunsmoke, along with other gigs, before making a splash as teenage Tommy on the popular show Eight is Enough. This was followed a while after with Charles in Charge (opposite Scott Baio, who had been paired with Erin Moran both on Happy Days and on the infamous debacle Joanie Loves Chachi!) The other blonde girl, a real blonde, was a heavily-utilized child actress by the name of Jodie Foster. Apart from a deliberate sabbatical from the movies in order to obtain a college degree, she has gone on to stellar heights as an actress and director, with two Best Actress Oscars on her mantle along the way!

Wizard of Oz fans would surely get a kick out of the 1973 episode featuring Miss Margaret Hamilton as a Miss Gulch-like Dodge City resident. She drags young ruffian Willie Aames into Marshal Dillon’s office, demanding that he be punished for stealing one of her pies. Later, after Hamilton has been locked in a safe by an escaped Aames, Hamilton gives the Marshal “what for” as only she condescendingly could. However, in that season’s gag reel, there’s a clip of Hamilton substituting her dialogue about reporting Dillon to the Attorney General with the unlikely and hilarious phrase, “I hope he burns your ass!”

At last we depart the dusty streets of Dodge City and trade them in for the breezy, beautiful island locations of Hawaii 5-O. Actors who came here for a job got the added benefit of spending their down time in one of the country's (if not the world's) most breathtaking locales. For a little more about the show and it's star, you can click on Jack Lord's name in the column to the right. We touched on Mr. Spock and Khan, so why not highlight Captain Kirk? Following the 1969 cancellation of Star Trek, the series' star William Shatner entered a period of career trauma in which he scrambled for work in many TV movies and on episodic television. In the decade between the series' demise and the big-screen reunion Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Shat made a lot of shit, not that some of it wasn't enjoyably terrible. Nowadays, he is celebrated for his unique approach to characterization and his sometimes insightful (when he actually stops interrupting and allows his guests to speak!) interview show, Shatner's Raw Nerve. In 1972, though, he was just trying to make a living. He frequently used his guest appearances, such as this one on Hawaii, to overact his heart out, hoping that it would reinvigorate his flagging career. Always one to struggle with his weight, he was forty-one when he did this beefy, but certainly not obese, role as a man who allows himself to be seduced in order to expose a blackmailing ring. Note to self: Never buy a swimsuit a size too small. It causes spillover.

Another 1969 episode of Hawaii 5-O gave a role to Farley Granger, a 1950s heartthrob who had only appeared in one minor movie since 1955! In this age of the "Big Three" television networks, an actor could still make a decent living through guest appearances and he did so, though sporadically. What struck me in this episode was how, despite his horned-rim glasses and uptight clothing, he still displayed a trim, healthy physique. Then again, he was only forty-four and already basically discarded Hollywood (or it him?) and gone to New York to work on the stage. In the ensuing years, he would work in quite a few foreign movies, serve an ill-advised stint on As the World Turns (his longtime partner was a producer at the time) and then retire by 1990, with one more role in 2001. He passed away just a couple of months ago at age eighty-five.

One of Farfel's (as close-friend and on-time fiancee Shelley Winters called him) other TV roles was on Ironside. Here he played the husband of Underworld favorite Lee Grant. The first scene they share is amusing in that, in the middle of a pool party at their spread, she sidles up behind him and presses herself up against his behind, grabs his torso with her claw-like hands and says, "You like?" as he closes his eyes in mild ecstacy! Oh, he liked.... though perhaps the other guest star, Richard Anderson might have been more up his alley. Anderson, later to become legendary as Oscar Goldman, the boss of The Six-Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, was still balancing small film roles with many, many TV appearances. He would do this until his two series took off and when they ended in 1978, he continued to stay very busy on television. One thing I absolutely love about vintage TV is the chance to see the clothes and hairstyles of the actresses, even ones in the background. Look at the buxom lovely with the bikini top, headband, mass of thick hair and false eyelashes. I think it should be mandatory for women to look like this!

In this 1967 episode, Miss Lee Grant models a variety of vivid clothes, several of which are sort of "out there" in their colors and patterns, a few of which are shown here. She also tries to vary and augment her ever-present wigs by either adding some more hair to the top for an "up-'do" or attaching a little jeweled ornament to the crown. The early years of Ironside (which ran in all from 1967 to 1975) happened to hit my very favorite era for hair and makeup. Costar Barbara Anderson (shown here, even though she is not a "guest"... I'm on a fashion and hair tangent at the moment!) had the most chic, short, blonde hair and wore an endless array of simply cut, but dazzlingly flattering and colorful, little dresses and suits. As we've been on a Star Trek kick today anyway, she was a memorable guest star on one of that series' earliest episodes as the daughter of a famed Shakespearean actor who may have once been guilty of genocide.

This same episode of Ironside with Farley and Lee, has a guest appearance that is very rare indeed. See if you can recognize the "actor" shown here. (You can click to enlarge.) The man only acted on two TV shows in his life, the second being in 1991. He also appeared uncredited in one movie. He is a very known persona, however. The top photo makes it a little harder to identify him, but I think the second, in which he has a more typical expression, is more of a giveaway. Yes, portraying a piano-playing nightclub owner is none other than mega-successful musical composer and producer Quincy Jones!

To touch on clothes again for just a moment, consider this 1969 episode of Marcus Welby, M.D. Miss Anne Baxter is counseling a young pregnant runaway in the middle of a shopping plaza when a cellulitic female extra sashays by in what appears to be a long-sleeved, navy blue, turtle-necked bodysuit. When I say bodysuit, I mean that it is legless…stops right at the hip and was probably intended to have a skirt or pants over it! (Some females out there will remember ‘60s and ‘70s tops that stayed tucked in thanks to snaps in the crotch, almost like a baby’s outfit!) When I had salved my corneas and thought it was safe, the bitch came strolling back into frame for a surprise frontal assault! What made this chick think that this was appropriate shopping (or anything) attire?!

Ironside was a bit of a sociopolitical forerunner in that star Raymond Burr's on-screen personal assistant was a black ex-con played by Don Mitchell. Another show that really broke new ground for racial diversity was The Mod Squad. The fact that black actor Clarence Williams III was one of the three leads meant that occasions would frequently come about that included other non-white performers. Future Oscar-winner Louis Gossett Jr appeared as a guest three different times, always as another character. In this 1968 episode, he played a troubled war veteran and, bald even then at thirty-two, was placed in an afro toupee! It looks pretty good upon first glance, but throughout the show, one can see the line of demarcation where it meets the hair on the sides of his head.

Cannon was the private eye show that starred William Conrad as a rotund, but surprisingly resourceful, ex-cop who took on difficult cases in his retirement. It’s credits placed the guest stars in little circles (cannonballs?) and you can imagine my reaction (aforementioned at the top of this post) to seeing the love of my life and reason for living, Dack Rambo, in one of them. Dack was at the height of his humpy good looks and in a couple of instances even showed off his crazy, off-the-hook package in a couple of pairs of snug pants. Anytime, as a kid or now, that I stumbled upon Rambo in a TV show, I knew I was in for a good time.Another crime/police show I've been watching is Starsky and Hutch. The gritty-on-the-surface series had a soft underbelly, notably in the handling of stars David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser's relationship, described by many as an ongoing demonstration of platonic love. Sometimes, there would be a "very special episode" (in a time before that phrase was ever coined) like in 1976 when little Kristy McNichol showed up as a street kid whose only relative, her father, is gunned down, causing her to move in with Hutch (David Soul.) McNichol would come back on the show two other times, always as a different character. This shot of her with the stars could almost be utilized in one of my infamous posts about TV bulges, thanks to Soul's trousers, but I can use it here because there is more where that came from, stay tuned for details on that!

One two-parter, also from 1976, offered up Miss Lynda Carter as the chief female guest star. (Others in the episode included Roz Kelly and Jayne Kennedy, a name that ought to stir up memories for people of a certain age.) Carter played a Las Vegas showgirl who is in danger of being targeted by a relentless strangler. She was already enmeshed in The Adventures of Wonder Woman by this point, but appearing on Starsky and Hutch meant that she could temporarily abandon the stylish, but demure, clothes of Diana Prince and exchange them for eye-poppingly revealing, silky, low-cut dresses. You can see in Paul Michael Glaser's eyes what it is he finds most interesting about her in this shot.

Also on board for this ep is 1930s and '40s star Joan Blondell. (Her career lasted far beyond that, all the way up to the late '70s - early '80s, in fact.) Having worked with David Soul on the earlier series Here Come the Brides, she was reunited with him briefly as the night manager of a 24-hour drug store. What really struck me was the fact that she was restocking a big pile of toilet paper. Number one: The toilet paper is in a variety of pastel colors! I had somehow forgotten that this was once the norm. Number two: The toilet paper is being sold by the ROLL! I have no memory of this. (And did I really just expound on the marketing of toilet paper by writing "number one" and number two?" LOL)

Every once in a while a TV series episode will feature a small role by someone unbilled (or tacked onto the end credits) who later went on to much higher heights. Such was the case in this 1978 installment of The Love Boat. True, Shelley Long had spent one season on SCTV, but had yet to catch a break in Hollywood. In this crowded episode, Frankie Avalon played a man who brings a matchmaking computer on to The Pacific Princess in order to pair up a bunch of single cruisers and Long was one of the ladies who was given a mate. It wasn't a featured role, but gave her a fair amount of lines and face time, paving the way for more roles on shows like Family, Trapper John, M.D. and M*A*S*H until she landed her own show, Cheers, in 1982.

We've come to the end of this post on TV guest stars, but, you know, I always try my best to go out with a bang, so I will leave you with a shot from the pilot episode of the 1984 pay cable series 1st & Ten, all about rich wife Delta Burke taking on ownership of a pro football team. She wins the team when she comes home to find her husband Ben Cooper in the throes of a naked rubdown with one of the players, leading to a divorce and a hefty settlement. Cooper was a young actor in the 1950s who appeared in the camp classic Johnny Guitar with Joan Crawford! By the time of this episode, he'd been acting on screen for three and a half decades and been married for two and a half (with two children.) It was a rather surprising role to see him in. The handsome player, Rick Moser, had been a real pro footballer and served as a consultant on the series. His homosexual character stayed on the series for quite a while, though when the AIDS crisis came about, with its resultant panic and fear, the character was de-gayed and eventually depicted as straight!

Sometime in the future, I'll be back with another sampling of TV guests stars from what I consider "the good ol' days." I hope you got some enjoyment out of this one.


Topaz said...

Great post! I, too, love to look at cast lists in old movies and see if I can spot names that got bigger later on. Speaking of which, imagine my surprise to be watching "Judgment at Nuremberg" for the first time recently and to spot Captain Kirk, Mrs. Olsen and Col. Klink!

vinniepop said...

I love it when I stumble across a show from the end of the "studio contract player" era and see a future big star paying their dues by making the rounds of the tv guest-star circuit - especially if it happens to be a performer I like appearing on a favourite show of mine (like Jamie Lee Curtis popping up on Charlie's Angels AND Nancy Drew...not to mention Buck Rogers). Looking forward to Volume Two of this topic!

Poseidon3 said...

This is one thing that definitely distinguishes TV & film from live theatre. Unless it was taped, we can't go back and dig up (and in some cases, humiliate!) actors in their earliest roles. I echo all that both of you said. Thanks!

Nomad said...

I was surprised not to find more posts on Farley Granger. He never looked better than in Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" which had a delightful subtext of homosexual attraction and seduction. Same was true for another Hitchcock's film that starred Granger, "Rope".
More light has been shed on Hitchcock's slightly sadistic tendencies and casting Granger in such sexuality ambiguous roles would certainly be brilliant (and wicked) since there were rumors of Granger's alleged bisexuality.